Malayalam (മലയാളം) is an Indian language belonging to the Dravidian language family spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé district) by the Malayali people. It is one of 22 scheduled languages of India spoken by nearly 2.88% of Indians. Malayalam has official language status in the state of Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé) and is spoken by 34 million people worldwide. Malayalam is also spoken by linguistic minorities in the neighbouring states; with significant number of speakers in the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari, and Coimbatore, Tenkasi, Theni districts of Tamil Nadu and Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Due to Malayali expatriates in the Persian Gulf, the language is also widely spoken in the Gulf countries.
- The name 'Malayalam' has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest name of a language which is a palindrome.
The word Malayalam originated from the words mala, meaning "mountain", and alam, meaning "region" or "-ship" (as in "township"); Malayalam thus translates directly as "the mountain region." The term originally referred to the land of the Chera dynasty, and only later became the name of its language. The language Malayalam is alternatively called Alealum, Malayalani, Malayali, Malean, Maliyad, and Mallealle.
The earliest extant literary works in the regional language of present-day Kerala probably date back to as early as the 12th century. However, the named identity of this language appears to have come into existence only around the 16th century, when it was known as "Malayayma" or "Malayanma"; the words were also used to refer to the script and the region. The word "Malayalam" was coined in the later period, and the local people referred to their language as both "Tamil" and "Malayalam" until the colonial period.
Variations in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical and phonological elements are observable along the parameters of region, religion, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register.
Dialects of Malayalam are distinguishable at regional and social levels, including occupational and also communal differences. The salient features of many varieties of tribal speech (e.g., the speech of Muthuvans, Malayarayas, Malai Ulladas, Kanikkars, Kadars, Paliyars, Kurumas, and Vedas) and those of the various dialects Namboothiris,Nairs,Ezhavas,Syrian Christians (Nasrani),Muslims,fishermen and many of the occupational terms common to different sections of Malayalees have been identified.
- According to the Dravidian Encyclopedia, the regional dialects of Malayalam can be divided into thirteen dialect areas. They are as follows:
|South Travancore||South Malabar||North Western Palghat||West Vempanad||Kochi-Thrissur|
|Central Travancore||Central Malabar||South Eastern Palghat||Wayanad||Lakshadweep|
|North Travancore||North Malabar||Kasaragod|