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Tamil vs. Malayalam — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on September 30, 2023
Tamil is a Dravidian language primarily spoken in Tamil Nadu, India, and northern Sri Lanka, while Malayalam is the language of Kerala, India.
Tamil vs. Malayalam — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Tamil and Malayalam


Key Differences

Tamil is one of the ancient Dravidian languages, with its roots going back over 2,000 years. In contrast, Malayalam, though also Dravidian, emerged as a distinct language much later, around the 9th century AD.
The state of Tamil Nadu in India and parts of northern Sri Lanka primarily speak Tamil. Malayalam, on the other hand, is predominantly spoken in the state of Kerala, India.
Literature in Tamil boasts a rich history, with ancient works like Thirukkural. Malayalam literature, while younger, has classics like the "Ramacharitam" and works by writers like MT Vasudevan Nair.
Tamil script has its own unique set of characters and has been the base for other Dravidian scripts. Malayalam script, though derived from ancient Brahmi like Tamil, has evolved distinct characters over time.

Comparison Chart


Ancient Dravidian language, over 2,000 years old
Emerged around the 9th century AD

Primary Region

Tamil Nadu, India; northern Sri Lanka
Kerala, India


Ancient works like Thirukkural
Classics like "Ramacharitam"


Unique set of characters
Evolved distinct characters over time

Linguistic Features

Distinct phonology, syntax, vocabulary
Shares features with Tamil but remains unique

Compare with Definitions


Tamil is an ancient Dravidian language of South India.
Tamil literature is known for its rich poetic traditions.


Malayalam is the Dravidian language spoken in Kerala, India.
Malayalam literature has produced notable writers like Kamala Surayya.


Tamil is the official language of Tamil Nadu state in India.
The Tamil film industry, Kollywood, produces numerous films annually.


Malayalam is rich in both classical and modern literature.
The Malayalam movie industry is renowned for its meaningful cinema.


Tamil boasts a rich literary history.
Sangam literature is one of the hallmarks of ancient Tamil culture.


Malayalam has its own distinct script.
The Malayalam script evolved from the ancient Brahmi script.


Tamil is spoken by millions globally.
Tamil diaspora communities exist in countries like Malaysia and Canada.


Malayalam is the mother tongue of the Malayali community.
The Onam festival is celebrated with zeal by Malayalam speakers.


A member of a Dravidian people of southern India and northern Sri Lanka.


Malayalam celebrates a diverse range of dialects.
Variations in Malayalam can be noted from the north to the south of Kerala.


The Dravidian language of the Tamil.


Malayalam (; Malayalam: മലയാളം, Malayāḷam ?, [mɐlɐjäːɭɐm] (listen)) 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 and is spoken by 2.88% of Indians.


Of or relating to the Tamil or their language or culture.


A Dravidian language spoken in the state of Kerala on the Malabar Coast of southwest India.


Of or pertaining to the Tamils, or to their language.


The name given to one the cultivated Dravidian languages, closely related to the Tamil.


One of a Dravidian race of men native of Northern Ceylon and Southern India.


A Dravidian language (closely related to Tamil) that is spoken in southwestern India


A member of the mixed Dravidian and Caucasoid people of southern India and Sri Lanka


The Dravidian language spoken since prehistoric times by the Tamil people in southern India and Sri Lanka


Of or relating to a speaker of the Tamil language or the language itself;
The Tamil Tigers are fighting the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka
Tamil agglutinative phrases


Tamil has its own unique script.
Children in Tamil Nadu learn to write in Tamil script from a young age.

Common Curiosities

What is the origin of the Tamil language?

Tamil is an ancient Dravidian language with roots going back over 2,000 years.

How old is the Malayalam language?

Malayalam emerged as a distinct language around the 9th century AD.

Where is Malayalam predominantly spoken?

Malayalam is predominantly spoken in the state of Kerala, India.

Can Tamil speakers easily understand Malayalam?

While Tamil and Malayalam share Dravidian roots, they are distinct languages, making mutual comprehension limited.

What script do Tamil and Malayalam use?

Tamil has its unique script, while Malayalam has a script that evolved over time, both derived from ancient Brahmi.

Are there many shared words between Tamil and Malayalam?

While there are some shared words between Tamil and Malayalam, they have distinct vocabularies.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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