Technical Terminology

[ Dialects ] [ Kinship terms ]

        Problems raised by the dearth of technical and special symbols and conventions characteristic of literature on different disciplines are handled by the writers of scientific literature in Malayalam in a remarkably liberal manner.  Borrowals involving adaptations of different types, generally from English and commonly employing word-forming devices adopted from Sanskrit, appear in large numbers in technical writings in Malayalam.  Puristic arguments against some neologisms are occasionally  put  forward by professional pandits but are mostly ignored by the general public who are primarily interested only in the communicative function of the language.

         Dialects of Malayalam are distinguishable at the regional and social parameters including occupational and also communal differences. The salient features of many varieties of tribal speech (e.g. Speeches of Muthuvans, Malayarayas, Malai Ulladas, Kanikkars, Kadars, Paliyars, Kurumas, Vedas) and those of the various dialects of Harijans, Brahmins, Nairs, Ehavas, Christians, Muslims, Fishermen and of the occupational terms common among different sections of Malayalees have been identified.

       It may be noted at this point that the labels such as ‘Brahmin Dialect’ and ‘Harijan Dialect’ refer to overall patterns constituted by the sub-dialects spoken by the subcastes or sub-groups of each such caste.  The most outstanding features of the major communal dialects of Malayalam are summarized below:

     Lexical items with phonological features reminiscent of Sanskrit (e.g.madayan, viddhi  both meaning  ‘fool’,   bhosku  ‘lie', musku ' impudence', dustu 'impurity' , eebhyan, sumbhan   both meaning ‘good for nothing fellow’) abound in this dialiect.

      The dialect of the educated  stratum among the Nairs resembles the Brahmin dialect in many respects.  The amount of Sanskrit influence, however, is found to be steadily decreasing as one descends along the parameter of education.

         One of the striking features differentiating the Nair dialect form the Ezhava dialect is the phonetic quality of the word-final; enunciative vowel unusually transcribed as ' U '.  In the Nair dialect it is a mid central unrounded vowel whereas in the Ezhava dialect it is often heard as a lower high back unrounded vowel.

       The Harijan dialect comprises overall features of many sub-dialects such as the Pulaya  dialect and the Paraya dialect. It is devoid of   'S, Y' and aspiration.  Non-availability of complex consonant clusters is another  characteristic feature of the Harijan dialiect.  Pronominal terminations appended to finite verbal forms are preserved by certain varieties of Harijan speech.

         The Christian dialect of Malayalam is quite close to the Nair dialect, especially in phonology. The speech of the educated section among Christians and that of those who are close to the church are peculiar in having a number of assimilated as well as unassimilated loan words from English, Syriac, Latin and Portuguese.  The few loan words which have found their way into the Christian dialect are assimilated in many cases through the process of de-aspiration.

       The Muslim dialect shows maximum divergence from  the literary Standard Dialect of Malayalam.  It is very much influenced by Arabic and Urdu rather than by Sanskrit or by English.  The retroflex continuant 'ZHA' of the Literary Dialect is realized in the Muslim dialect as the palatal 'YA'.

         As regards  the geographical dialects of Malayalam, surveys conducted so far by the Department of Linguistics, University of Kerala restricted the focus of attention during a given study on one specific caste so as to avoid mixing up of more than one variable such as communal and geographical factors.   Thus for examples, the survey of the Ezhava dialect of  Malayalam,  results of which have been published by the Department in 1974, has brought to light the existence of twelve major dialect areas for Malayalam, although the isoglosses are found to criss cross in many instances.  They are following:  

1.  South Travancore   7.  South Eastern Palghat
2.  Central Travancore 8.  North Western
3.   North Travancore   9.  Central Malabar
4.  West Vempanad


5.   Cochin       11. North Malabar
6. South Malabar  12. The peak Dialect


Sub-dialect regions, which could be marked off, were found to be thirty.  This number is reported to tally approximately with the number of principalities that existed during the pre-British period in Kerala.  In a few instances at least, as in the case of Venad, Karappuram, Nileswaram and Kumbala , the known boundaries of old principalities are found to coincide with those of certain dialects or sub-dialects that retain their individuality even today.  This seems to reveal the significance of political divisions in Kerala in bringing about dialect difference.

             Divergence among dialects of Malayalam embrace almost all aspects of language such as phonetics, phonology, grammar and  vocabulary.   Differences between any two given dialects can be quantified in terms of the presence or absence of specific units at each level of the language.  To cite a single example of language variation along the geographical parameter, it may be noted that there are as many as seventy seven different expressions employed by the Ezhavas and spread over various geographical points just to refer to a single item, namely, the flower bunch of coconut. kola   is the expression attested in most of the panchayats in the Palghat, Ernakulam and Trivandrum districts of  Kerala, whereas /kolachil occurs most predominantly in Kannur and Kochi and klannil   in Alappuzha and Kollam.  kozhinnul  and  kulannilu are the forms most common in Trichur and Kottayam respectively. In addition to these forms most widely spread among the areas specified above, there are dozens of other forms such as kotumpu (Kollam and Trivandrum), katirpu (Kottayam), pattachi, krali, gnannil (Kollam), pochata (Palghat) etc. referring to the same item.


                  Kinship terms constitute different systems characteristic of various castes in Kerala.  Thus  for example
achhan ‘father’ with heavy aspiration is typical in the Brahmin and the Kshatriya dialects while achhan with  slight or no aspiration is common in Nair, Ezhava  and Harijan dialects.appan and bappa are characteristic of the Christian and the Muslim dialects respectively.  The Christian dialect has ammachi to refer to ‘mother’ whereas the Muslim dialect has umma while almost all the other dialects have ammaachayan and  kakka meaning ‘elder brother’ are common in the Christian and the Muslim dialects respectively, while most other dialects have jesthan (confined to the Brahmin dialect only and typically with aspiration) or chettan.


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