1.  Classification / Classification

Malagasy belongs to the West Indonesian branch of Hesperonesian. (Webbook?)

Ethnologue? gives the classification as: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Barito, East, Malagasy.

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is spoken mainly in in Madagascar, where it is the official language.

There are some speakers in Reunion, Comoros, and Mayotte (Wikipedia).

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

Ethnologue lists the speakers by major dialect as follows:

  • Plateau (incl. Merina)
    • 5,940,000 in Madagascar (2002)
    • 8700 in Comoros
  • Antankarana 88,000 (1996)
  • Bara 500,000 (2002)
  • Masikoro 90,000 (2001)
  • Northern Betsimisaraka 900,000 (2001)
  • Sakalava 350,000 (2001)
  • Southern Betsimisaraka 600,000 (2001)
  • Tandroy-Mahafaly 650,000 (2001)
  • Tanosy 350,000 (2002 SIL)
  • Tsimihety 1,016,000 (1996)
  • Total=10,492,700

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

There are eighteen dialects of Malagasy. Merina (sometimes called Houa) is the standard. (Webbook)

SIL International calls Malagasy a "macrolanguage" under which ten languages are listed. Ethnologue lists these ten and dialects of the most widely spoken one, Plateau Malagasy, as follows (many of those not listed under "Malagasy, Plateau" may have only 60-70% lexical similarity with Merina):

  • Malagasy, Antankarana
  • Malagasy, Bara
  • Malagasy, Masikoro
  • Malagasy, Northern Betsimisaraka
  • Malagasy, Plateau
    • Merina
    • Betsileo
    • Sihanaka
    • Bezanozano
    • Tanala
  • Malagasy, Sakalava
  • Malagasy, Southern Betsimisaraka
  • Malagasy, Tandroy-Mahafaly
  • Malagasy, Tanosy
  • Malagasy, Tsimihety

Rasoloson and Rubino (2005) note that Malagasy has varying dialects "often so closely related to one another that a clear group classification is uncertain...." They cite another source as dividing Malagasy into three groups:

  • Eastern dialects
    • Northeast
      • Antakarana
      • Tsimihety
      • Sakalava avaratra
      • Bezanozano
      • Sihanaka
    • Central east
      • Merina
      • Betsimisaraka atsimo
      • Betsileo avaratra
    • Southeast
      • Antaimoro
      • Antambahoaka
      • Antesaka
      • Antaifasy
      • Tanala
      • Zafisoro
  • Western dialects
    • Central west
      • Sakalava of Menabe
      • Masikoro
      • Vezo avaratra
    • Southwest
      • Antandroy
      • Mahafaly
      • Tañala
      • Vezo atsimo
  • Intermediate dialects (share west and east elements)
    • Bara
    • Antanosy
    • Betsileo
  • (Other dialects not included in the survey)
    • Antalaotsy
    • Two on Mayotte
      • Kibosy Kimaore
      • Kiantalaotsy

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Malagasy is the national and official language? of the Madagascar Republic. (Webbook; Aménagement linguistique)

It is broadcast on Radio-Télévision Malagasy. In addition to many daily newspapers, the Ministère de l'Information puts out the bimonthly Bulletin de Madagascar, containing linguistic and other studies. (Webbook)`[updated information needed]

The oldest written Malagasy literature was in the Antaimoro dialect (in Arabic script) (Rasoloson and Rubino 2005)

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Malagasy has a standardized, Latin-based orthography. It dates to 1823. (But, according to Rasoloson and Rubino [2005], Malagasy king Radama I adopted a Latin orthography from British missionaries in 1820.)

An Arabic-based transcription called "Sorabe" was used earlier, apparently by a group called Antemoro (Antaimoro). (Wikipedia, Embassy of Madagascar) The Merino dialect was also first written in Arabic (Rasoloson and Rubino 2005)

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

The alphabet consists of 21 letters:
a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, v, y, z
The letters ô (o-circumflex) and n̈ (n-diaeresis [indicating velar n]) are occasionally used, for instance in place names such as Tôlan̈aro, Antsiran̈ana, Iharan̈a, Anantson̈o. (Nationmaster)

See also:

According to Wikipedia, the diacritics used are:

  • ` (grave accent) shows the stressed syllable in a word. It is frequently used for disambiguation.
  • ´ (acute accent) in old materials, dialects such as Bara, and French spellings
  • ^ (circumflex) for ô, as noted above, for some loan words, in some dialects; â and ê are apparently occasionally used
  • ¨ (diaeresis), as noted above
  • ~ (tilde) is used in ñ sometimes, perhaps when the writer cannot produce an n̈.

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Any Unicode font that includes the Combining Diaresis U+0308 should suffice.

(Seeking more information on what fonts are generally used for Malagasy in Madagascar.)

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet


Wikipedia in Malagasy at

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

"Dikateny Malagasy" is a collection of all the translations produced so far by those who are working on providing Free Software (as in Freedom) and Open Source Software in Malagasy.

There is an OpenOffice project under the "Native Language Confederation" program:

There is a project to translate Debian (Linux) Installer in Malagasy:

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue


  • ISO 639-1: mg
  • ISO 639-2: mlg
  • ISO 639-3: mlg

Malagasy, Antankarana

  • ISO 639-3: xmv

Malagasy, Bara

  • ISO 639-3: bhr

Malagasy, Masikoro

  • ISO 639-3: msh

Malagasy, Northern Betsimisaraka

  • ISO 639-3: bmm

Malagasy, Plateau

  • ISO 639-3: plt

Malagasy, Sakalava

  • ISO 639-3: skg

Malagasy, Southern Betsimisaraka

  • ISO 639-3: bjq

Malagasy, Tandroy-Mahafaly

  • ISO 639-3: tdx

Malagasy, Tanosy

  • ISO 639-3: txy

Malagasy, Tsimihety

  • ISO 639-3: xmw

7.6  Other / Autre

Sites about Malagasy:

Dictionaries online:

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

L’Association Malagasy des Utilisateurs de Logiciels Libres

Two commercial translation companies:

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile supports Malagasy

9.  Comments / Remarques

10.  References / Références

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, (page on "Malagasy," )

Leclerc, Jacques, L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, "Madagascar,"

Omniglot, "Malagasy (Malagasy fiteny),"

Rasoloson, Janie and Carl Rubino. 2005. "Malagasy" In: The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar. (Eds. Alexander Adelaar and Nikolaus P. Himmelmann). London: Routledge. Pages 456-488.

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Malagasy, Antankarana,"

______, "Malagasy, Bara,"

______, "Malagasy, Masikoro,"

______, "Malagasy, Northern," Betsimisaraka,"

______, "Malagasy, Plateau,"

______, "Malagasy, Sakalava,"

______, "Malagasy, Southern Betsimisaraka,"

______, "Malagasy, Tandroy-Mahafaly,"

______, "Malagasy, Tanosy,"

______, "Malagasy, Tsimihety,"

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables,"

______, "ISO 639-3 Macrolanguage Mappings,"

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2,"

Wikipedia, "Fiteny malagasy,"

______, "Malagasy language,"

______, "Malgache,"

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Categories: Languages, Madagascar