The Info List - Tamil Language

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 Sri Lanka  Singapore  India:

Tamil Nadu[3] Puducherry[4] Andaman & Nicobar Islands[5]

Recognised minority language in

 Malaysia[6]  Mauritius[7]  South Africa[8]

Language codes

ISO 639-1 ta

ISO 639-2 tam

ISO 639-3 Variously: tam – Modern Tamil oty – Old Tamil ptq – Pattapu Bhashai

Linguist List

oty Old Tamil

Glottolog tamil1289  Modern Tamil[9] oldt1248  Old Tamil[10]

Linguasphere 49-EBE-a

This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode
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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.

Tamil is written in a non-Latin script. Tamil text used in this article is transliterated into the Latin script
Latin script
according to the ISO 15919 standard.

Tamil (English: /ˈtæmɪl/; தமிழ் Tamiḻ [t̪ɐmɨɻ],  pronunciation (help·info)) is a Dravidian language predominantly spoken by the Tamil people
Tamil people
of India
and Sri Lanka, and by the Tamil diaspora, Sri Lankan Moors, Burghers, Douglas, and Chindians. Tamil is an official language of two countries: Sri Lanka and Singapore.[11][12] It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
and the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry. It is used as one of the languages of education in Malaysia, along with English, Malay and Mandarin.[13][14] Tamil is spoken by significant minorities in the four other South Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India. Tamil is one of the longest-surviving classical languages in the world.[15][16] It is stated as 20th in the Ethnologue
list of most-spoken languages worldwide.[17] Tamil-Brahmi
inscriptions from 500 BC have been found on Adichanallur[18] and 2,200-year-old Tamil-Brahmi
inscriptions have been found on Samanamalai.[19] A study conducted by Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History found that the Dravidian language
Dravidian language
family, of which Tamil is a part, may be approximately 4000-4500 years old.[20][21] It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India
which is recognizably continuous with a classical past."[22] The variety and quality of classical Tamil literature
Tamil literature
has led to it being described as "one of the great classical traditions and literature of the world".[23] A recorded Tamil literature
Tamil literature
has been documented for over 2000 years.[24] The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature, is dated from ca. 300 BC – AD 300.[25][26] It has the oldest extant literature among Dravidian languages.[15] The earliest epigraphic records found on rock edicts and 'hero stones' date from around the 3rd century BC.[27][28] More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India
are in the Tamil language.[29] Tamil language
Tamil language
inscriptions written in Brahmi script have been discovered in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
and on trade goods in Thailand and Egypt.[30][31] The two earliest manuscripts from India,[32][33] acknowledged and registered by the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 1997 and 2005, were written in Tamil.[34] In 1578, Portuguese Christian missionaries published a Tamil prayer book in old Tamil script
Tamil script
named Thambiraan Vanakkam, thus making Tamil the first Indian language to be printed and published.[35] The Tamil Lexicon, published by the University of Madras, was one of the earliest dictionaries published in the Indian languages.[36] According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies.[37]


1 Classification 2 History

2.1 Legend 2.2 Etymology 2.3 Old Tamil 2.4 Middle Tamil 2.5 Modern Tamil

3 Geographic distribution 4 Legal status 5 Dialects

5.1 Region-specific variations

5.1.1 Loanword variations

6 Spoken and literary variants 7 Writing system

7.1 Numerals and symbols

8 Phonology

8.1 Vowels 8.2 Consonants 8.3 Āytam

9 Grammar

9.1 Morphology 9.2 Syntax

10 Vocabulary 11 Influence 12 See also 13 Footnotes 14 References 15 Further reading 16 External links

Classification Main article: Dravidian languages Tamil belongs to the southern branch of the Dravidian languages, a family of around 26 languages native to the Indian subcontinent.[38] It is also classified as being part of a Tamil language
Tamil language
family that, alongside Tamil proper, includes the languages of about 35 ethno-linguistic groups[39] such as the Irula and Yerukula languages (see SIL Ethnologue). The closest major relative of Tamil is Malayalam; the two began diverging around the 9th century AD.[40] Although many of the differences between Tamil and Malayalam
demonstrate a pre-historic split of the western dialect,[41] the process of separation into a distinct language, Malayalam, was not completed until sometime in the 13th or 14th century.[42] History

