Recall that, in Malayalam, letters may belong to these broad categories:
- equivalent to the vowels
- equivalent to the consonants
- conjugated letters
There are 36 consonants, 25 of which are clubbed into groups of 5 letters with closely related sounds. Each of these consonants have, in turn, about 14 other variants when you add each of the vowel ‘sound’ (not letter) to it. For instance, the first consonant, ‘ka‘ has variants like ‘kaah‘, ‘ki‘, ‘kee‘, ‘ku‘, ‘koo‘, ‘kai‘, ‘kow‘ etc. As mentioned earlier, these variants are obtained by writing the consonant along with a symbol/sign that represents the corresponding vowel equivalents (More about this in Lesson 4).
The large number of consonants obviously makes it impossible to find an equivalent sound in English for each one of them. In fact, some of the consonants may sound almost identical, especially if you are unfamiliar with Malayalam.
Wherever possible, we have tried to give an English word to indicate how closely a letter may sound. This, of course, is no substitute for learning the correct phonetic effects of these letters.
Mind you, we only promised you to show how to read and write (not speak) the language. However, if you are desperate and unable to find immediate help, try the audio files on these pages.
The following are the 36 consonants. Click on each consonant to explore in details
As you can see, the first 25 consonants (shown in the first 5 above) are in five distinct groups of 5 letters each. There are two pairs of consonants in each group followed by a nasal sound, which ends a group. In each of the two pairs, the second letter is a stronger sound of the previous letter (eg.’kha’ after ‘ka’ and ‘gha’ after ‘ga’). The last set of 11 consonants (shown in ovals) does not follow this pattern and show little relationship between one another.
Take your time in digesting this lesson. It is a long and hard haul. But believe me, you would have covered most of the ground once you are through with this lesson. (Isn’t that a comforting thought?)