Malayalam (//; Malayalam: മലയാളം, Malayāḷam ?, [mɐlɐjäːɭɐm] (listen)) is a Dravidian language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé district) by the Malayali people. It is one of 22 scheduled languages of India and is spoken by 2.88% of Indians. Malayalam has official language status in Kerala, Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé), and is spoken by 34 million people worldwide. Malayalam is also spoken by linguistic minorities in the neighbouring states; with significant number of speakers in the Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka, and Nilgiris and Kanyakumari, districts of Tamil Nadu. Due to Malayali expatriates in the Persian Gulf, Malayalam is also widely spoken in the Gulf countries.
|Region||Kerala with border communities in the Kodagu, and Dakshina Kannada of Karnataka, Nilgiris, Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu, Lakshadweep and Mahé (Puducherry)|
|35 million (2011–2019)|
L2 speakers: 700,000
Official language in
|Regulated by||Kerala Sahitya Akademi, Government of Kerala|
Malayalam was designated a "Classical Language of India" in 2013. The mainstream view holds that Malayalam descends from early Middle Tamil and separated from it sometime after the c. 9th century CE. A second view argues for the development of the two languages out of "Proto-Dravidian" or "Proto-Tamil-Malayalam" in the prehistoric era, although this is generally rejected by historical linguists. It is generally agreed that the Quilon Syrian copper plates of 849/850 CE is the available oldest inscription written in Old Malayalam. The oldest literary work in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated from between the 9th and 11th centuries.
The earliest script used to write Malayalam was the Vatteluttu script. The current Malayalam script is based on the Vatteluttu script, which was extended with Grantha script letters to adopt Indo-Aryan loanwords. It bears high similarity with the Tigalari script, a historical script that was used to write the Tulu language in South Canara, and Sanskrit in the adjacent Malabar region. The modern Malayalam grammar is based on the book Kerala Panineeyam written by A. R. Raja Raja Varma in late 19th century CE. The first travelogue in any Indian language is the Malayalam Varthamanappusthakam, written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar in 1785.
The word Malayalam originated from the words mala, meaning 'mountain', and alam, meaning 'region' or '-ship' (as in "township"); Malayalam thus translates directly as 'the mountain region'. The term originally referred to the land of the Chera dynasty, and only later became the name of its language. The language Malayalam is alternatively called Alealum, Malayalani, Malayali, Malabari, Malean, Maliyad, Mallealle, and Kerala Bhasha.
Kerala was usually known as Malabar in the foreign trade circles in the medieval era. Earlier, the term Malabar had also been used to denote Tulu Nadu and Kanyakumari which lie contiguous to Kerala in the southwestern coast of India, in addition to the modern state of Kerala. The people of Malabar were known as Malabars. Until the arrival of the East India Company, the term Malabar was used as a general name for Kerala, along with the term Kerala. From the time of Cosmas Indicopleustes (6th century CE) itself, the Arab sailors used to call Kerala as Male. The first element of the name, however, is attested already in the Topography written by Cosmas Indicopleustes. This mentions a pepper emporium called Male, which clearly gave its name to Malabar ('the country of Male'). The name Male is thought to come from the Malayalam word Mala ('hill'). Al-Biruni (973–1048 CE) is the first known writer to call this country Malabar. The Arab writers had called this place Malibar, Manibar, Mulibar, and Munibar. Malabar is reminiscent of the word Malanad which means the land of hills. According to William Logan, the word Malabar comes from a combination of the Malayalam word Mala (hill) and the Persian/Arabic word Barr (country/continent). Hence the natives of Malabar Coast were known as Malabarese or Malabari in the foreign trade circles. The words Malayali and Malabari are synonymous to each other. Similarly the words Malayalam and Malabar are also synonymous to each other. The language spoken in the hilly region of ancient Tamilakam later came to be known as Malayalam (meaning The land of hills). The term Malayalam actually denotes the geographical peculiarity of Malabar Coast which lies west to the mountain ranges of Western Ghats.
The earliest extant literary works in the regional language of present-day Kerala probably date back to as early as the 12th century. At that time the language was known by the name Kerala Bhasha. The named identity of this language appears to have come into existence only around the 16th century, when it was known as "Malayayma" or "Malayanma"; the words were also used to refer to the script and the region. According to Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese visitor who visited Kerala in the early 16th century CE, the people in the southwestern Malabar coast of India from Mangalore in north to Kanyakumari in south had a unique language, which was called "Maliama" by them.
Despite having similar names, Malayalam has no relationship whatsoever with the Malay language.
The western dialect of Old Tamil spoken in the southwestern Malabar Coast of India was known as Malanaattu Tamil/Malabar Tamil (Meaning the Tamil of the hilly region/the Tamil of Malabar) since the ancient Sangam period (300 BCE - 300 CE). Due to the geographical separation of the Malabar Coast from Tamil Nadu, and the presence of Western Ghats mountain ranges in between these two geographical regions, the dialect of Tamil spoken in the territory of the western Malabar Coast of the ancient Chera kingdom was different from that spoken in the Tamil-mainland. The generally held view is that Malayalam was the western coastal dialect of Medieval Tamil (Karintamil) and separated from Middle Tamil (Proto-Tamil-Malayalam) sometime between the 9th and 13th centuries. The renowned poets of Classical Tamil such as Paranar (1st century CE), Ilango Adigal (2nd-3rd century CE), and Kulasekhara Alvar (9th century CE) were Keralites. The Sangam works can be considered as the ancient predecessor of Malayalam.
Some scholars however believe that both Tamil and Malayalam developed during the prehistoric period from a common ancestor, 'Proto-Tamil-Malayalam', and that the notion of Malayalam being a 'daughter' of Tamil is misplaced. This is based on the fact that Malayalam and several Dravidian languages on the Western Coast have common archaic features which are not found even in the oldest historical forms of literary Tamil. Some linguists, on the other hand, claim that an inscription found from Edakkal Caves, Wayanad, which is assigned to the 4th century or early 5th century, is the oldest available inscription in Malayalam, as they contain two modern Malayalam words, Ee (This) and Pazhama (Old), those are not found even in the Oldest form of Tamil.
Robert Caldwell, in his 1856 book "A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages", opined that Malayalam branched from Classical Tamil and over time gained a large amount of Sanskrit vocabulary and lost the personal terminations of verbs. As the language of scholarship and administration, Old-Tamil, which was written in Tamil-Brahmi and the Vatteluttu alphabet later, greatly influenced the early development of Malayalam. The Malayalam script began to diverge from the Tamil-Brahmi script in the 8th and 9th centuries. And by the end of the 13th century a written form of the language emerged which was unique from the Tamil-Brahmi script that was used to write Tamil.
Old Malayalam (Pazhaya Malayalam), an inscriptional language found in Kerala from c. 9th to c. 13th century CE, is the earliest attested form of Malayalam. The start of the development of Old Malayalam from a western coastal dialect of contemporary Tamil (Karintamil) can be dated to c. 7th - 8th century CE. It remained a west coast dialect until c. 9th century CE or a little later. The origin of Malayalam calendar dates back to year 825 CE. The formation of the language is mainly attributed to geographical separation of Kerala from the Tamil country and the influence of immigrant Tulu-Canarese Brahmins in Kerala (who also knew Sanskrit and Prakrit). It is generally agreed that the western coastal dialect of Tamil began to separate, diverge, and grow as a distinct language, mainly due to the heavy influence of Sanskrit and Prakrit, those became common prominent languages on Malabar Coast, when the caste system became strong in Kerala under Nambudiri Brahmins.
