KERALA INFO: Malayalam, the official language of Kerala

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Malayalam, the official language of Kerala

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Malayalam is the principal language of the state of Kerala and also of the Lakshadweep Islands (Laccadives) of the west coast of India.

Malayalis, the speakers of Malayalam, are almost totally literate. In terms of the number of speakers Malayalam ranks eighth among the fifteen major languages of India.

The word “Malayalam” originally meant as mountainous country where mala means the mountain and alam means the place.

Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages along with Tamil, Kota, Kodagu and Kannada. It has high affinity towards Tamil. As the language of scholarship and administration Tamil greatly influenced the early development of Malayalam. Later due to the influence of the Brahmins made into the cultural life of Kerala accelerated the assimilation of many Indo-Aryan features into Malayalam at different levels.

The earliest written record of Malayalam is the vazhappalli inscription dated to 830 AD. There are three types of composition. They are

    • The Classical songs known as “pattu” of the Tamil tradition

    • The “Mamipravalam” of the Sanskrit tradition

    • The folk song rich in native elements

The earliest extant prose work in the language is a commentary in simple Malayalam, Bhashakautaliyam of 12th century on Chanakya's Arthasastra.

Malayalam prose composed in various periods exhibits a 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.

In the early 13th century, “vattezhuthu” meaning round writing was traceable to the pan-Indian brahmi script which gave rise to the Malayalam writing system. Malayalam today 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. 

Popular Malayalam Newspapers of the state are the Malayala Manorama, the Mathrubhumi, the Kerala Kaumudi, the Deepika and the Deshabhimani.

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