Malayalam language

Dravidian language spoken by more than 36 million people mainly in the Indian state of Kerala.

Malayalam is closely related to Tamil, from which it is estimated to have separated about the 10th century AD. The earliest literary composition in the language is from the 13th century. Like other major Dravidian languages, Malayalam has a number of regional dialects, social dialects that reflect differences in caste and religion, and marked distinctions in formal and informal usage. Literacy among Malayalam speakers is believed to be higher than literacy among speakers of any other Indian language.

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      member of the South Dravidian subgroup of the Dravidian language (Dravidian languages) family. Malayalam is spoken mainly in India, where it is the official language of the state of Kerala and the union territory of Lakshadweep. It is also spoken by bilingual communities in contiguous parts of Karnataka (Karnātaka) and Tamil Nadu (Tamil Nādu). In the early 21st century, Malayalam was spoken by more than 35 million people.

      Malayalam has three important regional dialects (dialect) and a number of smaller ones. There is some difference in dialect along social, particularly caste, lines. As a result of these factors, the Malayalam language has developed diglossia, a distinction between the formal, literary language and colloquial forms of speech.

      Malayalam evolved either from a western dialect of Tamil (Tamil language) or from the branch of Proto-Dravidian from which modern Tamil also evolved. The earliest record of the language is an inscription dated to approximately 830 CE. An early and extensive influx of Sanskrit (Sanskrit language) words influenced the Malayalam script. Known as Koleluttu (“Rod Script”), it is derived from the Grantha (Grantha alphabet) script, which in turn is derived from Brahmi (Brāhmī). Koleluttu has letters to represent the entire corpus of sounds from both Dravidian and Sanskrit.

      Like the Dravidian languages generally, Malayalam has a series of retroflex consonants (/ḍ/, /ṇ/, and /ṭ/) made by curling the tip of the tongue back to the roof of the mouth. It uses subject–object–verb word order and has a nominative-accusative case-marking pattern. Its pronominal system has “natural” gender, a form that marks the gender of humans masculine or feminine while designating all nonhuman nouns as neuter. inflection is generally marked via suffixation. Unlike other Dravidian languages, Malayalam inflects its finite verb only for tense—not for person, number, or gender.

      The earliest extant literary work in Malayalam is Ramacharitam, an epic poem written in the late 12th or early 13th century. In the subsequent centuries, besides a popular pattu (“song”) literature, there flourished a literature of mainly erotic poetry composed in the manipravalam (“ruby coral”) style, an admixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit.

K.A. Jayaseelan Bhadriraju Krishnamurti

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Universalium. 2010.

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