The Malay Language in Malaysia and Indonesia: from lingua franca to national
Asmah Haji Omar
Professor Emerita of Malay Linguistics,
University of Malaya,
The Malay language is indigenous to Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatera, and the
group of islands south of Singapore, better known as the Riau- Lingga archipelago. In historical
times, Peninsular Malaysia was known as the Malay Peninsula, which as a non-political entity also
consisted of southern Thailand where Malay is still spoken as a first language by the Malay population.
Transmigration , interinsular barter trading, and family as well as institutional relationships between the
royal houses of various Malay sultanates in the Malay archipelago, before the coming of the Western
powers, had contributed to the spread of the Malay language among the peoples of insular Southeast Asia.
This spread took wing towards the second half of the 20th century when national policies,
particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, instituted a single national language.