The Old Malayalam language was employed in several official records and transactions (at the level of the Chera Perumal kings as well as the upper-caste (Nambudiri) village temples). Most of the inscriptions in Old Malayalam were found from the northern districts of Kerala, those lie adjacent to Tulu Nadu. Old Malayalam was mostly written in Vatteluttu script (with Pallava/Southern Grantha characters). Old Malayalam had several features distinct from the contemporary Tamil, which include the Nasalisation of adjoining sounds, Substitution of palatal sounds for dental sounds, Contraction of vowels, and the Rejection of gender verbs. Ramacharitam and Thirunizhalmala are the possible literary works of Old Malayalam found so far.
The Old Malayalam got gradually developed into Middle Malayalam (Madhyakaala Malayalam) by 13th century CE. The traces of the adjuncts of verbs had disappeared by this period. The Jains also seemed to have encouraged the study of the Malayalam language by this period. The Malayalam literature also completely got diverged from Tamil literature by this period. The works including Unniyachi Charitham, Unnichiruthevi Charitham, and Unniyadi Charitham, are written in Middle Malayalam, those date back to 13th and 14th centuries of Common Era. The Sandesha Kavyas of 14th century CE written in Manipravalam language include Unnuneeli Sandesam. Kannassa Ramayanam and Kannassa Bharatham by Rama Panikkar of the Niranam poets who lived between 1350 and 1450, give a clear idea of this language. Ulloor has opined that Rama Panikkar holds the same position in Malayalam literature that Edmund Spenser does in English literature. The Champu Kavyas written by Punam Nambudiri, one among the Pathinettara Kavikal (Eighteen and a half poets) in the court of the Zamorin of Calicut, also belong to Middle Malayalam. The literary works of this period were heavily influenced by Manipravalam, which was a combination of contemporary Malayalam and Sanskrit. The word Mani-Pravalam literally means Diamond-Coral or Ruby-Coral. The 14th-century Lilatilakam text states Manipravalam to be a Bhashya (language) where "Malayalam and Sanskrit should combine together like ruby and coral, without the least trace of any discord". The scripts of Kolezhuthu and Malayanma were also used to write Middle Malayalam, in addition to Vatteluthu and Grantha script those were used to write Old Malayalam. The literary works written in Middle Malayalam were heavily influenced by Sanskrit and Prakrit, while comparing them with the modern Malayalam literature.
The Middle Malayalam was succeeded by Modern Malayalam (Aadhunika Malayalam) by 15th century CE. The poem Krishnagatha written by Cherusseri Namboothiri, who was the court poet of the king Udaya Varman Kolathiri (1446 – 1475) of Kolathunadu, is written in modern Malayalam. The language used in Krishnagatha is the modern spoken form of Malayalam. During the 16th century CE, Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan from the Kingdom of Tanur and Poonthanam Nambudiri from the Kingdom of Valluvanad followed the new trend initiated by Cherussery in their poems. The Adhyathmaramayanam Kilippattu and Mahabharatham Kilippattu written by Ezhuthachan and Jnanappana written by Poonthanam are also included in the earliest form of Modern Malayalam.
It is Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan who is also credited with the development of Malayalam script into the current form through the intermixing and modification of the erstwhile scripts of Vatteluttu, Kolezhuthu, and Grantha script, which were used to write the inscriptions and literary works of Old and Middle Malayalam. He further eliminated excess and unnecessary letters from the modified script. Hence, Ezhuthachan is also known as The Father of modern Malayalam. The development of modern Malayalam script was also heavily influenced by the Tigalari script, which was used to write the Tulu language, due to the influence of Tuluva Brahmins in Kerala. The language used in the Arabi Malayalam works of 16th-17th century CE is a mixture of Modern Malayalam and Arabic. They follow the syntax of modern Malayalam, though written in a modified form of Arabic script, which is known as Arabi Malayalam script. P. Shangunny Menon ascribes the authorship of the medieval work Keralolpathi, which describes the Parashurama legend and the departure of the final Cheraman Perumal king to Mecca, to Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan.
Kunchan Nambiar introduced a new literary form called Thullal, and Unnayi Variyar introduced reforms in Attakkatha literature. The printing, prose literature, and Malayalam journalism, developed after the latter-half of 18th century CE. Modern literary movements in Malayalam literature began in the late 19th century with the rise of the famous Modern Triumvirate consisting of Kumaran Asan, Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer and Vallathol Narayana Menon. In the second half of the 20th century, Jnanpith winning poets and writers like G. Sankara Kurup, S. K. Pottekkatt, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, O. N. V. Kurup, and Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, had made valuable contributions to the modern Malayalam literature. Later, writers like O. V. Vijayan, Kamaladas, M. Mukundan, Arundhati Roy, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, have gained international recognition. Malayalam has also borrowed a lot of its words from various foreign languages, mainly from the Semitic languages including Arabic, and the European languages including Dutch and Portuguese, due to the long heritage of Indian Ocean trade and the Portuguese-Dutch colonisation of the Malabar Coast.
|Word||Original word||Language of origin||Meaning|
|ജനാല or ജനൽ (Jaṉāla or Jaṉal)||Janela||Portuguese||window|
|കക്കൂസ് (Kakkūsŭ)||Kakhuis||Early Modern Dutch||toilet|
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.
According to the Dravidian Encyclopedia, the regional dialects of Malayalam can be divided into thirteen dialect areas. They are as follows:
According to Ethnologue, the dialects are: Malabar, Nagari-Malayalam, North Kerala, Central Kerala, South Kerala, Kayavar, Namboodiri, Nair, Mappila, Pulaya, Nasrani, and Kasargod. The community dialects are: Namboodiri, Nair, Arabi Malayalam, Pulaya, and Nasrani. Whereas both the Namboothiri and Nair dialects have a common nature, the Arabi Malayalam is among the most divergent of dialects, differing considerably from literary Malayalam. Jeseri is a dialect of Malayalam spoken mainly in the Union territory of Lakshadweep which is nearer to Kerala. Of the total 33,066,392 Malayalam speakers in India in 2001, 33,015,420 spoke the standard dialects, 19,643 spoke the Yerava dialect and 31,329 spoke non-standard regional variations like Eranadan. The dialects of Malayalam spoken in the districts like Kasaragod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, and Malappuram in the former Malabar District have few influences from Kannada. For example, the words those start with the sound "V" in Malayalam become "B" in these districts as in Kannada. Also the Voiced retroflex approximant (/ɻ/) which is seen in both Tamil and the standard form of Malayalam, are not seen in the northern dialects of Malayalam, as in Kannada. For example the words Vazhi (Path), Vili (Call), Vere (Another), and Vaa (Come/Mouth), become Bayi, Bili, Bere, and Baa in the northern dialects of Malayalam. Similarly the Malayalam spoken in the southern districts of Kerala, i.e., Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam-Pathanamthitta area is influenced by Tamil.
Concerning the geographical dialects of Malayalam, surveys conducted so far by the Department of Linguistics, University of Kerala restricted the focus of attention during a given study on one specific caste so as to avoid mixing up of more than one variable such as communal and geographical factors. Thus for example, the survey of the Ezhava dialect of Malayalam, results of which have been published by the Department in 1974, has brought to light the existence of twelve major dialect areas for Malayalam, although the isoglosses are found to crisscross in many instances. Sub-dialect regions, which could be marked off, were found to be thirty. This number is reported to tally approximately with the number of principalities that existed during the pre-British period in Kerala. In a few instances at least, as in the case of Venad, Karappuram, Nileswaram, and Kumbala, the known boundaries of old principalities are found to coincide with those of certain dialects or sub-dialects that retain their individuality even today. This seems to reveal the significance of political divisions in Kerala in bringing about dialect differences.
