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Indonesian x Malay ?


I just wanted to make sure, as I already googled this earlier, but I am still a bit confused.

Indonesian is a form of Malay right? Malay is official in Malaysia and Indonesian in Indonesia, but they are almost the same, right?

Thank you for any answers!

August 16, 2018



The grammar is almost the same. For the vocabulary, we have some different meanings and/or preference.

For example, the word "boleh" in Indonesian means "may, to be allowed", while in Malay it also means "to be able to…". There are also some different expressions, but we generally are able to understand each other easily.

Like Winniefj said, it's like Norwegian and Swedish. As for myself, I think Malay is more poetic since it's the "older" one.


If you're talking spoken street Malay and Indonesian, both are pretty much the same but for some terms, think an Aussie speaking with a Brit or an American.

Grammar-wise, or formal written language-wise, they are about as different as Spanish and Portuguese, but with Malays having a terrible grasp of their own grammar and Indonesia streamlining their language and absobing Malay media, you could learn one or the other, really.

*I'm an expat who used to have permanent residence in Malaysia, lived there for more than 13 years and learned Malay in both its written Rumi and Jawi variants.


Great, so if one wanted to live in Malaysia / visit it, learning Indonesian would allow me to do it (since Malaysia has 31 million population there are not as many resources as for Indonesian).

Anyway thanks! I was just curious, because I read about this earlier and couldn't find exact answer :D


I was able to speak Indonesian in Malaysia without many problems. There are a couple of subtle differences, but I felt like both Malay and Indonesian are almost identical.

It is often said that Indonesian speakers can understand Malay but not vice-versa. But, once you learnt Indonesian, it won't be too difficult to learn and understand Malay.


you can ask me anything you want about malaysia. i am a malaysian


Indonesia vs Malay

Apel (id) epal (my) Apple (en) Jeruk (id) Oren / limau (my) Orange (en) Gratis (id) Percuma (my) Free (en)


To add to your list:

  • Hari Senin (id), Hari Isnin (my), Monday

  • Hari Jumat (id), Hari Jumaat) (my), Friday

  • Hari Minggu (id), Hari Ahad (my), Sunday

  • Bisa (id), Boleh (my), Can

  • Bis (id), Bas (my), Bus

  • Sore (id), Petang (my), Late Afternoon

  • Siang (id), Tengahari (my), Midday

  • Mau/Ingin (id), Na/Nak (my), Want

  • Berbicara (id), Bercakap (my), To speak (a language) / To talk

  • Saya (id), Saya (my) (pronounced 'saye'), I/Me

  • Pesawat Terbang (id), Kapal Terbang (my), Aeroplane


Are these examples representative? These examples are showing significant differences, whereas people are generally saying that the languages as a whole are not very different. How are we to understand / interpret these examples?


They are, at least the Malay ones are. Malay speakers usually mix English in too, so that sometimes I think "free" is more commonly used than "percuma".


My Indonesian is limited but I have been able to converse with Malays just as easily as with Indonesians; albeit, limited conversations.


Let's go back to the past.

There was 2 main languages in the Nusantara peninsula (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore can be considered Nusantara), which is Javanese and Malay. Javanese flourished during the Javanese Majapahit empire (as they conquered almost the whole Nusantara). Malay flourished during the Malay Malacca empire (which contains Modern day East Malaysia, Riau Islands, and parts of Sumatera).

By the time, Malay became a widely used language in Nusantara. Because, first, Malacca is strategically a good trading centre, second, the decline of the Majapahit empire allowed Islamism and it's culture to flourish (Malacca is the biggest Nusantara Moslem empire at that time).

Then started the discoveries of the New World, which the Dutch conquered Indonesia, meanwhile the British took Malaysia. During this time, many loan words from the Dutch (and Javanese as well) were used in Malay (in Indonesian region, which later becomes the language "Indonesian"). On the other hand, Malay develop itself with some British influence.

Indonesian further developed and flourished in WW2, during the Japanese Occupation, where locals were allowed to have education in schools (during the Dutch colonialization, only elites can go to schools) despite the fact that education quality is still poor.

Due to this, Indonesian and Malay is almost the same. However, a lot of difference were real.

In Malay, policy is polisi, and police is polis.

In Indonesian, policy is polis, and police is polisi

And so on.


Could we go back to what I think was the main intent behind AlSkr 's original question, which I will rephrase, with apologies, with my own interests included :) --

If one learns "Indonesian" (as the Duo course calls it), as a foreigner, how much mileage can they expect to get when visiting parts of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia (even including Bali)? And will the visitor speaking this Indonesian be received OK by most people? Thanks! All of the answers have been helpful so far, I just wanted to be a bit more clear about the practical (as opposed to historical and political) component.


