Malay orthography

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The modern Malay or Indonesian alphabet (Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore: Tulisan Rumi, literally "Roman script" or "Roman writing", Indonesia: Aksara Latin, literally "Latin script"), consists of the 26 letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet.[1] It is the more common of the two alphabets used today to write the Malay language, the other being Jawi (a modified Arabic script). The Latin Malay alphabet is the official Malay script in Indonesia (as Indonesian), Malaysia (also called Malaysian) and Singapore, while it is co-official with Jawi in Brunei.

Historically, various scripts such as Pallava, Kawi and Rencong or Surat Ulu were used to write Old Malay, until they were replaced by Jawi during Islamic missionary mission in Malay Archipelago.

The arrival of European colonial powers brought the Latin alphabet to the Malay Archipelago. As the Malay-speaking countries were divided between two colonial administrations (the Dutch and the British), two major different spelling orthographies were developed in the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya respectively, influenced by the orthographies of their respective colonial tongues.[citation needed] The Van Ophuijsen Spelling System used in the Dutch East Indies and later Indonesia was based on the Dutch alphabet. It was replaced by the simpler Republican Spelling System in 1947.

In 1972, as part of the effort of harmonizing spelling differences between the two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia each adopted a spelling reform plan, called the Perfected Spelling System (Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan) in Indonesia and the New Rumi Spelling (Ejaan Rumi Baharu)[2] in Malaysia.

Although the representations of speech sounds are now largely identical in the Indonesian and Malaysian varieties, a number of minor spelling differences remain.[citation needed]

Letter names and pronunciationsEdit

Enhanced Indonesian Spelling System (Indonesian: Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan, abbreviated as EYD), New Rumi Spelling (Malay: Ejaan Rumi Baharu).

Indonesian/Malay Latin alphabet
Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
Upper case A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Lower case a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
IPA phoneme a b d e f g h i k l m n o p q~k r s t u v w ks j z

The names of letters differ between Indonesia and rest of the Malay-speaking countries. Indonesia largely follows the letter pronunciation of the Dutch alphabet, while Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore follow the English alphabet pronunciation.

Regardless of the pronunciation, however, the letters represent the same spelling in all Malay-speaking countries. The Malay alphabet has a phonemic orthography; words are spelled the way they are pronounced, with few exceptions like the distinctions between /ə/ and /e/ where it is both written as E/e. The letters Q, V and X are rarely encountered, being chiefly used for writing loanwords.

Letter Name (in IPA) Sound
Indonesia Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore IPA English equivalent
Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore Indonesia
Aa a (/a/) e (/e/) /a/ a as in father
/ə/ ~ /a/ - a as in sofa
Bb (/be/) bi (/bi/) /b/ b as in bed
Cc (/t͡ʃe/) si (/si/) /t͡ʃ/ ch as in check
Dd (/de/) di (/di/) /d/ d as in day
Ee é (/e/) i (/i/) /ə/ e as in tolerant
/e/ e as in hey
/e/ /ɪ/ e as in packet
/ɛ/ e as in get
Ff éf (/ef/) éf (/ef/) /f/ f as in effort
Gg (/ge/) ji (/d͡ʒi/) /ɡ/ g as in gain
Hh ha (/ha/) héc (/het͡ʃ/) /h/ h as in harm
Ii i (/i/) ay (/aj/) /i/ i as in machine, but shorter
/e/ /ɪ/ i as in igloo
Jj (/d͡ʒe/) (/d͡ʒe/) /d͡ʒ/ j as in jam
Kk ka (/ka/) (/ke/) /k/ unaspirated k as in skate
Ll él (/el/) él (/el/) /l/ l as in let
Mm ém (/em/) ém (/em/) /m/ m as in mall
Nn én (/en/) én (/en/) /n/ n as in net
Oo o (/o/) o (/o/) /o/ o as in owe
/o/ /ʊ/
/ɔ/ o as in bought, but shorter
Pp (/pe/) pi (/pi/) /p/ unaspirated p as in speak
Qq ki (/ki/) kiu (/kiu/ or /kju/) /q/ ~ /k/ q as in Qatar
Rr ér (/er/) ar (/ar/ or /a:/) /r/ Spanish rr as in puerro
Ss és (/es/) és (/es/) /s/ s as in sun
Tt (/te/) ti (/ti/) /t/ unaspirated t as in still
Uu u (/u/) yu (/ju/) /u/ u as in rule, but shorter
/o/ /ʊ/ oo as in foot
Vv (/ve/ or /fe/) vi (/vi/) /v/ ~ /f/ v as in van
Ww (/we/) dabel yu (/dabəlˈju/) /w/ w as in wet
Xx éks (/eks/) éks (/eks/) /ks/ x as in box
/z/ /s/ x as in xenon
Yy (/je/) way (/wai̯/) /j/ y as in yarn
Zz zét (/zet/) zet (/zed/) /z/ z as in zebra

