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Malayalam language :

Malayalam is one of the four major Dravidian languages of South India. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India with official language status in the state of Kerala, spoken by around 37 million people.Malayalam is also widely used in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Mahé, the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, and Dakshina Kannada, and Kodagu districts of Karnataka. It is also used by a large population of Indian expatriates living around the globe and in the Persian Gulf, United States, Singapore, Australia, and Europe.

Malayalam and Tamil are the closest relatives, which is not disputed by scholars. Malayalam is speculated to be a daughter language of Middle Tamil in the 6th century, of which Modern Tamil was also derived. An alternative theory proposes a split in more ancient times.Before Malayalam came into being, Old Tamil was used in literature and courts of a region called Tamilakam, a famous example being Silappadikaram. The oldest literature works in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated certainly to the 11th century, perhaps to the 9th century. Important literature was also written in Sanskrit, as many works of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics in the late middle ages. For cultural purposes Malayalam and Sanskrit formed a mixed language, known as Manipravalam.

Malayalam is written in the Malayalam script, which is derived from the Grantha script. Its rounded form was well suited to write palm leaf manuscripts, a prefered way of writing in ancient South India. Malayalam uses a large proportion of Sanskrit vocabulary. Adoption have also been made from Portuguese, Arabic, Syriac, and in more recent times English.

Contents :

Etymology :

The term "Malayalam" comes from the words mala (Mountain), alam (Place). Hence malayali means Mountain's people who lived beyond the Western Ghats, and Malayalam the language that was spoken there. Another etymology is that it comes from mala (Mountain) and azham (Ocean) - referring to the Sahya mountains and Arabian Sea that bound Kerala. Malayazham later became Malayalam.

The word "Malayalam" is spelled as a palindrome in English. However, it is not a palindrome in its own language, for three reasons: the next to last vowel is long and should properly be spelled double or written ā (an a with a macron); the 'l' consonants represent different sounds, the first being dental ([l], Malayalam, Roman l) (although the consonant chart below lists that sound as [alveolar]) and the second retroflex; and the final 'm' is a mark of nasalization[citation needed], unlike the initial 'm', which is a full consonant.


The language belongs to the family of Dravidian languages. Robert Caldwell, in his book A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Languages considers Malayalam an ancient off-shoot of classical Tamil that over time gained a large amount of Sanskrit vocabulary and lost the personal terminations of verbs.

Together with Tamil, Telugu, Toda, Kannada and Tulu, Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages. Some believe Proto-Tamil, the common stock of Tamil and Malayalam, apparently diverged over a period of four or five centuries from the ninth century on, resulting in the emergence of Malayalam as a language distinct from Proto-Tamil. As the language of scholarship and administration, Proto-Tamil greatly influenced the early development of Malayalam. Later the irresistible inroads the Namboothiris made into the cultural life of Kerala, the Namboothiri-Nair dominated social & political setup, the trade relationships with Arabs, and the invasion of Kerala by the Portuguese, establishing vassal states accelerated the assimilation of many Romance, Semitic and Indo-Aryan features into Malayalam at different levels spoken by religious communities like Muslims, Christians, Jews and Jainas.

T.K. Krishna Menon, in his book "A Primer of Malayalam Literature" describes four distinct epochs concerning the evolution of the language:

  • Karintamil (3100 BCE - 100 BCE): Malayalam from this period is represented by the works of Kulashekara Alvar and Pakkanar. There is a strong Tamil element, and Sanskrit has not yet made an influence on the language.
  • Old Malayalam (100 BCE - 325 CE): Malayalam seems to have been influenced by Sanskrit as there are numerous Sanskrit words in the language. There are personal terminations for verbs that were conjugated according to gender and number.
  • Middle Malayalam (325 CE - 1425 CE): Malayalam from this time period is represented by works such as Ramacharitram. Traces of the adjuncts of verbs have disappeared by this period. The Jains also seemed to have encouraged the study of the language.
  • Modern Malayalam (1425 CE onwards): Malayalam seems to have established itself as a language separate from Tamil by this point in time. This period can be divided into two categories: from 1425 CE to 1795 CE, and from 1795 CE, onwards. 1795 CE is the year the British gained complete control over Kerala.

Development of literature

The earliest written record of Malayalam is the Vazhappalli inscription (ca. 830 CE). The early literature of Malayalam comprised three types of composition:

  • Classical songs known as Naadan Paattu
  • Manipravalam of the Sanskrit tradition, which permitted a generous interspersing of Sanskrit with Malayalam
  • The folk song rich in native elements

Malayalam poetry to the late twentieth century betrays varying degrees of the fusion of the three different strands. The oldest examples of Pattu and Manipravalam, respectively, are Ramacharitam and Vaishikatantram, both of the twelfth century.