You can speak Indonesian in Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia, and be well understood. Indonesian/Malay is not really commonly spoken in Singapore anymore, but it depends on which areas you visit.

Speaking Indonesian is received well by people in Brunei and Malaysia. No one got angry at me in Malaysia or Brunei for speaking the 'wrong dialect/language'.

For Bali, many Balinese speak Balinese as their first language, but they're taught Indonesian at school. I have not been to Bali, but my friends have told me that nearly everyone can speak Indonesian there (except for the tourists). Within Indonesia, Indonesian is used as a common language between different islands that speak different minority languages.


I lived in Malaysia and learned Malay, but I actually found the language MORE useful in Java and Bali. In Malaysia, people that you come across in cities speak English and may not like speaking Malay much (Chinese people), whereas in Indonesia lots of the people you interact with don't speak any English, and in general many more interactions will be forced, since infrastructure is so much worse, and there are so many people trying to get your money.


I've been told it's important (to Indonesian national pride, if nothing else) to make a distinction between Bahasa Melayu, the parent language of both Indonesian and Malaysian, and Bahasa Malaysia, the predominant language of Malayasia.


Why? Please elaborate :)


Sad events long ago.


I don't think I can do an explanation justice, but there is a rivalry between the two countries that is not exactly antagonistic, but not particularly friendly either.

No Indonesian wants to be thought of as speaking a language that is merely a "child" of the one they speak in Malaysia.


To what they are trying to make Malaysian pride as well, as can be seen from the changing of Bahasa Melayu to Bahasa "Malaysia" in the recent years (within the last twenty years).

Apparently when Malaya, as it was then, and Indonesia became independent, from the British and the Dutch respectively, they wanted to form a "Melayu raya" where there would be one Malay language, but it was not to be and the plans of unity fell through. Indonesia must have felt betrayed, enough that, taking into account other factors, they attacked Malaya resulting in the Konfrontasi (I forget the full name). Malaya brought a formal complaint to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) but the resolution was vetoed by Russia.

By the time Malaysia was formed things settled down quite a bit and today, there is but friendly rivalry (as I see it!).


/sorry for out of topic/

I'm Indonesian here. Back then before the declaration, the Peninsula showed the intention to join Indonesia, but when Soekarno declared independence, he didn't include the Peninsula. After that, when the Peninsula became Malaysia, Soekarno screamed "Ganyang Malaysia." This is why many Malaysians really hated Soekarno back then.

This is the story that we didn't get told in Indonesia, because it made our first president looked like a bad guy. Though I read it from the Malaysia's perspective, so maybe there must be more reasons why Soekarno didn't include the peninsula. We could open the secrets since it has been more than 50 years since that events, but we couldn't for some reasons.


Yes, but I think no one really wants to revisit it since present Indonesia-Malaysia relations are amicable enough that nobody wants to rock the boat with such a "politically sensitive" issue. From what I have read (correct me if I'm wrong) there seems to have been an issue of different priorities as well, as Malaya wanted independence more than it wanted to wait to gain independence with the Dutch-controlled lands, reasoning that they could always join up later.

P.S. I don't think its out of topic! :-)


Great comment!


Hey, I answered in a similar question in https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/28860446, please read it to find out more. :)

Briefly, yes, Indonesian is a form of Malay known as "Bahasa Indonesia" and the Malay in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are the same or very similar, and is known as "Bahasa Malaysia" (in Malaysia) or "Bahasa Melayu", I will refer to it hereafter as BM.

Bahasa Indonesia and BM are similar but not the same, as Winnie, humaidyns, Jesse and several others have shown through examples. BM speakers usually can understand Indonesian well due to the wider media influence and the fact that Indonesian speakers use the language more extensively in their daily lives whereas Malay speakers (as I have observed) have a tendency to mix English in. However, many non-Malay speakers have said that it is an easy language to learn to speak, and since they are so similar, by extension Indonesian is as well!


They're close enough that I'm here learning Indo in order to improve on my Malay... but they ARE different in many ways. Sadly there just aren't so many courses or materials available for Malay (and almost none for East Malaysian Malay...)


Similar but not "almost the same". They are two distinct languages, more distant from each other than the different varieties of English, for example.

When I was at school in Australia I shared a class with some Malaysian guys studying Indonesian. They just did a few advanced classes to get them up to speed to sit the senior high school level exam. It was VERY easy for them but the teacher used to enjoy asking trick questions that they would get wrong but Australians students like me (with reasonable school Indonesian) would get right. I can remember that "karena" (= because) was a word they would get wrong (I think they used "bila").

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