earliest written record of Malayalam is the Vazhappally inscription
(ca. 830 AD). Malayalam prose of different periods exibit degree
of influence of different languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrits,
Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Arabi, Persian, Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch,
French and English. Modern literature is rich in poetry, fiction,
drama, biography, and literary criticism. In the early thirteenth
century /vattezhuthu/ (round writing) traceable to the pan-Indian
brahmi script, gave rise to the Malayalam writing system, which
is syllabic in the sense that the sequence of graphic elements
means that syllables have to be read as units, though in this
system the elements representing individual vowels and consonants
are for the most part readily identifiable.
In the 1960s Malayalam dispensed off many special letters representing
less frequent conjunct consonants and combinations of the vowel
with different consonants. Malayalam now consists of 53 letters
including 20 long and short vowels and the rest consonants. The
earlier style of writing is now substituted with a new style from
1981. This new script reduces the different letters for typeset
from 900 to less than 90. This was mainly done to include Malayalam
in the keyboards of typewriters and computers.
in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical
and phonological elements are observable along the parameters
of region, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register.
Influence of Sanskrit is most prominent in the Brahimin dialects
and least in the Harijan dialects. Loaned words from English,
Syrian, Latin, and Portuguese abound in the Christian dialects
and those from Arabic and Urdu in the Muslim dialects. Malayalam
has borrowed from Sanskrit thousands of nouns and hundreds of
verbs. Some items of basic vocabulary (eg. mukhum - face, nakham
- nail, bharya - wife, bharthavu - husband) also have found their
way into Malayalam from Sanskrit.
English stands only second to Sanskrit in its influence in Malayalam.
Hundreds of individual lexical items and many idiomatic expressions
in modern Malayalam are of English origin. As the language of
administration and as the medium of instruction in schools and
colleges, Malayalam is coming into its own. A scientific register
in the language is slowly evolving. Remarkably liberal in their
attitudes, Malayalis have always welcomed other languages to co-exist
with their own and the interaction of these with Malayalam has
helped its development in different respects.