Malayalam is the language spoken predominantly in the state of Kerala, in southern India. It is one of the 23 official languages of India, spoken by around 37 million people. A native speaker of Malayalam is called a 'Malayali'. Malayalam is also spoken in Lakshadweep, Mahé (Mayyazhi), Kodagu (Coorg) and areas of Tamil Nadu bordering Kerala. Malayalam is also spoken by some Indian minorities in Malaysia and Singapore.
The language belongs to the family of Dravidian languages. The language is closely related to Tamil. However, Malayalam has a script of its own, covering all alphabets of Sanskrit as well as special Dravidian letters.
The earliest written record of Malayalam is the Vazhappalli inscription (ca. 830 AD). The early literature of Malayalam comprised three types of composition:
With Tamil, Toda, Kota and Kannada, Malayalam belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages. Its affinity to Tamil is most striking. Proto-Tamil Malayalam, the common stock of Tamil and Malayalam apparently diverged over a period of four or 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 irresistible inroads the Namboothiris made into the cultural life of Kerala, the trade relationships with Arabs, and the invasion of Kerala by the Portuguese, establishing vassal states accelerated the assimilation of many Romance, Semitic and Indo-Aryan features into Malayalam at different levels spoken by different castes and religious communities like Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus.
In his Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages (1875), Bishop Robert Caldwell argued that Malayalam evolved out of Tamil and that the process took place during the Sangam period (first five centuries A.D.) when Kerala belonged to the larger political unit called Tamilakam, the apogee of Dravidian civilization.
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