Malay alphabet

The modern Malay alphabet 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 without any diacritics.[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 (as Malaysian) and Singapore, while it is co-official with Jawi in Brunei.

Historically, various scripts such as Pallava, Kawi and Rencong were used to write Old Malay, until they were replaced by Jawi with the introduction of Islam. 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. The Soewandi Spelling System (or the Republic Spelling System after independence), used in the Dutch East Indies and later in independent Indonesia until 1972, was based on the Dutch alphabet. 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.

Letter names and pronunciations

New Rumi Spelling (Malay: Ejaan Rumi Baharu), Enhanced Indonesian Spelling System (Indonesian: Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan, abbreviated EYD), also called the Perfected Spelling System (PSS).

Indonesian/Malay Latin alphabet
Lower case abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
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 follows the letter names of the Dutch alphabet, while Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore follow the English alphabet. Regardless of the letter names, however, the letters represent the same sounds in all Malay-speaking countries. The Malay alphabet has a phonemic orthography; words are spelled the way they are pronounced, with few exceptions. 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
Aaa (/a/)e (/e/)/a/a as in father
/ə/-a as in sofa
Bb (/be/)bi (/bi/)/b/b as in bed
Cc (/t͡ʃe/ or /se/)si (/si/)/t͡ʃ/ch as in check
Dd (/de/)di (/di/)/d/d as in day
Eeé (/e/)i (/i/)/ə/e as in tolerant
/e/e as in hey
/e//ɪ/e as in packet
/ɛ/e as in get
Fféf (/ef/)éf (/ef/)/f/f as in effort
Gg (/ge/)ji (/d͡ʒi/)/ɡ/g as in gain
Hhha (/ha/)héc (/het͡ʃ/)/h/h as in harm
Iii (/i/)ai (/ai̯/)/i/i as in machine, but shorter
/e//ɪ/i as in igloo
Jj (/d͡ʒe/) (/d͡ʒe/)/d͡ʒ/j as in jam
Kkka (/ka/) (/ke/)/k/unaspirated k as in skate
Llél (/el/)él (/el/)/l/l as in let
Mmém (/em/)ém (/em/)/m/m as in mall
Nnén (/en/)én (/en/)/n/n as in net
Ooo (/o/)o (/o/)/o/o as in owe
/ɔ/o as in bought, but shorter
Pp (/pe/)pi (/pi/)/p/unaspirated p as in speak
Qqki (/ki/)kiu (/kiu/ or /kju/)/q/ ~ /k/q as in Qatar
Rrér (/er/)ar (/ar/ or /a:/)/r/Spanish rr as in puerro
Ssés (/es/)és (/es/)/s/s as in sun
Tt (/te/)ti (/ti/)/t/unaspirated t as in still
Uuu (/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
Xxéks (/eks/)éks (/eks/)/ks/x as in box
/z//s/x as in xenon
Yy (/je/)wai (/wai̯/)/j/y as in yarn
Zzzét (/zet/)zed (/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
Malaysia, Brunei and SingaporeIndonesia
ai/ai̯/uy as in buy
au/au̯/ou as in ouch
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 System

1927 Za'aba and 1947 Soewandi Spelling Systems

Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore: 1927 Za'aba Spelling System
Lower case aăbcdeĕfghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
Indonesia: 1901 Van Ophuijsen Spelling System and 1947 Soewandi Spelling System
Lower case abcdeéfghijklmnopqrstoe(1901)/ u(1947)vwxyz
Letter Sound Post-1972 Replacement
1927 Za'aba Spelling System
(Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore)
1901 Van Ophuijsen Spelling System,
1947 Soewandi Spelling System
Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore Indonesia

See also


  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)".
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