Malayalam language: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Malayalam" redirects here. For the script used to write the language, see Malayalam script.
മലയാളം malayāḷam
Malayalam in Malayalam script
"Malayalam" in Malayalam script
Spoken in India
Region Kerala, Lakshadweep, Karnataka, Mahé, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Persian Gulf.
Total speakers 35,893,990.[1]
33,015,420 in India (2001),[2]
1,847,902 in other countries (2007):[3]
• 773,624 in UAE
• 447,440 in Saudi Arabia
• 134,728 in Kuwait
• 134,019 in Oman
• 105,655 in USA
•  94,310 in Qatar
•  58,146 in Bahrain
•  26,237 in UK
•  15,600 in other Europe
•  11,346 in Canada
•  10,636 in Malaysia
•   7,800 in Singapore
Ranking 29
Language family Dravidian
Writing system Malayalam script, historically written in Vattezhuthu script, Kolezhuthu script , Malayanma script (used in Thiruvananthapuram)[4], Karzoni script. Also Arabic script (Arabi Malayalam)
Official status
Official language in  India (Kerala and the Union Territories of Lakshadweep & Puducherry)
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ml
ISO 639-2 mal
ISO 639-3 mal
Distribution of native Malayalam speakers in India
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...
Malayalam is written in a non-Latin script. Malayalam text used in this article is transliterated into the Latin script according to the ISO 15919 standard.

Malayalam (മലയാളം malayāḷam, pronounced [mɐləjaːɭɐm]( listen)) 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 and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Mahé. It is spoken by 35.9 million people.[1] Malayalam is also spoken in the Kanyakumari district and Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu, Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu districts of Karnataka.[1][5][6][7] Overseas it is also used by a large population of Indian expatriates living around the globe in the Persian Gulf, United States, Singapore, Australia, and Europe.

Malayalam was derived from Middle Tamil in the 6th century, of which Modern Tamil was also derived.[8] An alternative theory proposes a split in more ancient times.[8] Before Malayalam came into being, Old Tamil was used in literature and courts of a region called Tamilakam, a famous example being Silappatikaram. The oldest literature works in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated certainly to the 11th century, perhaps to the 9th century.[8] For cultural purposes Malayalam and Sanskrit formed a language known as Manipravalam, where both languages were used in an alternating style. Malayalam is the only among the major Dravidian languages without diglossia. This means, that the Malayalam which is spoken doesn't differ from the written variant, while the Kannada and Tamil languages use a classical type for the latter.

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 preferred 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.



The term "Malayalam" comes from the words mala meaning mountain and alam meaning people in old Tamil land or locality.[9] Hence malayali means Mountain's people who lived beyond the Western Ghats, and Malayalam the language that was spoken there. Malayalam started was a dialect of Tamil spoken by the Chera people (Chera dynasty) one among the three tripartite ancient Tamil Kingdoms.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 script, for three reasons: the third a is long and should properly be transliterated aa or ā (an a with a macron) while the other a’s are short; the two l consonants represent different sounds, the first l being dental ([l̪], Malayalam , Roman l) (although the consonant chart below lists that sound as [alveolar]) and the second retroflex ([ɭ], Malayalam , Roman ); and the final m is written as an anusvara, which denotes the same phoneme /m/ as in the initial m in this case, but the two m’s are spelled differently (the first m is a normal ma with an inherent vowel a, while the last m  ം is a pure 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 states that Malayalam branched from classical Tamil that over time gained a large amount of Sanskrit vocabulary and lost the personal terminations of verbs.[10]

Together with Tamil, Toda, Kannada and Tulu, Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages. Some believe Proto-Tamil, the common stock of ancient 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 which was written in Tamil-Brahmi script and Vatteluttu later,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 and political setup, the trade relationships with Arabs, and the invasion of Kerala by the Portuguese, establishing vassal states accelerated the assimilation of many Roman, 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:[11]

  • 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 classical Tamil and Sanskrit 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 resembling Malayalam is the Vazhappalli inscription (ca. 830 CE). The early literature of Malayalam comprised three types of composition: Malayalam Nada,Tamil Nada and Sanskrit Nada.

