Malagasy, the language of Madagascar

Malagasy is the language of Madagascar. Spoken by around 18 million Malagasy people (Malagasy is both the name of the language and the inhabitants of Madagascar), Malagasy has its origins in Indonesia and "most closely resembles Ma'anyan, a Malayo-Polynesian tongue spoken today in the Barito Valley of southern Borneo" (Tyson 2000). According to (Tyson 2000), around "93 percent of the basic vocabulary is Malayo-Polynesian in origin" while "most of the words relating to animal husbandry" are of Bantu (African) origin.

Malagasy is spoken throughout the country -- something which comes as somewhat of a mystery given the size and ethnic diversity of the island. As Peter Tyson puts it in The Eighth Continent, "That an island as large as Madagascar, with diverse ecosystems cut off from one another by forests, deserts, mountains, or rivers, should have but one language baffles linguists. Madagascar's neighbor, Africa, has 1500 languages. The island of New Guinea, only a third large than Madagascar, has 700 languages. Why does Madagascar have only one?"

Malagasy only recently become a written language. Until Welsh missionaries transcribed the language in the 1820s, the Malagasy had to rely on oral history to mark past events. However, even with the development of a written form, written Malagasy hardly resembles spoken Malagasy -- the last syllable is typically dropped while unstressed syllables in the middle of words often disappear (spelling versus pronunciation was evidently influenced by the Welsh transcribers). The capital city of Antananarivo is pronounced "Tananarive" but usually shortened to "Tana."

The Malagasy alphabet has 21 letters found in the English alphabet. Malagasy lacks C, Q, U, W, and X. Thus "Madagascar" is not a Malagasy word -- as Peter Tyson points out -- since Malagasy lacks "c" and all words end in a vowel. The Malagasy word for their country is "Madagasikara," a name in itself that is somewhat unwarranted. Tyson explains that Marco Polo, the European explorer who never actually saw the island but named it, probably confused the island with the Somali town Mogadishu and corrupted the name as "Madagascar." Malagasy themselves called Madagascar Nosin-dambo, Izao tontolo, or Ny aninvon' ny riaka.

Additional information on Malagasy from the U.S. Library of Congress: Language
Selected words and phrases in Malagasy

Mbola tsara Manahoana, Manakory, Akory: Typical greeting meaning Hello, Good morning/day/afternoon/evening
Mbola tsara: Another form of greeting meaning Hello, Good morning/day/afternoon/evening
Salama: Another form of greeting meaning Hello, Good morning/day/afternoon/evening
Veloma: Good-bye
Azafady: Please (literally means "may it not be taboo to me")
Misaotra: Thank you
Tsy misy fisaorana: You're welcome
Vonjeo: Help!
Tsy mahay miteny gasy aho: I do not speak Malagasy
Eny: Yes
Tsia: No
Tsisy: Nothing
Firy taona ianao: How old are you?
Tratra ny anniversaire-nao: Happy birthday
Avy any America aho: I am from America
Manahoana: How are you?
Tsara fa misaotra: Fine, thanks.
Mampidi-doza ve ny mikasika an'io?: Is it dangerous to touch?
Vazaha: White person

Malagasy-English/English-Malagasy: Dictionary and Phrasebook (Hippocrene Dictionary & Phrasebook)
by Janie Rasoloson Malagasy, the national language of Madagascar, has over 10 million speakers. This dictionary and phrasebook provides the traveller to this beautiful island with the means for basic communication, as well as an introduction to the country's culture. The compact guide includes a two-way bilingual dictionary with over 2,000 entries and a phrasebook containing all of the essential topics, from introductions and common phrases to accommodations, food and drink, weather and health, among many others.

Introductions | Food | Accommodations | Travel | Communications | Shopping | Money | Health | Bureaucracy | Weather | Nature | Animals | Plants | Politics | Emergency | Time | Measures | Numbers