Divergence among dialects of Malayalam embraces almost all aspects of language such as phonetics, phonology, grammar and vocabulary. Differences between any two given dialects can be quantified in terms of the presence or absence of specific units at each level of the language. To cite a single example of language variation along with the geographical parameter, it may be noted that there are as many as seventy-seven different expressions employed by the Ezhavas and spread over various geographical points just to refer to a single item, namely, the flower bunch of coconut. 'Kola' is the expression attested in most of the panchayats in the Malappuram, Palakkad, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram districts of Kerala, whereas 'kolachil' occurs most predominantly in Kannur and Kochi and 'klannil' in Alappuzha and Kollam. 'Kozhinnul' and 'kulannilu' are the forms most common in Trissur Idukki and Kottayam respectively. In addition to these forms most widely spread among the areas specified above, there are dozens of other forms such as 'kotumpu' (Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram), 'katirpu' (Kottayam), 'krali' (Pathanamthitta), 'pattachi', 'gnannil' (Kollam), 'pochata' (Palakkad) etc. referring to the same item.
Labels such as "Nampoothiri Dialect", "Mappila Dialect", and "Nasrani Dialect" refer to overall patterns constituted by the sub-dialects spoken by the subcastes or sub-groups of each such caste. The most outstanding features of the major communal dialects of Malayalam are summarized below:
- Lexical items with phonological features reminiscent of Sanskrit (e.g., viddhi meaning 'fool'), bhosku 'lie', musku 'impudence', dustu 'impurity', and eebhyan and sumbhan (both meaning 'good-for-nothing fellow') abound in Nampoothiri dialect.
- The dialect of the Nair said to be proper Malayalam dialect. The Sanskrit educated stratum among the Nairs resembles the Brahmin dialect in many respects. The amount of Sanskrit influence, however, is found to be steadily decreasing as one descends along with the parameter of time.
- One of the striking features differentiating the Nair dialect from the Ezhava dialect is the phonetic quality of the word-final: an enunciative vowel unusually transcribed as "U". In the Nair dialect, it is a mid-central unrounded vowel whereas in the Ezhava dialect it is often heard as a lower high back unrounded vowel.
- The Muslim dialect, also known as Arabi Malayalam, shows maximum divergence from the literary Standard Dialect of Malayalam. It is very much influenced by Arabic and Persian rather than by Sanskrit or by English. The retroflex continuant zha of the literary dialect is realised in the Muslim dialect as the palatal ya. In some other dialects of Northern Kerala too, zha of the literary dialect is realised as ya.
- The Syrian Christian or Nasrani dialect of Malayalam is quite close to the Nair dialect, especially in phonology. The speech of the educated section among Syrian Christians and that of those who are close to the church are peculiar in having a number of assimilated as well as unassimilated loan words from English and Syriac. The few loan words which have found their way into the Christian dialect are assimilated in many cases through the process of de-aspiration.
- Tamil spoken in the Kanyakumari district has influences from Malayalam language.
External influences and loanwords
Malayalam has incorporated many elements from other languages over the years, the most notable of these being Sanskrit and later, English. According to Sooranad Kunjan Pillai who compiled the authoritative Malayalam lexicon, the other principal languages whose vocabulary was incorporated over the ages were Pali, Prakrit, Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Hindi, Chinese, Syriac, Dutch, and Portuguese.
Many medieval liturgical texts were written in an admixture of Sanskrit and early Malayalam, called Manipravalam. The influence of Sanskrit was very prominent in formal Malayalam used in literature. Malayalam has a substantially high number of Sanskrit loanwords but these are seldom used. Loanwords 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. The Muslim dialect known as Mappila Malayalam is used in the northern region of Kerala. Another Muslim dialect called Beary bashe is used in the extreme northern part of Kerala and the southern part of Karnataka.
For a comprehensive list of loan words, see Loan words in Malayalam.
Geographic distribution and population
|Rank||State/Union Territory||Malayalam speakers 2011||State's proportion 2011|
|3||Andaman and Nicobar Islands||27,475||7.22%|
Malayalam is a language spoken by the native people of southwestern India (from Mangalore to Kanyakumari) and the islands of Lakshadweep in Arabian Sea. According to the Indian census of 2011, there were 32,413,213 speakers of Malayalam in Kerala, making up 93.2% of the total number of Malayalam speakers in India, and 97.03% of the total population of the state. There were a further 701,673 (1.14% of the total number) in Karnataka, 957,705 (2.70%) in Tamil Nadu, and 406,358 (1.2%) in Maharashtra. The number of Malayalam speakers in Lakshadweep is 51,100, which is only 0.15% of the total number, but is as much as about 84% of the population of Lakshadweep. Malayalam was the most spoken language in erstwhile Gudalur taluk (now Gudalur and Panthalur taluks) of Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu which accounts for 48.8% population and it was the second most spoken language in Mangalore and Puttur taluks of South Canara accounting for 21.2% and 15.4% respectively according to 1951 census report. 25.57% of the total population in the Kodagu district of Karnataka are Malayalis, in which Malayalis form a majority in Virajpet Taluk.
In all, Malayalis made up 3.22% of the total Indian population in 2011. Of the total 34,713,130 Malayalam speakers in India in 2011, 33,015,420 spoke the standard dialects, 19,643 spoke the Yerava dialect and 31,329 spoke non-standard regional variations like Eranadan. As per the 1991 census data, 28.85% of all Malayalam speakers in India spoke a second language and 19.64% of the total knew three or more languages.
Just before independence, Malaya attracted many Malayalis. Large numbers of Malayalis have settled in Chennai, Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Mysuru and Delhi. Many Malayalis have also emigrated to the Middle East, the United States, and Europe. There were 179,860 speakers of Malayalam in the United States, according to the 2000 census, with the highest concentrations in Bergen County, New Jersey, and Rockland County, New York. There are 344,000 of Malayalam speakers in Malaysia. There were 11,687 Malayalam speakers in Australia in 2016.The 2001 Canadian census reported 7,070 people who listed Malayalam as their mother tongue, mainly in Toronto. The 2006 New Zealand census reported 2,139 speakers. 134 Malayalam speaking households were reported in 1956 in Fiji. There is also a considerable Malayali population in the Persian Gulf regions, especially in Dubai and Doha. The faster growth of languages spoken in the southern parts of India, like Malayalam, compared to those spoken in the north of the country, like Hindi, shows exactly which regions Indian immigrants to the US are coming from. Malayalam is 8th in the list of top ten fastest-growing foreign first languages spoken in English schools in UK, according to a report.
For the consonants and vowels, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol is given, followed by the Malayalam character and the ISO 15919 transliteration. The current Malayalam script bears high similarity with Tigalari script, which was used for writing the Tulu language, spoken in coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts) and the northernmost Kasargod district of Kerala. Tigalari script was also used for writing Sanskrit in Malabar region.
|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 ⟨ക്⟩, 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 ⟨കു്⟩. According to one author, this alternative form ⟨കു്⟩ is historically more correct, though the simplified form without a vowel sign u is common nowadays.
- */a/ (phonetically central: [ä]) is represented as basic or the "default" vowel in the Abugida script.
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.
Some authors say that Malayalam has no diphthongs and /aj, aw/ are clusters of V+glide j/w while others consider all V+glide clusters to be diphthongs /aj, aw, ej, oj, ja/ as in kai, auṣadhaṁ, deivam, poikko and kāriaṁ
|Nasal||m മ ⟨m⟩||n̪ ന ⟨n⟩||n ന ⟨ṉ⟩||ɳ ണ ⟨ṇ⟩||ɲ ഞ ⟨ñ⟩||ŋ ങ ⟨ṅ⟩|
|Fricative||f ഫ ⟨f⟩||s സ ⟨s⟩||ʂ ഷ ⟨ṣ⟩||ɕ~ʃ ശ ⟨ś⟩||h ഹ ⟨h⟩|
|Approx.||central||ʋ വ ⟨v⟩||ɻ ഴ ⟨ḻ⟩||j യ ⟨y⟩|
|lateral||l ല ⟨l⟩||ɭ ള ⟨ḷ⟩|
|Tap||ɾ ര ⟨r⟩|
|Trill||r റ ⟨ṟ⟩|
- Like in other Dravidian languages the retroflex series are true sub apical retroflex ie it's the bottom part of the tongue which contacts the roof.