Tamil inscriptions on a pillar of big temple

According to linguists like Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, Tamil, as a Dravidian language, descends from Proto-Dravidian, a Proto-language. Linguistic reconstruction suggests that Proto-Dravidian
was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region around the lower Godavari
river basin in peninsular India. The material evidence suggests that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian
were of the culture associated with the Neolithic
complexes of South India.[43] The next phase in the reconstructed proto-history of Tamil is Proto-South Dravidian. The linguistic evidence suggests that Proto-South Dravidian was spoken around the middle of the second millennium BC, and that proto-Tamil emerged around the 3rd century BC. The earliest epigraphic attestations of Tamil are generally taken to have been written shortly thereafter.[44] Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritic Indian literature.[45] Scholars categorise the attested history of the language into three periods: Old Tamil
Old Tamil
(300 BC–AD 700), Middle Tamil (700–1600) and Modern Tamil
Modern Tamil
(1600–present).[46] In November 2007, an excavation at Quseir-al-Qadim revealed Egyptian pottery dating back to first century BC with ancient Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
inscriptions.[30] John Guy states that Tamil was the lingua franca for early maritime traders from India.[47] Legend

Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
inscription in Mangulam, Madurai
district, Tamil Nadu dated to Tamil Sangam period
Sangam period
c. 400 BC to c. 200 AD.

Explanation for Mangulam
Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
inscription in Mangulam, Madurai district, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
dated to Tamil Sangam period
Sangam period
c. 400 BC to c. 200 AD.

Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
script in the reverse side of the bilingual silver coin of king Vashishtiputra Sātakarni
Vashishtiputra Sātakarni
(c. AD 160) of Deccan. Rev: Ujjain/Sātavāhana symbol, crescented six-arch chaitya hill and river with Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
script[48][49][50][51] Obv: Bust of king; Prakrit legend in the Brahmi script

According to Hindu legend, Tamil or in personification form Tamil Thāi (Mother Tamil) was created by Lord Shiva. Murugan, revered as the Tamil God, along with sage Agastya, brought it to the people.[52] Etymology The earliest extant Tamil literary works and their commentaries celebrate the Pandiyan Kings for the organization of long-termed Tamil Sangams, which researched, developed and made amendments in Tamil language. Even though the name of the language which was developed by these Tamil Sangams
Tamil Sangams
is mentioned as Tamil, the period when the name "Tamil" came to be applied to the language is unclear, as is the precise etymology of the name. The earliest attested use of the name is found in Tholkappiyam, which is dated as early as 1st century BC.[53] Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miḻ > tam-iḻ 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'.[54](see Southworth's derivation of Sanskrit
term for "others" or Mleccha) Kamil Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iḻ, with tam meaning "self" or "one's self", and "-iḻ" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of tamiḻ < tam-iḻ < *tav-iḻ < *tak-iḻ, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)".[55] The Tamil Lexicon
Tamil Lexicon
of University of Madras
University of Madras
defines the word 'Tamil' as 'sweetness'.[56] S.V Subramanian suggests the meaning 'sweet sound' from 'tam'- sweet and 'il'- 'sound'.[57] Old Tamil Main article: Old Tamil
Old Tamil
language Old Tamil
Old Tamil
is the period of the Tamil language
Tamil language
spanning the 5th century BC to the 8th century AD. The earliest records in Old Tamil
Old Tamil
are short inscriptions from between the 5th and 2nd century BC in caves and on pottery. These inscriptions are written in a variant of the Brahmi script called Tamil Brahmi.[58] The earliest long text in Old Tamil
Old Tamil
is the Tolkāppiyam, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC.[46] A large number of literary works in Old Tamil
Old Tamil
have also survived. These include a corpus of 2,381 poems collectively known as Sangam literature. These poems are usually dated to between the 1st and 5th centuries AD.[46] Middle Tamil Main article: Middle Tamil
Middle Tamil

Tamil inscriptions in Vatteluttu
script in stone during Chola period c.1000 AD at Brahadeeswara temple
Brahadeeswara temple
in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

