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Malayalam (മലയാളം malayāḷam, pronounced [mɐləjaːɭɐm]), is one of the four major Dravidian languages of southern 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.Malayalam is also spoken in the Nilgiris district, Kanyakumari district and Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu, Dakshina Kannada, Bangalore and Kodagu districts of Karnataka.Overseas it is also used by a large population of Indian expatriates living around the globe in the Middle East, United States, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and Europe.
Malayalam originated from ancient Tamil in the 6th century, of which Modern Tamil was also derived.An alternative theory proposes a split in more ancient times. But, Malayalam was heavily Sanskritised through the ages and today, over eighty percent words of modern Malayalam are from pure Sanskrit.Before Malayalam came into being, Old Tamil was used in literature and courts of a region called Tamilakam, a famous example being Silappatikaram. While Dravidian Tamil used to be the ruling language of the Chera Dynasty Ai and Pandyan kingdoms. Sanskrit/Prakrit derived Buddhist Pali Language and the Jain Kalpasutra were know to Keralites from 500 BC. The Grantha Bhasha or Sanskrit mixed Tamil which was written in Grantha Script (Arya Ezhuthu) was used by Brahmins residing in Tamil areas.The Dravidian component of Malayalam-Tamil has words similar to ancient Sangam Literature. During the Later Chera dynasty the inscriptions included some lines from Grantha Bhasha in Grantha Script along with Malayalam-Tamil written in Vattezhuttu. A form of Grantha Bhasha, a Sanskrit mixed Tamil closely resembling the later Malayalam was used to write books by Brahmins from Tulunadu residing in Kerala in the second Millennium.The oldest literature works in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated certainly to the 11th century, perhaps to the 9th century. 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. 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 ല, Roman l) (although the consonant chart below lists that sound as [alveolar]) and the second retroflex ([ɭ], Malayalam ള, Roman ḷ); 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 മ with an inherent vowel a, while the last m ം is a pure consonant).
CMS(Church Mission Society) at Kottayam started printing books in Malayalam when Benjamin Bailey a Anglican priest in 1821 made the first Malayalam types.Benjamin Bailey, an essayist, standardised Malayalam prose .Hermann Gundert from Stuttgart in Germany started the first Malayalam newspaper, Rajya Samacharam in 1847 at Thalassery printed at Basel Mission.
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.
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:
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. Kulasekhara Alwar who wrote Perumal Thirumozhi, a Tamil Alwar saint, founder of the Later Chera Dynasty lived at 800 AD. 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.Tamil Sangams produced Tamil Sangam literature in the same era.Tamil-Brahmiscript was used to write inscriptions in that era.
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. Kulasekhara Alwar wrote Perumal Thirumozhi in Tamil while writing Mukundamala in Sanskrit. 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
Classical songs known as Naadan Paattu
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 from 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 Religious books. Varthamana Pusthakam (1778), written by Parammekkal Thoma Kathanar a travelogue. Church Mission Society which started a seminary at Kottayam in 1819 also started a press which printed Malayalam books in 19th century. Malayalam and Sanskrit were increasingly studied by Christians of Kottayam and pathanamthitta by the end of 19th century Malayalam replaced Syriac as language of Liturgy in the church.
*/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/, 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, 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.
A public notice board in Malayalam written using Malayalam script. Malayalam language possesses official recognition in the state of Kerala, Lakshadweep and PuducherryHistorically, 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.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 named "Rachana Akshara Vedi", produced a set of free fonts containing the entire character repertoire of more than 900 glyphs. This was announced and released along with a text 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.
Though not popular, Malayalam has been written in other scripts like Roman and Arabic scripts; Arabic script particularly were taught in Madrassas in the Lakshadweep Islands.
Dialects and external influences
The regional dialects of Malayalam can be divided into thirteen dialect areas.They are as follows:
Words adopted from Sanskrit
For a comprehensive list of loan words, see Loan words in Malayalam.
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