Malay-based creole languages

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In addition to its classical and literary form, Malay has various regional dialects established before the rise of the Malaccan Sultanate. But beyond these, Malay spread through interethnic contact and trade across the Malay archipelago as far as the Philippines. This contact resulted in a lingua franca that was called Bazaar Malay or low Malay. It is generally believed that Bazaar Malay was a pidgin, influenced by contact among Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch traders.

Besides the general simplification that occurs with pidgins, the Malay lingua franca had several distinctive characteristics. One that possessives were formed with punya 'its owner'; another that plural pronouns were formed with orang 'person'. The only Malayic affixes that remained productive were tər- and bər-.

Other features:

  • Ada became a progressive particle.
  • Reduced forms of ini 'this' and itu 'that' before a noun became determiners.
  • The verb pərgi 'go' was reduced, and became a preposition 'towards'.
  • Causative constructions were formed with kasi or bəri 'to give' or bikin or buat 'to make'.
  • A single preposition, often sama, was used for multiple functions, including direct and indirect object.1

For example,2

  • Rumah-ku 'my house' becomes Saya punya rumah
  • Saya pukul dia 'I hit him' becomes Saya kasi pukul dia
  • Megat dipukul Robert 'Megat is hit by Robert' becomes Megat dipukul dek Robert

Bazaar Malay is still used to a limited extent in Singapore and Malaysia. The most important consequence, however, has been that pidgin Malay creolized, creating several new languages.3

Baba Malay

Baba Malay
Native to Singapore, Malaysia (Melaka and Penang)
Ethnicity 250,000–400,000 (1986)
Native speakers
unknown (12,000 cited 1986–2006)4
Malay-based creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mbf
Glottolog baba12675
Baba Indonesian
Region Java
Native speakers
unknown (20,000 cited 1981)6
Malay-based creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pea
Glottolog pera12565

Baba Malay or Peranakan Malay, once a diverse group of pidgins, is spoken in Malaysia but is now almost extinct. These are Malay varieties spoken by the Peranakan, Chinese descendants who live in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia since the 15th Century.7 Baba Malay is close to the trade pidgins which became creolized across the Malay Archipelago, producing the variety of Malay creoles seen today. A kind of Baba Malay, called Peranakan, is spoken among Chinese living in East Java. It is a mixture of Malay or Indonesian with local Javanese (East Javanese dialect) and Chinese elements (particularly Hokkien). This particular variety is found only in East Java, especially in Surabaya and surrounding areas. While other Chinese tend to speak the language varieties of the places in which they live (the Chinese of Central Java speak High or Standard Javanese in daily conversation even among themselves; in West Java, they tend to speak Sundanese), in Surabaya younger ethnic Chinese people tend to speak pure Javanese (Surabaya dialect) and learn Mandarin in courses.

Example (Spoken in Surabaya):

  • Lu bo' gitu! : Don't act that way!
  • Yak apa kabarnya si Eli? : How's Eli?
  • Nti' kamu pigio ambek cecemu ae ya. : Go with your sister, okay?
  • Nih, makanen sa'adae. : Please have a meal!
  • Kamu cari'en bukune koko ndhek rumae Ling Ling. : Search your brother's book in Ling Ling's house.

Example (Spoken in Melaka-Singapore):8

  • Dia suka datang sini sembang. : He likes to come here and gossip.
  • Keliap-keliap, dia naik angin. : Slightly provoked, he gets angry.
  • Gua tunggu dia sampai gua k'ee geram. : I waited for him till I got angry.
  • Oo-wa! Kinajeet, dia pasang kuat. : Wow! Today he dresses stylishly!

Betawi Malay

Main article: Betawi language

Betawi Malay, also known as Jakarta or Java Malay, is a creolized-Malay which is spoken in Jakarta (the modern name for Betawi) and its surroundings. Betawian or Omong Betawi is based on Bazaar Malay (Melayu Pasar) but influenced by various languages such as Javanese, Sundanese (the area is surrounded by Sundanese speaking area), Chinese (especially Hokkien), Portuguese, Dutch, Balinese and others. Betawian creole began to be used after 1750 in Batavia, and replaced Portuguese creole as the lingua franca.9

Betawian Malay was also influenced by Chinese-style Malay spoken by the Chinese settlers who had come earlier.

