Malayalam is the principal language of Kerala. It is a combination of two words, "mala" (meaning mountain) and "alam" (meaning the land). Although Malayalam belongs to the Dravidian family of languages, along with Tamil, Kota, Kodagu, and Kannada, it is believed that it provides more than sufficient evidence to the impact of various cultures on the people of Kerala. However, considerable difference of opinion still prevails about the exact nature of its relationship with other languages of the Dravidian stock. Nonetheless, lack of personal ending on verbs makes Malayalam a little different from other Dravidian languages. Being one of the 22 official languages of India, Malayalam is spoken by more than 35.9 million people. As such, any Keralite, whose mother tongue is Malayalam, is known as a Malayali. Besides Kerala, Malayalam is also spoken in Mahe, Lakshadweep, South Canara, and Kodagu. Overseas, it is used by a number of expatriates residing in the Middle East, North America, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and Europe.
Malayalam has 53 alphabets - 37 consonants and 16 vowels in the script. It contains many Portuguese, Dutch, English, Arabic, Marathi, Sanskrit, and Persian words. The language is highly influenced from Tamil, Sanskrit, and Pali. It is referred by several other names, like Alealum, Malayalani, Malayali, Malean, Maliyad, Mallealle, and Mopla. There are five main regional dialects of Malayalam and a number of communal dialects. It is believed that Malayalam is the most sanskritised language of all and contains about 40% Sanskrit words in the written language, in the form of both directly borrowed words and derivatives, although only 10% of them are used in spoken Malayalam. Besides Malayalam, several other languages are spoken by a considerable number of people in Kerala, such as Tamil, Tulu, Kannada, Hindi, English, and various tribal languages.
Dating back to as early as the 10th century, Malayalam has its origin from a dialect of ancient Tamil, absorbing Sanskrit vocabulary over time. Eventually, until the end of the 13th century, a written form of Malayalam emerged which was quit different from Tamil. Ramacharitam is considered to be the earliest poem penned in Malayalam, dating back to the 12th century, which was completed even before the introduction of Sanskrit alphabets. Over the centuries, the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata were translated in Malayalam by the father of modern Malayalam language, Ezhuthachan, which are still read by the Malayalis with religious importance. The Malayalam language is divided into three compositions, namely, classical songs known as Naadan Paattu, Manipravalam of the Sanskrit tradition, and the folk song enriched with native elements.