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 70percnt 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.
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Peninsula, Southeast Asia. Comprising the mainland portion of Malaysia and southwestern Thailand, it occupies an area of 70,000 sq mi (181,300 sq km), has a width of 200 mi (322 km), and extends south for 700 mi (1,127 km) to Cape Balai, the southernmost point of the Asian continent; the island country of Singapore lies just south across the Johore Strait. Its central mountain range, rising to 7,175 ft (2,187 m) at Mount Tahan, divides the peninsula lengthwise and is the source of many rivers. Both its western and eastern coasts are exposed to monsoons. It has large tracts of tropical rainforest and is a major producer of rubber and tin.
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Largest group of islands in the world, located off the southeastern coast of Asia between the Indian and Pacific oceans. It consists of the more than 13,000 islands of Indonesia and some 7,000 islands of the Philippines. Formerly called the East Indies, the archipelago extends along the Equator for more than 3,800 mi (6,100 km). Principal islands include the Greater Sunda Islands (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Celebes), the Lesser Sundas, the Moluccas, New Guinea, Luzon, Mindanao, and the Visayan Islands.
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Any member of an ethnic group that probably originated in Borneo and expanded into Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. They constitute more than half the population of Peninsular Malaysia. They are mainly a rural people, growing rice for food and rubber as a cash crop. Heavily influenced by India, they were Hinduized before converting to Islam in the 15th century. Their culture has also been influenced by the cultures of the Thai, Javanese, and Sumatrans. Malay society has traditionally been somewhat feudal; class distinctions are still marked, and marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents and governed by Islamic law.
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