The name Malayalam was first used for the language in the mid-19th century.Some scholars however believe that both Tamil and Malayalam developed during the prehistoric period from a common ancestor, 'Proto-Tamil-Dravidian', and that the notion of Malayalam being a 'daughter' of Tamil is misplaced.

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In all, Malayalis made up 3.22% of the total Indian population in 2011.

Of the total 34,713,130 Malayalam speakers in India in 2011, 33,015,420 spoke the standard dialects, 19,643 spoke the Yerava dialect and 31,329 spoke non-standard regional variations like Eranadan.

In addition to these forms most widely spread among the areas specified above, there are dozens of other forms such as 'kotumpu' (Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram), 'katirpu' (Kottayam), krali (Pathanamthitta), pattachi, gnannil (Kollam), 'pochata' (Palakkad) etc. It may be noted at this point that labels such as "Brahmin Dialect" and "Syrian Caste Dialect" refer to overall patterns constituted by the sub-dialects spoken by the subcastes or sub-groups of each such caste.

The most outstanding features of the major communal dialects of Malayalam are summarized below: According to Sooranad Kunjan Pillai who compiled the authoritative Malayalam lexicon, the other principal languages whose vocabulary was incorporated over the ages were Pali, Prakrit, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Syriac, Dutch and Portuguese.

Variations in intonation patterns, vocabulary, and distribution of grammatical and phonological elements are observable along the parameters of region, religion, community, occupation, social stratum, style and register.

Dialects of Malayalam are distinguishable at regional and social levels, including occupational and also communal differences.Malayalam script (Brahmic) Malayalam Braille Vatteluttu alphabet (historical) Kolezhuthu (historical) Malayanma (historical) Grantha (historical) Arabi Malayalam (historical/rarely used now) Syriac script (historical) it was developed into the current form mainly by the influence of the poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in the 16th century.Malayalam has official language status in the state of Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry.This seems to reveal the significance of political divisions in Kerala in bringing about dialect difference.Divergence among dialects of Malayalam embrace almost all aspects of language such as phonetics, phonology, grammar and vocabulary.Another Muslim dialect called Beary bashe is used in the extreme northern part of Kerala and the southern part of Karnataka.