Malayic languages

The Malayic languages are a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian language family. The most prominent member is Malay, which is the national language of Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia; it further serves as basis for Indonesian, the national language of Indonesia. The Malayic branch also includes the local languages spoken by Indonesians and ethnic Malays (e.g. Banjarese, Kutai, Kedah Malay), further several languages spoken by various other ethnic groups of Sumatra, Indonesia (e.g. Minangkabau) and Borneo (e.g. Iban). The most probable candidate for the urheimat of the Malayic languages is western Borneo.

Maritime Southeast Asia
Linguistic classificationAustronesian
  • (disputed)
Historical distribution of the Malayic languages in Maritime Southeast Asia (including Malay-based creoles):
  The Ibanic and Western Malayic Dayak (Kanayatn/Kendayan-Salako) subgroups, also known collectively as "Malayic Dayak".
  Other Malayic varieties; genetic relationships between them are still unclear.


The term "Malayic" was first coined by Dyen (1965) in his lexicostatistical classification of the Austronesian languages. Dyen's "Malayic hesion" had a wider scope than the Malayic subgroup in its currently accepted form, and also included Acehnese, Lampung and Madurese. Nothofer (1988) narrowed down the range of Malayic, but included the non-Malayic languages Rejang and Embaloh:

The present scope of the Malayic subgroup, which is now universally accepted by experts in the field, was first proposed by K.A. Adelaar (1992, 1993), based on phonological, morphological and lexical evidence.


Malayic languages are spoken on Borneo, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Java and on several islands located in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.


Malay Peninsula



South China Sea/Strait of Malacca


Internal classification

While there is general consensus about which languages can be classified as Malayic, the internal subgrouping of the Malayic languages is still disputed.

Adelaar (1993)

Adelaar (1993) classifies the Malayic languages as follows.[1]

Ross (2004)

Based on grammatical evidence, Ross (2004) divides the Malayic languages into two primary branches:[2]

  • Western Malayic Dayak (Kendayan, Salako)
  • Nuclear Malayic (all other lects)

This classification is mirrored in the Glottolog (Version 3.4).

Anderbeck (2012)

Following Tadmor (2002), Anderbeck (2012) makes a distinction between Malay and Malayic in his discussion about the dialects of the Sea Tribes in Riau Archipelago. He tentatively classifies all Malayic languages as belonging to a "Malay" subgroup, except Ibanic, Kendayan/Selako, Keninjal, Malayic Dayak (or "Dayak Malayic") and the "fairly divergent varieties" of Urak Lawoi' and Duano.[3][lower-alpha 1]

  • Ibanic
  • Kendayan/Selako
  • Keninjal
  • Malayic Dayak
  • Urak Lawoi'
  • Duano
  • Malay (including all other Malayic varieties)

Anderbeck's classification has been adopted in the 17th edition of the Ethnologue, with the sole exception of Duano, which is listed in the Ethnologue among the "Malay" languages.[lower-alpha 2]

Smith (2017)

In his dissertation on the languages of Borneo, Smith (2017) provides evidence for a subgroup comprising Malayic isolects in western Borneo and southern Sumatra, which he labels "West Bornean Malayic".[5] However, he leaves other isolects unclassified.

Position within Austronesian

The inclusion of the Malayic languages within the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup is undisputed, and there is general consensus that the Chamic languages are closely related to Malayic. The wider affiliations of the Malayic languages are however controversial. There are two major proposals: Adelaar (2005) places Malayic within the Malayo-Sumbawan subgroup, which comprises the following languages:[6]

Blust (2010) and Smith (2017) assign Malayic to the Greater North Borneo subgroup:[7][8]

The Malayo-Sumbawan hypothesis is mainly based on phonological evidence with a few shared lexical innovations, while the Greater North Borneo hypothesis is based on a large corpus of lexical evidence.


