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Spoken in Madagascar, Comoros, Mayotte
Total speakers + 20 million
Language family Austronesian
Language codes
ISO 639-1 mg
ISO 639-2 mlg
ISO 639-3 mlg

Malagasy is the national language of Madagascar, a member of the Austronesian family of languages. Most people in Madagascar speak it as a first language as do some people of Malagasy descent elsewhere.



The Malagasy language is not related to nearby African languages, instead being the westernmost member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family, a fact noted as long ago as the eighteenth century. It is related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and more closely with the Southeast Barito group of languages spoken in Borneo except for its Polynesian morphophonemics.[1] Malagasy shares much of its basic vocabulary with the Ma'anyan language, a language from the region of the Barito River in southern Borneo. This indicates that Madagascar was first settled by Austronesian people from the Malay Archipelago who had transited through Borneo, though it is not clear precisely when or why such colonisation took place. Later, the original Austronesian settlers must have mixed with East Africans and Arabs, amongst others.[2]

The Malagasy language also includes some borrowings from Arabic, and Bantu languages (notably Swahili). 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. The oldest known manuscript in that script is a short Malagasy-Dutch vocabulary from the early 17th century first published in 1908 by Gabriel Ferrand[3] though the script must have been introduced into the southeast area of Madagascar in the 15th century.[2] Radama I, the first literate representative of the Merina monarchy, though extensively versed in the Arabico-Malagasy tradition,[4] opted for alphabetization in Latin characters and invited the Protestant London Missionary Society to establish schools and churches.

Malagasy has a rich tradition of oral and poetic histories and legends. The most famous is the national epic, Ibonia, about a Malagasy folk hero of the same name.

The first book to be printed in Malagasy was the Bible, which was translated into Malagasy in 1835 by British Christian missionaries[5] working in the highlands area of Madagascar. The first bilingual renderings of religious texts are those by Étienne de Flacourt [6], who also published the first dictionary of the language.[7]




Front Central Back
Close i, y
Mid e
ao, ô
Open a


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Voiceless p (p) t (t) ts (ts) ʈʂ (tr) k (k)
Voiceless prenasalized mp (mp) nt (nt) nts (nts) ɳʈʂ (ntr) ŋk (nk)
Voiced b (b) d (d) dz (j) ɖʐ (dr) ɡ (g)
Voiced prenasalized mb (mb) nd (nd) ndz (nj) ɳɖʐ (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 z l/ are slightly palatalized. The velars /k ɡ/ are palatalized after /i/ (e.g., alika /alikʲa/ 'dog').

Words are generally accented on the penultimate syllable, unless the word ends in ka, tra or 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 [fḁˈnurnḁ].


Malagasy has been written using the Latin alphabet since 1823, before which the Arabic Ajami script, or Sorabe ("large writings") as it is known in Madagascar, was used for astrological and magical texts.

The 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 phonetics. 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.

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


Diacritics are not obligatory in standard Malagasy. They may however be used in the following ways:

  • ` (grave accent) shows the stressed syllable in a word. It is frequently used for disambiguation. For instance in "tanàna" (town) and "tanana" (hand), where the word that is an exception to the usual pronunciation rules (tanàna) gets an accent. Using accent on the word that follows the pronunciation rules ("tànana") is less common, mainly in dictionaries.
  • ´ (acute accent) may be used in
    • very old dictionaries, along with grave accent
    • dialects such as Bara
    • French (Tuléar) and French-spelled (Antsirabé) names. Malagasy versions are Toliara/Toliary and Antsirabe.
  • ^ (circumflex) is used as follows:
    • ô shows that the letter is pronounced /o/ and not /u/, in malagasified foreign words (hôpitaly) and dialects (Tôlan̈aro). In standard Malagasy, "ao" or "oa" (as in "mivoaka") is used instead.
    • sometimes the single-letter words "a" and "e" are written "â" and "ê" but it does not change the pronunciation
  • ¨ (diaeresis) is used with in dialects for a velar nasal /ŋ/. Examples are place names such as Tôlan̈aro, Antsiran̈ana, Iharan̈a, Anantson̈o. This can be seen in maps from FTM, the national institute of geodesy and cartography.
  • ~ (tilde) is used in ñ sometimes, perhaps when the writer cannot produce an . In Ellis' Bara dialect dictionary, it is used for velar nasal /ŋ/ as well as palatal nasal /ɲ/.


Word Order

Malagasy has a highly unusual Verb Object Subject word order:

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

  • (1) Manasa amin'ny savony ny tanako aho. ("I am washing my hands with soap".)
  • (2) Sasako amin'ny savony ny tanako. ("My hands are washed with soap by me".)
  • (3) Anasako ny tanako ny savony. ("It is with soap that my hands are washed by me".)

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 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, Pronouns, Locative Adverbials

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.


