A Look at the Malayalam Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Malayalam language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Dravidian
Southern
Tamil-Kannada
Tamil-Kodagu
Tamil-Malayalam
Malayalam

Malayalam, a Dravidian language of India, was has been cited as the hardest language of all to learn by an language foundation, but the citation is obscure and hard to verify.

Malayalam words are often even hard to look up in a Malayalam dictionary.

For instance, adiyAnkaLAkkikkoNDirikkukayumANello is a word in Malayalam. It means something like “I, your servant, am sitting and mixing something (which is why I cannot do what you are asking of me).” The part in parentheses is an example of the type of sentence where it might be used.

The above word is composed of many different morphemes, including conjunctions and other affixes, with sandhi going on with some of them so they are eroded away from their basic forms. There doesn’t seem to be any way to look that word up or to write a Malayalam dictionary that lists all the possible forms, including forms like the word above. It would probably be way too huge of a book. However, all agglutinative languages are made up of affixes, and if you know the affixes, it is not particularly hard to parse the word apart.

Malayalam is said to be very hard to pronounce correctly.

Further, few foreigners even try to learn Malayalam, so Malayalam speakers, like the French, might not listen to you and might make fun of you if your Malayalam is not native sounding.

However, Malayalam has the advantage of having many pedagogic materials available for language learning such as audio-visual material and subtitled videos.

Malayalam is rated 5, extremely difficult.

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15 Comments

Filed under Applied, Dravidian, India, Language Learning, Linguistics, Malayalam, Regional, South Asia

15 responses to “A Look at the Malayalam Language

  1. shan94

    Malayalam is Tamil of Chera districts, blended with Sanskrit , about 1000 years ago

  2. I pride myself on being good with languages. I once practiced the phrase “How much are the strawberries with whipped cream?” in Danish for an entire afternoon. When I asked for this delicacy in Danish, I got them.

    After serving them, the waitress began asking me something in Danish. Since the strawberry phrase was all I knew, I began speaking in English. The waitress did not respond in English. When I said in English that she had heard all the Danish I knew, she smiled and continued speaking Danish. I share this experience to set the stage for my experiences in Kerala, where Malayalam is spoken.

    I married a girl from Kerala and looked forward to getting into her language. I gave up. I quit because of the frustration of asking for translations of Malayalam. Even Malayalees with good English have difficulty translating it.

    After 23 years of hearing most any language, I would have been fluent. With Malayalam, I know a few words and phrases. I am constantly teased when I attempt to pronounce words correctly, due in part because Malayalam sounds like a tin can filled with rocks dragged over a cobblestone street.

    One interesting part of the language is what the native speakers chose to refine. Just like English has lots of technical words, a vocabulary that doesn’t just say “tail” for the end of an airplane, but empennage, vertical stabilizer, horizontal trim tab, etc., Malayalam has multiple words for love.

    Not three like Greek — philos, eros, and agape — but different words for a father’s love for his daughter, a different word for a father’s love for his son; so too for the mother, and more words for husband and wife’s love for each other. The vocabulary for love in Malayalam is reminiscent of English aeronautical vocabulary.

    Perhaps this robust love vocabulary is a function of the fact that in some parts of Kerala, women until the late 1800’s had multiple husbands and some lovers. This behavior was acceptable and also explains why it is the custom in some parts of Kerala for the daughters to inherit the property.

    Jim Stevenson

    • Great comment Jim! Really enjoyed it.

    • Optimus Prime

      The funny part is even other Dravidian slike Tamils kannadigas and Telugu people find malayalam extremely difficult to speak . granted.tamils can understand the language given the fact that Tamil is the rootfor malayalam.but even they find it difficult to master the language. On thecontrary, mallus seem to pick up most other languages so easily. One can fare well in highly difficult tongue twister exercise than trying to master malayalam.

      • Negroess Negroess

        May You Learn to to write English without multiple errors.

        • Negroess Negroess

          I mean

          May you learn to write English without multiple errors. See errors corrected.

