The Malay world or Malay realm (Malay: Dunia Melayu or Alam Melayu, Jawi: دونيا ملايو or عالم ملايو) is a concept or an expression, that has been utilised by different authors and groups over time, to denote several different notions, that derived from varied interpretations of Malayness, either as a racial category, as a linguistic group, or as a political-cultural group.The use of the term 'Malay' in much of the conceptualisation, is largely based on the prevalent Malay cultural influence, manifested in particular, through the spread of Malay language in Southeast Asia as observed by different colonial powers during the Age of Discovery.
The area covers the Andaman Sea in the north, the entire Straits of Malacca in the centre, a part of Sunda Strait in the south and the western South China Sea in the east.
It was generally described as a Muslim centre of international trade, with Malay language as its lingua franca.
It is frequently mentioned in the Hikayat Hang Tuah, a well known classical work that began as oral tales associated with the legendary heroes of Melaka Sultanate.
This area includes the Malay peninsula, the coastal areas of Sumatra and Borneo, and the smaller islands in between.
The most notable use of the concept was in the early 20th century, embraced in an irredentist fashion, by the early Malay nationalists in the form of 'Greater Malaya' (Melayu Raya), as an aspiration for the "natural" or desired borders of a modern nation for Malay race. starting point by the Island of Pulo Catay in the region of Pattane (Pattani), situated in the east coast in 8 degrees of latitude, the pass round to the other or western coast of Ujontana (Malay peninsula), to Taranda and Ujon Calan situated in the same latitude in district of Queda (Kedah): this stretch of territory lies within the region of "Malayos" and the same language prevail throughout ..." Territorial identification of Malay is of ancient origin.
Various foreign and local records show that Melayu (Malay) and its similar sounding variants appear to apply as an old toponym to the ancient Straits of Malacca region in general.
Tome Pires, an apothecary who stayed in Melaka from 1512 to 1515, after the Portuguese conquest, explained how the former Melaka classified merchants calling its port into four groups, of which the Malays or Melayu did not appear in the list, suggesting they were not then regarded as category outside the Melaka itself.
In a narrower sense, the Malay world has been used as a Sprachraum, referring to the Malay-speaking countries and territories of Southeast Asia, where different standards of Malay are the national languages, or a variety of it, is an important minority language.
The term in this sense, encompasses Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Southern Thailand, and sometimes used interchangeably with the concepts of 'Malay archipelago' and 'Nusantara'.