Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu are similar and different languages at the same time. Both are standard languages under the bigger umbrella of the Malay language, which is used in Indonesia and Malaysia. Although generally mutually intelligible, the two languages have differences in the vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and spelling.
The Malay language is part of the Austronesian language family. Malay is spoken in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. As a national language, which translates to Bahasa Nasional or Bahasa Kebangsaan, it has different official names depending on the region. Incidentally, Bahasa means ”language.”
In Brunei and Singapore, it is called Bahasa Melayu or the Malay language, while in Malaysia; it is termed as Bahasa Malaysia. Indonesians call their language Bahasa Indonesia. In Indonesia, it is the lingua franca (Permersatu) or the unifying language (Bahasa Persatuan). It can be confusing if you are not a local because on the southern and central areas of Sumatra in Indonesia, it is referred to as Bahasa Melayu and is considered as a regional language.
In the pre-colonial eras of the Johor and Malacca Sultanates, the literary standard was Standard Malay, which is also called Court Malay. Due to its use during those periods, the language is sometimes referred to as Riau Malay, Johor or Malacca Malay. The language spawned several varieties, spoken in various areas within the region.
Malay has several varieties, namely:
- Court Malay (formal)
- Standard Malaysian
- Indonesian (formal)
- Johor/Selangor/Singapore/Riau Archipelago Malay
- Bengkulu Malay
- Jambi Malay
- Palembang Malay
- Bangka Malay
- Belitung Malay
- Kedah Malay
- Baling Malay
- Terengganu Malay
- Kelantan-Pattani Malay
- Pahang Malay
- Perak Malay
- Penang Malay
- Brunei Malay
- Sarawak Malay
- Sabah Malay
- Pontianak Malay
- Makassar Malay
- Kutai Malay
- Negeri Sembilan Malay*
Note: * – Para-Malay languages, ** Aboriginal Malay language
If you are not a native speaker, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu sound the same. In reality, there is noticeable difference in accent and diction that has an effect on subtitling movies and TV shows in other languages. Sometimes the subtitles in both languages as well as another foreign language are shown, which can be quite confusing to the viewer.
The Malay language differs in recognition in Malaysia and Indonesia. In Malaysia, Malay is the national language, while in Indonesia it is only a regional language spoken by Malay speakers in West Kalimantan and Sumatra’s east coast.
Formerly, Malay was called Bahasa Malaysia. However, in the years between 1986 and 2007, Bahasa Melayu replaced the traditional term to impart a sense of belonging among all races of Malays. Therefore, when you speak about Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Melayu, you refer to the same language. In Brunei, the English term they use is “Malay” for their official language – Bahasa Melayu. To make a distinction, Malaysians sometimes call the languages Malaysian Malay and Indonesian Malay.
The situation is different in Indonesia where Malay is only a regional language. This is one of the main differences between the two languages if you are in Indonesia. In this country, Malay is in the same level as other regional languages, like Balinese, Buginese, Sundanese, Bataknese and Javanese. Some Indonesians also associate the term Malay to the language and the country.
Malay used to be written using a form of Arabic alphabet –Jawi, that was locally modified. In the 20th century. Roman letters were used. They were called Rumi. The history of the evolution of the Malay written form can be seen in the romanizations used in the Dutch East Indies or Indonesia and in Malaya, which now belongs to Malaysia.
English influenced the romanization of Malay in Malaya. It was created by Richard Wilkinson. On the other hand, the romanization in Dutch East Indies, based on the creation of C.A. Van Ophuijsen had Dutch influences. Therefore in Indonesia, they used the Dutch vowel ”oe” before it was standardized into ”u.”
Other reflections of their history:
In Malaysia, they used ”ch” while in Indonesia, they used ”tj.” When they wrote the English term ”grandchild,” Malaysians wrote ”chuchu” and Indonesians wrote it as tjoetjoe. In 1972, the introduction of the unified spelling system made the consonant as ”c,” thus grandchild is now written as ”cucu” in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia.
Indonesians replaced the consonant ”dj” with ”j” as in Malaysia, while the semivowel ”j” used in old Indonesia became ”y” in Malaysian. Both languages now use ”kh” instead of ”ch” for many of the words with Arabic origin. The verb ”oe” is retained and used in proper names such as Soeharto (Suharto) and Soekarno (Sukarno). Some names still used the ”dj” and ”ch” combinations such as Djojo (pronounced Joyo) and Achmad, which is pronounced with a ”kh” sound.
Differences between the two languages come in many forms. It could be in the words themselves, the spelling, and the pronunciation or in the meaning. Here are some words to illustrate some of the differences.
|ENGLISH||BAHASA INDONESIA||BAHASA MELAYU|
|cellphone||ponsel, telepon genggam||telefon bimbit|
|post office||kantor pos||pejabat pos|
Their influences also indicate the source. For example, Indonesia, because of being under the Dutch for so long, uses decimal comma, just like what they use in Europe. Due to the influence of English, Malaysia uses the decimal point.
Same Word, Different Meaning
The words may be the same but the meaning could be very different. In Indonesia, ”baja” means ”steel.” In Malaysia, the same word means ”fertilizer.” “Butuh” is ”require” or ”need” in Indonesian. The meaning is completely different in Malaysia. In Bahasa Melayu, ”butuh” refers to the male/female genitals. Another common word is ”banci” which translates to census in Malaysia but is a derogatory term for ”transvestite” in Indonesia.
Portuguese also had an influence in both languages. Some of the basic words in Bahasa Indonesia use the Latin pronunciation, such as for words like universitas, minoritas, mayoritas, kuantitas and kualitas. Bahasa Melayu on the other hand uses the English influence by using universiti, minoriti, majoriti, kuantiti and kualiti.
Both languages also had their fair share of Persian and Arabic loan words, which could be understood in both countries. Some of them evolved into separate meanings while others have become obsolete.
Although Bahasa Melayu was the one that was heavily influenced by English in its development, Bahasa Indonesia has a wealth of English loanwords. This could be because Dutch and English are both from the West Germanic branch of the Indo European language family. You can see evidence of this in many of the modern words that are used in Indonesia today.
Here are some examples, where the local language translation is superceded by the more modern English counterparts:
|English||Modern Bahasa Indonesia||Traditional Indonesian|
It is interesting to note that even the views of linguists in the two countries differ. Malaysian linguists view the massive use of loanwords as polluting the language. They also think that no creativity is exerted to develop new words. However, in Indonesia, they look at borrowing words excessively as showing the dynamism in the language.
When it comes to formal speech, the differences are much more subtle and they can sound the same in the ears of a non-speaker. But this does not mean that there are no differences when it comes to using each language formally.
The differences are highly pronounced in colloquial speech. It should be noted that between regions, the version of the language they use also shows differences with other regions. Kupang Malay is different from Jakarta Malay although both are used in Indonesia. In Malaysia, there are distinct differences between Johor Malay and Kelantan Malay.
Therefore, if you need document translations in Malay, be sure to specify if you need the document translated into Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Indonesia, which will help the translators provide you with accurate translation.
For professional and accurate translations from Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Melayu into any of the 100 living languages, contact Day Translations by phone at 1-800-969-6853 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here for Bahasa Indonesia) and here for Bahasa Melayu. We have translators who are native speakers located around the world to provide you with efficient translation service any time of the day and night.