Malayan (məlāˈən) [key] or Malay māˈlā, general term for one of a population of persons inhabiting SE Asia and the adjacent islands. The Malays vary greatly in physical appearance. The term Indonesian, used as an alternative for Malayan, is sometimes applied to the people of interior districts, who are thought to be related to the Pygmies or Negritos (probably the earlier inhabitants of the region). In the coastal districts there has been intermixture with the Arabs, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Thais. Scores of languages or dialects are spoken; they form a group of the Malayo-Polynesian languages. Among anthropologists the term Malayan is used exclusively to describe an inhabitant of the Malayan Peninsula.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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