The earliest extant prose work in the language is a commentary in simple Malayalam, Bhashakautaliyam (12th century) on Chanakya’s Arthasastra. Adhyathmaramayanam by Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan (known as the father of the Malayalam language) who was born in Tirur, one of the most important works in Malayalam literature. Malayalam prose of different periods exhibit various levels of influence from different languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Hebrew, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Modern literature is rich in poetry, fiction, drama, biography, and literary criticism.


For the consonants and vowels, the IPA is given, followed by the Malayalam character and the ISO 15919 transliteration.


  • */ɨ̆/ is the samvr̥tokāram, an epenthentic vowel in Malayalam. Therefore, it has no independent vowel letter (because it never occurs at the beginning of words) but, when it comes after a consonant, there are various ways of representing it. In medieval times, it was just represented with the symbol for /u/, but later on it was just completely omitted (that is, written as an inherent vowel). In modern times, it is written in two different ways - the Northern style, in which a chandrakkala is used, and the Southern or Travancore style, in which the diacritic for a /u/ is attached to the preceding consonant and a chandrakkala is written above.
  • */a/ (phonetically central: [ä]) and /ə/ are both represented as basic or "default" vowels in the abugida script (although /ə/ never occurs word-initially and therefore does not make use of the letter അ), but they are distinct vowels.

Malayalam has also borrowed the Sanskrit diphthongs of /äu/ (represented in Malayalam as ഔ, au) and /ai/ (represented in Malayalam as ഐ, ai), although these mostly occur only in Sanskrit loanwords. Traditionally (as in Sanskrit), four vocalic consonants (usually pronounced in Malayalam as consonants followed by the samvr̥tokāram, which is not officially a vowel, and not as actual vocalic consonants) have been classified as vowels: vocalic r (ഋ, /rɨ̆/, r̥), long vocalic r (ൠ, /rɨː/, r̥̄), vocalic l (ഌ, /lɨ̆/, l̥) and long vocalic l (ൡ, /lɨː/, l̥̄). Except for the first, the other three have been omitted from the current script used in Kerala as there are no words in current Malayalam that use them.


  • The unaspirated alveolar plosive stop used to have a separate character but it has become obsolete because it only occurs in geminate form (when geminated it is written with a റ below another റ) or immediately following other consonants (in these cases, റ or ററ is usually written in small size underneath the first consonant). To see how the archaic letter looked, find the Malayalam letter in the row for t here.
  • The alveolar nasal used to have a separate character but this is now obsolete (to see how it looked, find the Malayalam letter in the row for n here) and the sound is now almost always represented by the symbol that was originally used only for the dental nasal. However, both sounds are extensively used in current colloquial and official Malayalam.
  • The letter ഫ represents both /pʰ/, a native phoneme, and /f/, which only occurs in adopted words.

Writing system

In the early ninth century vattezhuthu (round writing) traceable through the Grantha script, to the pan-Indian Brāhmī script, gave rise to the Malayalam writing system. It is syllabic in the sense that the sequence of graphic elements means that syllables have to be read as units, though in this system the elements representing individual vowels and consonants are for the most part readily identifiable. In the 1960s Malayalam dispensed with many special letters representing less frequent conjunct consonants and combinations of the vowel /u/ with different consonants.

Malayalam language script consists of 53 letters including 16 vowels and 37 consonants.[11] The earlier style of writing is now substituted with a new style from 1981. This new script reduces the different letters for typeset from 900 to fewer than 90. This was mainly done to include Malayalam in the keyboards of typewriters and computers.

In 1999 a group called Rachana Akshara Vedi, led by Chitrajakumar, and K.H. Hussein, produced a set of free fonts containing the entire character repertoire of more than 900 glyphs. This was announced and released along with an editor in the same year at Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. In 2004, the fonts were released under the GNU GPL license by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation at the Cochin University of Science and Technology in Kochi, Kerala.

Dialects and external influences

Variations in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical and phonological elements are observable along the parameters of region, religion, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register. Influence of Sanskrit is very prominent in formal Malayalam used in literature. Malayalam has a substantially high amount of Sanskrit loan words. Loan words and influences also from Hebrew, Syriac and Ladino abound in the Jewish Malayalam dialects, as well as English, Portuguese, Syriac and Greek in the Christian dialects, while Arabic and Persian elements predominate in the Muslim dialects. This muslim dialect known as Mappila Malayalam is used in the Malabar region of Kerala. Another muslim dialect called Beary bashe is used in the extreme northern part of Kerala.

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