Mindanao Malay (Malay: Melayu di Mindanao, Filipino: Wikang Malay ng Mindanao, Spanish: Idioma Malayo de Mindanao) also known as Southern Philippine Malay

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription, oldest document in the Philippines is written in a mix of Old Malay, Old Tagalog and Javanese

(Malay: Melayu Filipina Selatan) or Bahasa Mindanao is a term referred to the vernaculars of Malay as well as Malay trade dialects and creoles spoken in the southern parts of the Philippines. If considered one single language, it is the majority language spoken in the streets between locals in Kota Batu, Marawi City, Zamboanga City (along with Chavacano) with communities of speakers in Datu Abedin, Davao City and Cebu City. The most spoken variants include Zamboanga Malay, Lanao Malay, Sulu Malay, and Davao Malay.

Mindanao Malay contains heavy differences between itself and its Indonesian and Malaysian variants. It retains much of Old Malay pronunciations and words. It also incorporates many native words and grammar from the local languages, such as Maguindanao, Tausūg, Cebuano, Chavacano as well as the Filipino, Arabic, English and Spanish languages.

Mindanao Malay, in a prestige dialectal form known as Lanao Malay, is spoken heavily by the aristocratic Muslim families of the south, which forms the Alam Moro or the "Moro realm" or the Mundong Moro in Filipino. This particular dialect contains a lot of Arabic loan words. It was the language used for the de facto Republic of Mindanao and Sulu, and was the favored language of Mindanao over Filipino. It is also spoken by some Christian locals of the southern Philippines, such as the Lumads, as well as southern Hindus and Buddhists who have been exposed to the language via their Muslim counterparts.

Approximately 30% of Mindanao is fluent in Malay, and 75% of Sulu. Mindanao Malay is currently written in Rumi, Latin script but an Arabic script known as Jawi also exists.


Ancient History

The Malay language has had a far-reaching history in the Philippines prior to Spanish colonization. Old Malay was the language spoken by the aristocratic families in the archipelago, and was the language of trade in Maritime Southeast Asia.

Spanish occupation

During the Spanish occupation, Malay diminished as Spanish replaced Malay as the lingua franca in the Christianized regions of the Philippines.

Malay was confined to the Muslim tribes in Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago, who actively resisted Spanish occupation. It was the language of resistance used against the Spanish conquerors. Catholic missionaries also used Malay-speaking converts to gain more followers to Roman Catholicism, such as the famous Christianized Tausūg chief Don Pablo, or "Datu Jawa", a Muslim-born native of Sulu who helped the Spanish colonists fight Moro pirates. Missionaries converted entire clans of Tausūgs to Roman Catholicism, thereby eventually forming the Principales de Zamboanga. They consisted of a mix of Visayan Catholics, Tagalog settlers and clans of native Tausūgs, Maguindanao and Sama-Bajaus that converted to Roman Catholicism.

Through this concentrated effort, even in Mindanao, Malay was becoming a semi-endangered language as the Spanish armies not only captured Zamboanga, but also advanced to take eastern Mindanao, the area today known as Davao. Most of Mindanao's inland natives were speaking Malay creoles at best, and most of the fluent and proficient Malay-speaking people were in the Sulu Archipelago.

Republic of Mindanao

In the late 1940s, Mindanao's leaders used the Indonesian independence movement as inspiration to create a Republic of Mindanao. Like Indonesia, Mindanao's nationalists also had to choose a unifying language that didn't favor one ethnic group and that language was Malay. This became official language of the Republic of Mindanao (Malay: Republik Mindanao) which declared independence in 1949, when Indonesia was given independence.

The Parti Kebangsaan Mindanao (Mindanao Nationalist Party) was found by Ahmad Salahuddin, who would become the republic's de facto President.

Indonesian President Sukarno expressed his support for Mindanao's independence. Mindanao, however, was not recognized as an independent state, and was still considered Philippine territory. Following a period of insurgencies in Mindanao against Filipino forces, in 1967, Ferdinand Marcos went on a military crack-down in Mindanao. With a victory, the Republic of Mindanao ceased to exist - yet the Parti Kebangsaan and revolutionary forces remained in tact.

Republic of Philippines

Despite the loss of Mindanao's independence movement, the Partai Kebangsaan Mindanao continued to exist, and Ahmad Salahuddin continued to work to protect the culture of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Salahuddin drew an amount of support from the Lakas-CMD, a right-wing and Unitarian political party in Mindanao. Salahuddin died in 1979, with the respect of Mindanao's people. Many people, regardless of faith, attended his funeral. His son Karim Salahuddin succeeded him as the head of the Mindanao Nationalist Party.

