Malagasy language

Native to Madagascar, Comoros, Mayotte
Native speakers
18 million (2007)[1]
Latin script (Malagasy alphabet)
Malagasy Braille
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 mg
ISO 639-2 mlg (B)
mlg (T)
ISO 639-3 mlginclusive code
Individual codes:
xmv  Antankarana
bhr  Bara
buc  Bushi
msh  Masikoro
bmm  Northern Betsimisaraka
plt  Plateau Malagasy
skg  Sakalava
bzc  Southern Betsimisaraka
tdx  Tandroy-Mafahaly
txy  Tanosy
tkg  Tesaka
xmw  Tsimihety
Glottolog mala1537[2]
Linguasphere 31-LDA-a

Malagasy (/mæləˈɡæsi/;[3] Malagasy: [ˌmalaˈɡasʲ]) is an Austronesian language and the national language of Madagascar. Most people in Madagascar speak it as a first language as do some people of Malagasy descent elsewhere.


The Malagasy language is the westernmost member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family.[4] Its distinctiveness from nearby African languages was noted in 1708 by the Dutch scholar Adriaan Reland.[5] It is related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and more closely to the East Barito languages spoken in Borneo except for its Polynesian morphophonemics.[6] According to Roger Blench (2010), the earliest form of language spoken on Madagascar could have had some non-Austronesian substrata.[7]

Decimal numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
PAN, circa 4000 BC *isa *DuSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *puluq
Tagalog isá dalawá tatló ápat limá ánim pitó waló siyám sampu
Ilocano maysá dua talló uppát limá inném pitó waló siam sangapúlo
Cebuano usá duhá tuló upat limá unom pitó waló siyám napulu
Chamorro maisa/håcha hugua tulu fatfat lima gunum fiti guålu sigua månot/fulu
Malay satu dua tiga[8] empat lima enam tujuh lapan sembilan sepuluh
Javanese siji loro telu papat limo nem pitu wolu songo sepuluh
Fijian dua rua tolu lima ono vitu walu ciwa tini
Tongan taha ua tolu nima ono fitu valu hiva -fulu
Sāmoan tasi lua tolu lima ono fitu valu iva sefulu
Māori tahi rua toru whā rima ono whitu waru iwa tekau (archaic: ngahuru)
Tahitian hō'ē piti toru maha pae ono hitu va'u iva 'ahuru
Marquesan e tahi e 'ua e to'u e fa e 'ima e ono e fitu e va'u e iva 'onohu'u
Hawaiian kahi lua kolu lima ono hiku walu iwa -'umi
Malagasy iray roa telo efatra dimy enina fito valo sivy folo


Malagasy Bible

Madagascar was first settled by Austronesian peoples from Maritime Southeast Asia who had passed through Borneo.[9] The migrations continued along the first millennium, as confirmed by linguistic researchers who showed the close relationship between the Malagasy language and Old Malay and Old Javanese languages of this period.[10][11] Far later, c. 1000, the original Austronesian settlers mixed with Bantus and Arabs, amongst others.[12] There is evidence that the predecessor(s) of the Malagasy dialects first arrived in the southern stretch of the east coast of Madagascar.[13]

Malagasy has a tradition of oratory arts and poetic histories and legends. The most well-known is the national epic, Ibonia, about a Malagasy folk hero of the same name.[14]

Geographic distribution

The Malagasy language is the principal language spoken on the island of Madagascar. It is also spoken by Malagasy communities on neighboring Indian Ocean islands such as Réunion and Comoros. Large expatriate Malagasy communities speaking the language also exist in France, Québec, and to a lesser extent Belgium and Washington DC.

Legal status

The Merina dialect of Malagasy is considered the national language of Madagascar. It is one of two official languages alongside French in the 2010 constitution putting in place the Fourth Republic. Previously, under the 2007 constitution, Malagasy was one of three official languages alongside French and English. It is the language of instruction in all public schools through grade five for all subjects, and remains the language of instruction through high school for the subjects of history and Malagasy language.


There are two principal dialects of Malagasy, eastern, including Merina, and western, including Sakalava, with the isogloss running down the spine of the island, the south being western, and the central plateau and much of the north (apart from the very tip) being eastern. Ethnologue encodes a dozen varieties of Malagasy as distinct languages. They have about a 70% similarity in lexicon with Merina dialect.

