A member of the southern group of the Dravidian language family, Malayalam is the native language of south west India. While primarily spoken in the Kerala state, it is also used in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and by Malayalam communities in Bahrain, Fiji, Israel, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore, UAE, and the United Kingdom.
Spoken by nearly 38 million people (2007), Malayalam is the official language of Kerala and the regions of Lakshadweep and Puducherry. In addition, Malayalam is one of 22 scheduled languages of India, and in 2013 was voted a Classical Language of India.
Malayalam developed from both Tamil and Sanskrit, and emerged as a separate language at the close of the 13th century. Prior to this, Old Tamil was used for literary works and the law. As a result, Malayalam still retains many terms from early Tamil vocabulary and in excess of 80% of scholarly Malayalam is from Sanskrit. In addition, the Malayalam alphabet has the largest number of characters of all the Indian languages.
Christian missionaries initiated a change in the writing style of Malayalam by assembling dictionaries and converting the Bible into less complex text. This released Malayalam from the strict Sanskrit rules regarding writing, allowing for increased flexibility in the language and making it suitable for an everyday vernacular. Although Sanskrit features prominently in academic Malayalam, the level of Sanskrit found in the Malayalam language decreases in direct relation to the level of education.
Malayalam boasts many different dialects, and each of the thirteen local dialect areas are further divided into sub-dialects dependent on district, social level, profession, and political ideals. Each dialect and sub-dialect is uniquely influenced by various other languages, and each have different loan words to distinct to one another.
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