Malagasy (Fiteny Malagasy)

Malagasy is a member of the East Barito branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family spoken in Madagascar, where it is the national and official language, and also in Comoros, Réunion and Mayotte. There are also communities of Malagasy speakers in France and Quebec in Canada, and smaller ones in Belgium and Washington D.C. in the USA. In 2007 there were 18 million speakers of Malagasy.

Malagasy is related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and more closely to the South-east Barito group of languages spoken in Borneo, particularly to Ma'anyan.

Malagasy at a glance

  • Native name: Fiteny Malagasy [fitenʲ ˌmalaˈɡasʲ]
  • Language family: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, East Barito, Malagasy
  • Number of speakers: c. 18 million
  • Spoken in: Madagascar, Comoros, Réunion and Mayotte
  • First written: 15th century
  • Writing system: Sorabe script, Latin script
  • Status: offical language in Madagascar, along with French

Malagasy contains some words borrowed from Swahili and Arabic, There are also loanwords from French, the former colonial language which still enjoys official status, and English, thanks mainly to the 18th century pirates who made the island their base.

There are a number of dialects of Malagasy, including Antankarana, Bara, Masikoro, Northern Betsimisaraka, Merina, Sakalava, Tanosy, Tesaka and Tsimihety. The Merina dialect is spoken in the capital, Antananarivo, and in the central highlands. It is considered the standard form of the language, and is understood by most Madagascans. The Merina dialect is also known as Plateau Malagasy, Ambaniandro, Borizany, Fiteny Malagasy, Hova, Malgache, Official Malagasy, Standard Malagasy or Teny ofisiealy.

Malagasy is used as a medium of instruction in Madagascan primary and secondary schools, along with French.

Written Malagasy

In the 17th century when the French set up Fort-Dauphin (now Tôlan̈aro) in the south of Magagascar, they noticed that the Malagasy people were using a version of the Arabic alphabet known as Sorabe to write their language. This was used mainly for astrological and magical texts, and it is thought to have been in use since the 15th century.

The first Malagasy dictionary was published in 1658 by Étienne de Flacourt. An English-Malagasy dictionary was published by James Richardson in 1885.

In 1823 a Welsh missionary called David Jones (1796-1841), devised a way of writing Malagasy with the Latin alphabet. He also translated the Bible into Malagasy, working with David Griffiths, another missionary, and invited the London Missionary Society to set up schools and churches in Madagascar.

Sorabe Malagasy Arabic script

Sorabe Malagasy Arabic script

Malagasy alphabet and pronunciation

Malagasy alphabet and pronunciation


Download an alphabet chart for Malagasy (Excel)

Corrections by Michael Peter Füstumum

Sample text in Malagasy

Teraka afaka sy mitovy zo sy fahamendrehana ny olombelona rehetra. Samy manan-tsaina sy fieritreretana ka tokony hifampitondra ampirahalahiana.

Hear a recording of this text by Sanda Miangaly Rabearimanana, provided by Moshe Ash


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Sample videos in Malagasy

Information about Malagasy | Phrases | Numbers | Tower of Babel


Information about the Malagasy Language

Cours de Malgache (Online Malagasy lessons - in French)

Malagasy phrases

Online Malagasy dictionaries

Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de Madagascar

Malayo-Polynesian languages

Alorese, Amarasi, Ambai, Ambel, Anuki, Balinese, Bambam, Banjarese, Batuley, Bengkulu, Biak, Bima, Bugis, Bushi, Chamorro, Dawan, Duri, Fijian, Fordata, Galoli, Gayo, Iban, Indonesian, Javanese, Kei, Kerinci, Komering, Lamaholot, Lampung, Ledo Kaili, Madurese, Makasarese, Malagasy, Malay, Mamasa, Mandar, Mandar, Mbula, Mentawai, Minangkabau, Mualang, Musi, Ngaju, Nias, Ogan, Palauan, Sasak, Selaru, Sumbawa, Sundanese, Tetum, Tii, Toqabaqita, Toraja-Sa'dan, Ulumandaʼ, Urak Lawoi’, Wamesa, Western Rote, Yamdena

Languages written with the Latin alphabet

Page last modified: 03.12.21


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