The evolution of Old Tamil
Old Tamil
into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken to have been completed by the 8th century,[46] was characterised by a number of phonological and grammatical changes. In phonological terms, the most important shifts were the virtual disappearance of the aytam (ஃ), an old phoneme,[59] the coalescence of the alveolar and dental nasals,[60] and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic.[61] In grammar, the most important change was the emergence of the present tense. The present tense evolved out of the verb kil (கில்), meaning "to be possible" or "to befall". In Old Tamil, this verb was used as an aspect marker to indicate that an action was micro-durative, non-sustained or non-lasting, usually in combination with a time marker such as ṉ (ன்). In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker – kiṉṟa (கின்ற) – which combined the old aspect and time markers.[62] Modern Tamil The Nannul remains the standard normative grammar for modern literary Tamil, which therefore continues to be based on Middle Tamil
Middle Tamil
of the 13th century rather than on Modern Tamil.[63] Colloquial spoken Tamil, in contrast, shows a number of changes. The negative conjugation of verbs, for example, has fallen out of use in Modern Tamil[64] – instead, negation is expressed either morphologically or syntactically.[65] Modern spoken Tamil also shows a number of sound changes, in particular, a tendency to lower high vowels in initial and medial positions,[66] and the disappearance of vowels between plosives and between a plosive and rhotic.[67] Contact with European languages affected written and spoken Tamil. Changes in written Tamil include the use of European-style punctuation and the use of consonant clusters that were not permitted in Middle Tamil. The syntax of written Tamil has also changed, with the introduction of new aspectual auxiliaries and more complex sentence structures, and with the emergence of a more rigid word order that resembles the syntactic argument structure of English.[68] Simultaneously, a strong strain of linguistic purism emerged in the early 20th century, culminating in the Pure Tamil Movement
Pure Tamil Movement
which called for removal of all Sanskritic elements from Tamil.[69] It received some support from Dravidian parties.[70] This led to the replacement of a significant number of Sanskrit
loanwords by Tamil equivalents, though many others remain.[71] Geographic distribution Tamil is the primary language of the majority of the people residing in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, in India
and Northern Province, Eastern Province, in Sri Lanka. The language is spoken among small minority groups in other states of India
which include Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra
and in certain regions of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
such as Colombo
and the hill country. Tamil or dialects of it were used widely in the state of Kerala
as the major language of administration, literature and common usage until the 12th century AD. Tamil was also used widely in inscriptions found in southern Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
districts of Chittoor and Nellore until the 12th century AD.[72] Tamil was used for inscriptions from the 10th through 14th centuries in southern Karnataka
districts such as Kolar, Mysore, Mandya
and Bangalore.[73] There are currently sizeable Tamil-speaking populations descended from colonial-era migrants in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Mauritius, South Africa, Indonesia,[74] Thailand,[75] Burma, and Vietnam. A large community of Pakistani Tamils
speakers exists in Karachi, Pakistan, which includes Tamil-speaking Hindus[76][77] as well as Christians and Muslims – including some Tamil-speaking Muslim refugees from Sri Lanka.[78] Many in Réunion, Guyana, Fiji, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago have Tamil origins,[79] but only a small number speak the language. In Reunion where the Tamil language
Tamil language
was forbidden to be learnt and used in public space by France
it is now being relearnt by students and adults.[80] It is also used by groups of migrants from Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
and India, Canada
(especially Toronto), United States (especially New Jersey
New Jersey
and New York City), Australia, many Middle Eastern countries, and some European countries.

Mahatma Gandhi's written wishes in Tamil for Subramanya Bharathy

Multilingual signs with Tamil in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
( Tsunami
early warning tower)

An electrical hazard sign in Malaysia
written in Tamil with other languages

Nameboard with Tamil at Koneswaram temple
Koneswaram temple
at Thirukonamalai, Sri Lanka.

A hospital sign in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
written in Tamil

A Multilingual danger sign in Singapore
with Tamil writing

Currency note with Tamil 'இருநூறு ரூபாய்' (200 rupee) written in the note with the man wearing eyeglasses, written next to him.