* Many vowels are pronounced (and were formerly spelt) differently in Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra (where Malay is native): tujuh is pronounced (and was spelt) tujoh, rambut as rambot, kain as kaen, pilih as pileh, etc., [e] and [o] are also allophones of /i/ and /u/ in closed final syllables in peninsular Malaysian and Sumatran. Many vowels were pronounced and formerly spelt differently that way also in East Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.

In addition, there are digraphs that are not considered separate letters of the alphabet:[3]

Digraph Sound
IPA Notes
Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore Indonesia
ai /ai̯/ uy as in buy (ui)
au /au̯/ ou as in ouch (ou)
oi /oi̯/ /ʊi̯/ oy as in boy
gh /ɣ/ ~ /x/ similar to Dutch and German ch, but voiced
kh /x/ ch as in loch
ng /ŋ/ ng as in sing
ny /ɲ/ Spanish ñ; similar to ny as in canyon with a nasal sound
sy /ʃ/ sh as in shoe

Pre-1972 spelling systemEdit

Pre-1972 British Malaya and Borneo/Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore orthographyEdit

Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore: 1927 Za'aba Spelling system
Upper case A Ă B C D E Ĕ F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Lower case a ă b c d e ĕ f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Pre-1972 Dutch East Indies/Indonesia orthographyEdit

Indonesia: 1901 Van Ophuijsen Spelling System and 1947 Soewandi Spelling System
Upper case A B C D E Ē (pre-1947) F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T Oe (1901)/U (1947) V W X Y Z
Lower case a b c d e ē (pre-1947) f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t oe (1901)/u (1947) v w x y z

Comparison tableEdit

Sound Letter(s) Post-1972 replacement
1927 Za'aba
(Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore)
1901 Van Ophuijsen,
1947 Soewandi
Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore Indonesia
/t͡ʃ/ ch[a] tj c
/d/ dh - d -
/z/ dz - d -
/ə/ ă, ĕ e, ē (pre-1947) e
/e/ e é e
/ɛ/ e - e -
/ɪ/ - é - e
ï - i -
/d͡ʒ/ - dj - j
/x/ - ch[b] - kh
/ɲ/ - nj - ny
/s/ th - s -
/ʃ/ sh sj sy
/u/ - oe - u
/j/ - j - y
  1. ^ The "ch" digraph was used for a different purpose in Indonesia
  2. ^ The "ch" digraph was used for a different purpose in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Before a spelling reform in 1972, Indonesia would disambiguate /e/ as é and /ə/ as e, and Malaysia /e/ as e and /ə/ as ĕ. The spelling reform removed the diacritics and use e to represent both /e/ and /ə/.
  2. ^ Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu (2014), Ejaan Rumi Baharu Bahasa Malaysia, retrieved 2014-10-04
  3. ^ "Malay (Bahasa Melayu / بهاس ملايو)".

External linksEdit