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Malayalam  is the principal language of the South Indian state of Kerala and also of the Lakshadweep Islands off the west coast of India. In terms of the number of speakers, Malayalam ranks eighth among the fifteen major languages of India. The word “malayalam” originally means mountainous country (“mala”- mountain,”alam”-valley),signifying its origin from the western ghats..

Evolution of Malayalam Language

Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages. Its affinity to Tamil is most striking. ProtoTamil- Malayalam, the common stock of Tamil and Malayalam, apparently disintegrated over a period of four of five centuries from the ninth century onwards, resulting in the emergence of Malayalam as a language distinct from Tamil. As the language of scholarship and administration, Tamil greatly influenced the early development of Malayalam. Later the irresistible inroads the Brahmins made into the cultural life of Kerala accelerated the assimilation of many Indo-Aryan features into Malayalam at different levels.

Development of Malayalam Literature

The early literature of Malayalam comprised three types of composition:

  • Classical songs known as “pattu” of the Tamil tradition (Eg:Ramacharitam)
  • Manipravalam of the Sanskrit tradition, which permitted a generous interspersing of Sanskrit with Malayalam(Eg:Vaishikatantram )
  • Folk songs rich in native elements

Malayalam poetry from the beginning till the late twentieth century,contains varying degrees of the fusion of the three different strands.
The earliest extant prose work in the language is a commentary in simple Malayalam, Bhashakautaliyam (12th century) on Chanakya's Arthasastra. Malayalam prose of different periods exhibits some degree of influence of different languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Modern Malayalam literature is rich in poetry, fiction, drama, biography, and literary criticism.

Malayalam Script

In the early thirteenth century, “vattezhuthu” (round writing) traceable to the pan-Indian Brahmi script, gave rise to the Malayalam writing system, which 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.
Malayalam now consists of 53 letters including 20 long and short vowels and the remaining 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 less than 90. This was mainly done to include Malayalam in the keyboards of typewriters and computers.

 Malayalam Language modifications

Variations in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical and phonological elements are observable along the parameters of region, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register.

  • Sanskrit influence
    Influence of Sanskrit is most prominent in the brahmin dialects and least in the Harijan dialects. Loanwords from English, Syriac, Latin, and Portuguese abound in the christian dialects and those from Arabic and Urdu in the muslim dialects. Malayalam has borrowed from Sanskrit thousands of nouns, hundreds of verbs and some indeclinables.
  • English influence
    English stands only second to Sanskrit in its influence in Malayalam. Hundreds of individual lexical items and many idiomatic expressions in modern Malayalam are of English origin.

Planning and Development

As the language of administration and as the medium of instruction in schools and colleges, Malayalam language is increasingly becoming popular.A scientific register in the language is slowly evolving. Remarkably liberal in their attitudes, Malayalees have always welcomed other languages to coexist with their own and the interaction of these with Malayalam has helped its development in different respects.