Madagascar Languages

By | May 30, 2021

The official languages (= official languages) in Madagascar are Malagasy (German: Malagasy, French: Malgache) and French, with Malagasy being the national language. French is spoken by only about 20% of the Malagasy people, but French is understood by a larger proportion of the population. English was also the national language between 2007 and 2010; however, since the referendum in 2010, only Malagasy has been listed as the national language. The school language is initially Malagasy in primary schools, while French is taught in secondary schools. Despite everything, French remains a language of the elite and many Malagasy people encounter the language with a certain ambivalence. Madagascar is a member of the international organization of the Francophonie (Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, OIF) with interruption from 1970-1977. The OIF meetings take place every 2 years in Antananarivo, most recently in 2016. Madagascar needs economic relations with francophone countries like France to stabilize its economic structure.

According to physicscat, Malagasy belongs to the Austronesian language family and is very similar to the “Ma’anyan” language spoken in Borneo, which suggests that the language came to Madagascar together with immigrants from Southeast Asia. The many different ethnic groups in Madagascar have the Malagasy as dialects depending on their tradition (such as the Antankarana Malagasy, the Bara Malagasy etc.) modified. Representatives of different ethnic groups often find it difficult to communicate in Malagasy, but overall the language unites the Malagasy people, who are thus filled with a certain national pride. Overall, Malagasy is an easy language to learn, but pronunciation is often difficult. For one thing, not all letters are pronounced like in the German language. The “o” is often pronounced like a “u” or the “tr” and “dr” become “tsch” and “dsch”. Often the last letter is left out when speaking, which makes it difficult to understand. “Malagasy “is then shortened to” Malagas “or just” Gas “. The Malagasy people appreciate itif a stranger can surprise them with a few words in Malagasy. The greeting “Salama vaovao” is understood everywhere in Madagascar, similar to “Veloma” (goodbye) or “Misaotra” (thank you, pronounced like “misautra”). In the course of its linguistic history, Malagasy has borrowed words from the Bantu languages ​​(e.g. Swahili, njia = way, road), English (e.g. book → boky) and French (savon → savony, du vin → divai).

The Malagasy language has only been written for a good 100 years. Before that, events and stories were passed down orally. Only Arab immigrants who settled on the east coast in the 11th century (today’s Antaimoro ethnic group) then developed their own script from Arabic, the “Sorabe”. English missionaries and teachers translated the Bible into Latin and created the first written basis for Malagasy; the Sorabe was forgotten. The French later introduced accents to make words easier to pronounce. Many words are spelled differently to this day, for example the city of Fort Dauphin (French) in Malagasy becomes “Taolagnaro”, “Taolanaro” or “Tolanaro”, the city called Tuléar by the French can sometimes be “Toliara” or “Toliary” in Malagasy ” be.

Madagascar Languages

Witchcraft, magic, superstition

The vast majority of Malagasy people believe in the effects of witches, magical powers and are very superstitious. Ghosts are driven away with fetishes, incense and conjuring words, and people believe in the power of witches to kill people. Shamans or healers (“ombiasy” and “mpimasy”) should help with all kinds of problems, but the “mpamorika” can also do bad things on the other hand. Fortune tellers or oracle experts (“mpisikidy”) are also used by politicians to predict the future with a special method (sikidy). Belief in ghosts is also deeply rooted in Malagasy culture and creepy creatures, mermaids, elves and goblins as well as the superstition that something specific happens when you do or not do something (example: the chickens stay healthy when a turtle is in the house, or: a man must never sweep the floor, rolling up mats or fishing with nets, or: It is bad luck to cut your hair, fingernails and toenails in the same day).

The house as a symbol of life

The house as a place of residence and living has a special meaning for the Madagascans. House building rules are important so that the house becomes a home that offers protection and wellbeing. Construction should start on certain days of the month (the 1st day of the third month, for example) and the geographical orientation the house is designed in a north-south direction. This axis symbolizes power, the east-west orientation, on the other hand, is associated with disaster. The location of the family grave is also important, because if a door faces the entrance of a grave, it would lure death into the house. Inside the house, too, the cardinal points are important for different rooms. The house itself is divided into months, days and even hours in accordance with “vintana”, fate, and each individual has to adhere to the rules of the direction of movement when moving around the house.

The very individual festivals, customs and traditions in Madagascar, as well as the strong bond that many Madagascans show towards them, may seem strange to Europeans. Respecting the cultural identity and at the same time being open to a change in society, which is increasingly dictated by modernity, does not have to be a contradiction for the Malagasy people. However, the personal development of the individual, restrictive family obligations as well as the negative economic effects of manners and customs should be changed.