- All of the alveolars except /s/ are apical.
- /ca, cha, ja, jha/ can either be postalveolar or alveolo-palatal depending upon the speaker, dialect and the word; they are allophones.
- The alveolar nasal once had a separate character ⟨ഩ⟩ that is now obsolete (it can be seen in the ⟨ṉ⟩ row 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 although they were allophones in Old Malayalam, they now occasionally contrast in gemination – for example, eṉṉāl ('by me', first person singular pronoun in the instrumental case) and ennāl ('if that is so', elided from the original entāl), which are both written ennāl.
- The unaspirated alveolar stop also had a separate character ⟨ഺ⟩ but it has become obsolete, as the sound only occurs in geminate form (when geminated it is written with a റ below another റ ⟨റ്റ⟩) or immediately following other consonants (in these cases, റ or ററ are usually written in small size underneath the first consonant). The archaic letter can be found in the ⟨ṯ⟩ row here .
- The alveolar stop *ṯ developed into an alveolar trill /r/ in many of the Dravidian languages. The stop sound is retained in Kota and Toda (Subrahmanyam 1983). Malayalam still retains the original (alveolar) stop sound in gemination (ibid).
- The alveolar trill (ṟ) is pronounced as a [d] when its prenasalized. For example, in the word എന്റെ [ende] my, often transcribed as (ṯ).
- All non geminated voiceless stops and affricate (except for the alveolar one which is often geminated) become voiced at the intervocalic position like most other Dravidian languages.
- The geminated velars /k:/ and /ŋ:/ are sometimes but not always palatalized in word medial positions like in the words കിടക്കുക /kiɖɐk:ugɐ/ vs ഇരിക്കുക /iɾikʲ:ugɐ/ and മങ്ങൽ /mɐŋ:ɐl/ vs. മത്തങ്ങ /mɐt̪:ɐŋʲ:ɐ/. Although some of the northern dialects might pronounce them as the same.
- The letter ഫ represents both /pʰ/, a phoneme occurring in Sanskrit loanwords, and /f/, which is mostly found in comparatively recent borrowings from European languages. Though nowadays there is a increase in the number of people (especially youngsters) who pronounce /pʰ/ as /f/ like in the word ഫലം /falam/.
- Words can only end with either /m, n, ɳ, l, ɭ, r/ (represented with the Chillu letters) and /m, n, ɳ, l, ɭ/ are unreleased word finally. Words will never begin or end with a geminated consonant. /ɻ, ɭ, ʂ, ŋ, ɳ, t, t̪ʰ, t͡ɕʰ, d͡ʑʱ/ never occur word initially. All consonants appear word medially.
- The plain stops, affricates, nasals, laterals, the fricatives /s/ and /ɕ/ and approximants other than /ɻ/ can be geminated and gemination can sometimes change the meaning of the word, e.g. കളം /kaɭam/ 'cell', കള്ളം /kaɭ:am/ 'lie'. /n̪, ɲ/ only occur in geminated form intervocalically.
- The retroflex lateral is clearly retroflex, but may be more of a flap  (= [ɺ̢]) than an approximant [ɭ]. The approximant /ɻ/ has both rhotic and lateral qualities, and is indeterminate between an approximant and a fricative, but is laminal post-alveolar rather than a true retroflex. The articulation changes part-way through, perhaps explaining why it behaves as both a rhotic and a lateral, both an approximant and a fricative, but the nature of the change is not understood.
- /ɾ, l, ɻ/ are very weakly palatalized while /r, ɭ/ are clear.
- In a few dialects consonants are no longer aspirated and have merged with the modal voice.
A chillu (ചില്ല്, cillŭ), or a chillaksharam (ചില്ലക്ഷരം, cillakṣaram), is a special consonant letter that represents a pure consonant independently, without help of a virama. Unlike a consonant represented by an ordinary consonant letter, this consonant is never followed by an inherent vowel. Anusvara and visarga fit this definition but are not usually included. ISCII and Unicode 5.0 treat a chillu as a glyph variant of a normal ("base") consonant letter. In Unicode 5.1 and later, chillu letters are treated as independent characters, encoded atomically.
|ൺ||CHILLU NN||ṇa ണ||കൂൺ (kūṇ, "mushroom")|
|ൻ||CHILLU N||na ന||Chillu of alveolar nasal na.||അവൻ (avan, "he")|
|ർ||CHILLU RR||ṟa റ||Historically stood for ra ര, not ṟa റ.||അവർ (avar, "they")|
|ൽ||CHILLU L||la ല||കാൽ (kāl, "foot")|
|ൾ||CHILLU LL||ḷa ള||അവൾ (avaḷ, "she")|
|ൿ||CHILLU K||ka ക||Not in modern use||വാൿചാതുരി (doesn't occur word finally.)|
|ൔ||CHILLU M||ma മ||Not in modern use|
|ൕ||CHILLU Y||ya യ||Not in modern use|
|ൖ||CHILLU LLL||ḻa ഴ||Not in modern use|
Number system and other symbols
|Praślēṣam||ഽ||Corresponds to Devanagari avagraha, used when a Sanskrit phrase containing an avagraha is written in Malayalam script. The symbol indicates the elision of the word-initial vowel a after a word that ends in ā, ē, or ō, and is transliterated as an apostrophe ('), or sometimes as a colon + an apostrophe (:').|
(Malayalam: പ്രശ്ലേഷം, praślēṣam ?)
|Malayalam date mark||൹||Used in an abbreviation of a date.|
|Danda||।||Archaic punctuation marks.|
Malayalam numbers and fractions are written as follows. These are archaic and no longer used. Instead, the common Hindu-Arabic numeral system is followed. Note that there is a confusion about the glyph of Malayalam digit zero. The correct form is oval-shaped, but occasionally the glyph for 1⁄4 (൳) is erroneously shown as the glyph for 0.
Number "11" is written as "൰൧" and not "൧൧". "32" is written as "൩൰൨" similar to the Tamil numeral system.
For example, the number "2013" is read in Malayalam as രണ്ടായിരത്തി പതിമൂന്ന് (raṇḍāyiratti padimūnnŭ). It is split into:
- രണ്ട് (raṇḍŭ) : 2 - ൨
- ആയിരം (āyiram) : 1000 - ൲
- പത്ത് (pattŭ) : 10 - ൰
- മൂന്ന് (mūnnŭ) : 3 - ൩
And 1,00,000 as "൱൲" = hundred(൱), thousand(൲) (100×1000), 10,00,000 as "൰൱൲" = ten(൰), hundred(൱), thousand(൲) (10×100×1000) and 1,00,00,000 as "൱൱൲" = hundred(൱), hundred(൱), thousand(൲) (100×100×1000).
In Malayalam you can transcribe any fraction by affixing (-il) after the denominator followed by the numerator, so a fraction like 7⁄10 would be read as പത്തിൽ ഏഴ് (pattil ēḻŭ) 'out of ten, seven' but fractions like 1⁄2 1⁄4 and 3⁄4 have distinct names (ara, kāl, mukkāl) and 1⁄8 (arakkāl) 'half quarter'.
Malayalam has a canonical word order of SOV (subject–object–verb), as do other Dravidian languages. A rare OSV word order occurs in interrogative clauses when the interrogative word is the subject. Both adjectives and possessive adjectives precede the nouns they modify. Malayalam has 6 or 7 grammatical cases. Verbs are conjugated for tense, mood and aspect, but not for person, gender nor number except in archaic or poetic language. The modern Malayalam grammar is based on the book Kerala Panineeyam written by A. R. Raja Raja Varma in late 19th century CE.
