from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Malayalam (മലയാളം)

Spoken in

India ( Kerala , Lakshadweep , Mahé )
speaker 37 million (2019)
Official status
Official language in Flag of India.svg India
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Malayalam ( മലയാളം Malayalam ) is a language from the Dravidian language family . It is spoken by 37 million people, mainly in the state of Kerala on the southwest coast of India . The Malayalam is written in its own script and is closely related to the Tamil . Malayalam speakers are known as Malayali .

Etymology of the language name

The name Malayalam is derived from the Tamil or Malabar words malai "mountain" and āḷ "man" or āḻam "deep, ocean" and therefore means either "mountain dwellers" or "land between mountains and ocean". In fact, the Malayalam-speaking area in Kerala stretches between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea .

Distribution and number of speakers

Spread of the Malayalam

The distribution area of ​​the Malayalam largely coincides with the state of Kerala on the west coast of southern India, whose borders were drawn in 1956 along the language border of the Malayalam. It is also spoken on the archipelagos of the Laccadives and Amindives (union territory of Lakshadweep ) in the Arabian Sea . Due to immigration, there are now larger numbers of Malayalam speakers in other parts of India as well as among expatriate Indians in the Gulf States , Great Britain and the USA . Malayalam is the official language in Kerala, in the Lakshadweep Union and in the Mahe enclave in the Puducherry Union . In addition, it is recognized as one of 22 constitutional languages ​​in India on a supraregional level .

According to the 2011 Indian census, Malayalam is spoken by almost 35 million people as their mother tongue. A good 32 million of them live in Kerala, where Malayalam speakers make up the large majority of the population. Malayalam-speaking minorities can also be found in the neighboring states of Karnataka (0.8 million) and Tamil Nadu (0.7 million).


Malayalam belongs to the family of the Dravidian languages, which are mainly spoken in South India . Along with Telugu , Tamil and Kannada , Malayalam is one of the four major Dravidian languages. Within this language family, Malayalam belongs to the South Dravidian branch. The closest relative of Malayalam is Tamil, from which it only developed as an independent language between 800 and 1000 AD. Unlike Tamil and even more so than the other Dravidian literary languages ​​Telugu and Kannada, Malayalam has been heavily influenced by Sanskrit , the classical language of Hinduism .

Development of the written language

The Vazhappalli inscription from the 9th century is considered the oldest language testimony of Malayalam. The oldest literary work is the Ramacharitam from the 12th century. The first Malayalam grammar, the Lilatilakam , was written in Sanskrit in the 14th century.

The word Malayalam in Malayalam script


Like many Indian languages, Malayalam has its own script, the Malayalam script . This belongs to the family of the Indian scripts . It shares the common origin of the Brahmi script from the 3rd century BC with the other scriptures of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia . Chr. And a common functional principle: They are an intermediate form of alphabet and syllabary, so-called Abugidas , in which each consonant sign has an inherent vowel a , which can be modified by diacritical marks . The Malayalam script developed in the 8th century via the Grantha script from a southern Indian Brahmi variant.


In the phonology of Malayalam, a distinction must be made between the native core inventory and the phonemes adopted from Sanskrit . In the case of native words, voicelessness or voicing as well as aspiration do not differ in meaning . For this, the plosives ( plosives ) have a large number of allophones , i. that is, they are pronounced differently depending on their position in the word. At the beginning of the word and when doubled, they are spoken voiceless, voiced after nasals and voiced and spirantized between vowels . These allophones are not marked in the script for native words, although the Malayalam script has different characters for voiceless and voiced plosives.

A striking feature of Malayalam is the distinction between plosives and nasals according to six articulation locations ( labial , dental , alveolar , retroflex , palatal and velar ). While the contrast between dental and retroflex sounds is typical for the languages ​​of South Asia, the three-fold distinction dental-alveolar-retroflex is extremely rare. The alveolar plosive [ t ] occurs only in duplicate or as a voiced variant [ d ] after the corresponding nasal. Intervocalically it is realized as Vibrant [ r ], which is differentiated from the Flap [ ɾ ]. The alveolar nasal [ n ] is not in Scripture the dental nasal [ n ] distinguished, although these two phonemes in double contrast (see. പന്നി panni [ pʌn̪ːi ] "pig" and കന്നി kanni [ kʌnːi ] "first").

In contrast to the closely related Tamil, Sanskrit loanwords are not adapted to the Malayalam phonology either in spelling or pronunciation (at least by educated speakers). Since Sanskrit differentiates between voiceless, voiced, voiceless-aspirated and voiced-aspirated plosives, the consonant inventory of Malayalam is increased considerably by the phonemes adopted from Sanskrit.


  • Ampattu Paily Andrewskutty: Malayalam: an intensive course. Dravidian Linguistic Association, Trivandrum 1978.
  • Michail S. Andronov: A grammar of the Malayalam language in historical treatment. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1996.
  • Ronald E. Asher, TC Kumari: Malayalam. Routledge, London 1997.
  • Leonhard Johannes Frohnmeyer: A progressive grammar of the Malayalam language for Europeans. Basel Mission Book & Tract Depoitory, Mangalore 1889.
  • Christina Kamp, Jose Punnamparambil: Malayalam for Kerala word for word. Kauderwelsch speaking guide, Volume 178. Reise Know How Verlag, Bielefeld 2005.
  • Nagamangala Dasappa Krishnamurthy, Harihara Parameswaran, Uliyar Padmanabha Upadhyaya: Conversational Malayalam: a microwave approach. NDK Inst. Of Languages, Bangalore 2005.
  • Rodney F. Moag: Malayalam: a university course and reference grammar. Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI 1980.
  • I. Vi. En. Namputiri: A brief history of Malayalam language. International Center for Kerala Studies, Univ. of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram 2004.
  • B. Syamala Kumari: An intensive course in Malayalam. Central Inst. Of Indian Languages, Mysore 1981.

Web links

Commons : Malayalam language  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Malayalam  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Malayalam. Retrieved November 25, 2019 .
  2. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti: The Dravidian Languages . Cambridge 2003, p. 21.
  3. ^ Data on Language and Mother Tongue. Part A: Distribution of the 22 scheduled languages-India / States / Union Territories - 2011 census. (PDF) Census of India 2011