It has now become a very popular language particularly amongst the younger generations in Indonesia due largely to its use on television (such as sinetron or sitcom).

Betawi Malay was the ancestor of Cocos Malay.

Malaccan Creole Malay

Malaccan Creole Malay
Chitties Creole Malay
Native to Malaysia
Ethnicity 300 (no date)
Native speakers
unknown (undated figure of moribund)10
Malay-based creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ccm
Glottolog mala14825

Spoken since the 16th century by descendents of Tamil merchants of the Malacca Straits. It may be historically related to Sri Lanka Creole Malay.

Sri Lanka Malay

The Sri Lankan Creole Malay language is a unique mixture of the Sinhalese language and the Tamil language with Malay. Sri Lanka Malay (SLM) is a restructured vernacular of Malay base spoken by at least five different communities in Sri Lanka which has evolved to be significantly divergent from other varieties of Malay due to intimate contact with the dominant languages of Sinhala and Tamil. The Malays in Sri Lanka, whose ancestry include laborers brought by the Dutch and British, as well as soldiers in the Dutch garrison, now constitute 0.3% of the population, numbering some 46,000. It is spoken exclusively by the Malay ethnic minority in Sri Lanka.11

Broome Pearling Lugger Pidgin

A pidgin used in the pearl industry in West Australia.

Sabah Malay

Sabah Malay
Region Sabah
Native speakers
unknown (undated figure of "growing")12
3 million L2 speakers (2013)13
Brunei Malay–based pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 msi
Glottolog saba12635

A pidginized variant of Brunei Malay, Sabah Malay is a local trade language. There are a large native speakers in urban areas, mainly children who have a second native language.

Macassar Malay

Macassar Malay
Region Makassar, South Sulawesi
Native speakers
Second language: 1.9 million (2000)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mfp
Glottolog maka13055

Macassar Malay is not a creole, but a mixed Malay–Macassarese language, with Malay lexicon, Macassarese inflections, and mixed Malay/Macassarese syntax.15

Balinese Malay

Balinese Malay
Region Bali
Native speakers
25,000  (2000 census)16
Malay-based creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mhp
Glottolog bali12795

Balinese Malay is a trade language of the island.

East Indonesian Malay

The creoles of eastern Indonesia17 appear to have formed as Malays and Javanese, using lingua franca Malay, established their monopoly on the spice trade before the European colonial era. They have a number of features in common:

  • ə becomes a, e, or assimilates to the following vowel
  • i, u lower to e, o in some environments
  • there is a loss of final plosives p, t, k, and the neutralization of final nasals in part of the lexicon
  • the perfective marker sudah reduces to su or so1

For example,2

  • makan becomes makang
  • pergi becomes pigi or pi
  • terkejut becomes takajo
  • lembut becomes lombo
  • dapat becomes dapa

Bacan (next) is perhaps the most archaic, and appears to be closely related to Brunei Malay (which is not a creole).

Bacanese Malay

Bacanese Malay
Region Bacan, North Maluku
Native speakers
6  (2012)18
Brunei Malay-based creole?
Language codes
ISO 639-3 btj
Glottolog baca12435

Spoken in Bacan Island and its surroundings, North Maluku.

Manado Malay

Main article: Manado Malay

Manado Malay is another creole which is the lingua franca in Manado and Minahasa, North Sulawesi. It is based on Ternatean Malay and highly influenced by Ternatean, Dutch, Minahasa languages and some Portuguese words.

Examples :

  • Kita = I
  • Ngana = you
  • Torang = we
  • Dorang = they
  • Io = yes
  • Nyanda' = no (' = glottal stop)

Sentences :

  • Kita pe mama ada pi ka pasar : My mom is going to the market
  • Ngana so nyanda' makang dari kalamareng : You haven't eaten since yesterday.
  • Ngana jang badusta pa kita : Don't lie to me
  • Torang so pasti bisa : we can surely do that


Region Morotai Island, central Halmahera
Native speakers
1,000  (1992)19
Malay-based creole
  • East Indonesian
    • Gorap
Language codes
ISO 639-3 goq
Glottolog gora12615

Gorap is lexically 85% Malay, but has many Ternate words as well, and word order differs from both Austronesian and Halmahera languages. Children no longer acquire the language.