The declensional paradigms for some common nouns and pronouns are given below. As Malayalam is an agglutinative language, it is difficult to delineate the cases strictly and determine how many there are, although seven or eight is the generally accepted number. Alveolar plosives and nasals (although the modern Malayalam script does not distinguish the latter from the dental nasal) are underlined for clarity, following the convention of the National Library at Kolkata romanization.
Vocative forms are given in parentheses after the nominative, as the only pronominal vocatives that are used are the third person ones, which only occur in compounds.
|Case||First person||Second person||Third person (masculine)||Third person (feminine)||First person (exclusive)||First person (inclusive)||Second person||Third person|
|Nominative||ñāṉ||nī||avaṉ (voc. avaṉē)||avaḷ (voc. avaḷē)||ñaṅṅaḷ||nām/nammaḷ||niṅṅaḷ||avar (voc. avarē)|
|Genitive||eṉṯe (also eṉ, eṉṉuṭe)||niṉṯe (also niṉ, niṉṉuṭe)||avaṉṯe (also avaṉuṭe)||avaḷuṭe||ñaṅṅaḷuṭe (also ñaṅṅuṭe)||nammuṭe||niṅṅaḷuṭe||avaruṭe|
|Instrumental||eṉṉāl||niṉṉāl||avaṉāl||avaḷāl||ñaṅṅaḷāl (also ñaṅṅāl)||nammāl||niṅṅaḷāl (also niṅṅāl)||avarāl|
|Locative||eṉṉil (also eṅkal)||niṉṉil (also niṅkal)||avaṉil (also avaṅkal)||avaḷil (also avaḷkal)||ñaṅṅaḷil||nammil||niṅṅaḷil||avaril (also avaṟkal)|
The following are examples of some of the most common declension patterns.
Words adopted from Sanskrit
When words are adopted from Sanskrit, their endings are usually changed to conform to Malayalam norms:
- Masculine Sanskrit nouns with a word stem ending in a short /a/ take the ending /an/ in the nominative singular. For example, Kr̥ṣṇa → Kr̥ṣṇan. The final /n/ is dropped 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 /aḷ/ (where these are plural forms of "an" denoting respect) are treated similarly – "Krishna Pothuval", "Krishna Chakyar", but "Krishnan Nair", "Krishnan Nambiar", as are Sanskrit surnames such "Varma(n)", "Sharma(n)", or "Gupta(n)" (rare) – e.g., "Krishna Varma", "Krishna Sharman". If a name is a compound, only the last element undergoes this transformation – e.g., "Kr̥ṣṇa" + "dēva" = "Kr̥ṣṇadēvan", not "Kr̥ṣṇandēvan".
- Feminine words ending in a long /ā/ or /ī/ are changed to end in a short /a/ or /i/, for example "Sītā" → "Sīta" and "Lakṣmī" → "Lakṣmi". However, the long vowel still appears in compound words, such as "Sītādēvi" or" Lakṣmīdēvi". The long ī is generally reserved for the vocative forms of these names, although in Sanskrit the vocative actually takes a short /i/. There are also a small number of nominative /ī/ endings that have not been shortened – a prominent example being the word "strī" for "woman".
- Nouns that have a stem in /-an/ and which end with a long /ā/ in the masculine nominative singular have /vŭ/ added to them, for example "Brahmā" (stem "Brahman") → "Brahmāvŭ". When the same nouns are declined in the neuter and take a short /a/ ending in Sanskrit, Malayalam adds an additional /m/, e.g. "Brahma" (neuter nominative singular of "Brahman") becomes "Brahmam". This is again omitted when forming compounds.
- Words whose roots end in /-an/ but whose nominative singular ending is /-a-/ (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. However, this does not apply to all consonant stems, as "unchangeable" stems such as "manas" ("mind") and "suhr̥t" ("friend") are identical to the Malayalam nominative singular forms (although the regularly derived "manam" sometimes occurs as an alternative to "manas").
- Sanskrit words describing things or animals rather than people with a stem in short /a/ end with an /m/ in Malayalam. For example,"Rāmāyaṇa" → "Rāmāyaṇam". In most cases, this is actually the same as the Sanskrit accusative case ending, which is also /m/ (or, allophonically, anusvara due to the requirements of the sandhi word-combining rules) in the neuter nominative. However, "things and animals" and "people" are not always differentiated based on whether or not they are sentient beings; for example, "Narasimha" becomes "Narasiṃham" and not "Narasiṃhan", whereas "Ananta" becomes "Anantan" even though both are sentient. This does not strictly correspond to the Sanskrit neuter gender, as both "Narasiṃha" and "Ananta" are masculine nouns in the original Sanskrit.
- Nouns with short vowel stems other than /a/, such as "Viṣṇu", "Prajāpati" etc. are declined with the Sanskrit stem acting as the Malayalam nominative singular (the Sanskrit nominative singular is formed by adding a visarga, e.g., as in "Viṣṇuḥ")
- The original Sanskrit vocative is often used in formal or poetic Malayalam, e.g. "Harē" (for "Hari") or "Prabhō" (for "Prabhu" – "Lord"). This is restricted to certain contexts – mainly when addressing deities or other exalted individuals, so a normal man named Hari would usually be addressed using a Malayalam vocative such as "Harī". The Sanskrit genitive is also occasionally found in Malayalam poetry, especially the personal pronouns "mama" ("my" or "mine") and "tava" ("thy" or "thine"). Other cases are less common and generally restricted to the realm of Maṇipravāḷam.
- Along with these tatsama borrowings, there are also many tadbhava words in common use. These were incorporated via borrowing before the separation of Malayalam and 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". Most of his works are oriented on the basic Malayalam family and cultures and many of them were path-breaking in the history of Malayalam literature
Aside from the Malayam script, the Malayam language has been written in other scripts like Roman, Syriac and Arabic. Suriyani Malayalam was used by Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Nasranis) until the 19th century. Arabic scripts particularly were taught in madrasahs in Kerala and the Lakshadweep Islands.
The currently adopted Malayalam script is the only script in India that can be used to write any other language of India as it contain letters to denote both of the Voiced retroflex approximant (/ɻ/) (which is unique to Tamil and Malayalam in India) and the letters unique to Sanskrit (those are not there in the Tamil script). Historically, several scripts were used to write Malayalam. Among these were the Vatteluttu, Kolezhuthu and Malayanma scripts. But it was the Grantha script, another Southern Brahmi variation, which gave rise to the modern Malayalam script. The modern Malayalam script bears high similarity to Tigalari script, which was used for writing Tulu language in Coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts) and the northernmost Kasaragod district of Kerala. 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 script consists of a total of 578 characters. The script contains 52 letters including 16 vowels and 36 consonants, which forms 576 syllabic characters, and contains two additional diacritic characters named anusvāra and visarga. The earlier style of writing has been superseded by a new style as of 1981. This new script reduces the different letters for typesetting 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.
The Arabi Malayalam script, otherwise known as the Ponnani script, is a writing system - a variant form of the Arabic script with special orthographic features - which was developed during the early medival period and used to write Arabi Malayalam until the early 20th century CE. Though the script originated and developed in Kerala, today it is predominantly used in Malaysia and Singapore by the migrant Muslim community.
Vatteluttu (Malayalam: വട്ടെഴുത്ത്, Vaṭṭezhuthŭ ?, “round writing”) is a script that had evolved from Tamil-Brahmi and was once used extensively in the southern part of present-day Tamil Nadu and in Kerala.
Malayalam was first written in Vattezhuthu. The Vazhappally inscription issued by Rajashekhara Varman is the earliest example, dating from about 830 CE. During the medieval period, the Tigalari script that was used for writing Tulu in South Canara, and Sanskrit in the adjacent Malabar region, had beared high similarity with the modern Malayalam script. In the Tamil country, the modern Tamil script had supplanted Vattezhuthu by the 15th century, but in the Malabar region, Vattezhuthu remained in general use up to the 17th century, or the 18th century. A variant form of this script, Kolezhuthu, was used until about the 19th century mainly in the Malabar-Cochin area.
