Malayalam script (Malayalam Aksharamala) is a Brahmic script that is commonly used to write Malayalam, which is the primary language of Kerala, India, and is spoken by 45 million people worldwide. It is a Dravidian language spoken by the Malayali people in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry. Malayalam script is also widely used in Kerala for writing Sanskrit texts.
The Edakal-5 inscription, written in the Vatteluttu alphabet and dating from the late fourth or early fifth century AD, is the oldest known writing in Malayalam.
In the 8th or 9th century, a version of the Grantha alphabet, originally used in the Chola kingdom, was brought to the southwest of India and adapted to write the Malayalam and Tulu languages. A systemised Malayalam alphabet is thought to have emerged by the early 13th century. The alphabet underwent some changes over the centuries, and by the middle of the nineteenth century, it had reached its current form.
The Malayalam alphabets are remarkably similar to the Tigalari script, which was used to write the Tulu language, which is spoken in coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts) and Kerala’s northernmost Kasargod district. It is an alphasyllabary (abugida), like many other Indic scripts, a writing system that is partially “alphabetic” and partially syllable-based. There are 15 vowel letters, 42 consonant letters, and a few other symbols in the modern Malayalam alphabet. The Malayalam script is a Vatteluttu alphabet that has been supplemented with Grantha alphabet symbols to represent Indo-Aryan loanwords. Several minority languages, including Paniya, Betta Kurumba, and Ravula, use the script. Historically, the Malayalam language was written in a variety of scripts.
Because printing Malayalam was difficult, a simplified or reformed version of the script was introduced during the 1970s and 1980s. The main difference was that consonants and diacritics were written separately rather than as complex characters. Because these changes are not applied consistently, modern script is frequently a mix of traditional and simplified letters.
Muslims in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Muslims in Kerala, regularly write Malayalam with a version of the Arabic script. Christians in Kerala used to write Malayalam in Syriac script and use a variant known as Suriyani Malayalam in their liturgy.