Region specific variations

The two main dialects of Malagasy are easily distinguished by several phonological features.

Sakalava lost final nasal consonants, whereas Merina added a voiceless [ə̥]:

Final *t became -[tse] in the one but -[ʈʂə̥] in the other:

Sakalava retains ancestral *li and *ti, whereas in Merina these become [di] (as in huditra 'skin' above) and [tsi]:

However, these last changes started in Borneo before the Malagasy arrived in Madagascar.

Writing system

Sorabe Malagasy Arabic script

The language has a written literature going back presumably to the 15th century. When the French established Fort-Dauphin in the 17th century, they found an Arabico-Malagasy script in use, known as Sorabe ("large writings"). This Arabic Ajami script was mainly used for astrological and magical texts. The oldest known manuscript in that script is a short Malagasy-Dutch vocabulary from the early 17th century, which was first published in 1908 by Gabriel Ferrand[15] though the script must have been introduced into the southeast area of Madagascar in the 15th century.[12]

The first bilingual renderings of religious texts are those by Étienne de Flacourt,[16] who also published the first dictionary of the language.[17] Radama I, the first literate representative of the Merina monarchy, though extensively versed in the Arabico-Malagasy tradition,[18] opted in 1823 for a Latin system derived by David Jones and invited the Protestant London Missionary Society to establish schools and churches. The first book to be printed in Malagasy using Latin characters was the Bible, which was translated into Malagasy in 1835 by British Protestant missionaries working in the highlands area of Madagascar.[19]

The Malagasy alphabet consists of 21 letters: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, v, y, z. The orthography maps rather straightforwardly to the phonemic inventory. The letters i and y both represent the /i/ sound (y is used word-finally, and i elsewhere), while o is pronounced /u/. The affricates /ʈʂ/ and /ɖʐ/ are written tr and dr, respectively, while /ts/ and /dz/ are written ts and j. The letter h is often silent. All other letters have essentially their IPA values.

Mp and occasionally nt may begin a word, but they are pronounced /p, t/.

@ is used informally as a short form for amin'ny, which is a preposition followed by the definite form, meaning for instance with the.

Sorabe script with the Latin equivalents
ـَبد ـِ ف غ ه ـِ ج ك ل م ن ـُ ڡ ر س ط و ي & ز عڊ & رّ ̣ط & رّ تڡّ طّ ـَيْـَوْـُوًـُيْـِيَا & ـِيْاـِوْـِيْ
a b d e f g, ng h i, y j k l m n o p r s t v z dr tr ts mp nt aiaooaoiia, eaio, eoie


Diacritics are not obligatory in standard Malagasy, except in the case where its absence leads to an ambiguity: tanàna ("city") must have the diacritic to discriminate itself from tanana ("hand"). They may however be used in the following ways:



Front Central Back
Close i, y
Mid e
Open a

After a stressed syllable, as at the end of most words and in the final two syllables of some, /a, u, i/ are reduced to [ə, ʷ, ʲ]. (/i/ is spelled y in such cases, though in monosyllabic words like ny and vy, y is pronounced as a full [i].) Final /a/, and sometimes final syllables, are devoiced at the end of an utterance. /e/ and /o/ are never reduced or devoiced.

/o/ is marginal in Merina dialect, found in interjections and loan words, though it is also found in place names from other dialectical areas. /ai, au/ are diphthongs [ai̯, au̯] in careful speech, [e, o] or [ɛ, ɔ] in more casual speech. /ai/, whichever way it is pronounced, affects following /k, ɡ/ as /i/ does.


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Velar Glottal
Nasal m m n n ŋ
voiceless p p t t ts ts ʈʳ tr k k
voiceless prenasalized mp mp nt nt nts nts ɳʈʳ ntr ŋk nk
voiced b b d d dz j ɖʳ dr ɡ g
voiced prenasalized mb mb nd nd ndz nj ɳɖʳ ndr ŋɡ ng
Fricative voiceless f f s s h h
voiced v v z z
Lateral l l
Trill r r

The alveolars /s ts z dz l/ are slightly palatalized. /ts, dz, s, z/ vary between [ts, dz, s, z] and [tʃ, dʒ, ʃ, ʒ], and are especially likely to be the latter when followed by unstressed /i/: Thus French malgache [malɡaʃ] 'Malagasy'. The velars /k ɡ ŋk ŋɡ h/ are palatalized after /i/ (e.g. alika /alikʲa/ 'dog'). /h/ is frequently elided in casual speech.

