Introduction to Malayalam

Malayalam language is the principal language of the Indian state of Kerala, spoken by 35 million people in the world. The modern Malayalam alphabet has 15 vowel letters, 36 consonant letters, and a few other symbols.

The basic characters can be classified as follows:
  • Vowels
  • 1. Independent vowel letters
    2. Dependent vowel signs
  • Consonant Letters

An independent vowel letter is used as the first letter of a word that begins with a vowel. A consonant letter, despite its name, does not represent a pure consonant, but represents a consonant plus a vowel sign by default. For example, the first consonant letter (Ka) of the Malayalam alphabet, which represents /ka/, not a simple /k/. The vowel sign (/a/) that follows the consonant by default is called inherent vowel. To denote a pure consonant sound not followed by a vowel, a special vowel sign called virama is used to cancel the inherent vowel.

Malayalam alphabet is unicase, or does not have a case distinction. It is written from left to right, but certain vowel signs are attached to the left (the opposite direction) of a consonant letter that it logically follows. In the word Kēraḷam, the vowel sign (ē) visually appears in the leftmost position, though the vowel ē logically follows the consonant k.

The vowel signs ā, i, ī , u, ū, r̥ are placed to the right of a consonant letter to which it is attached. The vowel signs e, ē, ai are placed to the left of a consonant letter. The vowel signs o and ō consist of two parts: the first part goes to the left of a consonant letter and the second part goes to the right of it.

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