Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 12 : 11 November 2012
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.
         S. M. Ravichandran, Ph.D.
         G. Baskaran, Ph.D.
         L. Ramamoorthy, Ph.D.
Assistant Managing Editor: Swarna Thirumalai, M.A.


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Ravi Sankar S Nair, Ph.D.


The grammatical tradition in Malayalam, compared to the three other major Dravidian languages, is neither extensive nor ancient. Liilaatilakam, dated to the closing years of 14th century, is generally considered as the earliest treatise referring to grammatical structures of Malayalam. This, however, is not a work of grammar as such, but deals mainly with rhetoric as applied to MaNipravaaLam, the literary language that was an admixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit.

Except some brief treatises in Portuguese, Latin and English authored by missionaries, up to 19th century Malayalam did not have a proper grammar. Hermann Gundert’s MalayaLa bhashaa vyaakaraNam first published in 1851 and the revised and enlarged version coming out in 1868 was the first proper grammatical treatise of Malayalam. Rev. George Mathen’s Malayaalmayuthe vyaakaraNam (1863), Pachu Mootthatu’s KeeraLabhaashaa vyaakaraNam, A.R Rajaraaja Varma’s KeeraLa paaNiniyam (originally published in 1896; revised and enlarged edition in 1917) and M. Seshagiri Prabhu’s VyaakaraNamitram (1904) followed.

Grammatical literature from this point of time was essentially focused on KeeraLapaaNiniiyam, which came to enjoy almost the status of an ‘authorised grammar’ of Malayalam.

While Rajaraja Varma’s work stands out by its breadth of coverage and scholarship, it cannot be denied that grammatical tradition in Malayalam has remained too long within the ambit of a grammar written nearly a century ago. A common grammatical tradition drawing on various grammars failed to evolve and consequently the framework of KeeraLa paaNiniiyam continued as the sole grammatical model in Malayalam. The grammars written in the post-KeeraLa paanNiniiyam period are essentially explanatory treatises on KeeraLa paaNiniiyam.

While a few grammarians have suggested alternative analyses in some areas, the grammars themselves faithfully follow the basic framework of Rajaraja Varma. For a period of more than 80 years from KeeraLa paaNiniiyam, no grammarian attempted either to extend the KeeraLa paaNiniyam model to produce a more comprehensive treatment of Malayalam or to analyze the grammatical structure of Malayalam using alternative models of grammatical description. KeeraLa paaNiniyam and other traditional grammars have extensively covered the morphology of the language. However, there is precious little in them about syntax and semantics.

Having to deal with the structure of a modern language like Malayalam using a restricted grammatical model has had serious repercussions in many fields. Researchers in the fields of Computational Linguistics, speech pathology and language teaching very often lament the absence of a more modern and comprehensive grammar of Malayalam, especially one that adequately covers syntactic and semantic aspects.

From the 1960’s researchers in modern linguistics have published in many journals pertinent analyses on various aspects of Malayalam grammar. A modern full-fledged grammar of Malayalam was however, not attempted until 1997 when Asher and Kumari published Malayalam under the Descriptive Grammars series edited by Bernard Comrie.

This work represents the most comprehensive and in-depth coverage of Malayalam available. Syntax, morphology and phonology of Malayalam are extensively covered drawing on the traditional views as well as modern linguistic analyses. The lacunae in the traditional grammatical description has, however, not been entirely cleared up. Various syntactic and semantic features associated with categories and structures of Malayalam remained to be analyzed.

Vaakyadarsanam of Ravi Sankar S. Nair (2011) was an attempt in this direction. Basic categories and structures of Malayalam are defined and described in this work, followed by analyses of the syntactic and semantic features of each. The various sentence structures and word formation mechanisms are also analyzed.

The present work draws on Vaakyadarsanam. The first three chapters on Noun, Verb and Modifiers describe the semantic and syntactic features of each of these word classes. The sub-categories are extensively classified. The last chapter provides a description of the different sentence types in Malayalam.


The author is deeply indebted to the late Prof. Somasekharan Nair (formerly Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Kerala) for encouragement and advice during the early stages of the preparation of Vaakyadarsanam, from which the present work is drawn. Late Prof. A. P. Andrewskutty and Prof E. V. N Namboodiri (both from the Department of Linguistics, University of Kerala) offered insightful comments on the Malayalam version. I am grateful to Dr. Vijayendra Bhas and Dr. Kumari Nirmala, my colleagues in the Hadramouth University of Science and Technology, for support and constant encouragement.


Dedicated to the young men and women of the Republic of Yemen, who lost their lives in their struggle against an authoritarian regime in their country, during the early months of 2011 when the final version of this book was being written in the city of Seiyun in Yemen where I was teaching.

Ravi Sankar S Nair
10 October 2012

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Ravi Sankar S Nair, Ph.D.

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