Lesson #9

(First Lesson)




Now that you've learned all there is to learn in the Malayalam alphabet, you're finally as literate as any other Malayalee and ready to plunge in and start learning the language!!

By the way, everyone: while you're learning Malayalam through these lessons, please, please, PLEASE feel free to take as much time as you like! (If you really are in a hurry, maybe you should try Vegam Vegam Malayalam. I'll try to make a crash course for more advanced speakers as well ASAP, if the current Vegam Vegam Malayalam lessons don't suit your needs.)

While you're learning Malayalam, you can see your lesson in three ways:

1. With Malayalam script, phonetics, and English translation (on this page),

2. with Malayalam script and English translation, or

3. with Malayalam script and English translation for everything except the Dialogue.


آâ /sambhaashaNam/ Dialogue

We'll start with a conversation in which Sam, an American, is trying to visit Kerala with his wife, Charlotte, and a Malayalee friend, Vasudevan. They decide to take Kuwait Airways because Sam has business to do in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala, and the quickest way to get there is to go through Kuwait. Fortunately, Kuwait is full of Indians, especially Malayalees, and Sam and Charlotte get to meet a few. To begin with, Charlotte notices that there's a man at the counter who looks Indian and whose name-tag reads "Kurien Chacko." 

Click here to listen to the whole conversation!

Vx: {?

shaarlat: malayaaLiyaaNO?

X (rather pleasantly surprised): ! 

kuriyan: aaNallO!

ޢ: a c Vx. a ޢ. a GX, X, {. 

saam: ithente bhaarya shaarlat. ente pEru saam. ente kuuTTukaaran, vaasudEvan, malayaaLiyaa.

: ...!...BZ AA?

ku: O...namaskaaram!...ningngaL amErikkakkaaraaNO?

X: a GV AA. X GJK. 

vaasudEvan: ente kuuTTukaar amErikkakaaraa. njaan kOTTayaththiinnaa.

(to Vasudevan): B{ GVA G { !

ku: ningngaLuTe kuuTTukaarkk nallathaayiTT malayaaLam arriyaamallO!


English Translation

Charlotte: Are you Malayalee?

Kurien (rather pleasantly surprised): Of course!

Sam: This is my wife, Charlotte. My name's Sam. My friend, Vasudevan, is Malayalee.

K: Oh...Greetings!...Are you Americans?

Vasudevan: My friends are Americans. I'm from Kottayam.

K (to V): Wow, your friends (really) know Malayalam well!


malayaaLi                                             Malayalee (person from Kerala)                       { Listen!

aaNO?                                                  Are you? (see vyaakaraNam #2)                    ? Listen!

aaNallO!                                               Of course I am! (lit. "I am, am I not?")            !  Listen!

ith(u)                                                       this                                                                    Listen!

ente                                                      my                                                                    a Listen!

bhaarya                                                wife                                                                  c Listen!

pEr(u)                                                  name                                                                Listen!

kuuTTukaaran*                                    friend*                                                     GX* Listen!

malayaaLiyaa                he's Malayalee (colloquial, see vyaakaraNam #2-3)  { Listen!

namaskaaram                            (typical Indian greeting)                                    Listen!

ningngaL                            you (see vyaakaraNam #5)                                    BZ Listen!

amErikkakkaar                        Americans                                            AAV Listen!

kuuTTukaar                            friends                                                            GV Listen!

amErikkakkaaraa                they're Americans (col., vyaa. #2-3)            AA Listen!

njaan                                            I                                                                X Listen!

kOTTayaththiinnaa               am from Kottayam (vyaa. #7)                     GJK Listen!

ningngaLuTe                            your (vyaa. #5)                                        B{ Listen!

kuuTTukaarkk(u)                            friends (vyaa. #8)                              GVA Listen!

nallathaayiTT(u)                           well                                                    G Listen!

arriyaam                                     (they) know                                             ޢ Listen!

allO!                                            Right?! Don't they?!                                ! Listen!

*literally "company guy," i.e. somebody who accompanies you and keeps you in good company


GU /arriyaanaayiTTuLLathu/ What There Is To Know

In Kerala (similar to most of India), the word namaskaaram can be used during any time of day, but it is more of a formal greeting that isn't usually used among friends except occasionally. That's why I translate this word as "greetings." The use of this greeting is always accompanied by a "folding" of the hands (i.e. holding the hands together as if you are praying) and bowing slightly. The more you bow, the more respect you convey, but don't overdo it!

Kuwait is probably one of the areas with the biggest concentration of Malayalees outside of Kerala. Though the majority, of course, is Arab, it is very likely that you may find several Malayalees even at the airport. This is because most Malayalees looking for a job outside of Kerala move to the "Gulf" or "Persia," as they call the Middle East. Many Malayalam movies are actually produced or sold in the Middle East and sometimes even have subtitles in Arabic (if not in English)!

Vasudevan says that he comes from Kottayam. Kottayam is a district in Southern Kerala, whose capital city (also called Kottayam) is about 60 km (or about 37 miles) south of the city of Ernakulam.


c޵â /vyaakaraNam/ Grammar

1. {? vs. { ? ("Are you a Malayalee?")

In Malayalam, quite often, two words (or more!) will be written as one. This can happen only if all words in the phrase, other than the first one, begin with a vowel. So, for example, { ? can be written as {? because the word ? begins with a vowel. (Notice the use of the letter /ya/ to connect the /i/ sound in /malayaaLi/ and the /aa/ sound in /aaNO/). 