A business in Edison, New Jersey, near New York City, with signage in Tamil and English translation

Legal status See also: States of India
by Tamil speakers See also: List of territorial entities where Tamil is an official language Tamil is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
and one of the 22 languages under schedule 8 of the constitution of India. It is one of the official languages of the union territory of Puducherry
and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[81][82] Tamil is also one of the official languages of Singapore. Tamil is one of the official and national languages of Sri Lanka, along with Sinhala.[11] It was once given nominal official status in the state of Haryana, purportedly as a rebuff to Punjab, though there was no attested Tamil-speaking population in the state, and was later replaced by Punjabi, in 2010.[83] In Malaysia, 543 primary education government schools are available fully in Tamil medium.[84] The establishments of Tamil medium schools have been currently in process in Myanmar
to provide education completely in Tamil language
Tamil language
by the Tamils
who settled there 200 years ago.[85] Tamil is taught in Canada
for the local Tamil minority populations and the month of January has been declared "Tamil Heritage Month" by the Parliament of Canada.[86][87] Tamil enjoys a special status of protection under Article 6(b), Chapter 1 of the Constitution of South Africa
South Africa
and is taught as a subject in schools in KwaZulu-Natal
province.[88][89] Recently, it has been rolled out as a subject of study in schools in the French overseas department of Réunion.[90] In addition, with the creation in October 2004 of a legal status for classical languages by the Government of India
and following a political campaign supported by several Tamil associations,[91][92] Tamil became the first legally recognised Classical language of India. The recognition was announced by the contemporaneous President of India, Abdul Kalam, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament on 6 June 2004.[93][94][95] Dialects

Jambai Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
inscription near Tirukkoyilur
in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
dated to the early Tamil Sangam
Tamil Sangam
age (c. 400 BC).

Colloquial Tamil 'Oppaari song'

Oppaari song lamenting death, sung by women during a death ceremony. Here it is the death of a son lamented by the mother.

Pudumaipithan's short story 'Pon Nagaram'

Audio recording of Pudumaipithan's short story 'Pon Nagaram' (showing a few loanwords).

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Region-specific variations The socio-linguistic situation of Tamil is characterised by diglossia: there are two separate registers varying by socioeconomic status, a high register and a low one.[96][97] Tamil dialects are primarily differentiated from each other by the fact that they have undergone different phonological changes and sound shifts in evolving from Old Tamil. For example, the word for "here"—iṅku in Centamil (the classic variety)—has evolved into iṅkū in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatore, inga in the dialect of Thanjavur, and iṅkai in some dialects of Sri Lanka. Old Tamil's iṅkaṇ (where kaṇ means place) is the source of iṅkane in the dialect of Tirunelveli, Old Tamil iṅkaṭṭu is the source of iṅkuṭṭu in the dialect of Madurai, and iṅkaṭe in some northern dialects. Even now, in the Coimbatore
area, it is common to hear "akkaṭṭa" meaning "that place". Although Tamil dialects do not differ significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka retain many words and grammatical forms that are not in everyday use in India,[46][98] and use many other words slightly differently.[99] Tamil dialects include Central Tamil dialect, Kongu Tamil, Madras Bashai, Madurai
Tamil, Nellai Tamil, Kumari tamil in India
and Batticaloa Tamil dialect, Jaffna
Tamil dialect, Negombo Tamil dialect in Sri Lanka. Sankethi dialect in Karnataka
has been heavily influenced by Kannada. Loanword variations See also: Indo-Aryan loanwords in Tamil and Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil The dialect of the district of Palakkad
in Kerala
has a large number of Malayalam
loanwords, has been influenced by Malayalam's syntax, and has a distinctive Malayalam
accent. Similarly, Tamil spoken in Kanyakumari District has more unique words and phonetic style than Tamil spoken at other parts of Tamil Nadu. The words and phonetics are so different that a person from Kanyakumari district
Kanyakumari district
is easily identifiable by their spoken Tamil. Hebbar and Mandyam dialects, spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites who migrated to Karnataka
in the 11th century, retain many features of the Vaishnava paribasai, a special form of Tamil developed in the 9th and 10th centuries that reflect Vaishnavite religious and spiritual values.[100] Several castes have their own sociolects which most members of that caste traditionally used regardless of where they come from. It is often possible to identify a person's caste by their speech.[101] Tamil in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
incorporates loan words from Portuguese, Dutch, and English. Spoken and literary variants

- Umbartharu - Hamsadhwani

Literary Tamil in hymn 'Umbartharu' (Hamsadhwani) on lord Ganesha
from Thiruppugazh
(c. 1400s).