  • Classical songs known as Naadan Paattu
  • Manipravalam of the Sanskrit tradition, which permitted a generous interspersing of Sanskrit with Malayalam.Niranam poets Manipravalam Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar wrote Manipravalam poetry in the 14th century.The changed political situation in the 14th century after the invasion of Malik Kafur in 1310 led to the decline of Tamil dynasties leading to the dominance of people with Prakrit and Sanskrit heritage, the languages of Ahichatra in Uttarkhand, the original home town of Aryans and Nagavanshi people.
  • 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.

By the end of 18th century some of the Christian missionaries from Kerala started writing in Malayalam but mostly travelogues,Dictionaries and Religeous books.Varthamana Pusthakam (1778), written by Parammekkal Thoma Kathanar a travelogue. Church Mission Society which started a seminary at Kottayamat 1819 also started a press which printed Malayalam books in 19th century.Malayalam and Sanskrit were increasingly studied by Christians of Kottayam and by the end of 19th century Malayalam replaced Syriac as language of Liturgy in the church.


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


The first letter in Malayalam
  Short Long
Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close /i/ ഇ i /ɨ̆/ * ŭ /u/ ഉ u /iː/ ഈ ī   /uː/ ഊ ū
Mid /e/ എ e /ə/ * a /o/ ഒ o /eː/ ഏ ē   /oː/ ഓ ō
Open   /a/ അ a     /aː/ ആ ā  
  • */ɨ̆/ is the saṁvr̥tōkāram, 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 saṁvr̥tōkāram, which is not officially a vowel, and not as actual vocalic consonants) have been classified as vowels: vocalic r (ഋ, /rɨ̆/, ), long vocalic r (ൠ, /rɨː/, r̥̄), vocalic l (ഌ, /lɨ̆/, ) 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.


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop Unaspirated /p/ പ p /b/ ബ b /t̪/ ത t /d̪/ ദ d /t/ * t /ʈ/ /ɖ/ /t͡ʃ/ ച c /d͡ʒ/ ജ j /k/ ക k /ɡ/ ഗ g
Aspirated /pʰ/ ഫ ph /bʱ/ ഭ bh /t̪ʰ/ ഥ th /d̪ʱ/ ധ dh /ʈʰ/ṭh /ɖʱ/ḍh /t͡ʃʰ/ ഛ ch /d͡ʒʱ/ ഝ jh /kʰ/ ഖ kh /ɡʱ/ ഘ gh
Nasal /m/ മ m /n̪/ ന n /n/ ന * n /ɳ/ /ɲ/ ഞ ñ /ŋ/
Approximant /ʋ/ വ v /ɻ/l /j/ യ y
Liquid /r/r
Fricative /f/ ഫ* f /s̪/ സ s /ʂ/ /ɕ/ ശ ś /ɦ/ ഹ h
Tap /ɾ/ ര r
Lateral approximant /l/ ല l /ɭ/
  • 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, and there is no distinction made in the spelling.
  • The letter ഫ represents both /pʰ/, a native phoneme, and /f/, which only occurs in adopted words.

Writing system

A public notice board in Malayalam written using Malayalam script. Malayalam language possesses official recognition in the state of Kerala, Lakshadweep and Puducherry

Historically, several scripts were used to write Malayalam. Among these scripts were Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu and Malayanma scripts. But it was the Grantha script, another Southern Brahmi variation, which gave rise to the modern Malayalam script. 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.

