How close is Malayalam to Sanskrit


Malayalam (മലയാളം malayāḷaṁ) is a language from the Dravidian language family. It is spoken by 33 million people, mainly in the state of Kerala on the southwest coast of India, and is closely related to Tamil.

Relationship between languages ​​and history

Malayalam belongs to the family of the Dravidian languages, which are mainly spoken in South India. Along with Tamil, Telugu 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. The Vazhappalli inscription from the 9th century is considered the oldest language testimony of Malayalam. The oldest literary work is that Ramacharitam from the 12th century. The first Malayalam grammar that Lilatilakam was written in Sanskrit in the 14th century. Unlike the closely related 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.

The name Malayalam derives from the words malai "Mountain" and āḷ "Man" or āḻam "Deep, ocean" and therefore means either "mountain dwellers" or "land between mountains and ocean".[1] In fact, the Malayalam-speaking area in Kerala stretches between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. A Malayalam spokesman is called "Malayali".

Geographical distribution

Spread of the Malayalam

Malayalam has around 33 million native speakers, according to the 2001 Indian census.[2] The distribution area of ​​the language includes the state of Kerala and the archipelagos of the Laccadives and Amindives in the Arabian Sea. In addition, Malayalam is common in the adjacent areas of the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu (Kanyakumari district). 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, the Lakshadweep Union Territory and in the Mahé enclave belonging to Puducherry. It is also recognized as one of the 22 national languages ​​of India on a supraregional level.


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. And a common functional principle: They are an intermediate form of the alphabet and syllabary, so-called Abugidas, in which each consonant sign has an inherent vowela which can be modified with diacritical marks. The Malayalam script developed in the 8th century via the Grantha script from a South Indian Brahmi variant.


In the phonology of Malayalam, a distinction must be made between the indigenous 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 have a large number of allophones, i. H. 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 quite 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 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 differentiated in the script from the dental nasal [n̪], although these two phonemes contrast in duplication (cf. പന്നി panni [ˈPʌn̪ːi] "pig" and കന്നി kanni [ˈKʌnːi] "first").

In contrast to the closely related Tamil, Sanskrit loanwords are not adapted to the Malayalam phonology, neither in spelling nor in 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. Trivandrum: Dravidian Linguistic Association, 1978.
  • Mikhail S. Andronov: A grammar of the Malayalam language in historical treatment. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1996.
  • Ronald E. Asher, T. C. Kumari: Malayalam. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Leonhard Johannes Frohnmeyer: A progressive grammar of the Malayalam language for Europeans. Mangalore: Basel Mission Book & Tract Depoitory, 1889.
  • Christina Kamp, Jose Punnamparambil: Malayalam for Kerala word for word. Kauderwelsch spokesman Vol. 178, Bielefeld: Reise Know How Verlag, 2005.
  • Nagamangala Dasappa Krishnamurthy, Harihara Parameswaran, Uliyar Padmanabha Upadhyaya: Conversational Malayalam: a microwave approach. Bangalore: N.D.K. Inst. Of Languages, 2005.
  • Rodney F. Moag: Malayalam: a university course and reference grammar. Ann Arbor, Mich .: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, Univ. of Michigan, 1980.
  • I. Vi. En. Namputiri: A brief history of Malayalam language. Thiruvananthapuram: International Center for Kerala Studies, Univ. of Kerala, 2004.
  • B. Syamala Kumari: An intensive course in Malayalam. Mysore: Central Inst. Of Indian Languages, 1981.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ Bhadriraju Krishnamurti: The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge 2003, p. 21.
  2. ↑ Indian census 2001