It’s a well-known joke among Malayalis that every person knows at least one of them. This is reference to the tendency of Malayalis to migrate to different locations all over the world and build a community steeped in their culture and practices. There are many reasons why you should learn Malayalam, least of all being that it is a fun and quirky language. It can also be very useful not just while traveling to South India, but also to do business throughout India, because of the aforementioned reason. In the context of business and economics, Kerala is undergoing an expansion of the service industry, making Malayalam a useful language to learn when doing business in India. Here are some facts about Malayalam and Kerala that could peak your interest in the state and culture.
- Where does the language come from?
Both ancient and new words present in the Malayalam language have their origins based on and/or borrowed from a variety of languages. Certain phrases and words present in the Malayalam vocabulary have been borrowed from languages such as Sanskrit, Portuguese and Tamil amongst others. Likewise, some languages have also borrowed their words from the Malayalam vocabulary such as Bahasa Malaysia, which is the Malay language.
- The origins of Malayalam
Malayalam, like Tamil and Sanskrit, is honoured as a classical language in India. The oldest written evidence of the Malayalam language is thought to be an inscription known as the ‘vazhappalli’ from 830 A.D. With its Dravidian origins, it is thought to be one of the oldest and its literature treated with great respect.
- The language is everywhere – literally
It may not be as surprising to know that Malayalam is also spoken in the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Puducherry as well as the islands of Lakshadweep, given the community’s tendency to migrate frequently. This is not limited to just India and sees more prominence in the situation of Malayalam speakers abroad. In adherence to this fact, there are certain universities in the USA and Canada that have taken to teaching the Malayalam language as a foreign language. Malayalam is definitely gaining reputation in this manner with many speakers around the globe.
- As is the nature, so is the name
This is a lesser known fact even among Malayalis, but the word Malayalam is a combination of two terms, meaning mountain (Mala) and place (Alam). It is a happy coincidence that Kerala has plenty of beautiful and scenic hill stations which offer an alternative cooler climate than the higher tropical temperatures at lower altitudes that sees a lot of tourists visiting the state.
- Fewer dialects
As compared to other states and their frequently spoken regional tongues, Malayalam is a language with fewer dialects than other Indian languages. Dialects usually arise due to social hierarchies. Each dialect is practiced in all three forms: reading, writing and speaking. At times, the slang phrases differ so drastically from each other that speakers of different dialects find it difficult to understand another person with another dialect.
- Less gender-specific
Gender in the Malayalam language is applicable only to distinguish human pronouns. All other non-human nouns are gender-neutral. In this manner as well, Malayalam differs from other languages with least importance given to differentiating on the basis of gender.
Malayalam is a language that is poetic in nature. The rhythmic manner of speaking the language in itself is soothing to listen. The natural smoothness of the language has allowed various writers and poets to take advantage and create beautiful works appreciating the medium and winning various awards on a state and national level. Translation of classic Malayalam songs, whether new or old, will show the presence of poetry in the lyrics and the depth of meaning in each word. Literature in the Malayalam language was rooted in poetry and songs as early as the 12th century. With the following centuries, it evolved into stories by incorporating Sanskrit into the mix as well. The resultant adventure has left many Malayalis proud of their literary heritage.
- Clean and Tidy
Kerala is one of the cleanest areas in India. This statement is supported by statistics, polls and surveys since a significant period. In a recent survey, Kerala and Sikkim were declared as the cleanest states in India. Kerala is also one of the states with a developed infrastructure consisting of essential facilities like banks and hospitals even in the most remote locations. Most governments in Kerala has focused on healthy and decentralized infrastructural development, in contrast to other states where the development is seen closer to the seats of power but depletes severely in further rural areas and in the countryside.
- Most literate state in India
Kerala has a literacy rate of 97.2% according to the most recent census. This is an achievement that most Malayalis are very proud of. Most locals can speak at least two languages whereas English to malayalam typing is understood by a sizeable proportion of the population across the state. The state and its residents strongly believe in the merits of a sound educational program and has the record of least discrimination when it comes to ensuring the benefits for both boys and girls. As a result, the women in the state have high education attainment levels and this sees a positive ripple effect across generations.
Other facts about the language include a popular one that Malayalam is the only language which is a palindrome. A palindrome is a term that spells the same regardless of whether you start from the right or left. Malayalam is also the 8th most spoken language in India with over 35 million speakers and a greater number of individuals who understand the language very well because of the presence of these speakers in most urban cities. The number of Malayalam language publications is among the highest digits – Kerala prints close to 1000 daily newspapers, weekly magazines, and monthly periodicals.
Both the language and the speakers are traditionally known to be warm and welcoming – so if you do get a chance to learn the language, take it!