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Languages of Kerala (Malayalam Language)


Malayalam is a member of the Dravidian family of languages. It provides ample evidence of the impact of various cultures on the people of Kerala.

Malayalam is probably the most sanskratised of all the languages. Though only around 10% of Sanskrit words are used in the spoken language, the written language contains more than 40% of them, including direct borrowals and derivatives.

Malayalam, the dominant language of the state, has three major dialects: southern, northern and central. The language has 54 alphabets. Literary works in Malayalam are believed to be in existence from the 13th century onwards.

The earlier forms of literature include a rich collection of folk songs and ballads. The literary works of that period were in 'Manipravalam', a mixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit languages. It is interesting to note that Tamil, the language spoken in the nearest state is supposed to be the least sanskratised among all Indian languages. Malayalam shows evidence of influence by Pali (Magadhi), the official language of Buddhism.

It also contains many Portuguese, Dutch, English, Arabic, Marathi and Persian loan words. In the 16th century, Thunchathu Ramanujam Ezhuthachan gave a distinct style to the language with his 'Adhyatma Ramayanam' and 'Mahabharatham', regional adaptations of the great Indian Epics.

He is considered to be the father of Malayalam language. The growth of Kathakali as an art form in the 17th century created another branch of literature known as 'Attakatha', the narrative based on which Kathakali is performed.

Unnai Warrier's 'Nalacharithum Attakatha' is considered a classic. Ramapurathu Warrier's 'Vanchippattu' (Boat songs) and Kunchan Nambiar's 'Thullalppattu' formed two other literary branches. The European colonisation gave a new dimension to the realm of literature.

The advent of printing promoted the concept of newspapers. Dr. Herman Gundert, a German missionary, compiled the first Malayalam-English lexicon and started the first Malayalam newspaper. The golden age of Malayalam poetry dawned in the early 20th century, the era of the trinity of Malayalam poets: Kumaranashan, Ulloor and Vallathol.

Apart from them, Changampuzha Krishna Pillai's romantic verses captured the hearts of Malayalees over the years. In the early seventies, K. Ayappa Panicker introduced modernist and post modernist strains to Malayalam poetry.

Even though the first Malayalam novel, 'Kundalatha' was published in 1887 AD, significant contributions to prose came about only in the 20th century. Ponkannam Varkey, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, P. Kesavadev and Vaikom Mohammad Basheer contributed to the prose literature. Kerala has also produced a number of other talented writers in all branches of literature.

Though relatively small in number, the women writers and poets such as Nalappat Balamaniamma, Kamala Das, Lalithambika Antharjanam and K.Saraswathiamma made significant literary contributions.

In 1945, the Sahitya Pravarthak Sahakarana Sangham (SPCS), the first ever cooperative society of litterateurs, was formed under the stewardship of Prof. M.P. Paul and Karoor Neelkantha Pillai.

The SPCS was instrumental in providing economic stability to the writers. Four writers from Kerala have bagged the Gnanpith Award, the highest literary award in India. The contribution of D.C.Kizhakkermuri, the doyen of Malayalam publishing, also deserves special mention.

Malayalam novels and stories are published in weeklies and magazines along with the sketches and caricatures. A Malayalam translation of any masterpiece of Indian or international literature is available either as books or magazine serials.
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