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ISCApad Archive  »  2014  »  ISCApad #194  »  Events  »  ISCA Events  »  (2014-02) INTERSPEECH 2014 Newsletter February 2014

ISCApad #194

Monday, August 04, 2014 by Chris Wellekens

3-1-10 (2014-02) INTERSPEECH 2014 Newsletter February 2014

At the southern tip of the Malayan Peninsula...



…INTERSPEECH 2014 will be held in Singapore, between Malaysia and Indonesia. In the constitution, Malays are acknowledge as the “indigenous people of Singapore”. Indeed, Malays are the predominant ethnic group inhabiting the Malay Peninsula, Eastern Sumatra, Brunei, coastal Borneo, part of Thailand, the Southern Burmese coast and Singapore. You get now a better understanding of why Malay is one of the four official – and the only national – language of Singapore.



A Malay history of Singapore


It is said that the city of Singapore was founded in 1299 BCE by a Prince from Palembang (South Sumatra, Indonesia), descendant of Alexander the Great. According to the legend, the Prince named the city Singapura (“Lion City”) after sighting a beast on the island. If it is highly doubtful that any Lion ever lived in Singapore outside the zoo, another story tells that the last surviving tiger in Singapore was shot at the bar of the Raffles Hotel in 1902.

Despite this auspicious foundation, the population of Pulau Ujong (the “island at the end”) did not exceed a thousand inhabitants when, in 1819, Sir Thomas Raffles decided to establish a new port to reinforce the British trade between China and India. At this time, the population consisted of different Malay groups (Orang Kallang, Orang Seletar, Orang Gelam, Orang Lauts) and a few Chinese. Nowadays, Malay count for 13.3% of Singapore's population with origins as diverse as Johor, Riau islands (for the Malays Proper), Java (Javanese), Baewan island (Baewanese), Celebes islands (Bugis) or Sumatra (Batak and Minangkabaus).


Malay language


With almost 220 million of speakers, the Malay language in its various forms unites the fifth largest language community in the world [1]. Origins of Malay language can be traced amongst the very first Austronesian languages, back to 2000 BCE [2]. Through the centuries, the major Indian religions brought a number of Sanskrit and Persian words to the Malay vocabulary while islamization of the South East Asia added Arabic influences [3]. Later on, languages from the colonization powers (mainly Dutch and British) and migrants (Chinese and Tamil) contributed to the diversity of Malay influences [4, 5]. In return Malay words have been loaned in other languages, e.g. in English: rice paddy, Orangutan, babirussa, cockatoo, compound, durian, rambutan, etc.

During the golden age of Malay empires, Malay has gained its foothold in territories of modern Malaysia and Indonesia where it became a vector for trade and business. Today, Malay is official language in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore and is spoken in southern Thailand, Philippines or Cocos and Christmas Islands in Australia [6].

Malay counts a total of 35 phonemes: 6 vowels, 3 diphthongs and 27 consonants [1,5]. As an agglutinative language, its vocabulary can be enriched by adding affixes to the root words [7]. Affixations in Malay consist of prefixation, infixation, suffixation or circumfixation1. Malay languages also have two proclitics, four enclitics and three particles that may be attached to an affixed word [8].

In Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, Malay is officially written using the Latin alphabet (Rumi) but an Arabic alphabet called Jawi is co-official in Brunei and Malaysia.



Bahasa Melayu in Singapore


Bahasa Melayu (or Malay Language) is one of the four official languages of Singapore, the ceremonial national language and is used in the national anthem or for military commands. However, several creoles remain spoken across the island. Amongst them, Bahasa Melayu Pasar or Bazaar Malay is a creole of Malay and Chinese which used to be the lingua franca and the language for trade between communities [4, 5]. Baba Malay, another variety of Malay Creole influenced by Hokkien and Bazaar Malay is still spoken by around 10,000 people in Singapore.

Today, Bahasa Melayu is the lingua franca among Malay, Javanese, Boyanese, other Indonesian groups and some Arabs in Singapore. It is used as a mean for transmitting familial and religious values amongst the Malay community as well as in “Madrasahs”, mosques and religious schools. However, with 35% of Malay pupils predominantly speaking English at home and a majority of Singaporeans being bilingual in English, Malay is facing competition from English which is taught as first language [5].


Selemat datang ke Singapura / Welcome to Singapore


Opportunities of discovering the Malay culture in Singapore are everywhere. Depending on time and location you might want to taste the Malay's cuisine or one of the succulent Malay cookies while walking around the streets of Kampong Glam or visiting the Malay heritage center.






[1] Tan, Tien-Ping, et al. 'MASS: A Malay language LVCSR corpus resource.' Speech Database and Assessments, 2009 Oriental COCOSDA International Conference on. IEEE, 2009.






[7] B. Ranaivo-Malacon, 'Computational Analysis of Affixed Words in Malay Language,' presented at International Symposium on Malay /Indonesian Linguistics, Penang, 2004 .



1 circumfixation refers here to the simultaneous adding of morphological units, expressing a single meaning or category, at the left and right side of the root word


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