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Official Language of Brunei

Official Language of Brunei

Key Takeaways

Official LanguageMalay (Bahasa Melayu)
Writing SystemLatin Script (Rumi)
Co-official LanguagesNone
Recognized Regional LanguagesSeveral indigenous languages, English widely spoken
ImportanceUsed in government, education, and daily communication

A Brief Overview of Brunei

Brunei, officially known as the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, is a tiny, yet affluent country located on the island of Borneo. It boasts a rich cultural heritage that blends Malay customs with Islamic traditions, and its linguistic landscape is equally diverse.

The Dominance of Malay: Bahasa Melayu

Malay, commonly referred to as Bahasa Melayu, is the official language of Brunei. It’s not just the language of daily communication, but also the medium of instruction in schools, the language of the government, and the medium for official documents.

Characteristics of Bruneian Malay

  • Variation: While the standard form is based on the same standard used in Malaysia and Indonesia, Brunei has its own dialectal variations.
  • Writing System: Bruneian Malay is primarily written using the Latin script, known locally as ‘Rumi’.
  • Pronunciation: While sharing many phonetic similarities with Malay spoken in neighboring regions, it has its own unique accent and intonation.

The Linguistic Landscape of Brunei

Despite its small size, Brunei has a linguistically rich environment. Malay may be the official language, but many other languages are spoken, reflecting the country’s diverse ethnic makeup.

List of Notable Languages Spoken in Brunei:

  1. English: Widely spoken and understood, especially in business and education.
  2. Chinese: Various dialects are spoken by the Chinese community, such as Hokkien and Hakka.
  3. Indigenous Languages: Such as Iban and Dusun, among others.

Language Use in Various Domains:

DomainPrimary Language Used
Government and Official DocumentsMalay
Business TransactionsMalay and English
EducationMalay (with English being used particularly in higher education)
MediaMostly Malay with some English channels

The Role of English in Brunei

While Malay is undeniably the centerpiece of Brunei’s linguistic identity, English also plays a significant role, particularly in the realms of business and education.

  • Education: From the 1980s onwards, Brunei has adopted a bilingual education system. English is used to teach science and mathematics from early schooling years.
  • Business: Given Brunei’s active participation in international trade, especially in oil and gas, English becomes a crucial language in business transactions and communications.

Why Malay Remains Central to Brunei’s Identity

With globalization and the influence of other languages, particularly English, why has Malay maintained its central position in Brunei?

  1. Cultural Identity: Malay is deeply rooted in Bruneian culture, traditions, and daily life. It’s more than just a language; it’s a representation of the nation’s identity.
  2. Religious Sermons: Islam is the official religion of Brunei. Religious sermons, prayers, and Islamic teachings are often conducted in Malay, reinforcing its importance.
  3. National Policies: The government’s consistent emphasis on promoting and preserving the Malay language ensures that it remains at the forefront of Bruneian society.


Brunei, while small in size, boasts a rich linguistic tapestry. The dominance of Malay, both historically and in the modern day, showcases the country’s commitment to its traditions and cultural identity. Yet, it also recognizes the value of linguistic diversity and the importance of English in the globalized world. As Brunei continues to navigate the complexities of the 21st century, its linguistic choices will undeniably play a key role in shaping its future.