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The earliest written record of Malayalam is the Vazhappally inscription (ca. 830 AD). Malayalam prose of different periods exibit degree of influence of different languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrits, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Arabi, Persian, Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Modern literature is rich in poetry, fiction, drama, biography, and literary criticism. In the early thirteenth century /vattezhuthu/ (round writing) traceable to the pan-Indian brahmi script, gave rise to the Malayalam writing system, which is syllabic in the sense that the sequence of graphic elements means that syllables have to be read as units, though in this system the elements representing individual vowels and consonants are for the most part readily identifiable.
In the 1960s Malayalam dispensed off many special letters representing less frequent conjunct consonants and combinations of the vowel with different consonants. Malayalam now consists of 53 letters including 20 long and short vowels and the rest consonants. The earlier style of writing is now substituted with a new style from 1981. This new script reduces the different letters for typeset from 900 to less than 90. This was mainly done to include Malayalam in the keyboards of typewriters and computers.
Variations in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical and phonological elements are observable along the parameters of region, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register. Influence of Sanskrit is most prominent in the Brahimin dialects and least in the Harijan dialects. Loaned words from English, Syrian, Latin, and Portuguese abound in the Christian dialects and those from Arabic and Urdu in the Muslim dialects. Malayalam has borrowed from Sanskrit thousands of nouns and hundreds of verbs. Some items of basic vocabulary (eg. mukhum - face, nakham - nail, bharya - wife, bharthavu - husband) also have found their way into Malayalam from Sanskrit.
English stands only second to Sanskrit in its influence in Malayalam. Hundreds of individual lexical items and many idiomatic expressions in modern Malayalam are of English origin. As the language of administration and as the medium of instruction in schools and colleges, Malayalam is coming into its own. A scientific register in the language is slowly evolving. Remarkably liberal in their attitudes, Malayalis have always welcomed other languages to co-exist with their own and the interaction of these with Malayalam has helped its development in different respects.