Brunei Malay
Bahasa Melayu Brunei
بهاس ملايو بروني
Native toBrunei, Malaysia
EthnicityBruneian Malay, Kedayan
Native speakers
320,000 (2013–2019)[1]
Latin (Malay alphabet)
Arabic (Jawi)
Language codes
ISO 639-3kxd
  Area where Brunei Malay is spoken

The Brunei Malay language, also called Bruneian Malay language (Malay: Bahasa Melayu Brunei; Jawi: بهاس ملايو بروني), is the most widely spoken language in Brunei and a lingua franca in some parts of Sarawak and Sabah, such as Labuan, Limbang, Lawas, Sipitang and Papar.[2][3] Though Standard Malay is promoted as the official national language of Brunei, Brunei Malay is socially dominant and it is currently replacing the minority languages of Brunei,[4] including the Dusun and Tutong languages,[5] existing in a diglossic speech, wherein Brunei Malay is commonly used for daily communication, coexisting with the aforementioned regional languages and Malay creoles, and standard Malay used in formal speech; code switching between standard Malay and Brunei Malay is spoken in informal speech as a lingua franca between Malay creoles and regional languages. It is quite similar to Standard Malay to the point of being almost mutually intelligible with it,[6] being about 84% cognate with standard Malay.[7] Standard Malay is usually spoken with Brunei pronunciation.


The consonantal inventory of Brunei Malay is shown below:[3][8]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t[2] k[3] (ʔ)
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative[4] voiceless (f) s ʃ (x) h
voiced (v) (z)
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant[5] w j


  1. ^ /t/ is dental in many varieties of Malay, but it is alveolar in Brunei.[8]
  2. ^ /k/ is velar in initial position, but it is realised as uvular [q] in coda.[8]
  3. ^ Parenthesised sounds occur only in loanwords.
  4. All consonants can occur in word-initial position, except /h/. Therefore, Standard Malay hutan 'forest' became utan in Brunei Malay, and Standard Malay hitam 'black' became itam.[3]
  5. All consonants can occur in word-final position, except the palatals /tʃ, dʒ, ɲ/ and voiced plosives /b, d, ɡ/. Exceptions can be found in a few borrowed words such as mac 'March' and kabab 'kebab'.[2]
  6. ^ Some analysts exclude /w/ and /j/ from this table because they are 'margin high vowels',[9] while others include /w/ but exclude /j/.[2]
Acoustic analysis of the three vowels of Brunei Malay

Brunei Malay has a three-vowel system: /i/, /a/, /u/.[2][10] Acoustic variation in the realisation of these vowels is shown in the plot on the right, based on the reading of a short text by a single female speaker.[3]

While /i/ is distinct from the other two vowels, there is substantial overlap between /a/ and /u/. This is partly because of the vowel in the first syllable of words such as maniup ('to blow') which can be realised as [ə]. Indeed, the Brunei Malay dictionary uses an 'e' for the prefix in this word, listing it as meniup,[11] though other analyses prefer to show prefixes such as this with 'a', on the basis that Brunei Malay just has three vowel phonemes.[12][9][2]

Language use

Main article: Languages of Brunei

Brunei Malay, Kedayan and Kampong Ayer can be regarded as dialects of Malay. Brunei Malay is used by the numerically and politically dominant Brunei people, who traditionally lived on water, while Kedayan is used by the land-dwelling farmers, and the Kampong Ayer dialect is used by the inhabitants of the river north of the capital.[13][14] It has been estimated that 94% of the words of Brunei Malay and Kedayan are lexically related.[15]

Coluzzi studied the street signs in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei Darussalam. The researcher concluded that except Chinese, "minority languages in Brunei have no visibility and play a very marginal role beyond the family and the small community."[16]

Vocabulary words

Bruneian Malay Peninsular Malaysia Malay

(Klang Valley standard)

Aku/ku First person singular
Peramba Patik First person singular when in conversation with a Royal Family Member
Awak Second person singular
Awda Anda From (si) awang and (si) dayang. It is used like the Malay word anda.
Kamu Second person plural
Ia Dia Third person singular
Kitani Kita First person plural (inclusive)
Kita To be used either like kitani or biskita
Si awang Beliau Male third person singular
Si dayang Female third person singular
Biskita Kita To address a listener of older age. Also first person plural
Cinta Tercinta To address a loved one
Ani Ini This
Atu Itu That
(Di) mana? Where (at)?
Ke mana? Where to?
Lelaki Male (human)
Perempuan Female (human)
Budiman Tuan/Encik A gentleman
Kebawah Duli Baginda His Majesty
Awu Yes
Inda No
kabat Tutup To close (a door, etc.)
Makan To eat
Suka To like
Cali Lawak Funny (adj.), derived from Charlie Chaplin
Siuk Syok cf. Malaysian syok, Singaporean shiok
Lakas Lekas To be quick, (in a) hurry(ing) (also an interjection)
Karang Nanti At a later time, soon
Tarus Terus Straight ahead; immediately
Manada Mana ada Used as a term when in a state denial (as in 'No way!' or 'It can't be')
Baiktah Lebih baik 'Might as well ... '
Orang putih Orang putih; Mat salleh Generally refers to a white Westerner.
Kaling Refers to a Bruneian of Indian descent. (This is generally regarded as pejorative.)[17]
  1. ^ In Malay, Bini-bini is exclusively used in Brunei to refer to a woman. In Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, it is an informal way to refer to one's wives or a group of married women.


