The Malayalam (മലയാളം) language’s name originated from nature. Mala means mountain and Alam means land or place. Malayalam belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is spoken by approximately 38 million people across the world. Among the four Dravidian languages, Malayalam was one of the last evolved languages and was derived from Tamil, which is one of the oldest languages known to the world.
The majority of speakers come from the south Indian state of Kerala and from the Lakshadweep Islands (Laccadives) from the west coast of India. It is also spoken in the neighboring states of Tamil, Nadu and Karnataka. It is one of the 22 recognized languages in India and was also designated as the Classical Language of India in 2013. Records show that the oldest written record of Malayalam is the vazhappaLLi inscription from 830 A.D.
The Malayalam script, known as kolezhuthu (Rod-Script), is derived from the ancient Grandha script. The language includes 53 characters with 37 consonants and 16 long and short vowels. However, a new style of writing was introduced in 1981, which helped reduce the number of characters radically. It is very easy for “Malayalees” (speakers of Malayalam) to speak, read, write or understand this language, but it is difficult for an NRI (non-resident Indian) to understand due to a different script and style of writing.
Malayalam is the primary language for only one state of India, but it has various dialects among the native speakers. The differences are easily evident in accent or vocabulary and differ due to religion, community and status.
As with many other world languages, Malayalam borrows some of its vocabulary from other languages. Its vocabulary has several words borrowed from Sanskrit, English and Portuguese.
There is a saying in India that you will find a person from Kerala in almost every corner of the world and due to the same reason, the language has found its way abroad. Many universities around the world teach Malayalam, including in the United States.
Malayalam Quick Facts
When written in English, this is the only language that turns out to be a palindrome (a word that reads the same backward as forward).
It is the 8th most spoken language in India.
The most circulated daily regional newspaper in India is in Malayalam. Kerala alone prints 170 daily papers, 235 weekly and over 550 monthly periodicals.
14 districts in Kerala have different dialects and people sometimes find it difficult to understand their own language due to these dialects.
Many visitors to India travel to Kerala, which is known as “God’s country”. This phrase will not disappoint you when you see the amazing mountains, lakes and scenic beauty. Learning a little Malayalam will help you communicate with the people who live in this beautiful place. Start with a Namaskaram (hello) and always end with a Nanni (thank you).
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About the Author
Vimal Panicker is from Mumbai, India, and currently lives in Dubai. He has 5 years of experience in project management, working in the translation and localization business and has managed projects for a diverse portfolio of companies in the IT, life sciences and legal industry. Vimal holds a Bachelors Degree in Commerce from Mumbai University and has a great passion for developing and maintaining client relationships. He started off his career in the localization industry and is well-informed with the tools, processes and practices. He loves working with a culturally-diverse team and believes in exceeding client expectations. For him, translation is not only a great medium to work with people from diverse cultures but also a great platform to connect with organizations from varied sectors and understand their business functions. Outside work, he loves to watch and play football and has a great interest in fitness activities.More Content by Vimal Panicker