Ternate / North Moluccan Malay

Main article: North Moluccan Malay

This creole resembles Manado Malay, but with different accents and vocabulary. A large percentage of its vocabulary is borrowed from Ternatean, such as: ngana : you (sg) ngoni : you (pl) bifi  : ant ciri  : to fall Spoken in Ternate, Tidore and Halmahera islands, North Maluku for intergroup communications, and in the Sula Islands.

Example :

  • Jang bafoya : Don't lie!

Kupang Malay

"Kupang language" redirects here. For other language called Kupang, see Helong language.
Kupang Malay
Region Kupang, West Timor
Native speakers
200,000  (1997)20
100,000 L2 speakers (no date)
Malay-based creole
  • East Indonesian
    • Kupang Malay
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mkn
Glottolog kupa12395

Spoken in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, on the west end of Timor Island. It is based on archaic Malay which mixed mostly with Dutch, Portuguese and local languages. Similar to Ambonese Malay with several differences in vocabularies and accent. Its grammatical system resembles that of other East Indonesian Malay Creoles.

Examples :

  • beta = I
  • lu = You
  • sonde = No
  • Beta sonde tau, lai = I don't know

Ambonese Malay

Main article: Ambonese Malay

Malay was first brought to Ambon by traders from Western Indonesia, then developed into a creole when the Dutch Empire colonized the Molluccas. Ambonese Malay was the first example of the transliteration of Malay into Roman script, and used as a tool of the missionaries in Eastern Indonesia.

Bandanese Malay

Bandanese Malay
Banda Malay
Region Banda Islands
Native speakers
3,700  (2000)21
Malay-based creole
  • East Indonesian
    • Bandanese Malay
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bpq
Glottolog band13535

A distinct variant of Moluccan Malay. Spoken in Banda Islands, Maluku and it has specific accents. Different from Ambonese Malay and for Ambonese, Bandanese Malay is widely perceived as sounding funny due to its unique features.

Example :

  • Beta : I
  • pane : you
  • katorang : we
  • mir : ants (deviated from Dutch : mier)

Papuan/Irian Malay

Papuan Malay
Irian Malay
Region West Papua
Native speakers
unknown; 500,000 L1 and L2 speakers  (2007)22
Malay-based creole
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pmy
Glottolog papu12505

Originally a contact language among tribes in Indonesian New Guinea (Papua and West Papua) for trading and daily communication, now a growing number of native speakers. Papuan and Irian declared Malay as their language since 1926, before the Sumpah Pemuda declaration. Nowadays, they tend to speak more formal Indonesian. This variant is also understood in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea near Indonesian border.

Example :

  • Ini tanah pemerintah punya, bukan ko punya! = It's governmental land, not yours!
  • Kitorang tak pernah bohong = We don't lie.

See also

Creoles of the Malay Archipelago based on languages other than Malay

External links


  1. ^ a b Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon, Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, 1996:673ff.
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Vehicular Malay". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Baba Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Baba Malay". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  6. ^ Peranakan Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  7. ^ Baba Malay of Malacca.
  8. ^ "BABA / PERANAKAN MALAY". The Peranakan Resource Library. Retrieved 2014-12-12. 
  9. ^ Why Malay/Indonesian Undressed: Contact, Geography, and the Roll of the Dice, by David Gil
  10. ^ Malaccan Creole Malay at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  11. ^ Malays contact with Sri Langka.
  12. ^ Sabah Malay at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  13. ^ Sabah Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  14. ^ Macassar Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  15. ^ Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon, Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, 1996:682.
  16. ^ Balinese Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  17. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Eastern Indonesia Trade Malay". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  18. ^ Bacanese Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  19. ^ Gorap at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  20. ^ Kupang Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  21. ^ Bandanese Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  22. ^ Papuan Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)