The regional dialects of Malayalam can be divided into thirteen dialect areas.[14] They are as follows:

South Travancore Central Travancore West Vempanad
North Travancore Kochi (Cochin) South Malabar
South Eastern Palghat North Western Palghat Central Malabar
Wayanad North Malabar Kasaragod

Words adopted from Sanskrit

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


  1. Masculine Sanskrit nouns ending in a short "a" in the nominative singular change their ending to "an". For example, Kr̥ṣṇa -> Kr̥ṣṇan. The "an" reverts to an "a" before masculine surnames, honorifics, or titles ending in "an" and beginning with a consonant other than "n" - E.g. Krishna Menon, Krishna Kaniyaan etc., but Krishnan Ezhutthachan. Surnames ending with "ar" or "aL" (where these are plural forms of "an" denoting respect) are treated similarly - Krishna Pothuval, Krishna Chakyar, but Krishnan Nair, Krishnan Nambiar. "an" also reverts to "a" before Sanskrit surnames like "Varma(n)", "Sarma(n)", or "Gupta(n)" (rare) - e.g. Krishna Varma, Krishna Sharman. If a name is a compound of multiple names, only the last name in the compound undergoes this transformation - e.g. Krishnadevan.
  2. 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 Lakṣmī -> Lakṣmi. However, the long vowel still appears in compound words like Sītādēvi or 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,
  3. 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.
  4. 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.[15]
  5. Sanskrit words describing things or animals rather than people which end in a short "a" take an additional "m" in Malayalam. For example, Rāmāyaṇa -> 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.
  6. Nouns ending in short vowels like "Viṣṇu", "Prajāpati" etc stay the same.
  7. 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: Kr̥ṣṇa -> Kaṇṇan.[16]

Malayalam also has been influenced by Portuguese, as is evident from the use of words like mesa for a small table, and janala for window.[17]

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


Ezhuthachan is considered the father of Malayalam literature. He was born at Tirur in the Malabar area of Kerala, where there is now a monument to him. A.R. Rajarajavarma is the man who gave grammatical rules to Malayalam. His monument and burial place is at Mavelikkara in the Central Travancore area of Kerala.

See also

External links

Malayalam language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


  1. ^ a b c "Malayalam". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2007-05-28.  
  2. ^ "Census of India - Statement 1". Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 2009-12-21.   33,066,392 if the number of the speakers of Yerava (Ravula) and other minority languages closely related to Malayalam is included.
  3. ^ Zachariah, K. C. & Rajan, S. Irudaya (2008), Kerala Migration Survey 2007 (PDF), Department of Non-resident Keralite Affairs, Government of Kerala, p. 48. This is the number of emigrants from Kerala, which is closely related to but different from the actual number of Malayalam speakers.
  4. ^ "Ancient malayalam alphabets",
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Malayalam, R. E. Asher, T. C. Kumari, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-02242-8, 1997
  9. ^ "".  -go to the website and click the link - language & literature to retrive the information
  10. ^ Caldwell, Robert (1875). A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Languages. London. pp. 23.,M1.  
  11. ^ Menon, T.K. Krishna (1990). A Primer of Malayalam Literature. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 8120606035.  
  12. ^ "Language". Retrieved 2007-05-28.  
  13. ^ "Dravidian languages." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
  14. ^ Subramoniam, V. I. (1997). Dravidian encyclopaedia. vol. 3, Language and literature. Thiruvananthapuram: International School of Dravidian Linguistics. Cit-P-487.Dravidian Encyclopedia
  15. ^ Varma, A.R. Rajaraja (2005). Keralapanineeyam. Kottayam: D C Books. pp. 303. ISBN 81-713-0672-1.  
  16. ^ Varma, A.R. Rajaraja (2005). Keralapanineeyam. Kottayam: D C Books. pp. 301–302. ISBN 81-713-0672-1.  
  17. ^ Dalgado, Sebastião Rodolfo; Soares, Anthony Xavier (1998). Portuguese Vocables in Asiatic Languages: From the Portuguese Original of Monsignor Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado. Asian Educational Services. pp. 489. ISBN 9788120604131.  

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Malayalam belongs to the Dravidian language family, and is mostly spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and Lakshadweep. Around 36 million people uses this language, and it is one of the 22 official languages of India.

Simple English

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