        • Optimus Prime

          Negroess Negroess,
          sunniya surukkittu kalambu modhalla. Idhu enna unnoda pudhu pera troll koodhiyan. Ommala ne enna peritya english pudungiya. sootha moodiittu poi zulu lesbian companyla velakku pudi baadu

        • Optimus Prime

          Negroess Negroess,
          sunniya surukkittu kalambu modhalla. Idhu enna unnoda pudhu pera troll koodhiyan. Vera vela illa unakku??? Ommala ne enna peritya english pudungiya. sootha moodiittu poi zulu lesbian companyla velakku pudi baadu

      • I do not think Tamils can truly understand Malayalam. After all, they split 1,000 years ago. That would be like me listening to Old English. There is a recording of Beowulf in Old English on Youtube. That is English 1,100 years ago. I cannot understand one single word of that.

        • Optimus Prime

          Depends on the area they live, those who live in the borders of Tamil Nadu seem to understand Malayalam better than the ones who live in urban areas. I have watched many malayalam movies, Since im familiar with tamil, I didn’t find it too difficult to understand except for couple of words. I am sure most of the tamilians find it that way. But for some strange reasons. Most of the mallus seem to get other languages quickly.

        • Punjabi Sardar

          Not really Suraseni language split into Punjabi, Braj, Dogri etc millenia ago. Still mutually intelligible all along Indo Gangetic plain.

          English had cultural & tribal change since that time.

          We have been Sons of Ikshvaaku, were sons of Ikshvaaku & will remain the sons of Ksytranis & Ksytrias.

  3. Robert, in your opening post, you write:

    “Malayalam, a Dravidian language of India:”

    I appreciate your interest in the Dravidian languages. However, Malayalam is not a “language of India”. It is a language of Kerala, which is a part of Dravida Nadu. Not “India”.

    The only legitimate, representative nation of the Dravidians is Dravida Nadu. Not “India”. “India” is an artificial state that is currently illegally occupying Dravidian territory. You would not call Persian an Arabic language, or Tibetan a Chinese language. That would give legitimacy and credence to imperialists. Likewise, saying that Malayalam is an “Indian” language is acknowledging the claims of “Indian”/Hindu Nationalists who have absolutely no right or claim to the cultural heritage of the Dravidians.

    • Suresh Pillai

      @Dravidian,

      Shut your fucking trap. You are wrong. I am from Kerala, and Malayalam is my first language. We are Indians and not “Dravidians”. There never was or is such a thing as a “Dravidian race”. We are
      only Indians. Genetic studies show that Indians from North to South are one race, namely ANI/ASI combination.

      South Indians never called themselves “Dravidians” nor did anyone know of any “Dravida Nadu”. It’s bullshit.

      The term “Dravidian” is used only for languages spoken in the southern part of India. In Sanskrit, “Dravid” just means “southern”. It doesn’t refer to any such race of people.

      The culture of the South is heavily Sanskritic and Hindu based as well as the fact that all South Indian languages have a heavy Sanskrit component in their vocabulary. Malayalam has some 60% Sanskrit vocabulary, Kannada has around 70 percent, likewise Telegu has around 75% to 80 % Sanskrit words.
      South Indians are very much part of the pan-Indian civilization
      nation of India. Malayalam is very much an Indian language.

      • Punjabi Sardar

        Exactly Dravidas come from Rishi Agastya. With everything else Vedas said like Aryas migrating to Uttarpatha being shown to be true, accept this as well.

        South even had Naagvanshi Ksytrias as kings, they died out fighting khiljis.

        That dravidian has probably converted to christianity, who cares. Bharat is our mother, let them try to displace us anywhere from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

        Bharat Mata Ki Jai

  4. Koluvan

    I was just casually browsing for literature and your blog got thrown up in a Google Scholar search (surprisingly). It was a fun read and I really appreciate your wide mastery of the languages.
    As a native Malayalam speaker, I can cross-verify many of the things you write. Amongst Malayalam speakers, it is generally known that the only people in India who can speak Malayalam, is Malayalees. People from outside may understand but can rarely speak it or use its agglutinative words whose meanings are also loaded culturally, to make it doubly complicated. As a result, one might safely say that it is among the toughest languages to learn in India.
    One argument tracing Dravidian languages to S.India finds it origins concentrated in the cave writings on the border forests of Kerala-Tamil Nadu-Karnataka. The other argument traces it to the agglutinative Elamite languages of S.Iran. Of course, the separation is also the root cause of the Indo-Aryan-Dravidian divide in the country, whose bad blood seems to spill over everywhere, including your blog’s comments section.
    Modern Malayalam has had the advantage of being repeatedly consolidated and also structured systematically – and hence it may be picked up easily for reading purposes. Speaking it is an altogether different ball game though.
    All the Best for your research and explorations.

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