The vocabulary of Brunei Malay has been collected and published by several western explorers in Borneo including Pigafetta in 1521, De Crespigny in 1872, Charles Hose in 1893, A. S. Haynes in 1900, Sidney H. Ray in 1913, H. B. Marshall in 1921, and G. T. MacBryan in 1922, and some Brunei Malay words are included in A Malay-English Dictionary by R. J. Wilkinson.[18][19][20]

The language planning of Brunei has been studied by some scholars.[21][22]


  1. ^ Brunei Malay at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ a b c d e Clynes, A. (2014). Brunei Malay: An Overview. In P. Sercombe, M. Boutin, & A. Clynes (Eds.), Advances in Research on Linguistic and Cultural Practices in Borneo (pp. 153–200). Phillips, ME: Borneo Research Council. Pre-publication draft available at
  3. ^ a b c d Deterding, David & Athirah, Ishamina. (2017). Brunei Malay. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 47(1), 99–108. doi:10.1017/S0025100316000189
  4. ^ McLellan, J., Noor Azam Haji-Othman, & Deterding, D. (2016). The language situation in Brunei Darussalam. In Noor Azam Haji-Othman, J. McLellan, & D. Deterding (Eds.), The use and status of language in Brunei Darussalam: A kingdom of unexpected linguistic diversity (pp. 9–16). Singapore: Springer.
  5. ^ Noor Azam Haji-Othman & Siti Ajeerah Najib (2016). The state of indigenous languages in Brunei. In Noor Azam Haji-Othman, J. McLellan, & D. Deterding (Eds.), The use and status of language in Brunei Darussalam: A kingdom of unexpected linguistic diversity (pp. 17–28). Singapore: Springer.
  6. ^ A. Clynes and D. Deterding (2011). "Standard Malay (Brunei)". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 41 (2): 259–68. doi:10.1017/S002510031100017X.
  7. ^ P.W. Martin and G. Poedjosoedarmo (1996). An overview of the language situation in Brunei Darussalam. In P.W. Martin, C. Ozog & G. Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.), Language use & language change in Brunei Darussalam (pp. 1–23). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies. p. 7.
  8. ^ a b c Clynes, Adrian & Deterding, David. (2011). Standard Malay (Brunei). Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 41(2), 259–268. doi:10.1017/S002510031100017X
  9. ^ a b Mataim Bakar. (2007). The phonotactics of Brunei Malay: An Optimality Theoretic account. Bandar Seri Begawan: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei.
  10. ^ Poedjosoedarmo, G. (1996). Variation and change in the sound systems of Brunei dialects of Malay. In P. Martin, C. Ozog, & Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.), Language use and language change in Brunei Darussalam (pp. 37–42). Athens, OH: Ohio University Center for International Studies.
  11. ^ Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei. (2007). Kamus Bahasa Melayu Brunei (Edisi Kedua) [Brunei Malay dictionary, 2nd edition]. Bandar Seri Begawan: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei.
  12. ^ Jaludin Chuchu. (2000). Morphology of Brunei Malay. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
  13. ^ Gallop, 2006. "Brunei Darussalam: Language Situation". In Keith Brown, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2 ed.). Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-044299-4.
  14. ^ Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon, Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, 1996:677
  15. ^ Nothofer, B. (1991). The languages of Brunei Darussalam. In H. Steinhauer (Ed.), Papers in Austronesian Linguistics (pp. 151–172). Canberra: Australian National University.
  16. ^ Coluzzi, Paolo. (2012). The Linguistic Landscape of Brunei Darussalam: Minority Languages and the Threshold of Literacy. South East Asia: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 12, 1-16. Retrieved 14 April 2019 from
  17. ^ Najib Noorashid (2016). The 'K' word referring to Indians in Brunei. Paper presented at the Brunei-Malaysia 2016 Forum, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, 16–17 November 2016.
  18. ^ Martin, P. W. (1994). Lexicography in Brunei Darussalam: An overview. In B. Sibayan & L. E. Newell (Eds.), Papers from the First Asia International Lexicography Conference, Manila, Philippines, 1992. LSP Special Monograph Issue, 35 (pp. 59–68). Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines. [1] Archived 2015-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Anton Abraham Cense; E.M. Uhlenbeck (2013). Critical Survey of Studies on the Languages of Borneo. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 8. ISBN 978-94-011-8925-5.
  20. ^ Jatswan S. Sidhu (2009). Historical Dictionary of Brunei Darussalam. Scarecrow Press. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-8108-7078-9.
  21. ^ Coluzzi, Paolo. (2011). Majority and minority language planning in Brunei Darussalam. Language Problems and Language Planning, 35(3), 222-240. doi:10.1075/lplp.35.3.02col
  22. ^ Clynes, Adrian. (2012). Dominant language transfer in minority language documentation projects: Some examples from Brunei. Language Documentation & Conservation, 6, 253-267.

Further reading