Malayalam (മലയാളം) is the native language of the Malayali ethnic group, and is an official language of the Indian state of Kerala. It belongs to the Dravidian language family, and is a member of the South Dravidian branch, which also contains major languages like Tamil and Kannada.
The writing system of Malayalam is the Malayalam script. Malayalam is one of many scripts derived from the ancient Brahmi system. It is an abugida, meaning that unlike alphabets such as Greek or Latin, is not written with complete vowels. The 36 consonants of Malayalam are written in full, and vowels are represented with the use of diacritics which modify the consonant letter. Another difference from the Greek and Latin alphabets is that Malayalam does not distinguish upper and lower case, but like those alphabets, it is written from left to right.
The oldest known inscription in the Malayalam language was written using the Vatteluttu script, an ancient script of Tamil. Later, adaptations of the Grantha script, which was originally used to write Sanskrit, also emerged in the region. The 16th-century poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan is credited with popularizing a Malayalam writing system that combined the local Sanskrit script and Vatteluttu script. This formed the basis for today’s Malayalam script.
Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan is not only celebrated for his contribution to the Malayalam writing system, but is also popularly considered the father of the modern Malayalam language itself. His writing style had a major influence on the way the language was standardized thereafter, and he produced important works in Malayalam literary history. This literary tradition was officially recognized in 2013, when Malayalam became designated as the fifth Classical Language of India.
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