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. It is available as a reprint. It seems that a similar English-Malagasy dictionary was never published. Later works have been of lesser size.

  • Richardson: A New Malagasy-English Dictionary. Farnborough, England: Gregg Press 1967, 892 p. ISBN 0-576-11607-6 (Original edition, Antananarivo: The London Missionary Society, 1885).
  • Diksionera Malagasy-Englisy. Antananarivo: Trano Printy Loterana 1973, 103 p.
  • An Elementary English-Malagasy Dictionary. Antananarivo: Trano Printy Loterana 1969, 118 p.
  • English-Malagasy Phrase Book. Antananarivo: Editions Madprint 1973, 199 p. (Les Guides de Poche de Madagasikara.)
  • Paginton, K: English-Malagasy Vocabulary. Antananarivo: Trano Printy Loterana 1970, 192 p.
  • Bergenholtz, H. et al.: Rakibolana Malagasy-Alemana. Antananarivo: Leximal/Moers: aragon. 1991.
  • Bergenholtz, H. et al.: Rakibolana Alemana-Malagasy. Antananarivo: Tsipika/Moers: aragon. 1994.
  • Rakibolana Malagasy. Fianarantsoa: Régis RAJEMISOA - RAOLISON 1995, 1061 p.


The following samples are of the Merina dialect (also known as "Official Malagasy"), spoken in the capital of Madagascar and in the central highlands or "plateau," home of the Merina tribe.[8] It is generally understood throughout the island.

English Malagasy IPA
English Anglisy ãŋɡliʂ
Yes Eny ˈʲenj
No Tsia, Tsy [9] tsi, tsʲ
Hello! and How are You? Manao ahoana! manaˈʷona, manaˈona
Hello! (rural areas) Salama! saˈlama
I'm fine, thank you. Tsara fa misaotra. ˈtsara fa mʲˈsoːtʂa
Goodbye! Veloma! veˈluma
Please Azafady azaˈfadʲ
Thank you Misaotra mʲˈsoːtʂa
You're welcome Tsy misy fisaorana. tsʲ ˈmisʲ fʲˈsoːrana
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? roʊˈvina, rawˈvina
Where? Aiza? ajza
Why? Fa maninona? fa maninːa
How? Ahoana? aˈʷona
How many? Firy? ˈfirʲ
How much? Hoatrinona? ʷoˈtʂinːa
What's your name? Iza no anaranao? iza njanaraˈnaw
For Ho an'ny wanːi
Because Satria saˈtʂi
I don't understand. Tsy mazava, or tsy azoko. tsʲ mazava
Yes, I understand. Eny, mazava (or azoko). ʲenʲ mazava
Help! Vonjeo! vunˈdzew
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.?) ajza njefitʂanʷ fiˈvwaːna
Do you speak English? Miteny 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 tired. Vizaka aho. ˈvizaka
I need to pee. Poritra aho. purtʂa
I would like to go to Antsirabe. Te-handeha any Antsirabe aho. teande anjantsirabea
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 ny azoko atao ho anao? inːa ɲazʷkwataʷ wanaw
I like... Tiako... tikʷ
I love you. Tiako ianao. tikwenaʷ
one isa/iray isa
two roa ru
three telo telʷ
four efatra ˈefatʂa
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 rajtaptʂisa
one billion iray lavitrisa rajlavtʂisa
3,568,942 roa amby (ambin'ny) efapolo sy sivin_jato sy valo
arivo sy enina alina sy dimy hetsy sy telo tapitrisa
rumbefapulʷ sʲsivdzatʷ sʲvalorivʷ sʲenːal sʲdimjetsʲ sʲtelutapitʂisa

See also


  1. ^ 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.[1]
  2. ^ a b Ferrand, Gabriel (1905). Les migrations musulmanes et juives à Madagascar. Paris: Revue de l'histoire des religions.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ The translation is due to David Griffith of the London Missionary Society, with corrections in 1865-1866.[2]
  6. ^ Flacourt, Étienne de (1657). Le Petit Catéchisme madécasse-français. Paris; (1661). Histoire de la grande isle Madagascar. Paris, pp. 197-202.
  7. ^ Flacourt, Étienne de (1658). Dictionnaire de la langue de Madagascar. Paris.
  8. ^ Rasoloson, Janie (2001). Malagasy-English/English-Malagasy: Dictionary and Phrasebook. Hippocrene Books.
  9. ^ before a verb

Additional references

  • Biddulph, Joseph (1997). An Introduction to Malagasy. Wales. ISBN 1-897999-15-1
  • Hurles, Matthew E., et al. (2005). The Dual Origin of the Malagasy in Island Southeast Asia and East Africa: Evidence from Maternal and Paternal Lineages. American Journal of Human Genetics 76:894-901.

External links

Malagasy language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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