Vatteluttu was in general use, but was not suitable for literature where many Sanskrit words were used. Like Tamil-Brahmi, it was originally used to write Tamil, and as such, did not have letters for voiced or aspirated consonants used in Sanskrit but not used in Tamil. For this reason, Vatteluttu and the Grantha alphabet were sometimes mixed, as in the Manipravalam. One of the oldest examples of the Manipravalam literature, Vaishikatantram (വൈശികതന്ത്രം, Vaiśikatantram), dates back to the 12th century, where the earliest form of the Malayalam script was used, which seems to have been systematized to some extent by the first half of the 13th century.
Another variant form, Malayanma, was used in the south of Thiruvananthapuram. By the 19th century, old scripts like Kolezhuthu had been supplanted by Arya-eluttu – that is the current Malayalam script. Nowadays, it is widely used in the press of the Malayali population in Kerala.
Suriyani Malayalam (സുറിയാനി മലയാളം, ܣܘܪܝܢܝ ܡܠܝܠܡ), also known as Karshoni, Syro-Malabarica or Syriac Malayalam, is a version of Malayalam written in a variant form of the Syriac alphabet which was popular among the Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasranis) of Kerala in India. It uses Malayalam grammar, the Maḏnḥāyā or "Eastern" Syriac script with special orthographic features, and vocabulary from Malayalam and East Syriac. This originated in the South Indian region of the Malabar Coast (modern-day Kerala). Until the 19th century, the script was widely used by Syrian Christians in Kerala.
According to Arthur Coke Burnell, one form of the Grantha alphabet, originally used in the Chola dynasty, was imported into the southwest coast of India in the 8th or 9th century, which was then modified in course of time in this secluded area, where communication with the east coast was very limited. It later evolved into Tigalari-Malayalam script was used by the Malayali, Havyaka Brahmins and Tulu Brahmin people, but was originally only applied to write Sanskrit. This script split into two scripts: Tigalari and Malayalam. While Malayalam script was extended and modified to write vernacular language Malayalam, the Tigalari was written for Sanskrit only. In Malabar, this writing system was termed Arya-eluttu (ആര്യ എഴുത്ത്, Ārya eḻuttŭ), meaning “Arya writing” (Sanskrit is Indo-Aryan language while Malayalam is a Dravidian language).
The Sangam literature can be considered as the ancient predecessor of Malayalam. According to Iravatham Mahadevan, the earliest Malayalam inscription discovered until now is the Edakal-5 inscription (ca. late 4th century – early 5th century) reading ī pazhama (English: 'this is old'). Although this has been disputed by other scholars. The use of the pronoun ī and the lack of the literary Tamil -ai ending are archaisms from Proto-Dravidian rather than unique innovations of Malayalam.
- Classical songs known as Nadan Pattu
- 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 folk song rich in native elements
Malayalam literature has been profoundly influenced by poets Cherusseri Namboothiri, Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, and Poonthanam Nambudiri, in the 15th and the 16th centuries of Common Era. Unnayi Variyar, a probable 17th-18th century poet, and Kunchan Nambiar, a poet of 18th century, also greatly influenced Malayalam literature in its early form. The words used in many of the Arabi Malayalam works those date back to 16th-17th centuries of Common Era are also very closer to the modern Malayalam language. The prose literature, criticism, and Malayalam journalism began after the latter half of 18th century CE. Contemporary Malayalam literature deals with social, political, and economic life context. The tendency of the modern poetry is often towards political radicalism. Malayalam literature has been presented with six Jnanapith awards, the second-most for any Dravidian language and the third-highest for any Indian language.
Malayalam poetry to the late 20th 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 12th century.
The earliest extant prose work in the language is a commentary in simple Malayalam, Bhashakautalyam (12th century) on Chanakya's Arthashastra. Adhyatmaramayanam by Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan (known as the father of modern Malayalam literature) who was born in Tirur, one of the most important works in Malayalam literature. Unnunili Sandesam written in the 14th century is amongst the oldest literary works in Malayalam language. Cherusseri Namboothiri of 15th century (Kannur-based poet), Poonthanam Nambudiri of 16th century (Perinthalmanna-based poet), Unnayi Variyar of 17th-18th centuries (Thrissur-based poet), and Kunchan Nambiar of 18th century (Palakkad-based poet), have played a major role in the development of Malayalam literature into current form. The words used in many of the Arabi Malayalam works, which dates back to 16th-17th centuries are also very closer to modern Malayalam language. The basin of the river Bharathappuzha, which is otherwise known as River Ponnani, and its tributaries, have played a major role in the development of modern Malayalam Literature.
By the end of the 18th century some of the Christian missionaries from Kerala started writing in Malayalam but mostly travelogues, dictionaries and religious books. Varthamanappusthakam (1778), written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar is considered to be the first travelogue in an Indian language. The modern Malayalam grammar is based on the book Kerala Panineeyam written by A. R. Raja Raja Varma in late 19th century CE.
For the first 600 years of the Malayalam calendar, Malayalam literature remained in a preliminary stage. During this time, Malayalam literature consisted mainly of various genres of songs (Pattu). Folk songs are the oldest literary form in Malayalam. They were just oral songs. Many of them were related to agricultural activites, including Pulayar Pattu, Pulluvan Pattu, Njattu Pattu, Koythu Pattu, etc. Other Ballads of Folk Song period include the Vadakkan Pattukal (Northern songs) in North Malabar region and the Thekkan Pattukal (Southern songs) in Southern Travancore. Some of the earliest Mappila songs (Muslim songs) were also folk songs.
Old and Middle Malayalam
The earliest known poems in Malayalam, Ramacharitam and Thirunizhalmala, dated to the 12th to 14th century, were completed before the introduction of the Sanskrit alphabet. It was written by a poet with the pen name Cheeramakavi who, according to poet Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer, was Sree Veerarama Varman, a king of southern Kerala from AD 1195 to 1208. However the claim that it was written in Southern Kerala is expired on the basis of new discoveries. Other experts, like Chirakkal T Balakrishnan Nair, Dr. K.M. George, M. M. Purushothaman Nair, and P.V. Krishnan Nair, state that the origin of the book is in Kasaragod district in North Malabar region. They cite the use of certain words in the book and also the fact that the manuscript of the book was recovered from Nileshwaram in North Malabar. The influence of Ramacharitam is mostly seen in the contemporary literary works of Northern Kerala. The words used in Ramacharitam such as Nade (Mumbe), Innum (Iniyum), Ninna (Ninne), Chaaduka (Eriyuka) are special features of the dialect spoken in North Malabar (Kasaragod-Kannur region). Furthermore, the Thiruvananthapuram mentioned in Ramacharitham is not the Thiruvananthapuram in Southern Kerala. But it is Ananthapura Lake Temple of Kumbla in the northernmost Kasaragod district of Kerala. The word Thiru is used just by the meaning Honoured. Today it is widely accepted that Ramacharitham was written somewhere in North Malabar (most likely near Kasaragod).
But the period of the earliest available literary document cannot be the sole criterion used to determine the antiquity of a language. In its early literature, Malayalam has songs, Pattu, for various subjects and occasions, such as harvesting, love songs, heroes, gods, etc. A form of writing called Campu emerged from the 14th century onwards. It mixed poetry with prose and used a vocabulary strongly influenced by Sanskrit, with themes from epics and Puranas. Rama-charitam, which was composed in the 14th century A.D., may be said to have inaugurated Malayalam literature just as Naniah's Mahabharatam did for Telugu. The fact is that dialectical and local peculiarities had already developed and stamped themselves in local songs and ballads. But these linguistic variations were at last gathered together and made to give a coloring to a sustained literary work, the Rama-charitam, thereby giving the new language a justification and a new lease on life.
