A Concise Grammar of the Malagasy Language/The Alphabet


Letters.—The Malagasy Alphabet contains the same letters as the English Alphabet, with the exception of c, q, u, w, and x.

Vowels and Diphthongs.—These are pronounced as follows:—

a as a in psalm; example, tàna, (a) chamæleon.
e ... a ... date; ... èny, yes.
i ... ee ... weep; ... hìdy, (a) lock.
o ... oo ... too; ... òny, (a) river.

These are the usual sounds of the four vowels.

ai, ay pronounced like i in might.
ei, ey
ao ... ... ow ... now.

These two sounds are the only true diphthongs.

Y represents the same sound as i, but is used at the ends of words, has a lighter sound, and becomes mute in certain cases; while, in the translation of the New Testament, y is used in the body of words taken from the Greek to represent the letter upsīlon: thus, sỳnagògy, synagogue.

O, when used as the sign of a vocative case, or in names introduced from another language (as Rajòna, John), has the sound of o in 'no.'

In writing, all Malagasy words are written in full, except when the first of two words is a noun followed by its possessive case, or a verb in the passive or relative voice followed by its agent.

In speaking, each vowel must be clearly pronounced, because often a single vowel is the only means of distinction between two words dissimilar in meaning. Examples:—

òlona, a person. mànana, to possess. manènina, to regret.
òlana, twisting. mànina, to long after. manènona, to weave.

An elision occurs in speaking usually when a final a, not accented, precedes a word beginning with any other vowel; also when final o precedes a word beginning with o.

Euphonic Letters.—These are h and i. Euphonic h is generally inserted (both in speaking and writing) in a derivative, when two vowels would otherwise come together, of which one would be the first letter of the root, and the other the last letter of the prefix; thus, ìhavìany (instead of ìavìany), from root àvy. Euphonic i is pronounced (but neither written nor printed) when i or y precedes g, h, k, ng, or nk; thus, mikàsa, 'to intend,' is pronounced mikiasa.

Apparent Diphthongs.—The double vowels eo, io, found often, are not true diphthongs, because the sound of each vowel can be distinguished, unless they are pronounced too quickly: moreover, in forming passive verbs, the accent passes on to the second vowel. Thus, lèo makes passive imperative àleòvy; dìo makes passive imperative diòvy.

Sometimes, too, the diphthongs ai and ao are resolved into their component vowel-sounds; thus, aìdina, 'poured out;' aòrina, 'built.' In these cases the a is a prefix, the rest of the word being a root.

The following combinations of vowels are less often found: ia, oa, oi (or oy), oe, aoe, and oai.

Final a is changed into y when a word ending in -na, -ka, or -tra, is followed either by the article ny or by certain proper nouns which do not admit of the article: this change softens and shortens the sound of the final syllable, and also serves to mark the genitive and ablative cases.

Ex. Nỳ satroky nỳ lèhilàhy, the hat of the man. Nouns.
Andrìamànitry Jakòba, the God of Jacob.
Fàntatry nỳ òlona, known by the people.—Verb.

The third example shows that verbs in -za, -ka, or -tra, also follow this rule.

Final a is left unchanged, in order that the sense may not be doubtful, when a word ending in -na, -ka, or -tra, is not followed by another word in the genitive or in the ablative case.

Ex. Fàntatra nỳ òlona, known (are) the people, i.e. the people are known.

Consonants.—The consonants are pronounced as in English, with the following exceptions:—

g is always hard, as in 'gold.'

j as dz, in 'adze.'

s before e and i is pronounced as a soft sh (ex. mìsy pronounced mìsh); otherwise it is always pronounced as s in 'sun' (ex. ìsa, one).

z as z, in 'zone.'

The s and the z are never confounded in Malagasy as in the English word surprise.

Double Consonants.—The following are commonly used:—

dr, dz (or j), tr, and ts. These have the force of single letters, and may begin a syllable or a word.

ng, mb, mp, also used often to begin words, seem to have arisen out of the fuller forms ang, amb, and amp, which still survive among other dialects than that of the Hovas: ex. Sihànaka, ambàmy = Hova, mbamy ('together with, including').

n and m are often used to close syllables:—

n is so used before d, t, dr, dz (or j), tr, ts, g, and k.
m ... ... ... b or p.

Hence the rule: when n or m in the body of a word (not a compound) is followed by another consonant, the n or m is the closing letter of the preceding syllable. With this one exception all syllables end in a vowel.

As n will combine only with d, g, h, and t, and m only with b or p, the only combinations of consonants allowable in the Malagasy language are the following:—

dr, dz (or j).

tr, ts.

mb, mp.

nd, ndr, ndz (or nj) ng, nk, nt, ntr, nts.

Hence the following euphonic changes among consonants become necessary:

f is replaced by p. r is strengthened by d, becoming


h .. .. k or g. s .. .. t, ..


l .. .. d. z .. .. d, ..


v .. .. b.

(or j).

These euphonic changes among consonants are required:—

(1) In forming derivatives that take a prefix ending in n or m.

(2) When n or m is inserted between two words as the sign of an indefinite possessive or ablative case.

(3) In contracting words ending in -na by throwing away the final a, so shortening the word by one syllable.

But no euphonic change is needed (1) when the whole syllable -na is rejected before a word beginning with m or n; thus, manàmpina-màso becomes mànampi-màso: or (2) when the n of possession (short for -ny) is similarly rejected before a noun beginning with m or n; thus, ràno-màso, "eye-water" (i.e. tears).

The final syllables -na, -ka, and -tra are contracted sometimes by rejection of the final syllable. When one of the changeable consonants follows a word so contracted, it is changed according to rule (see p. 8), as if the letter m or n closed the preceding syllable. These final syllables (if not contracted) are always sounded lightly, although they become almost mute when the accent falls on the antepenult. When followed by a consonant, the sound of final a is always kept.

When a word ending in -na, -ka, or -tra, is joined with another word beginning with a vowel, the final a is replaced by an apostrophe; thus, sàtrok'òlona, 'some-one's hat.'

From the fondness of the Malagasy for contractions, the relationship of the second of two contracted words to the preceding word may be any one of these ten things:—

(1) It may be a possessive case; as, akànim-bòrona (akàny, vòrona), 'a bird's nest.'

(2) ... ... the agent of a passive or relative verb; as, tìam-hady (tìana, vàdy), 'loved by one's wife.'

(3) ... ... the object of a verb; as, manòso-dòko (manòsotra, lòko), 'to smear with paint.'

(4) ... ... a limiting accusative; as, tsàra-fanàhy (tsàra, fanàhy), 'good as regards disposition.'

(5) ... ... a noun in apposition; as, andrìan-drày àman-drèny (andrìana, rày, àmana, rèny), 'the nobles (who are as) father and mother.'

(6) ... ... a subject; as, ìtatàram-poza (tàtatra, fòza), 'crabs are the things for which people cut channels.'

(7) ... ... a predicate; as, nỳ fonòsin-dò (fonòsina, ), 'the thing that is wrapped up is putrid.'

(8) ... ... an adjective; as, zòva-tsòa (zàvatra, sòa), 'good things.'

(9) ... ... a verb in the infinitive mood; as, nasài-nanaò (nasaìna, nanaò), 'bidden to do.'

(10) ... ... an adverb; as, mipètra-pòana (mipètraka, fòana), 'to sit about idly.'