2. Goodbye, Mr. "I am, you are, he is..."

In Malayalam, verbs are never conjugated. That is to say, there is only ONE form of the verb in each tense. So, for example, instead of saying, "I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are," in Malayalam, you say:



etc. (By the way, I'm not expecting you to learn the pronouns yet; I think you're struggling enough already! And if you're not, well, guess what? You're about to!!)

So, for the most part, the subject of a verb needs to be stated (sort of like in English!). But consider the example in the dialogue:


How do you know whether it means, "Am I Malayalee?" or "Are you Malayalee?" or "Is he Malayalee?" or...???

Well, the answer is: you don't know immediately! It depends on the context. In the dialogue, Kurien knows that Charlotte is asking whether HE is Malayalee because she couldn't be asking him about anyone else!

On the other hand, suppose Kurien and Charlotte had a conversation like this:

Vx: a GX, X.

X: ! {?

it would be translated as:

Charlotte: This [is] my friend, Vasudevan.

Kurien: Oh! Is he Malayalee?

because, again, Kurien couldn't be talking about anyone else!!

3. vs.

You may have noticed that the word for "am, is," etc. used in the dialogue is (e.g. { for "he's Malayalee," AA for "they're Americans"). This is just an abbreviation of the word  , which you saw in the examples. (Interestingly/frustratingly enough,  , in turn, is supposedly a variation of the word K /aakunnu/, which means "am/is/are becoming"!). 

In other words, just like "he's" is a contraction of "he is" in English, is a contraction of in Malayalam! But in formal writing, NEVER EVER EVER use the word (unless you're transcribing a conversation)!!! (Using in Malayalam is basically the equivalent of using "ain't" in English!).

4. Yes!

Malayalam has no direct translation for the word "yes"! (In fact, there are many more ways to say "yes" than "no" in Malayalam!!! You will learn more words over time.) 

Usually the way you say "yes" is by repeating the main verb of what the other person said. For instance, suppose you had the following exchange in English:

Someone: What on earth happened to you?! Did you slip over a banana peel, fall, and get beaten up?

You: Yes.

In Malayalam, it would be more like this:

S: What on earth happened to you?! After you slipped and fell over a banana peel, you got beaten up?

Y: After slipped and fell, got beaten up.

5. BZ

I translated this word as "you" in English. However, this word doesn't mean everything "you" means in English. 

It specifically means "you" in the following two ways:

1. "y'all" (i.e. plural form of "you"), or

2. formal, polite form of "you."

6. GX: GV :: ? :AAV

The suffix -X means "man," and so -V means men/people. That's why GV is the plural of GX

Therefore, to complete the above analogy, your answer would be AAX, literally "America(n) guy"!

7. GJK

This is an abbreviation (or contraction) of the phrase GJWK, which means "am/are/is from Kottayam." (The suffix -WK, often contracted to -K in casual conversation, means "from" and is attached to the noun it modifies). So, again, don't use this in formal writing, but still know the phrase! 

8. GVA...ޢ

Notice that the sound -A /kk(u)/ is attached to this word. That is because of a certain grammar rule which explains why you say GVA...ޢ and not GV...ޢ

9. Pidgin?

You might have noticed that sometimes, in Malayalam, the verb "to be" is not used. For example, Sam says in the dialogue:

a c Vx. a ޢ.

Which literally means: "This my wife Charlotte. My name Sam." (!)

In fact, Ittoop, when talking with the Russian guy in his bad English, introduced Payyan by saying, "This friend Payyan"! (And by the way, I think the Malayalam translation of "he brain liver" actually DOES include the word ()!)

This is the case only in very short sentences that begin with "This is..." or "That is..." in order to introduce someone or other. So Malayalam isn't entirely a pidgin language (i.e. "simple" language where the verb "to be" is never used)!

10. Malayalam Word Order: Subject-Object-Verb

In the dialogue, Kurien says: 

B{ GVA G { !

which, in English, means: "Wow, your friends (really) know Malayalam well!"

But more literally, it means: "Your friends well Malayalam really-know-wow!"

That's because of the difference in word order between Malayalam and English. In English, the word order is subject-verb-object, whereas in Malayalam, it's subject-object-verb.

HUH?! you may be asking, What's the difference???

Well, just to make it easier to explain (in the usual way subject, object, and verb are explained), let's change the English translation just a little:

"Your friends know Malayalam."

Who knows Malayalam? Your friends! 

Wait a minute, I forgot what I just asked. What do your friends do? Know!

Um...What do your friends know? Malayalam! 

Because "your friends" are the ones who are doing the action, they are the subject of the sentence. "Know" is a verb because it's an "action word," i.e. a word that indicates an action. And finally, "Malayalam" is the object because it is what is affected by, or what receives, the action. Therefore, in English, the word order is subject-object-verb (because you say "Your friends know Malayalam," not "Your friends Malayalam know," or "Know your friends Malayalam," or...)!

Well, in Malayalam, you would say:

B{ GVA { ޢ.

A word for word translation for this would (essentially) be: "Your-friends-Malayalam-know."

So, in Malayalam, the word order most of the time is SUBJECT-OBJECT-VERB!


WOOHOO! Done and free at last from all that LEARNING!..............Well, sort of. You still have to go to the Practice Corner!!