The native language of the South Indian state of Kerala and the Lakshadweep Islands in the west coast of India, Malayalam is spoken by 4% of India's population. The language ranks eighth among the 15 major languages of India, in terms of speakers. It belongs to the southern group of Dravidian languages along with Tamil, Kota, Kannada and Kodagu. Its likeness to Tamil is so striking, that it almost sounds like a variation of the language. Proto-Tamil Malayalam is the parent language in which Malayalam and Tamil have their roots. It is the language from which both languages split to become two distinct languages, over a period of four or five hundred years. Tamil therefore, was a huge influence in the early development of Malayalam, till Indo-Aryan influences became evident at later stages.
Malayalam vocabulary is replete with borrowings from other languages - beginning with Sanskrit and Tamil. The language was further enriched by the arrival of the Europeans. Malayalam absorbed several words and idioms from English, Portuguese and Dutch and even managed to contribute words to other languages. Coir, Catamaran and Copra are all examples of words that have been loaned to English, by Malayalam.
The Malayalam script is known as Kolezhuthu and is derived from the ancient Grandha script. The oldest written record of Malayalam is the Vazhappalli inscription from circa 830 A.D. Malayalam as a language consists of 37 consonants and 16 vowels, but a new script was introduced in 1981 to make typewriting possible in Malayalam. This new script radically eliminated the number of characters in the alphabet. Malayalam also has numerals of its own, but it's as good as extinct in today's world.
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