Reconstruction ofMalayic languages


Proto-Malayic has a total of 19 consonants and 4 vowels.[9]

Proto-Malayic Consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Voiceless *p *t[lower-alpha 4] *c *k
Voiced *b *d *j
Nasal *m *n
Fricative *s *h
Liquid *l *r
Approximant *w *y
Proto-Malayic Vowels
Height Front Central Back
Close *i *u
Open *a

There are 2 diphthongs:

  • *-ay
  • *-aw

Word structure

Proto-Malayic lexemes are mostly disyllabic, though some have one, three, or four syllables. Lexemes have the following syllable structure:[9]

* [C V (N)] [C V (N)] [C V (N)] C V C 

Note: C = consonant, V = vowel, N = nasal


  1. As with Adelaar, Anderbeck reckons the difficulty in assigning absolute subgrouping within Malayic subfamily, and suggests an alternative approach which is "to dissolve the Malay node and keep everything in the Malayic group".
  2. This classification is still in use in the current 22nd edition (2019).[4]
  3. Alongside other various South Sumatran isolects which exhibit the *-R > *-ʔ innovation in a specific set of lexemes.



  1. Adelaar 1993, p. 568.
  2. Ross 2004, pp. 106–108.
  3. Anderbeck 2012, p. 284.
  4. Eberhard, Simons & Fennig 2019.
  5. Smith 2017, p. 197.
  6. Adelaar 2005, p. 358.
  7. Blust 2010.
  8. Smith 2017, pp. 364–365.
  9. Adelaar 1992, p. 102.


  • Adelaar, K. Alexander (1992). Proto-Malayic: The Reconstruction of its Phonology and Parts of its Lexicon and Morphology. Pacific Linguistics, Series C, no. 119. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, the Australian National University.
  • Adelaar, K. Alexander (1993). "The Internal Classification of the Malayic Subgroup". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. University of London. 56 (3): 566–581. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00007710. JSTOR 620695.
  • Adelaar, Alexander (2005). "Malayo-Sumbawan". Oceanic Linguistics. 44 (2): 357–388. doi:10.1353/ol.2005.0027. JSTOR 3623345.
  • Anderbeck, Karl (2012). "The Malayic speaking Orang Laut: Dialects and directions for research". Wacana: Journal of the Humanities of Indonesia. 14 (2): 265–312. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  • Bellwood, Peter; Fox, James J.; Tryon, Darrell (2006). The Austronesians: historical and comparative perspectives. ANU E Press. ISBN 978-1-920942-85-4.
  • Blust, Robert (2010). "The Greater North Borneo Hypothesis". Oceanic Linguistics. 49 (1): 44–118. doi:10.1353/ol.0.0060. JSTOR 40783586.
  • Dyen, Isidore (1965). "A Lexicostatistical classification of the Austronesian languages". International Journal of American Linguistics (Memoir 19).
  • Eberhard, David M.; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2019). "Malayic". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (22 ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  • Nothofer, Bernd. 1975. The reconstruction of Proto-Malayo-Javanic. (Verhandelingen van het KITLV, 73.) The Hague: Nijhoff.
  • Nothofer, Bernd (1988). "A discussion of two Austronesian subgroups: Proto-Malay and Proto-Malayic". In Mohd. Thani Ahmad; Zaini Mohamed Zain (eds.). Rekonstruksi dan cabang-cabang Bahasa Melayu induk. Siri monograf sejarah bahasa Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. pp. 34–58.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (2004). "Notes on the prehistory and internal subgrouping of Malayic". In John Bowden; Nikolaus Himmelmann (eds.). Papers in Austronesian subgrouping and dialectology. Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. pp. 97–109.
  • Smith, Alexander (2017). The Languages of Borneo: A Comprehensive Classification (PDF) (Ph.D. Dissertation). University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Retrieved 26 May 2019.{{cite thesis}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  • Tadmor, Uri (2002). Language contact and the homeland of Malay. The Sixth International Symposium of Malay/Indonesian Linguistics (ISMIL 6). Bintan Island, 3–5 August 2002.{{cite conference}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
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