Malayalam language

Malayalam language

:"Not to be confused with the Malay language."Infobox Language
nativename= _ml. മലയാളം "IAST|malayāḷaṁ"
region=Kerala, Lakshadweep, Mahé, Puducherry, Arabian Peninsula, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States.
speakers=37,198,000.cite web|url=|title=Malayalam|work=Ethnologue|accessdate=2007-05-28]
35,351,000 in India,
1,800,000 in the Persian Gulf,
37,000 [cite web|url=|title=Languages of Malaysia|work=Ethnologue|accessdate=2007-05-28] in Malaysia, and
10,000 in Singapore
script = Malayalam script, historically written in Vattezhuthu script, Kolezhuthu script , Karzoni script. Also Arabic script (Arabi Malayalam), Indian alphabet (Roman alphabet)
nation=IND (Kerala State and the Union Territories of Lakshadweep & Puducherry)

Malayalam (Unicode|മലയാളം "IAST|malayāḷaṁ") is a Dravidian language used predominantly in the state of Kerala, in southern India. It is one of the 22 official languages of India, and it is used by around 36 million people. Malayalam is also widely used in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Mahé, the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu and the Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. It is also used by a large population of Indian expatriates living in Arab States, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.

Malayalam is thought to have developed from Tamil and began developing a body of literature by the 9th century AD [ [Kerala Charithram (Malayalam)A.Sreedhara Menon p.494] ] . The language uses a large proportion of Sanskrit vocabulary. Loans have also been made from Portuguese, Arabic and, in more recent times, English.


The term "Malayalam" comes from the words "mala" (Mountain), "alam" (Place). Hence "malayali" means "Mountain 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 an apparent palindrome; however, strictly, it is not, as the next to last vowel is long and should properly be spelled double or written "ā" (an "a" with a macron), and the 'l' consonants represent different sounds: the first is dental ( [l] , Malayalam Unicode|ല, Roman "l") (although the consonant chart below lists that sound as [alveolar] ) and the second is retroflex ( [ɭ] , Malayalam Unicode|ള, Roman "ḷ").


The language belongs to the family of Dravidian languages. There are conflicting theories concerning the origin of the language. 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. [cite book|last=Caldwell|first=Robert|title=A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Languages|year=1875| publishers=Trübner & Co|pages=23| chapterurl=,M1|location=London] However, linguists like Hermann Gundert regard Malayalam as having diverged from Proto-Tamil-Malayalam, or Proto-Dravidian. Malayalam has a script of its own, covering special letters to write Sanskrit words as well as letters for Dravidian-specific sounds. Recent archaeological evidence points to Malayalam being as old a language as the other Dravidian languages and that it evolved over the centuries, with its versions having different names.Fact|date=July 2008 This is unlike the case of Tamil. Although Classical Tamil and Modern Tamil are very different,Fact|date=July 2008 both are still referred to as Tamil.

Together with Tamil, Toda, Kannada and Tulu, Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages. Proto-Tamil-Malayalam, 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 different castes and 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: [cite book|last=Menon|first=T.K. Krishna|title=A Primer of Malayalam Literature|year=1990|publisher=Asian Educational Services|isbn=8120606035]

*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 of the Tamil tradition
* 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. Although this may be true, Malayalam is strikingly similar to Tamil, considerably more than the similarity between modern Dutch and German. 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.


* *IPA|/ɨ̆/ is the IAST|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 IPA|/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 IPA|/u/ is attached to the preceding consonant and a chandrakkala is written above.

* *IPA|/a/ (phonetically central: IPA| [ä] ) and IPA|/ə/ are both represented as basic or "default" vowels in the abugida script (although IPA|/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 IPA|/äu/ (represented in Malayalam as ഔ, au) and IPA|/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 IAST|samvr̥tokāram, which is not officially a vowel, and not as actual vocalic consonants) have been classified as vowels: vocalic r (ഋ, IPA|/rɨ̆/, IAST|r̥), long vocalic r (ൠ, IPA|/rɨː/, IAST|r̥̄), vocalic l (ഌ, IPA|/lɨ̆/, IAST|l̥) and long vocalic l (ൡ, IPA|/lɨː/, IAST|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] . In current Malayalam, this sound is used only for words borrowed from European languages (such as English, French, Portuguese or Dutch).

* 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 IPA|/pʰ/, a native phoneme, and IPA|/f/, which only occurs in adopted words.

The script

In the early ninth century "vattezhuthu" (round writing) traceable through the Grantha script, to the pan-Indian Brahmi 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 51 letters including 16 vowels and 37 consonants. [cite web|url=|title=Language||accessdate=2007-05-28] 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 city 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 ["Dravidian languages." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.] .

