I have read that Malayalam originates from Middle Tamil. This leads me to ask whether Tamil and Malayalam are mutually intelligible. Or perhaps just partly, or asymmetrically?

I prefer either answers with a source, or from people who can speak and understand either language and thus speak from their own experience.

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    My understanding is that Tamil and Malayalam are not mutually intelligible, but this is due mainly to the very large number of Sanskrit borrowings in Malayalam.
    – fdb
    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:46
  • @fdb I see. Tamil also has a fair amount of Sanskrit loan words. But they are mostly connected to religion and stuff like that. Probably nothing compared to Malayalam.
    – Fiksdal
    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:49
  • Is Malayalam still a Tamil dialect?
    – Ebis
    Jul 15, 2018 at 6:26
  • @Ebis No, it is not...
    – Fiksdal
    Apr 11, 2019 at 9:56
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    I am a native speaker of Tamil. I cannot read Malayalam. However, I can understand around 60-70% of spoken Malayalam, largely due to the shared words. Yes, there are grammar differences, but at least how I make sense of it is by filling up the blanks.
    – vvg
    Oct 3, 2020 at 21:44

4 Answers 4


As a native speaker of Malayalam, I don't understand Tamil aside from few words. I have been to Tamil Nadu regions especially Chennai. Tamil is very different from Malayalam although they do share some vocabularies since they belong to Dravidian Family.

Grammatically speaking, Tamil is much more closer to Kannada and Telugu than Malayalam. Malayalam is far more alienated.

Unlike other Dravidian languages including Tamil, Malayalam lacks subject-verb agreement. Here is an example below from Malayalam.

Jhan pokunnu (I am going), Nee pokunnu [You (informal) are going], Avan pokunnu (He is going), etc.

"pokunnu" is applied for all of the forms in the present tense. So verb conjugations in Malayalam is easy and also very different from other dravidian languages.

In Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu, subject verb agreement is absolutely necessary. Here is an example in the below link from Tamil.


Another difference between Malayalam and Tamil has to do with definite article.

Let me use the word for bird which is found in both Malayalam and Tamil.

Malayalam - Parava (Singular), Paravakal (Plural) Tamil - Paravai (Singular), Paravaikal (Plural).

It must be noted that Malayalam spoken by Muslims has Arabic influences while Malayalam spoken by Christians has Aramaic (or Syriac) influences. Malayalam spoken by Hindus has more Sanskrit and Tamil influences.


I had both Malayalam and Tamil speaking colleagues and we often discussed languages. As a non speaker of either, they sounded exactly the same but with different accents, so I often asked a lot of questions. My answer is from what I have observed, not from a research paper of an Indologist (neither am I a linguist).

They are to a large extent, having more mutual intelligibility than other (major) South Indian languages. They even have quite similar phonology that sounds odd to other South Indians(mainly usage of voiced and unvoiced consonants). Linguists believe that Malayalam evolved from Tamil fairly late, between 800 AD and 1300 AD, though not all Malayalam speakers agree with that - some claim it is much more ancient than that and some even go to the extent of claiming that Tamil Sangam literature was written in Old Malayalam, not Old Tamil. It isn't uncommon for Malayalam speakers and Tamil speakers to speak in their respective languages and have a conversation if one of them doesn't know English. However, a few factors hinder such a conversation from being smooth and flawless.

Malayalam speakers are notorious for their accent - they are perceived to speak faster than others - so it is hard to decipher them. Some words are unique to each language, and a few common words have quite different meanings (e.g. 'patti' (t - retroflex, a,i -short, p - unaspirated) means dog in Malayalam but village in Tamil). Malayalam has more Sanskrit loanwords than Tamil, and has borrowed with little morphological change compared to Tamil (other language speakers who have no clue of Malayalam can easily get gist of what is being said by their knowledge of Sanskrit owing to their own borrowings, if they can decipher the accent that is). This might cause a problem in picking up words. Further, although Sanakrit loanwords are found in all Indian languages (except probably north eastern ones which aren't Indo-European or Dravidian, except Assamese and Bengali), not all borrowed words have same meanings. The change ranges from subtle variation in meaning to downright opposite or contradictory(e.g. 'garva' in Hindi means pride in a positive sense but in Kannada means pride with severe negative connotations - its one of the trigger words in Kannada). So a Sanskrit origin word needn't always mean the same, and it is often best to ask when a word seems out of place in the sentence.


This answer has been getting quite a bit of attention every now and then, and I thought of adding some reference to demonstrate the mutual intelligibility. In this video Vidya Balan, a popular actress in India, is interviewed in Malayalam but she responds in Tamil, yet the interview goes on smoothly. At 11:28 they talk about her command of Malayalam, or lack there of. At 12:20 they both acknowledge Vidya has been speaking in a dialect of Tamil.

Disclaimer: I don't know if this was for a TV channel and if subtitles were used, which I seriously doubt. The interviewer might have been bilingual too.



I think Malayalam is like an intermediate language between Tamil and tulu but still more similar to Tamil than its to tulu considering overall aspects of the language. I'm not a linguist but this is my personal. And u know the nambudiris of Malayalees are usually called tulu Brahmins. So tulu or old or Porto tulu may have influenced the Tamil dialect spoken in Kerala. I may be wrong anyway.

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    This answer has at least two problems: 1. It is not an answer to the question (as it says nothing about mutual intelligibility) and 2. It is based on opinion without further backing (e.g, by a scientific study) Jul 16, 2018 at 9:36
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    What Tamil dialect of Kerala? Are you talking about Palakkad?
    – Aryaman
    Jul 16, 2018 at 14:11

I am not a malayalee or an expert linguist but with that much determination self c confidence can say and also prove that malayalam as a language is Aryo-Dravidian rather than completely dravidian as it is born out of sanskrit like odiya or konkani even marathi but having somewhat tamil influence due to the tamil conquest of kerala lands during early centuries of christ, then to say that malayalam language ìs a dravidian language has no meaning because all languages in the world and also peòples are mixed both culturally and racially, even one can say that english and scottish are celtic languages but one will also find germanic and also roman words despite being far away from roman territory. So to say which language is what and which language is what not is entirely stupid idea. If I am wrong please correct me, but the truth is all languages peoples cultures are mixed agglutinated and derived from onè languages with other. Sanskrit is the mother of all the languages in the world even African, melanèsian and Maori languages are derived from it,even south indian language, though different morphologically grammatically and phonetically even racially also exhibits a sizeable influence of sanskrit to the advent of aryans up to kerala karnataka and konkan so to say that ANI languages are derived from sanskrit and ASI language derived from tamil is utter foolish to say ,even if tamil is farthest difference from sanskrit also has its some,influence. The truth is that ANI languàge is derived from apabhramsa, which the ASI languages ex tamil and Telugu lacks. Thanking yòu Yours sincerely Pradeep kumar 8928297807

  • To say that English is a Celtic language that has somehow absorbed some Roman words despite being far away from Roman territory is absolutely absurd. Oct 31, 2019 at 22:17
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    Everything in this answer is either completely wrong or completely indecipherable. Being influenced by a language is not the same as being descendent from it. English is not Celtic. Sanskrit is certainly not the mother of all languages (it’s the mother of no more than perhaps three or four per cent of them, and that’s only if you consider Prakrit a form of Sanskrit). And the last sentence just makes no sense. Apr 15, 2020 at 15:09

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