The reported postalveolar trilled affricates /ʈʳ ɳʈʳ ɖʳ ɳɖʳ/ are sometimes simple stops, [ʈ ɳʈ ɖ ɳɖ], but they often have a rhotic release, [ʈɽ̊˔ ɳʈɽ̊˔ ɖɽ˔ ɳɖɽ˔]. It is not clear if they are actually trilled, or are simply non-sibilant affricates [ʈɻ̊˔ ɳʈɻ̊˔ ɖɻ˔ ɳɖɻ˔]. However, in another Austronesian language with a claimed trilled affricate, Fijian, trilling occurs but is rare, and the primary distinguishing feature is that it is postalveolar.[20] The Malagasy sounds are frequently transcribed [ʈʂ ɳʈʂ ɖʐ ɳɖʐ], and that is the convention used in this article.

In reduplication, compounding, possessive and verbal constructions, and after nasals, fricatives and liquids ('spirants') become stops, as follows:

Malagasy sandhi
rɖʳ (ɖʐ)


Words are generally accented on the penultimate syllable, unless the word ends in ka, tra and often na, in which case they are stressed on the antepenultimate syllable. In many dialects, unstressed vowels (except /e/) are devoiced, and in some cases almost completely elided; thus fanorona is pronounced [fə̥ˈnurnə̥].


Word order

Malagasy has a verb–object–subject (VOS) word order:

Mamaky boky ny mpianatra
(reads book the student)
"The student reads the book"

Nividy ronono ho an'ny zaza ny vehivavy
(bought milk for the child the woman)
"The woman bought milk for the child"

Within phrases, Malagasy order is typical of head-initial languages: Malagasy has prepositions rather than postpositions (ho an'ny zaza "for the child"). Determiners precede the noun, while quantifiers, modifying adjective phrases, and relative clauses follow the noun (ny boky "the book(s)", ny boky mena "the red book(s)", ny boky rehetra "all the books", ny boky novakin'ny mpianatra "the book(s) read by the student(s)").

Somewhat unusually, demonstrative determiners are repeated both before and after the noun ity boky ity "this book" (lit. "this book this").


Verbs have syntactically three productive "voice" forms according to the thematic role they play in the sentence: the basic "agent focus" forms of the majority of Malagasy verbs, the derived "patient focus" forms used in "passive" constructions, and the derived "goal focus" forms used in constructions with focus on instrumentality. Thus

all mean "I wash my hands with soap" though focus is determined in each case by the sentence initial verb form and the sentence final (noun) argument: manasa "wash" and aho "I" in (1), sasako "wash" and ny tanako "my hands" in (2), anasako "wash" and ny savony "soap" in (3). It should be noted that there is no equivalent to the English preposition with in (3).

Verbs inflect for past, present, and future tense, where tense is marked by prefixes (e.g. mividy "buy", nividy "bought", hividy "will buy").

Nouns and pronouns

Malagasy has no grammatical gender, and nouns do not inflect for number. However, pronouns and demonstratives have distinct singular and plural forms (cf. io boky io "that book", ireto boky ireto "these books").

There is a complex series of personal and demonstrative pronouns, depending on the speaker's familiarity and closeness to the referent.


Malagasy has a complex system of deixis (these, those, here, there, etc.), with seven degrees of distance as well as evidentiality across all seven. The evidential dimension is prototypically visible vs. non-visible referents; however, the non-visible forms may be used for visible referents which are only vaguely identified or have unclear boundaries, whereas the visible forms are used for non-visible referents when these are topical to the conversation.[21]

Malagasy deixis
(here, there)
NVIS atỳ àto ào àtsy àny aròa* arỳ
VIS etỳ èto èo ètsy èny eròa erỳ
(this, that)
(these, those)
NVIS izatỳ*izàto*izàoizàtsy*izànyizaròa*izarỳ*
VIS itỳìtoìoìtsyìnyiròa*irỳ
VIS.PL irètoirèoirètsyirènyireròa*irerỳ*

Notes :


Malagasy is an Austronesian language most similar to the Celebic languages, which are spoken on Sulawesi (also known as Celebes). It has borrowings from Malay, Arabic, and the Bantu languages, especially the Sabaki branch, from which, most notably, Swahili derives, as well as more recent borrowings from French and English.