The Malayalam language, with the introduction of a new type of devotional literature, underwent a metamorphosis, both in form and content, and it is generally held that modernity in Malayalam language and literature commenced at this period. This change was brought about by Thunchathu Ezhuthachan (16th century) who is known as the father of modern Malayalam literature. Till this time Malayalam indicated two different courses of development depending on its relationship with either Sanskrit or Tamil–Kannada languages.
The earliest literary work in Malayalam now available is a prose commentary on Chanakya's Arthashastra, ascribed to the 13th century. The poetical works called Vaisikatantram are also believed to belong to the early 14th century. These works come under a special category known as Manipravalam, literally the combination of two languages, the language of Kerala and Sanskrit. A grammar and rhetoric in this hybrid style was written sometime in the 14th century in Sanskrit and the work, called the Lilatikalam, is the main source of information for a student of literary and linguistic history. According to this book, the Manipravalam and Pattu styles of literary compositions were in vogue during this period. "Pattu" means "song" and more or less represents the pure Malayalam school of poetry. From the definition of the Pattu style given in the Lilatikalam, it can be surmised that the language of Kerala during this period was more or less in line with Tamil, but this has misled many people to believe incorrectly that Malayalam was itself Tamil during this period and before. However, till the 13th century there is no hard evidence to show that the language of Kerala had a literary tradition except in folk songs. The Niranam poets also belong to this period of Middle Malayalam.
The works including Unniyachi Charitham, Unnichirudevi Charitham, and Unniyadi Charitham, are written in Middle Malayalam, those date back to 13th and 14th centuries of Common Era. The Sandesha Kavyas of 14th century CE written in Manipravalam language include Unnuneeli Sandesam The literary works written in Middle Malayalam were heavily influenced by Sanskrit and Prakrit, while comparing them with the modern Malayalam literature. The word Manipravalam literally means Diamond-Coral or Ruby-Coral. The 14th-century Lilatilakam text states Manipravalam to be a Bhashya (language) where "Malayalam and Sanskrit should combine together like ruby and coral, without the least trace of any discord". The Champu Kavyas written by Punam Nambudiri, one among the Pathinettara Kavikal (Eighteen and a half poets) in the court of the Zamorin of Calicut, also belong to Middle Malayalam.
The poem Krishnagatha written by Cherusseri Namboothiri, who was the court poet of the king Udaya Varman Kolathiri (1446 – 1475) of Kolathunadu, is written in modern Malayalam. The language used in Krishnagatha is the modern spoken form of Malayalam. It appears to be the first literary work written in the present-day language of Malayalam. During the 16th century CE, Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan from the Kingdom of Tanur and Poonthanam Nambudiri from the Kingdom of Valluvanad followed the new trend initiated by Cherussery in their poems. The Adhyathmaramayanam Kilippattu and Mahabharatham Kilippattu written by Ezhuthachan and Jnanappana written by Poonthanam are also included in the earliest form of Modern Malayalam. The words used in most of the Arabi Malayalam works, which dates back to 16th-17th centuries, are also very closer to modern Malayalam language. P. Shangunny Menon ascribes the authorship of the medieval work Keralolpathi, which describes the Parashurama legend and the departure of the final Cheraman Perumal king to Mecca, to Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan.
It was during the 16th and 17th centuries that later Champu Kavyas were written by the court poets of the Zamorin of Calicut. Their specialty was that they contained both Sanskritic and indigenous elements of poetry to an equal degree, and in that manner were unique.
Unnayi Varyar, whose Nalacharitan Attakkatha is popular even today, was the most prominent poet of the 18th century among not only the Kathakali writers, but also among the classical poets of Kerala. He is often referred to as the Kalidasa of Kerala. Although Kathakali is a dance drama and its literary form should more or less be modeled after the drama, there is nothing more in common between an Attakkatha and Sanskrit drama.
That is to say, the principles of dramaturgy to be observed in writing a particular type of Sanskrit drama are completely ignored by an author of Attakkatha. Delineation of a particular rasa is an inevitable feature with Sanskrit drama, whereas in an Attakkatha all the predominant rasas are given full treatment, and consequently the theme of an Attakkatha often loses its integrity and artistic unity when viewed as a literary work.
Any Attakkatha fulfills its objective if it affords a variety of scenes depicting different types of characters, and each scene would have its own hero with the rasa associated with that character. When that hero is portrayed he is given utmost importance, to the utter neglect of the main sentiment (rasa) of the theme in general. However, the purpose of Attakkatha is not to present a theme with a well-knit emotional plot as its central point, but to present all approved types of characters already set to suit the technique of the art of Kathakali.
The major literary output of the century was in the form of local plays composed for the art of kathakali, the dance dramas of Kerala also known as Attakkatha. It seems the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva provided a model for this type of literary composition. The verses in Sanskrit narrate the story and the dialogue is composed in imitation of songs in the Gitagovinda, set to music in appropriate ragas in the classical Karnataka style.
Besides the Raja of Kottarakkara and Unnayi Varyar referred to above, nearly a hundred plays were composed during this century by poets belonging to all categories and subscribing to all standards, such as Irayimman Tampi and Ashvati Raja, to mention just two.
Devotional literature in Malayalam found its heyday during the early phase of this period. Ezhuthachan referred to above gave emphasis to the Bhakti cult. The Jnanappana by Puntanam Nambudiri is a unique work in the branch of philosophical poetry. Written in simple language, it is a sincere approach to the advaita philosophy of Vedanta.
It took nearly two centuries for a salutary blending of the scholarly Sanskrit and popular styles to bring Malayalam prose to its present form, enriched in its vocabulary by Sanskrit but at the same time flexible, pliable and effective as to popular parlance.
As regards literature, the leading figures were Irayimman Thampi and Vidwan Koithampuran, both poets of the royal court. Their works abound in a beautiful and happy blending of music and poetry. The former is surely the most musical poet of Kerala and his beautiful lullaby commencing with the line Omana Thinkalkidavo has earned him an everlasting name. But the prime reason why he is held in such high esteem in Malayalam is the contribution he has made to Kathakali literature by his three works, namely the Dakshayagam, the Kichakavadham and the Uttara-svayamvaram. The latter's Kathakali work Ravana Vijayam has made him immortal in literature. Kunchan Nambiar, the founder of Thullal movement, was a prolific literary figure of the 18th century.
Impact of European scholars
The British printed Malabar English Dictionary by Graham Shaw in 1779 was still in the form of a Tamil-English Dictionary. Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar wrote the first Malayalam travelogue called Varthamanappusthakam in 1789.
The educational activities of the missionaries belonging to the Basel Mission deserve special mention. Hermann Gundert, (1814–1893), a German missionary and scholar of exceptional linguistic talents, played a distinguishable role in the development of Malayalam literature. His major works are Keralolpathi (1843), Pazhancholmala (1845), Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1851), Paathamala (1860) the first Malayalam school text book, Kerala pazhama (1868), the first Malayalam dictionary (1872), Malayalarajyam (1879) – Geography of Kerala, Rajya Samacharam (1847 June) the first Malayalam news paper, Paschimodayam (1879) – Magazine. He lived in Thalassery for around 20 years. He learned the language from well established local teachers Ooracheri Gurukkanmar from Chokli, a village near Thalassery and consulted them in works. He also translated the Bible into Malayalam.