Sivagnanam's 'Arivuk kadhaigal'.

Literary Tamil pronunciation. Reading an excerpt from Ma. Po. Si.'s book 'Arivuk kadhaigal' (1900s).

Bharathi's 'Senthamil nadu ennum' song

Literary Tamil pronunciation in song written by Subramanya Bharathi, 'Senthamizh naadennum pothinile' (1900s ).

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In addition to its dialects, Tamil exhibits different forms: a classical literary style modelled on the ancient language (sankattamiḻ), a modern literary and formal style (centamiḻ), and a modern colloquial form (koṭuntamiḻ). These styles shade into each other, forming a stylistic continuum. For example, it is possible to write centamiḻ with a vocabulary drawn from caṅkattamiḻ, or to use forms associated with one of the other variants while speaking koṭuntamiḻ.[102] In modern times, centamiḻ is generally used in formal writing and speech. For instance, it is the language of textbooks, of much of Tamil literature
Tamil literature
and of public speaking and debate. In recent times, however, koṭuntamiḻ has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of centamiḻ. Most contemporary cinema, theatre and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in koṭuntamiḻ, and many politicians use it to bring themselves closer to their audience. The increasing use of koṭuntamiḻ in modern times has led to the emergence of unofficial ‘standard' spoken dialects. In India, the ‘standard' koṭuntamiḻ, rather than on any one dialect,[103] but has been significantly influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur
and Madurai. In Sri Lanka, the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna. Writing system Main articles: Tamil script
Tamil script
and Tamil braille See also: Vatteluttu, Grantha script, Pallava script, and Arwi

Historical evolution of Tamil writing from the earlier Tamil Brahmi near the top to the current Tamil script
Tamil script
at bottom.

Thirukkural palm leaf manuscript.

After Tamil Brahmi
Tamil Brahmi
fell out of use, Tamil was written using a script called the vaṭṭeḻuttu amongst others such as Grantha and Pallava script. The current Tamil script
Tamil script
consists of 12 vowels, 18 consonants and one special character, the āytam. The vowels and consonants combine to form 216 compound characters, giving a total of 247 characters (12 + 18 + 1 + (12 x 18)). All consonants have an inherent vowel a, as with other Indic scripts. This inherent vowel is removed by adding a tittle called a puḷḷi, to the consonantal sign. For example, ன is ṉa (with the inherent a) and ன் is ṉ (without a vowel). Many Indic scripts
Indic scripts
have a similar sign, generically called virama, but the Tamil script
Tamil script
is somewhat different in that it nearly always uses a visible puḷḷi to indicate a 'dead consonant' (a consonant without a vowel). In other Indic scripts, it is generally preferred to use a ligature or a half form to write a syllable or a cluster containing a dead consonant, although writing it with a visible virama is also possible. The Tamil script
Tamil script
does not differentiate voiced and unvoiced plosives. Instead, plosives are articulated with voice depending on their position in a word, in accordance with the rules of Tamil phonology. In addition to the standard characters, six characters taken from the Grantha script, which was used in the Tamil region to write Sanskrit, are sometimes used to represent sounds not native to Tamil, that is, words adopted from Sanskrit, Prakrit
and other languages. The traditional system prescribed by classical grammars for writing loan-words, which involves respelling them in accordance with Tamil phonology, remains, but is not always consistently applied.[104] ISO 15919 is an international standard for the transliteration of Tamil and other Indic scripts
Indic scripts
into Latin characters. It uses diacritics to map the much larger set of Brahmic consonants and vowels to the Latin script. Tamil can be transliterated into English by using ISO 15919, since English language
English language
uses the Latin script
Latin script
for writing. Numerals and symbols Main article: Tamil numerals Apart from the usual numerals, Tamil has numerals for 10, 100 and 1000. Symbols for day, month, year, debit, credit, as above, rupee, and numeral are present as well. Tamil also uses several historical fractional signs.

zero one two three four five six seven eight nine ten hundred thousand

௦ ௧ ௨ ௩ ௪ ௫ ௬ ௭ ௮ ௯ ௰ ௱ ௲

day month year debit credit as above rupee numeral

௳ ௴ ௵ ௶ ௷ ௸ ௹ ௺


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Main article: Tamil phonology

Tamil tongue twisters.

