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Malagasy, also known as Malgache, is spoken on the island of Madagascar. Its 13 million speakers include most of the population of the island. It would be logical to assume that Malagasy belongs to one or another of the African language families but this is not the case. Investigation has established it as one of the Malayo-Polynesian (Austronesian) languages (Indonesian group) the rest of which are spoken thousands of miles to the east, in Southeast Asia and on islands in the Pacific. It is now believed that the inhabitants of Madagascar are descendants of settlers from present-day Indonesia (perhaps the island of Borneo), who arrived between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. Malagasy has many influences from mainland African languages, in particular Bantu languages, Swahili, and Arabic, but also from English and French. It has a soft, musical quality somewhat reminiscent of Italian. Standard Malagasy is based on the Merina dialect, the first to be written in Latin characters.
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