Malayalam

Malayalam

[mal-uh-yah-luhm]
Malayalam, Dravidian language of India. See Dravidian languages.
Judeo-Malayalam is the traditional language of the Cochin Jews (also called Malabar Jews), from Kerala, in southern India, spoken today by about 8,000 people in Israel and by probably fewer than 100 in India.

Judeo-Malayalam is the only known Dravidian Jewish language. (The only other Dravidian language spoken regularly by a Jewish community is Telugu, spoken by the small, and only very newly observant Jewish community of east-central Andhra Pradesh. See related article: Telugu Jews.)

Because it does not differ substantially in grammar or syntax from normative Malayalam, it is not considered by many linguists to be a language in its own right, but either a dialect, or simply the same language written using a different orthography. This view is sufficiently prevalent that there is no separate designation for the language (if it can be so considered), for it to have its own language code (see also SIL and ISO 639).

Unlike most Jewish languages, Judeo-Malayalam is not written using the Hebrew alphabet. It does, however, like most Jewish languages, contain a large number of Hebrew loanwords, which are regularly transliterated, as much as possible, using the Malayalam script. Like many other Jewish languages, Judeo-Malayalam also contains a number of lexical, phonological and syntactic archaisms, in this case, from the days before Malayalam became fully distinguished from Tamil.

In addition to the substrata of Tamil, Malayalam and Hebrew, are other linguistic influences from later immigrants to the community, who brought their own Jewish languages with them, including Ladino. As with the parent language, Judeo-Malayalam also reflects substantial influence from Sanskrit, as a result of its extensive exposure to the surrounding predominant Hindu culture.

Because the vast majority of scholarship regarding the Cochin Jews has concentrated on the Paradesi Jews (sometimes also called White Jews), who are relative latecomers to Kerala, the study of the status and role of Judeo-Malayalam has suffered a great deal of neglect. As a result of their singular identity in Israel, Cochin Jewish immigrants have taken pride in participating in something of a renaissance for Judeo-Malayalam. That notwithstanding, a thorough study of the language remains to be conducted.

References

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