ல-கரம், ழ-கரம்.

'குலை குலையாய் வாழைப்பழம், மழையில் அழுகி கீழே விழுந்தது.'

(பேச்சுத் தமிழில்) ந-கரம், ட-கரம்.

கொக்கு நெட்ட கொக்கு. நெட்ட கொக்கு இட்ட முட்ட, கட்ட முட்ட.


ஏழை கிழவன் வாழைப் பழத் தோல் மேல் சருசருக்கி வழுவழுக்கி கீழே விழுந்தான்.

ல-கரம், ள-கரம்.

'அவள் அவலளந்தால், இவள் அவலளப்பாள். இவள் அவலளந்தால், அவள் அவலளப்பாள். அவளும் இவளும் அவல் அளக்காவிட்டால், எவள் அவலளப்பாள் ?'

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Tamil phonology
Tamil phonology
is characterised by the presence of retroflex consonants and multiple rhotics. Tamil does not distinguish phonologically between voiced and unvoiced consonants; phonetically, voice is assigned depending on a consonant's position in a word.[105] Tamil phonology
Tamil phonology
permits few consonant clusters, which can never be word initial. Native grammarians classify Tamil phonemes into vowels, consonants, and a "secondary character", the āytam. Vowels Tamil has five vowel qualities, namely /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/. Each may be long or short. There are two diphthongs, /aɪ/ and /aʊ/. Long vowels are about twice as long as short vowels. The diphthongs are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as short vowels. Most grammatical texts place them with the long vowels.

Short Long

Front Central Back Front Central Back

Close i

u iː

உ ஈ

Mid e

o eː

ஒ ஏ



(aɪ̯) aː (aʊ̯)

ஐ ஆ ஒள

Consonants Tamil consonants are presented as hard, soft and medial in some grammars which roughly corresponds to plosives, nasals and approximants. Unlike most Indian languages, Tamil does not distinguish aspirated and unaspirated consonants. In addition, the voicing of plosives is governed by strict rules in centamiḻ. Plosives are unvoiced if they occur word-initially or doubled. Elsewhere they are voiced, with a few becoming fricatives intervocalically, which means that voicing is not a phonological trait for plosives. Nasals and approximants are always voiced.[106] Tamil is characterised by its use of more than one type of coronal consonants: like many of the other languages of India, it contains a series of retroflex consonants. Notably, the Tamil retroflex series includes the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ (ழ) (example Tamil; often transcribed 'zh'), which is absent in the Indo-Aryan languages. Among the other Dravidian languages, the retroflex approximant also occurs in Malayalam
(for example in 'Kozhikode'), disappeared from spoken Kannada
around 1000 AD (although the character is still written, and exists in Unicode), and was never present in Telugu. In many dialects of colloquial Tamil, this consonant is seen as disappearing and shifting to the alveolar lateral approximant /l/.[107] Dental and alveolar consonants also historically contrasted with each other, a typically Dravidian trait not found in the neighbouring Indo-Aryan languages. While this distinction can still be seen in the written language, it has been largely lost in colloquial spoken Tamil, and even in literary usage the letters ந (dental) and ன (alveolar) may be seen as allophonic.[108] Likewise, the historical alveolar stop has transformed into a trill consonant in many modern dialects. A chart of the Tamil consonant phonemes in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:[98]

