Malagasy is the official language of Madagascar, while the Merina dialect is considered the national language. A member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family, Malagasy is spoken by roughly 18 million people (2007) in Madagascar, as well as the nearby Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Réunion, and Mayotte. In addition, emigrant Malagasy communities can be found in France, Québec, Belgium, and Washington DC.
As the Malagasy alphabet does not contain a ‘c’ and all words end in a vowel, Madagascar is not actually a Malagasy term. The equivalent name would be “Madagasikara”, however, amongst the Malagasy, the island is called Nosin-dambo, Izao tontolo, or Ny aninvon’ ny riaka.
Malagasy has two principle dialects. Merina is spoken throughout Eastern, Central and Northern Madagascar, while Sakalava is spoken in Western and Southern Madagascar. The differences in these vernaculars are primarily in the pronunciation of words, and not the words themselves. Malagasy also contains many words borrowed from Bantu languages, Arabic, French, and English. The younger generations of Malagasy use a colloquial combination of Malagasy and English, referred to locally as Malenglish.
The original writing system used for Malagasy was an Arabico-Malagasy script called Sorabe, although this was mainly used for astrological and magical texts. In 1823, Welsh missionaries working in Madagascar changed the writing system to one using Latin alphabetization. 1835 saw the first Malagasy book using Latin characters, the Bible, published.
Malagasy is the language used in all community schools for all subjects up until the fifth grade, and through high school for subjects such as history.
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