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Standard Malagasy taken from the Merina dialect was the first dialect to be written in Latin characters and is considered the literary dialect.

The most similar language found outside of Madagascar is Ma'anyan, a language spoken in Borneo.

Over 18 ethnic groups live on the island including: Merina 26.1 percent; Betsimisaraka 14.9 percent; Betsileo 12.0 percent; Tsimihety 7.2 percent; Sakalava 5.8 percent; Antandroy 5.3 percent; Antaisaka 5.0 percent; Tanala 3.8 percent; Antaimoro 3.4 percent; Bara 3.3 percent; Sihanaka 2.4 percent; Antanosy 2.3 percent; and Mahafaly, Antaifasy, Makoa, Bezanozano, Antakarana, Antambahoaka (less than 2 percent each). The official language of Madagascar is Standard Malagasy (Malagasy Official).

This language can be traced to the Malayo-Polynesian language family.

The highland/ côtier division can be understood in terms of the historical domination by the Merina Empire, which was originally centered on Imerina (the current capital Antananarivo).

There are some common cultural practices that all Malagasy share.

Consulting with, and reflecting upon, dead ancestors ( razana ) guides the living in making choices about social, moral, and religious aspects of everyday life.

The average population density is 36 inhabitants per square mile.The traditions of this group (e.g., turning the bones of the dead) represent many Malagasy, and are often portrayed in tourist documents as the primary island traditions.However, people who live in some outlying coastal regions do not identify with or observe these traditions.The Betsimisaraka, the second largest ethnic group, is the most numerous group pursuing trading, seafaring, fishing, and cultivation.The Southwest is defined by the Ivakoany Massif to the east and by the Isala Roiniforme Massif to the north and includes the Mahafaly Plateau and the desert region.

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