MALAYSIA’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has said he wants Bahasa Melayu or Malay to be the official language of the Asean regional bloc by 2050.
Different variations of Malay are spoken by an estimated 290 million people and is an official language in four out of the ten Asean member states: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. There is also a large community of Malay speakers in southern Thailand.
“As we head towards 2050, I wish to see Bahasa Melayu become Asean’s main and official language, as well as a top lingua franca at global level,” said Najib on Wednesday, as quoted by The Star newspaper.
Currently the lingua franca of Asean is English, while there are ten official languages of contracting states: Burmese, Filipino, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, Thai and Vietnamese.
“As a multiracial country, the Malay language is used to unite the people, ensuring that there is peace and harmony,” continued the Prime Minister.
“The mastery of the Malay language among Malaysians is also done in a planned and inclusive way, while at the same time other languages like English are celebrated and not neglected.”
While English is an officially recognised language in Malaysia, the government recently made it compulsory for international university students to learn Bahasa Malaysia whilst studying in the country.
Various Chinese languages including Cantonese, Mandarin and Hakka are also spoken by Malaysia’s Chinese population, whilst most ethnically Indian Malaysians speak Tamil.
Both Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia are both rooted in traditional Malay, however they differ in terms of pronunciation, some vocabulary and loan words.
Indonesian, for example, takes many words from Javanese, Dutch and Portuguese, while as a former British colony Malaysia’s language is more influenced by English.