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Malagasy, the Language of Madagascar

smiles of malagasy women

At 226,917 square miles, Madagascar is the fourth largest island on the planet. It is well known for its high-quality vanilla beans and diverse wildlife (it is one of only 17 “megadiverse” countries, according to Conservation International), including many different species of lemurs. Less diverse, are the languages spoken here.

The official language, Malagasy, is spoken by most of the population. Among the more educated population, French is also spoken (as a result of Colonialism). Malagasy is a member of the Malayo-Polynesian language family, making it more closely related to the languages spoken in Borneo, the Philippines, and Malaysia than in the neighboring countries of Africa. It borrows words from French, Swahili, and English (Madagascar was used as a base for English pirates in the 18th century!).

What makes Malagasy so fascinating, is that the spoken language barely resembles the written language. This is because of a 19th century Welsh missionary named David Jones.

Jones was befuddled by the Malagasy written language, which utilized an Arabic alphabet called Sorabe. As a result, he developed his own method of writing using the Latin alphabet and, as a result, successfully translated the Bible into Malagasy in 1823. The reason the written language differs so much from the spoken language, is because Jones incorporated many English-Welsh mannerisms into the written language. For example, the last syllable of a word is typically dropped, while unstressed syllables in the middle of words often disappear entirely. Simply put, the Welsh transcribers were spelling things how they would be pronounced with their own native accents.

Today, the Malagasy alphabet contains 21 English letters, excluding C, Q, U, W, and X. 93% of the vocabulary is Malayo-Polynesian, though most words related to animal husbandry are of Bantu (African) origins.

Malagasy is one of over 150 languages we translate at World Translation Center! For an example of how this beautifully unique language is spoken, check out the link below:

Native Malagasy Speakers

 

 

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