Austronesian language with some 33 million first-language speakers in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and other parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. Because Malay was spoken on both sides of the Strait of Malacca, a crucial trade route between India and China, Malay-speaking groups were drawn into international commerce centuries before European penetration of the region, and Malay became a lingua franca in Indonesian ports, giving rise to a range of pidgins and creoles known as Bazaar Malay (Melayu Pasar). In 20th-century Indonesia, a standardized form of Malay was adopted as the national language, Indonesian; written in Latin letters, it is now spoken or understood by about 70% of the population. Similar standardizations of Malay comprise the national languages of Malaysia and Brunei. The oldest known Malay texts are 7th-century inscriptions from southern Sumatra in an Indic script (see Indic writing system); a continuous Malay literary tradition did not begin until the Islamization of the Malay Peninsula in the 14th century.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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