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Malayalam (English pronunciation: malayāḷam ?, Malayalam pronunciation is a language spoken in India, predominantly in the state of Kerala. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India. Malayalam has official language status in the state of Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry. It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages, and is spoken approximately by 33 million people according to the 2001 census. Malayalam is also spoken in the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; with more populace in the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari and Coimbatore districts of Tamil Nadu, and the Dakshina Kannada, Mangalore and Kodagu districts of Karnataka.
Malayalam most likely originated from Middle Tamil (Sen-Tamil-Malayalam) in the 6th century.An alternative theory proposes a split in even more ancient times.Malayalam incorporated many elements from Sanskrit through the ages and today over eighty percent of the vocabulary of Malayalam in scholarly usage is from Sanskrit. Before Malayalam came into being, Old Tamil was used in literature and courts of a region called Tamilakam, including present day Kerala state, a famous example being Silappatikaram. Silappatikaram was written by Chera prince Ilango Adigal from Cochin, and is considered a classic in Sangam literature. Modern Malayalam still preserves many words from the ancient Tamil vocabulary of Sangam literature. The earliest script used to write Malayalam was the Vatteluttu script, and later the Kolezhuttu, which derived from it. As Malayalam began to freely borrow words as well as the rules of grammar from Sanskrit, Grantha script was adopted for writing and came to be known as Arya Ezhuttu. This developed into the modern Malayalam script. Many medieval liturgical texts were written in an admixture of Sanskrit and early Malayalam, called Manipravalam.The oldest literary work in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated from between the 9th and 11th centuries The first travelogue in any Indian language is in Malayalam, titled as Varthamanapusthakam written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar in 1785.
Due to its lineage deriving from both Sanskrit and Tamil, the Malayalam alphabet has the largest number of letters among the Indian languages. Malayalam script includes letters capable of representing all the sounds of Sanskrit and all Dravidian languages.
The word Malayalam probably originated from the Malayalam/Tamil words mala meaning hill, and elam meaning region. Malayalam thus translates as "hill region" and used to refer to the land itself (Chera Kingdom), and only later became the name of the language. The language Malayalam is alternatively called Alealum, Malayalani, Malayali, Malean, Maliyad, and Mallealle.
The word Malayalam originally meant only for the name of the region. "Malayanma" or "Malayayma" (meaning the language of the nation Malayalam) represented the language. With the emergence of modern Malayalam language, the name of the language started to be known by the name of the region. Hence now, the word "Malayanma" is considered by some to represent the olden Malayalam language. The language got the name Malayalam during the mid 19th century.
The origin of Malayalam, whether it was from a dialect of Tamil or an independent offshoot of the Proto Dravidian language, has been and continues to be an engaging pursuit among comparative historical linguists.Robert Caldwell, in his book A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Languages opines that Malayalam branched from Classical Tamil that over time gained a large amount of Sanskrit vocabulary and lost the personal terminations of verbs. Either way, it is generally agreed that by the end of 13th century a written form of the language emerged which was definitely different from Tamil.