In 1821, the Church Mission Society (CMS) at Kottayam in association with the Syriac Orthodox Church started a seminary at Kottayam in 1819 and started printing books in Malayalam when Benjamin Bailey, an Anglican priest, made the first Malayalam types. In addition, he contributed to standardizing the prose. Hermann Gundert from Stuttgart, Germany, started the first Malayalam newspaper, Rajya Samacaram in 1847 at Talasseri. It was printed at Basel Mission. Malayalam and Sanskrit were increasingly studied by Christians of Kottayam and Pathanamthitta. The Marthomite movement in the mid-19th century called for replacement of Syriac by Malayalam for liturgical purposes. By the end of the 19th century Malayalam replaced Syriac as language of Liturgy in all Syrian Christian churches.
Thanks to the efforts of kings like Swathi Thirunal and to the assistance given by him to the Church Mission and London Mission Societies, a number of schools were started.
The establishment of the Madras University in 1857 marks an important event in the cultural history of Kerala. It is from here that a generation of scholars well versed in Western literature and with the capacity to enrich their own language by adopting Western literary trends came into being. Prose was the first branch to receive an impetus by its contact with English. Though there was no shortage of prose in Malayalam, it was not along Western lines. It was left to the farsighted policy of the Maharaja of Travancore (1861 to 1880) to start a scheme for the preparation of textbooks for use by schools in the state. Kerala Varma V, a scholar in Sanskrit, Malayalam and English was appointed Chairman of the Committee formed to prepare textbooks. He wrote several books suited for various standards.
The growth of journalism, too, helped in the development of prose. Initiated by missionaries for the purpose of religious propaganda, journalism was taken up by local scholars who started newspapers and journals for literary and political activities.
With his work Kundalatha in 1887, Appu Nedungadi marks the origin of prose fiction in Malayalam. Other talented writers were Chandu Menon, the author of Indulekha, a great social novel, in 1889 and another called Sarada. Also there was C V Raman Pillai, who wrote the historical novel Marthandavarma in 1890 as well as works like Dharmaraja, and Ramaraja Bahadur. O. Chandu Menon wrote his novels "Indulekha" and "Saradha" while he was the judge at Parappanangadi Munciff Court. Indulekha is also the first Major Novel written in Malayalam language.
In poetry there were two main trends, one represented by Venmani Nampoodiris (venmani Poets) and the other by Kerala Varma. Kerala Varma belonged to Parappanad royal family based at Parappanangadi. The latter's poetry was modeled on the old Manipravalam style abounding in Sanskrit words and terms, but it had a charm of its own when adapted to express new ideas in that masterly way characteristic of himself. His translation of Kalidasa's Abhijnanasakuntalam in 1882 marks an important event in the history of Malayalam drama and poetry. Also Kerala Varma's Mayura-sandesam is a Sandesakavya (messenger poem) written after the manner of Kalidasa's Meghadutam. Though it cannot be compared with the original, it was still one of the most popularly acclaimed poems in Malayalam.
The third quarter of the 19th century CE bore witness to the rise of a new school of poets devoted to the observation of life around them and the use of pure Malayalam. The major poets of the Venmani School were Venmani Achhan Nambudiripad (1817–1891), Venmani Mahan Nambudiripad (1844–1893), Poonthottam Achhan Nambudiri (1821–1865), Poonthottam Mahan Nambudiri (1857–1896) and the members of the Kodungallur Kovilakam (Royal Family) such as Kodungallur Kunjikkuttan Thampuran. The style of these poets became quite popular for a while and influenced even others who were not members of the group like Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar (1839–1897) and Perunlli Krishnan Vaidyan (1863–1894). The Venmani school pioneered a style of poetry that was associated with common day themes, and the use of pure Malayalam (Pachcha Malayalam) rather than Sanskrit.
One of the notable features of the early decades of the 20th century was the great interest taken by writers in translating works from Sanskrit and English into Malayalam. Kalidasa's Meghaduta and Kumarasambhava by A. R. Raja Raja Varma and the Raghuvamsa by K. N. Menon must be mentioned. One of the most successful of the later translators was C. S. Subramaniam Potti who set a good model by his translation of the Durgesanandini of Bankim Chandra from an English version of it.
The early decades of the 20th century saw the beginning of a period of rapid development of all branches of Malayalam literature. A good number of authors familiar with the latest trends in English literature came forward to contribute to the enrichment of their mother tongue. Their efforts were directed more to the development of prose than poetry. In the second half of the 20th century, Jnanpith winning poets and writers like G. Sankara Kurup, S. K. Pottekkatt, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, O. N. V. Kurup, and Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, had made valuable contributions to the modern Malayalam literature. Later, writers like O. V. Vijayan, Kamaladas, M. Mukundan, Arundhati Roy, and Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, have gained international recognition.
Several Bengali novels were translated during this period. C. S. S. Potti, mentioned above, also brought out the Lake of Palms of R. C. Dutt under the title Thala Pushkarani, Kapalakundala by V. K. Thampi and Visha Vruksham by T. C. Kalyani Amma were also translations of novels by Bankimochandra Chatterji. The travelogues written by S. K. Pottekkatt were turning point in the travelogue literature.
Among the original novels written at that time only a few are worth mentioning, such as Bhootha Rayar by Appan Thampuran, Keraleswaran by Raman Nambeesan and Cheraman Perumal by K. K. Menon. Although many social novels were produced during this period, only a few are remembered, such as Snehalatha by Kannan Menon, Hemalatha by T. K. Velu Pillai and Kambola-balika by N. K. Krishna Pillai. But by far the most inspiring work of that time was Aphante Makal by M. B. Namboodiri, who directed his literary talents towards the abolition of old worn-out customs and manners which had for years been the bane of the community.
Short stories came into being. With the advent of E. V. Krishna Pillai, certain marks of novelty became noticeable in the short story. His Keleesoudham proved his capacity to write with considerable emotional appeal. The writers like Kavalam Narayana Panicker have contributed much to Malayalam drama.
C. V. Raman Pillai was a pioneer in prose dramas. He had a particular knack for writing dramas in a lighter vein. His Kurupillakalari of 1909 marks the appearance of the first original Malayalam prose drama. It is a satirical drama intended to ridicule the Malayali official classes who started imitating Western fashion and etiquette. There were other authors, less well-known, who wrote in this vein.
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai turned away from party politics and produced a moving romance in Chemmeen (Shrimps) in 1956. For S. K. Pottekkatt and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, who had not dabbled in politics, the continuity is marked in the former's Vishakanyaka (Poison Maid, 1948) and the latter's Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu (My Grandpa had an Elephant, 1951). The non-political social or domestic novel was championed by P. C. Kuttikrishnan (Uroob) with his Ummachu (1955) and Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum (Men and Women of Charm, 1958).
In 1957 Basheer's Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma's Goat) brought in a new kind of prose tale, which perhaps only Basheer could handle with dexterity. The fifties thus mark the evolution of a new kind of fiction, which had its impact on the short stories as well. This was the auspicious moment for the entry of M. T. Vasudevan Nair and T. Padmanabhan upon the scene. Front runners in the post-modern trend include Kakkanadan, O. V. Vijayan, E. Harikumar, M. Mukundan and Anand.
Kumaran Asan's celebrated poem, Veena Poovu (The Fallen Flower) depicts in a symbolic manner the tragedy of human life in a moving and thought-provoking manner. Vallathol's Bandhanasthanaya Aniruddhan, which demonstrates an exceptionally brilliant power of imagination and deep emotional faculties, depicts a situation from the Puranic story of Usha and Aniruddha. Ulloor S. P. Iyer was another veteran who joined the new school. He wrote a series of poems like Oru Mazhathulli in which he excelled as a romantic poet.
The three more or less contemporary poets Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer considerably enriched Malayalam poetry. Some of their works reflect social and political movements of that time. Asan wrote about untouchability in Kerala; Ullor's writings reflect his deep devotion and admiration for the great moral and spiritual values, which he believed were the real assets of ancient social life of India. They were known as the trio of Malayalam poetry. After them there were others like K. K. Nair and K. M. Panikkar who contributed to the growth of poetry.
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