As Tamil, Telugu and Kannada received the status of a ‘Classical Language’ over the past few years, Malayalam’s claim to that imprimatur has remained unmet — although it essentially belongs to the same Dravidian linguistic family. As a language with a continuous history of more than 2,300 years and a long record of ancient and modern literary works of acknowledged excellence, its claim is incontestable, at least in relative terms. The antiquity of the language, the richness and diversity of its literature and Kerala’s pluralistic civilisational backdrop that the language has helped shape, stand it in good stead. The previous LDF government in the State had brought up the issue in a forceful manner two years ago, and the baton has since then been carried forward with matching vigour by the UDF government. An expert committee of scholars constituted by the government to present a considered opinion on the matter submitted its detailed report in 2010, supporting the claim. But movement since then has been confined to periodic assurances from New Delhi. This is a patent anomaly, almost an injustice, which needs to be set right.
The grant of such status should not, however, remain merely of symbolic value. The resources that come with it should be utilised meaningfully to develop the language on the basis of a clearly laid-out plan. The government should roll out a plan to ensure the language retains its integrity, purity and vibrancy — while allowing for the fact that a language has to evolve. There are worrying trends of corruption in spoken and written use, and a certain lack of rigour in terms of grammar and script is creeping in, the process often aided by lackadaisical use in the visual media. Also, not all Malayalam newspapers seem particularly keen to avoid borrowing words indiscriminately from English: by resorting to such short-cuts, they do a disservice to the language. Malayalam may be the official language of the State on paper but it is not yet fully so. One glaring gap relates to judicial proceedings. Malayalam has achieved a significant degree of web compliance over the last few years. However, the technical complications relating to the ‘chil’ element of the script is an issue that needs to be addressed, so that Malayalam becomes a language of the digital age. There is also a need to encourage the younger generation of Malayalees, those who live in Kerala and elsewhere in the world, to take pride in learning and handling it well. Malayalam thus needs to be enriched and energised — even as it co-exists in a pragmatic manner with major languages such as English and Hindi in order that its horizons remain wide and open.