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 (Mappila Malayalam, Beary bashe).

Words adopted from Sanskrit

When words are adopted from Sanskrit, their endings are usually changed to conform to Malayalam norms:


#Masculine Sanskrit nouns ending in a short "a" in the nominative singular change their ending to "an". For example, IAST|Kṛṣṇa -> IAST|Kṛṣṇan. However, there are exceptions - for example, if someone’s first name were a Sanskrit derived name like IAST|Kṛṣṇan, a person talking about him might drop the "n" if it were immediately followed by his surname (this only applies for certain surnames, such as Menon but not Nair)Fact|date=July 2007.(Reference : 'Sri Krishna Vilasa'(a Sanskrit work) by poet Sukumara in the 12th Century and translation of the same by Malayalam poet Kunchan Nambiar in his work 'Sri Krishnacharitam' in the 15th Century.)
#Feminine words ending in a long "ā" or "ī" are changed so that they now end in a short "a" or "i", for example Sītā -> Sīta and IAST|Lakṣmī -> IAST|Lakṣmi. However, the long vowel still appears in compound words like Sītādēvi or IAST|Lakṣmīdēvi. Some vocative case forms of both Sanskrit and native Malayalam words end in ā or ī, and there are also a small number of nominative ī endings that have not been shortened - a prominent example being the word Śrī,
#Masculine words ending in a long "ā" in the nominative singular have a "vŭ" added to them, for example Brahmā -> Brahmāvŭ. This is again omitted when forming compounds.Fact|date=July 2007.
#Words whose roots are different from their nominative singular forms - for example, the Sanskrit root of "Karma" is actually "Karman"- are also changed. The original root is ignored and "Karma" (the form in Malayalam being "Karmam" because it ends in a short "a") is taken as the basic form of the noun when declining. [cite book
first=A.R. Rajaraja
publisher=D C Books
#Sanskrit words describing things or animals rather than people which end in a short "a" take an additional "m" in Malayalam. For example, IAST|Rāmāyaṇa -> IAST|Rāmāyaṇam. "Things and animals" and "people" are not always differentiated based on whether or not they are sentient beings - for example Narasimha becomes Narasimham and not Narasimhan whilst Ananta becomes Anantan even though both are sentient. This can be explained by saying that "Ananta" can also be a man's name and does not necessarily have to refer to the Hindu serpent-god, whereas "Simha" actually means lion and therefore must be of the neuter gender.Fact|date=July 2007
# Nouns ending in short vowels like "IAST|Viṣṇu", "Prajāpati" etc stay the same.Fact|date=July 2007
#Along with these tatsama borrowings, there are also many tadbhava words in common use. These were borrowed into Malayalam before it became distinct from Tamil. As the language did not then accommodate Sanskrit phonology as it now does, words were changed to conform to the Old Tamil phonological system. For example: IAST|Kṛṣṇa -> IAST|Kaṇṇan [cite book
first=A.R. Rajaraja
publisher=D C Books

Malayalam also has its influence from Portuguese, as is evident from the use of word like 'mesa' for a small table, and 'janala' for window.

For a comprehensive list of loan words, see Loan words in Malayalam.

ee also

* The lists of and at Wiktionary, the free dictionary and Wikipedia’s sibling project
* [ How to Configure Computer to view Malayalam Unicode text]
* Kerala
* Beary bashe
* Malayalam calendar
* Malayalam literature
* Malayalam cinema
* Malayalam journalism
* List of places in Kerala
* Manipravalam
* Demographics of India for a list of the official languages of India.
* Languages of India
* List of national languages of India
* List of Indian languages by total speakers
* First Malayalam Literary Portal


External links

* [ Malayalam Keyboard]
* [ Padamudra: Malayalam Dictionary]
* [ Unicode Code Chart for Malayalam (PDF Format)]
* [ Malayalam News] - വിവിധ മാധ്യമങ്ങളില്‍ നിന്നുള്ള പ്രധാനപ്പെട്ട വാര്‍ത്തകള്‍ ഇവിടെ വായിക്കാം.
* [ Varamozhi: Malayalam Text Editor, Input Method Editor and Unicode Font]
* [ writeKA Scripton: English to Malayalam Online Transliterator] - മലയാളം എഴുതാനുള്ള ഓണ്‍ലൈന്‍ ഉപകരണം.
* [ Hoozi: Online Malayalam Text Editor using Transliteration]
* [ Useful Malayalam phrases in English and other Indian languages.]
* [ Ethnologue report for Malayalam]
* [ English-Malayalam Dictionary]
* [ Indian Language Converter]

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