The history of Malay language is divided into four periods :
Old Malay, Early Modern Malay, Late Modern Malay and Contemporary Malay.
The above divisions excludes inconclusive "scholarly" debates pertaining to pre-historic Malay in which diverse origins of Austronesian speakers,from which Malay is derived, are proposed.
Old Malay ( 682 -1500 C.E.) begins with records of poems and thoughts on writing materials made from plants described as the sharp cursive Rencong, an ancient script believed to be native to South-east Asia. Unfortunately no evidence from that early period survived. When the Indians set their feet on the Malay Archipelago, they brought along Vatteluttu or Pallava, an ancient Tamil script from South India. Pallava was accepted as the Malay writing system and gradually evolved into an ancient royal Javanese script called Kawi.
Even though Islam most probably introduced Arabic script to the Malay world as early as the seventh century, Old Malay was very much under Indian influence with its extensive use of Sanskrit vocabulary. The Malays tried to use Pallava and Kawi to express their new Islamic faith but found both to be unsuitable to pronounce the verses of the Quran and Hadis. They thus experimented and created Jawi script based on Arabic. The Jawi script has been in used for more than 600 years by now and is synonymous with the Malay language itself.
Early Modern Malay ( 1500-c1850 ) This was a time of turmoil and radical change. The Malacca Sultanate as a patron of the Malay language played an important role in using the language to spread Islam thus changing Malay's pro-India nature to pro-Arabic. Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511 and subsequent persecution of Moslems caused them to disperse throughout the Malay Archipelago, establishing new regional centers.
This was also a time of flourishing classical literature. Adapting Arabic into Jawi script enabled the Malays to record their experiences, religious laws and oral literature into a collection of Malay classical literature. An example is the Malay Annals preserved by British Historian Sir Richard O. Winstedt.
Late Modern Malay ( c1850 - 1957 ) By this time Malay has absorbed numerous loan words from the colonists namely: Portuguese, Dutch and English. Standardized dictionaries and grammars appeared together with a study of regional Malay dialects and codification of literature. A prominent figure in this field was Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad, better known as Za'ba, exerted great influence on pre- independent Malay by codifying Malay grammar and modifying the Jawi spelling system.
Malay was elevated to the status of the National language of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore when all of these nations gained independence, a process hastened by the Japanese Occupation.
Contemporary Malay ( after 1957 ) Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei set up their respective national language planning agencies, in an effort to unify their different versions of Malay. There were trials and errors and for a while, obstacle due to Indonesia's confrontation against the formation of Malaysia. As relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia normalized by 1966, their linguistic collaboration continued, resulting in a common spelling system in 1972. Thanks to this project, instead of several spelling systems, today there is only one spelling system for Malay in Malaysia.
Above is a brief recap of the history of Malay language covering a period of 1,500 years, in a more digestible form.
About the Author:
Wan is an ordinary Malaysian who cannot help observing idiosyncrasies in Bahasa Malaysia, for more information on the history of Malay language, go to http://www.bahasa-malaysia-simple-fun.com/history-malay-language.html