The following samples are of the Merina dialect or Standard Malagasy, which is spoken in the capital of Madagascar and in the central highlands or "plateau", home of the Merina people.[22][23] It is generally understood throughout the island.

English Malagasy IPA
English Anglisy ãŋˈɡliʂ
Yes Eny ˈʲenj
No Tsia, (before a verb) Tsy tsi, tsʲ
Hello! / How are you? Manao ahoana! manaˈʷonə̥/manaˈonə̥
Hello! (rural areas) Salama! saˈlamə̥
I'm fine, thank you. Tsara fa misaotra. ˈtsarə̥ fa mʲˈsoːtʂə̥
Goodbye! Veloma! veˈlumə̥
Please Azafady azaˈfadʲ
Thank you Misaotra mʲˈsoːtʂa
You're welcome Tsisy fisaorana. tsʲ ˈmisʲ fʲˈsoːranə̥
Excuse me Azafady (with arm and hand pointing to the ground) azaˈfadʲ
Sorry Miala tsiny mjala ˈtsinʲ
Who? Iza? ˈiːza/ˈiza
What? Inona? inːa
When? Rahoviana?, (past tense) Oviana roːˈvinə̥/rawˈvinə̥
Where? Aiza?, (past tense) Taiza ajzə̥
Why? Fa maninona? fa maninːə̥
How? Ahoana? aˈʷonə̥
How many? Firy? ˈfirʲ
How much? Ohatrinona? ʷoˈtʂinːə̥
What's your name? Iza ny anaranao? iza njanaraˈnaw
For Ho an'ny / Ho an'i wanːi
Because Satria saˈtʂi
I don't understand. Tsy mazava, Tsy azoko. tsʲ mazavə̥
Yes, I understand. Eny, mazava, Eny, azoko ʲenʲ mazavə̥
Help! Vonjeo! vunˈdzew
Go away! Mandehana! man di anə
Can you help me please? Afaka manampy ahy ve ianao azafady? afaka manapʲ a ve enaw azafadʲ
Where are the toilets? Aiza ny efitrano fivoahana?, Aiza ny V.C.?, Aiza ny toliet? ajza njefitʂanʷ fiˈvwaːnə̥
Do you speak English? Mahay teny anglisy ve ianao? miˈtenʲ ãŋˈɡliʂ ve eˈnaw
I do not speak Malagasy. Tsy mahay teny malagasy aho. tsʲ maaj tenʲ malaˈɡasʲ a
I do not speak French. Tsy mahay teny frantsay aho. tsʲ maaj tenʲ frantsaj a
I am thirsty. Mangetaheta aho. maŋɡetaˈeta
I am hungry. Noana aho. noːna
I am sick. Marary aho.
I am tired. Vizaka aho, Reraka aho ˈvizaka, rerakau
I need to pee. Poritra aho, Ny olombelona tsy akoho purtʂa
I would like to go to Antsirabe. Te hankany Antsirabe aho. tiku ankanʲ anjantsirabe
That's expensive! Lafo be izany! lafʷˈbe zanʲ
I'm hungry for some rice. Noana vary aho. noːna varja
What can I do for you? Inona no azoko atao ho anao? inːa ɲazʷkwataʷ wanaw
I like... Tiako... tikʷ
I love you. Tiako ianao. tikwenaʷ
one isa/iray isə̥
two roa ru
three telo telʷ
four efatra ˈefatʂə̥
five dimy ˈdimʲ
six enina enː
seven fito fitʷ
eight valo valʷ
nine sivy sivʲ
ten folo fulʷ
eleven iraika ambin'ny folo rajkʲambefulʷ
twelve roa ambin'ny folo rumbefulʷ
twenty roapolo ropulʷ
thirty telopolo telopulʷ
forty efapolo efapulʷ
fifty dimampolo dimapulʷ
sixty enim-polo empulʷ
seventy fitopolo fitupulʷ
eighty valopolo valupulʷ
ninety sivifolo sivfulʷ
one hundred zato zatʷ
two hundred roan-jato rondzatʷ
one thousand arivo arivʷ
ten thousand iray alina rajal
one hundred thousand iray hetsy rajetsʲ
one million iray tapitrisa rajtaptʂisə̥
one billion iray lavitrisa rajlavtʂisə̥
3,568,942 roa amby efapolo sy sivin-jato sy valo arivo sy enina alina sy dimy hetsy sy telo tapitrisa rumbefapulʷ sʲsivdzatʷ sʲvalorivʷ sʲenːal sʲdimjetsʲ sʲtelutapitʂisə̥


