When discussing languages in Malaysia, two terms often come up: Malay and Malaysian. Though they might seem similar at first glance, they actually refer to different aspects of language in the country. Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, is a standardized form of the Malay language used in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore, while Malaysian refers to the broader range of languages spoken across Malaysia, with Malay being the official and most widely spoken language among them.
The Malay language has its roots in the Austronesian language family and is the mother tongue of the majority Malay ethnic group in Malaysia. It is standardized from the Johore-Riau dialect of Malay and is considered the official language of the country (Wikipedia). In contrast, Malaysian encompasses a diverse set of languages and dialects spoken by various ethnic communities, including Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and many others. In fact, Malaysia is home to 137 living languages (Holidify).
Despite the multilingual nature of the country, the importance of Malay as the official language cannot be understated. It serves as a unifying factor for the diverse population and plays a significant role in education, government, and media. Nonetheless, understanding the distinction between Malay and Malaysian is crucial for deeper insights into Malaysia’s linguistic landscape.