Malayalam Words and Phrases

The Quicker Alternative for Those Who Don't (Want/Need) To Learn the Alphabet!

If you're going to Kerala (Kerala ONLY, mind you!!), and don't have the time to waste to learn the alphabet...or if you know the alphabet, but want to get to the language...then THIS PAGE IS FOR YOU!

For those of you who haven't gone to Kerala before but want to someday, things won't be too hard, because most of the people you may have to deal with (the people at the airport, for instance) speak English. No matter how much Malayalam you know, it's best to get through the airport in English, unless you plan to make casual  conversation. (Whenever we go they usually speak English anyway!). FYI- Perhaps India's best airport would be Nedumbassery in Ernakulam, Kerala. It is so incredibly CLEAN!!! 

But that doesn't mean you don't need to know any Malayalam, of course. Even a small effort in Malayalam is very impressive--it isn't every day that most Malayalees see a faranki (foreigner) pipe up in their language, except maybe professors! (If you want to impress them even more, you can try to speak in your best Malayalam accent!)

Greetings and Basic Expressions

namaskaaram!                 Hello!                              ! Listen!

This is a rather formal greeting, and it is not usually used between friends, relatives, or acquaintances. More informal and commonly used equivalents would be "hello," "hi," or just an exclamation that sounds like "eh!"

engngane irikkunnu?        How are you? (formal)     B AK? Listen!

chOrruNTO?                   How are you? (informal)     I? Listen!

chOrruNTO? is a combination of the words chOrr(u) "cooked rice" and uNTO? "did you eat?" and literally means "Have you eaten your rice?" In Asia, it's very common to ask whether you've eaten or bathed. Such a greeting doesn't mean anything; it's just a way of saying hi. (The reason why it asks whether you've eaten rice specifically is simply because in Kerala rice is considered essential for any good meal.)

Another more common informal way of asking, "How are you?" is by asking:

engnganuNT?                How's it going?              BI? Listen! 

This literally means, "How is there?" or, more figuratively, "What is [it] like?"

uNT.                                Fine. (Informal)             I. Listen!

hum.                                  Fine. (Informal)             . Listen!

The two informal words shown above are common answers to chOrruNTO? "Hum" is just the Malayalam spelling for "mmm..." There are also two common ways to answer the formal question engngine irikkunnu?:

kuzhappam illa.                 Fine. (Formal)               M . Listen!

sukhamaayiTT irikkunnu. Fine. (Formal)               G AK. Listen!

Kuzhappam illa literally means "there's no problem--hakuna matata!" but for the fact that it's more often used in Malayalam and is thus less carefree.

In Kerala, there are virtually no commonly used words for "thank you," "excuse me," and "sorry" other than the regular English words and one word for "thanks" used only in Malayalam prayers.

(daivaththinu) sthOthram.   Thanks be (to God).  (J)  dĢ. Listen!

saaramilla.                             It's OK.                                                . Listen!

saaramilla is only used as a term of forgiveness (i.e. in response to an apology).

However, there is one commonly used phrase for "thanks," but you normally use it if somebody has done you a favor (not when, for example, you get a gift for your birthday party):

valiya upakaaramaayi!   Thank you!  ɵ! Listen!

Or sometimes, for short:

upakaaram!                        Thank you!                         ɵ! Listen!

The first of the above words literally means "it [what you had done for me] has been a great favor." The latter literally means "favor" and, as already mentioned, is an abbreviated version of the former.

Also, there are several words for "yes" and "no," depending on the context. But there are two all-purpose words you could use to express positivism:

aa.                                    Yes. (Another sound word)         . Listen!

pinne enthaa!                      Of course!                        K L! Listen!

The second of the two all-purpose words literally means "then what." Similar to the phrase "why not!"

If you really want to impress Malayalees, you can try using the word:

uvvu.                                        Yes.                                                Listen!

Now for some more poetic words you never will need to use! If you use these words on somebody who doesn't know you, the Malayalee listener will probably think you're a professor of Malayalam or something, foreign or otherwise, since most Malayalee professors don't distinguish between everyday and written Malayalam.

vandanam.                        Greetings.                         wȢ. Listen!

suprabhaatham.                Good morning.                 dĢ. Listen!

Subha/nalla raathri.           Good night.                     / d. Listen!

nandi.                                 Thank you.                      w. Listen!

kshamikkaNam!                 Sorry!                            fAâ! Listen!

vandanam is another word usually used when invoking (a) God (even though it comes from a common Tamil greeting). nandi is actually pronounced like nanni; in the old days, people did not say "thank you" as much as we English-speakers do, and this word was (and still sometimes may be) used only when somebody had done you a great favor. kshamikkaNam actually means something more like "please forgive me." This is the only way that I have ever seen it used, and only once have I actually heard somebody even use this word. (Here most of the Malayalees usually use English "sorry.")

Well, that's quite a bit of phrases to learn! Take your time studying these phrases, and learn at your own pace! Until then:

ennaal aakaTTE!*                Goodbye!                KW G! Listen!

*Pronounced /ennaal aaTTE/; a common, informally used phrase, literally meaning, "I/we/you will be going, then!"