Malagasy lexicon (1773) (Collection BULAC Paris)

The first dictionary of the language is Étienne de Flacourt's Dictionnaire de la langue de Madagascar published in 1658 though earlier glossaries written in Arabico-Malagasy script exist. A later Vocabulaire Anglais-Malagasy was published in 1729. An 892-page Malagasy–English dictionary was published by James Richardson of the London Missionary Society in 1885, available as a reprint; however, this dictionary includes archaic terminology and definitions. Whereas later works have been of lesser size, several have been updated to reflect the evolution and progress of the language, including a more modern, bilingual frequency dictionary based on a corpus of over 5 million Malagasy words.[22]

See also


  1. Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Malagasic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. Malagasy's family tree on Ethnologue
  5. New palaeozoogeographical evidence for the settlement of Madagascar
  6. Wittmann, Henri (1972). "Le caractère génétiquement composite des changements phonétiques du malgache." Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences 7.807-10. La Haye: Mouton.
  7. Blench, Roger; Walsh, Martin (11 January 2010). "The vocabularies of Vazimba and Beosi: Do they represent the languages of the pre-Austronesian populations of Madagascar?" (PDF).
  8. In Kedukan Bukit inscription the numeral tlu ratus appears as three hundred, tlu as three, in the word telu is referred to as three in Malay, although the use of telu is very rare.
  9. Ricaut et alii (2009) "A new deep branch of eurasian mtDNA macrohaplogroup M reveals additional complexity regarding the settlement of Madagascar", BMC Genomics
  10. Adelaar, K. Alexander; Himmelmann, Nikolaus (2005). The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-7007-1286-1.
  11. Simon, Pierre R. (2006). Fitenin-drazana. L'Harmattan. ISBN 978-2-296-01108-3.
  12. 1 2 Ferrand, Gabriel (1905). Les migrations musulmanes et juives à Madagascar. Paris: Revue de l'histoire des religions
  13. Serva, Maurizio; Petroni, Filippo; Volchenkov, Dima; Wichmann, Søren. "Malagasy Dialects and the Peopling of Madagascar". arXiv:1102.2180Freely accessible.
  14. Archived July 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. Ferrand, Gabriel (1908). "Un vocabulaire malgache-hollandais." Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde van Nederlandsch Indië 61.673-677. The manuscript is now in the Arabico-Malagasy collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  16. Flacourt, Étienne de (1657). Le Petit Catéchisme madécasse-français.Paris;(1661). Histoire de la grande isle Madagascar.Paris, pp.197–202.
  17. Flacourt, Étienne de (1658). Dictionnaire de la langue de Madagascar. Paris.
  18. Berthier, H.J. (1934). De l'usage de l'arabico=malgache en Imérina au début du XIXe siècle: Le cahier d'écriture de Radama Ier. Tananarive.
  19. The translation is due to David Griffith of the London Missionary Society, with corrections in 1865–1866.
  20. Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8. p. 131
  21. Janie Rasoloson and Carl Rubino, 2005, "Malagasy", in Adelaar & Himmelmann, eds, The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar
  22. 1 2 Winterton, Matthew et al. (2011). Malagasy–English, English–Malagasy Dictionary / Diksionera Malagasy–Anglisy, Anglisy–Malagasy. Lulu Press.
  23. Rasoloson, Janie (2001). Malagasy–English / English–Malagasy: Dictionary and Phrasebook. Hippocrene Books.


External links

Malagasy edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Malagasy language.
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Malagasy.
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