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Malayan (məlāˈən) or Malay (māˈlā), general term for one of a population of persons inhabiting SE Asia and the adjacent islands. The Malays vary greatly in physical appearance. The term Indonesian, used as an alternative for Malayan, is sometimes applied to the people of interior districts, who are thought to be related to the Pygmies or Negritos (probably the earlier inhabitants of the region). In the coastal districts there has been intermixture with the Arabs, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Thais. Scores of languages or dialects are spoken; they form a group of the Malayo-Polynesian languages. Among anthropologists the term Malayan is used exclusively to describe an inhabitant of the Malayan Peninsula.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a peninsula in Southeast Asia, the southern part of the Indochinese peninsula. Bounded on the west by the Andaman Sea and the Malacca Strait and on the east by the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Length, approximately 1,300 km (from north to south); area, about 190,000 sq km. The Isthmus of Kra is its northern border. At times the peninsula is considered to extend north of Kra, up to the northern tip of the Gulf of Thailand. Within these boundaries the peninsula is 1,450 km long. Parts of Thailand and Malaysia are located on the Malay Peninsula; Burma meets it at the Isthmus of Kra.

The axial zone of the Malay Peninsula is formed by low and medium-height mountains. The maximum elevation is 2,190 m (Mt. Tahan). Mountains are divided into separate massifs with gently sloping dome-shaped summits and steep slopes. In the periphery areas there are hilly plains and lowlands; the lowlands are frequently swampy. The Malay Peninsula is part of the Burma-Malay zone of folded structures of Indochina. It is composed of geosynclinal strata that have been crumpled into folds of a submeridional direction: terrigenous from the Cambrian and late Precambrian, carbonate-terrigenous from the Ordovician and Silurian (Setul series), terrigenous from the Silurian-Carbon (Kanchanaburi series), and terrigenous-carbonate with vulcanites from the Middle Carbon-Permian (Raub series). Orogenic formations are represented by Triassic terrigenous deposits (Lipis series) with levels of acidic vulcanites and detrital rock of the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous. Various depressions are filled with Cenozoic sediments. Mesozoic granite, with which numerous deposits of tin and tungsten are linked (the richest minerals of the Malay area), is widespread. Other known deposits include gold, copper, iron, molybdenum, lead, zinc, bauxite, and coal.

The climate is equatorial in the south and subequatorial, characterized by monsoons, in the north. Annual precipitation totals 1,000-2,000 mm over the plains and 4,000 mm in the mountains. The air temperature in plains areas remains at 25°C to 27°C throughout the year. About three-fourths of the Malay Peninsula is covered with thick tropical evergreen rain forests, in which there are figs, Dipterocarpaceae, Indian banyan, camphor trees, giant bamboos, and epiphytes. Along the coastal lowlands there are mangrove forests. The forests are inhabited by gibbons, lemurs, Malay tapirs, flying lemurs, Chiroptera (short-nosed bats, large flying foxes), rhinoceroses, and elephants.

Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh (Malaysia) are the largest cities.


Postel’nikov, E. S., L. K. Zatonskii, and R. A. Afremova. Tektonicheskoe razvitie i struktura Indokitaia. Moscow, 1964.
Geologiia Iugo-Vostochnoi Azii: Indokitai. Leningrad, 1969.
Dobby, E. lugo-Vostochnaia Aziia. Moscow, 1952. (Translated from English.)




the language of the Malays and several other peoples, including the inhabitants of the Jakarta region on Java and some Amboinese and Minahasa. It is the official language of Malaysia. Malay is spoken in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, chiefly on Sumatra and the Riau (Riouw) and Lingga archipelagoes, by more than 12.5 million people (1970, estimate). Malay belongs to the Indonesian group of Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian languages) and is divided into numerous dialects.

Old Malay, dating from the seventh to the tenth century A.D., is represented by epigraphs, primarily from southern Sumatra. Widely used in southern Sumatra as the language of trade, Malay became the language of culture and Islam in many parts of the Malay Archipelago beginning in the 15th century. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, an extensive literature was created in Malay (written in the Arabic script); the language of this literature is known as classical Malay. A Malay pidgin (bazaar Malay, low Malay) and creolized forms of Malay (Jakarta dialect, Amboinese Malay) also appeared. From the second half of the 19th century newspapers in Malay were published in the Dutch East Indies. The modern Indonesian language was formed as a result of the synthesis of “low” and “high” Malay, modeled on classical Malay. The modern Malay literary language of Malaysia, also known as Malaysian, differs from Indonesian chiefly in vocabulary but also to some extent in phonetics and certain morphological and syntactic features.


Wilkinson, R. J. A Malay-English Dictionary (Romanised), parts 1-2. Tokyo, 1932.
Teeuw, A. “The History of the Malay Language.” Bijdragen tot de TaalLand- en Volkenkunde, 1959, vol., 115, pp. 138-56.
Teeuw, A., and H. W. Emanuels. A Critical Survey of Studies on Malay and Bahasa Indonesia. The Hague, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a member of a people living chiefly in Malaysia and Indonesia who are descendants of Mongoloid immigrants
2. the language of this people, belonging to the Malayo-Polynesian family
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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