Malagasy language and Languages of Madagascar

The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island.

The numerous dialects of Malagasy, which are generally mutually intelligible, can be clustered under one of two subgroups: eastern Malagasy, spoken along the eastern forests and highlands including the Merina dialect of Antananarivo and western Malagasy, spoken across the western coastal plains.

French became the official language during the colonial period, when Madagascar came under the authority of France. In the first national Constitution of 1958, Malagasy and French were named the official languages of the Malagasy Republic.

Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is mostly spoken as a second language among the educated population and used for international communication.

No official languages were recorded in the Constitution of 1992, although Malagasy was identified as the national language. Nonetheless, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were official languages, eventually leading a citizen to initiate a legal case against the state in April 2000, on the grounds that the publication of official documents only in the French language was unconstitutional.

The High Constitutional Court observed in its decision that, in the absence of a language law, French still had the character of an official language.

In the Constitution of 2007, Malagasy remained the national language while official languages were reintroduced: Malagasy, French, and English. English was removed as an official language from the constitution approved by voters in the November 2010 referendum.

The outcome of the referendum, and its consequences for official and national language policy, are not recognized by the political opposition, who cite lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the way the election was organized by the High Transitional Authority.

Language Policy

Over the years, Madagascar has had different language policies under different influences of authority. The indigenous language of Madagascar, Malagasy, was the predominant language on the island until the French colonization in 1897.

Malagasy has developed throughout the decades from an oral language to a language that has a written system (Latin orthography), a change that was enforced by King Radama I, in 1823.

Following the French colonization, the language of instruction and media changed from Malagasy to almost exclusively French. Moreover, the first French governor-general, Gallieni, also encouraged the French officials to learn Malagasy as well.

After the advent of the Malagasy independence, the Madagascans tried to reinstate Malagasy as a language of instruction especially in secondary schools.

However, the language policy was inadequately planned and Malagasy was struggling to surpass French as the language of instruction. Today, Madagascar has two official languages: Malagasy and French.

Madagascar managed to maintain the indigenous language, Malagasy, in society and in schools despite the colonizing power. Malagasy and French are both the language of instruction in primary and secondary schools in Madagascar.

The inclusion of the African language as a medium of instruction is usually uncommon in other colonized African countries.