Malayalam (/ˌmæləˈjɑːləm/; Malayalam: മലയാളം, Malayāḷam, [mʌlʌjaːɭʌm]) is a Dravidian language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé district) by the Malayali people. It is one of 22 scheduled languages of India spoken by nearly 2.88% of Indians. Malayalam has official language status in the state of Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé) and is spoken by 37 million people worldwide. Malayalam is also spoken by linguistic minorities in the neighbouring states; with significant number of speakers in the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari, and Coimbatore, Tenkasi, Theni districts of Tamil Nadu and Kodaguand Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Due to Malayali expatriates in the Persian Gulf, the language is also widely spoken in Gulf countries.
The origin of Malayalam remains a matter of dispute among scholars. One view holds that Malayalam and modern Tamil are offshoots of Middle Tamil and separated from it sometime after the c. 7th century AD. A second view argues for the development of the two languages out of "Proto-Dravidian" or "Proto-Tamil-Malayalam" in the prehistoric era. Designated a "Classical Language in India" in 2013, it developed into the current form mainly by the influence of the poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in the 16th century. The oldest documents written purely in Malayalam and still surviving are the Vazhappalli Copper plates from 832 AD and Tharisapalli Copper plates from 849 AD.
The earliest script used to write Malayalam was the Vatteluttu alphabet, and later the Kolezhuttu, which derived from it.
The current Malayalam script is based on the Vatteluttu script, which was extended with Grantha script letters to adopt Indo-Aryan loanwords.The oldest literary work in Malayalam, distinct from the Tamil tradition, is dated from between the 9th and 11th centuries. The first travelogue in any Indian language is the Malayalam Varthamanappusthakam, written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar in 1785.