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Definition: Malayalam from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Southern Indian language, the official language of the state of Kerala. Malayalam is closely related to Tamil, also a member of the Dravidian language family; it is spoken by about 20 million people. Written records in Malayalam date from the 9th century AD.


Summary Article: MALAYALAM
from Dictionary of Languages
22,000,000 SPEAKERS

India

Malayalam is one of the DRAVIDIAN LANGUAGES of India, the state language of the mountainous south-western coastal state of Kerala (for map see TAMIL).

Malei means ‘hill country’ in Tamil: Kerala was ‘Male, where pepper comes from’ to a Greek geographer of the 6th century. The name Malabor, evidently derived from this native word, was applied to the region in Persian and then in European geographical texts. It is now old-fashioned, but the related form Malayalam ‘mountain region’ has remained as a name for the language.

Until around AD 1000 Malayalam was not a separately identifiable language. Early inscriptions from Kerala are in Old Tamil, which was spoken both in Kerala and in the state now called Tamilnadu.

From that date onwards, Tamil and Malayalam have grown apart – most obviously in the matter of loans from Sanskrit. Later Tamil, unusual among the cultivated languages of India, has not been receptive to Sanskrit loans. Malayalam is so full of Sanskrit words, and even of Sanskrit forms and syntax, that the two are inextricably interwoven. The acknowledged masterpieces of Malayalam literature are the 16th-century versions of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana by Tuñcattu Eluttacan. But even in spoken Malayalam Sanskrit words are to be heard in practically every sentence.

Numerals in Malayalam and Tamil

Malayalam

Tamil

oru

1

oṇṇu

raṇṭu

2

ireṇṭu

mūnnu

3

mūṇu

nālu

4

nālu

añju

5

añcu

ār̠u

6

ār̠u

ēṛu

7

ēl̠u

ettu

8

eṭṭu

ompatu

9

ompatu

pattu

10

pattu

Malayalam script

Malayalam script achieved its present form in the 17th century. Although showing a clear underlying resemblance to the Tamil-Grantha alphabet it looks very different in print, heavy and blockish where Tamil is light and angular. Some letters are used mainly in Sanskrit loanwords.

Malayalam is spoken by sizeable communities in Singapore and Malaysia. Here the Arabic script is in regular use: in Kerala, too, among Muslims, Malayalam is occasionally printed in Arabic script.

Dictionary of Languages © 1998 + 2004

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