Kerala Language


The major languages of Kerala comprise Malayalam, Tamil and English. The ethnic minorities speak various Adivasi languages. The southernmost state of India - Kerala - speaks Malayalam. It is the language of over 35000,000 people. As a Dravidian language, Malayalam has its own alphabet and grammar. This language of Kerala has evolved from Sanskrit and also uses several Tamil words. The idiom of Malayalam adapts words from other Indian states and English. The languages of Kerala are rich in all literary genres. Outside Kerala, Malayalam is taught also in other states as well as in the USA.

Evolution of the Language

With Tamil, Kota, Kodagu and Kannada, Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages. Its affinity to Tamil is the most striking. Proto-Tamil Malayalam, the common stock of Tamil and Malayalam apparently disintegrated over a period of four of five centuries from the ninth century on, 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 irresistable 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 Literature

The earliest written record of Malayalam is the /vazhappaLLi/ inscription (ca. 830 AD). The early literature of Malayalam comprised three types of composition: Classical songs known as /PATTU/ of the Tamil tradition /manipravalam/ of the Sanskrit tradition, which permitted a generous interspersing of Sanskrit with Malayalam 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 maniprvAlam respectively are /rAmacharitam/ and /vaishikatantram/, both of the twelveth century. 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 exibit degree of influence of different languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrits, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Arabi, Persian, Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Modern literature is rich in poetry, fiction, drama, biography, and literary criticism.

Malayalam Vocabulary

The Malayalam vocabulary consists of a number of words borrowed from Sanskrit and Tamil. The arrival of the Europeans further enriched the Malayalam vocabulary, with the language absorbing numerous words and idioms from English, Portuguese, Dutch etc. Infact English stands next to Sanskrit in lending words to Malayalam. Likewise, many Malayalam words found their way into other languages (e.g. Coir, Copra, Catamaran etc.)

The 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. In the 1960s Malayalam dispensed with many special letters representing less frequent conjunct consonants and combinations of the vowel /u/ with different consonants. Malayalam now consists of 53 letters including 20 long and short vowels and the rest 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.

Language variation and external influnece

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. Influence of Sanskrit is most prominent in the Brahimin 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. Some items of basic vocabulary (eg/mukhum/ face, /nakham/ nail, /bhArya/ wife, bharthAvu/ husband) also have found their way into Malayalam from Sanskrit.

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