Salahuddin continued the resistance movement against Marcos' government resettlement programs of Christian non-natives to Mindanao. Salahuddin continued the push to make Malay an official language of the republic. In 1985, Ferdinand Marcos was ousted with the help of multiple political parties, even that of the Conservative Party, a political rival of the Partai Kebangsaan Mindanao. 

With the presidency of Corazon Aquino, Republic Act No. 5422 was passed which set restrictions and limitations on migrations to Mindanao. 

After the Borneo War, in which the Philippines gained north-eastern Sabah from Malaysia, the Parti Kebangsaan Mindanao saw this one final opportunity to push for the officiating of Malay as an official language in the Philippines. It was successful, and aside from Filipino and English, Malay became the third official language of the Philippines now that Sabah and Mindanao were both Malay-speaking regions of the Republic. However, some speculate that this was merely a political move for the people of Sabah to accept Philippine annexation. 

However, it is Bahasa Melayu, Standard Malay that is the third official language of the Philippines. Standard Malay is descended from the Riau-dialect, but Mindanao Malay is descended from a mix of Bruneian and Indonesian dialect. Members of the Filipino Armed Forces are also taught functional Indonesian, not Standard Malay. This move was essentially opposed by the Conservative Party, which wanted Spanish and Tagalog as the lone official state languages.

Dialects and creoles

Zamboanga Malay

Zamboanga Malay or Melayu Zamboanga, is a Malay creole spoken throughout the Zamboanga Peninsula, with speakers in Cebu and Palawan. It contains a mix of not Malay, as well as a fusion of Tausūg, Maguindanaoan, Hokkien Chinese, and even lots of Spanish as a result of interactions with Chavacano-speaking people as well as the heavy historical presence of Spanish military forts in Zamboanga. Due to the presence of Spanish loan words, it is in many senses, considered similar to Ambonese, a Malay creole spoken in the Moluccas of Indonesia.

Spanish words that appear in Zamboanga Malay include sinturun (from cinturón, meaning "belt"), bendhera (from bandera, meaning "flag"), koce (from coche meaning "car"), kasa (from casa meaing "house"), reloh (from reloj, meaning "clock"), ispunha (from esponja, meaning "sponge"), peskadu (from pescado, meaning "fish"), ripresko (from refresco, meaning "soda"), dolseh (from dulce, meaning "sweet"), capatu (from zapatos, meaning "shoes"), erbul (from árbol, meaning "tree"), pokituh (from poquito, meaning "a little"). 

Historians have noted a "creole war", between speakers of Zamboanga Malay and Chavacano Zamboangueño

Lanao Malay

Lanao Malay, or Melayu Ranao is spoken throughout North Lanao, South Lanao and Maguindanao Province and Sultan Kudarat Province. Unlike Zamboanga Malay, Lanao Malay is considered a legitimate and proper dialect of Malay rather than a creole, and contains heavy loan words from Maranaoan, Iranun, Maguindanaoan, Arabic, Cebuano, Filipino as well as English, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. This dialect is actually monitored and regulated from the Commission of the Malay Language in Marawi City. 

Lanao Malay is the most-spoken proper and prestige Malay dialect in the Philippines, the other being Indonesian by expatriates from Indonesia and their descendants. 

It is the considered the "true Mindanao Malay", as native speakers often have an ease of communicating with speakers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Sabah. Historians and linguists claim that if the Philippines ever nationalized the Malay language, it would come from the Lanao dialect.

Davao Malay

Davao Malay, or Melayu Davao is a creole spoken throughout eastern Mindanao and the Davao Region. It contains a heavy mixture of Cebuano and Spanish loan words, often used as a form of communication between the Moros and non-Moros of eastern Mindanao. 

The huge difference between Davao Malay is that Christians and Lumads use the word Tuhan for God, and not Allah as in other Malay dialects. Other times they'll use the word Deyus, from the Spanish Dios

Sulu Malay

Sulu Malay is a creole and trade language spoken in the Sulu Archipelago, and bears resemblance to Sabah Malay and Brunei Malay. Some historians actually argue that Sulu Malay may be a descent of Sabah Malay. It contains heavy loanwords and mixing with Tausūg and Bajau-Sama languages, as well as Chavacano/Spanish. 

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