Malagasy: Veloma!

I’ll make this post short and sweet. Malagasy was frustrating, with a capital F.

I probably should have followed my first mind and skipped it. While that seems kind of harsh, I guess I underestimated the amount of resources available for briefly studying the language. I was only able to find one page that had spoken Malagasy as a learning tool. I had to resort to YouTube videos of songs in Malagasy and while those can be helpful, they’re not referential.

Another problem is the lingering influence of French. Some of the Madagascar media sites I tried to visit were written in that language, sometimes almost exclusively (this was for the ones that weren’t down). It just makes me wonder how “official” Malagasy is if French is used so frequently.

There are several other things that could have made searching for spoken Malagasy a challenge. The vestige from a centralized government in the 70s-90s under Didier Ratsiraka that limited free press could have played a role. Also, the current president owns the major TV and radio station, so any alternatives are privately-owned. French is also still used to connect Madagascar to France and other parts of Francophone Africa that trade with the tropical island.

SUMMARY: Malagasy can be traced to the language family of Pacific and Micronesian languages, whose native speakers are descendants of settlers from Borneo. The language stretched all over the large (and by large, I mean the size of Alaska) island and was sprinkled with Bantu and Arab vocabulary after those visitors came in the mid first century. They were followed by Portuguese and French explorers, in which the latter left their imprint on the island and would later rule it in years to come. Welsh missionaries helped create a Romanized Bible, creating the modern form of Malagasy that expanded throughout Merina rule and downfall and eventual independence from the French.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS: Based on what little I could find on spoken Malagasy, my conclusions almost seem incomplete. While there are a ton of sites about written Malagasy, I really wasn’t able to hear the language, except through song. While listening to music, the language sounded like an African-Hawaiian blend. Very rhythmic (yes, I know I watched music videos, give me a break) with a back-and-forth between stressed and unstressed syllables. But overall, really warm sounding and friendly.

Some things that could be troubling for learners:

-Malagasy uses a VOS form
-The last syllables and unstressed syllables in the middle of words are silent
-verb tenses are formed by using prefixes
-Sometimes Malagasy uses diacritics (accent marks). While this isn’t obligatory, they are used from time to time.

A few things that could be helpful:

-no noun inflections
-preposition use is similar to English
-no gender for words

Another thing about Malagasy is the use of personal pronouns that vary depending on formality.

This was one of the beautiful songs that helped me gain some understanding of what Malagasy sounded like:

While I doubt I will return to Malagasy in the future, I guess I can say I know a lot more than I did about this mysterious yet beautiful country. Even if I can’t pronounce the capital … Ananatan … Nananatan … oh, forget it.


Intelligibility: 2
Complexity: 3
Resonance: 2
Continuation: 1

COMING UP: Japanese

3 thoughts on “Malagasy: Veloma!

  1. Have you tried Quechua?
    Heart is “sonqo” the sound it makes.
    This languange was spoken by the Incas and the salutation early in the morning was:
    Ama sua
    Ama llula
    Ama qella
    don’t steal
    don’t lie
    don’t be lazy
    Because the onomatopeia you can say very sweet things and also very, very, bad things using declinations.
    I have a set of tapes to learn it done by my parents, my father taught it in a collage and my mother was native speaker. It only uses three vowels.
    Check it out and let me know.


  2. Malagasy language is quite hard to learn and to master due to French influence. We tend to mix both language when speaking and that is called “vary amin’ananana” – free translation: rice plus greens, the main idea here is to highlight the “mix” of two different things.

    The colonisation also didn’t let this language breathe and blossom. Nowadays, we cruelly lack vocabulary in several fields like health and high tech.

    Maybe Malagasy poems could be a better help for those who want to further their curiosity ( 🙂

  3. After living for 4 years in Madagascar and being exposed to 2 different dialects of the Malagasy language, I have found it to be a very developed spoken language with many traditional proverbs passed down through the generations. In the rural regions, there is little to no influence from the French language. The lack of Malagasy literature is not a reflection of the language itself, but a lack of interest in the written word. There is only one organization in the whole country, that I know of, that painstakingly translates books and magazines into Malagasy. Besides this, it is very difficult to find books written in Malagasy by Malagasy authors. And with the exception of the Bible or Bible related reading material, I have never seen any secular Malagasy literature in any of the many homes that I have visited there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s