Background and status
The Malay language is historically one of the most politically powerful languages of the enormous Austronesian language family. For centuries, Malay has served as a common language throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula, promoting a free exchange of commerce and culture among these areas.
It’s a major language of the Austronesian family and spoken by 240 million people across the Malacca Strait. (The Austronesian language family is one of the world’s largest, with more than 1,200 distinct languages found from Madagascar to Hawaii.) As the national language of Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia and one of four official languages of Singapore, Standard Malay has various official names: in Singapore and Brunei it is called Bahasa Melayu (Malay language); in Malaysia, Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language); and in Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) and is designated the Bahasa Persatuan/Pemersatu ("unifying language/lingua franca"). However, in areas of central to southern Sumatra where the language is indigenous, Indonesians refer to it as Bahasa Melayu and consider it one of their regional languages.
Growth and usage
Standard Malay is especially closely related to the form of Malay that is the national language of Indonesia. Speakers of both languages can generally understand each other, but the main difference is the vocabulary: both have been influenced by among others Sanskrit, Arabic and Javanese. Indonesian has been influenced by Dutch, while Malay has been influenced by English, Tamil and Chinese.
Nevertheless, Malay and Indonesian have maintained close ties. In 1972, the countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, where Malay (also known as Malaysian) serves as the primary language, agreed on a revised standardized spelling in order to facilitate communication and commerce between Indonesia and Malaysia. This allowed for the free exchange of Malaysian and Indonesian literature and improved communication between the countries.