Malay is the national language of Malaysia and one of the two official languages of the country, along with English. Aside from these two, Malaysia is home to a vast number of indigenous languages, a total of 137 of them. Most people in Malaysia, especially those among the younger generations, are multilingual and possess the ability to speak at least English, Malay and Mandarin with moderate fluency.

The official language spoken in Malaysia is the Malaysian language, also called Malaysian Malay or just Malay or Malaysian. Malaysian is spoken by the vast majority of the population and is taught in the public education system. The Malay language belongs to the Austronesian family of languages and has ten dialects, all of which are represented in the country. The official standardized dialect is the Bahasa.

Apart from Malay, English is also a very commonly spoken language in Malaysia. Malaysia has its own version of English, also known as ‘Manglish’, or the Malaysian Standard English (MySE). This variant of the English language is rooted in the British English but is primarily used in educational establishments and less in other sectors of the country. The language is on the decrease, however, although the majority of the population – around 60% – can speak it. MySE is deeply influenced by Malay, Tamil and Chinese languages and classified into three categories: the acrolect (near native), mesolect (normal Malaysian English), and basilect (low knowledge).

Aside from Malay and English, Chinese dialects such as Mandarin and Hokkien are spoken in the country as well, primarily by those of Chinese ethnic origins. Mandarin is the most widely spoken variant of the Chinese language in Malaysia and is widely used in Chinese schools and businesses. Other variants of Chinese which can be heard in Malaysia include the aforementioned Hokkien, as well as Hainanese, Hok-chew, Yue and Min, to name a few. Most of the smaller Chinese languages are facing extinction, however, due to an increasing number of people who are adopting Mandarin.

Malaysia is home to over 30 native tribes which possess distinct linguistic heritage including sub-dialects. Kazadandusuns and Iban are among the most noticeable indigenous languages in Malaysia. Others include Dusun and Kadazan, Bajau, Murut, Lun, Bruneian, Rungus, Bisaya, Iranun, Bawang, Sungai, Suluk, and Sama. Three major language groups can be found on the Malaysian peninsula, including Negrito, Senoi and Malayic. Other indigenous languages include Thai and Semai. Most of these small languages are faced with extinction as the more widely spoken migrant languages gain more dominance.


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