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar

Plosives p t̪ t ʈ t͡ɕ k

ப த ற ட ச க

Nasals m n̪ n ɳ ȵ ŋ

ம ந ன ண ஞ ங



Central approximants ʋ

ɻ j

ழ ய

Lateral approximants


The plosives have voiced allophones in predictable contexts. The sounds /f/ and /ʂ/ are peripheral to the phonology of Tamil, being found only in loanwords and frequently replaced by native sounds. There are well-defined rules for elision in Tamil categorised into classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision. Āytam Classical Tamil had a phoneme called the āytam, written as ‘ஃ'. Tamil grammarians of the time classified it as a dependent phoneme (or restricted phoneme[109]) (cārpeḻuttu), but it is very rare in modern Tamil. The rules of pronunciation given in the Tolkāppiyam, a text on the grammar of Classical Tamil, suggest that the āytam could have glottalised the sounds it was combined with. It has also been suggested that the āytam was used to represent the voiced implosive (or closing part or the first half) of geminated voiced plosives inside a word.[110] The āytam, in modern Tamil, is also used to convert p to f when writing English words using the Tamil script. Grammar Main article: Tamil grammar Tamil employs agglutinative grammar, where suffixes are used to mark noun class, number, and case, verb tense and other grammatical categories. Tamil's standard metalinguistic terminology and scholarly vocabulary is itself Tamil, as opposed to the Sanskrit
that is standard for most Aryan languages.[111][112] Much of Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest known grammar book for Tamil, the Tolkāppiyam. Modern Tamil
Modern Tamil
writing is largely based on the 13th century grammar Naṉṉūl which restated and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely eḻuttu, sol, poruḷ, yāppu, aṇi. Of these, the last two are mostly applied in poetry.[113] Tamil words consist of a lexical root to which one or more affixes are attached. Most Tamil affixes are suffixes. Tamil suffixes can be derivational suffixes, which either change the part of speech of the word or its meaning, or inflectional suffixes, which mark categories such as person, number, mood, tense, etc. There is no absolute limit on the length and extent of agglutination, which can lead to long words with a large number of suffixes, which would require several words or a sentence in English. To give an example, the word pōkamuṭiyātavarkaḷukkāka (போகமுடியாதவர்களுக்காக) means "for the sake of those who cannot go" and consists of the following morphemes:

pōka muṭi y āta var kaḷ ukku āka

go accomplish word-joining letter negation (impersonal) nominalizer he/she who does plural marker to for

Morphology Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes (tiṇai)—the "rational" (uyartiṇai), and the "irrational" (akṟiṇai)—which include a total of five classes (pāl, which literally means ‘gender'). Humans and deities are classified as "rational", and all other nouns (animals, objects, abstract nouns) are classified as irrational. The "rational" nouns and pronouns belong to one of three classes (pāl)—masculine singular, feminine singular, and rational plural. The "irrational" nouns and pronouns belong to one of two classes: irrational singular and irrational plural. The pāl is often indicated through suffixes. The plural form for rational nouns may be used as an honorific, gender-neutral, singular form.[114]

peyarccol (Name-words)[115]

uyartiṇai (rational) aḵṟiṇai (irrational)

āṇpāl Male peṇpāl Female palarpāl Collective oṉṟaṉpāl One palaviṉpāl Many

Example: the Tamil words for "doer"

ceytavaṉ He who did ceytavaḷ She who did ceytavar They who did ceytatu That which did ceytavai Those ones which did

Suffixes are used to perform the functions of cases or postpositions. Traditional grammarians tried to group the various suffixes into eight cases corresponding to the cases used in Sanskrit. These were the nominative, accusative, dative, sociative, genitive, instrumental, locative, and ablative. Modern grammarians argue that this classification is artificial,[116] and that Tamil usage is best understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as marking a separate case.[103] Tamil nouns can take one of four prefixes, i, a, u, and e which are functionally equivalent to the demonstratives in English. For example, the word vazhi (வழி) meaning "way" can take these to produce ivvazhi (இவ்வழி) "this way", avvazhi (அவ்வழி) "that way", uvvazhi (உவ்வழி) "the medial way" and evvazhi (எவ்வழி) "which way". Tamil verbs are also inflected through the use of suffixes. A typical Tamil verb form will have a number of suffixes, which show person, number, mood, tense, and voice.

Person and number are indicated by suffixing the oblique case of the relevant pronoun. The suffixes to indicate tenses and voice are formed from grammatical particles, which are added to the stem. Tamil has two voices. The first indicates that the subject of the sentence undergoes or is the object of the action named by the verb stem, and the second indicates that the subject of the sentence directs the action referred to by the verb stem. Tamil has three simple tenses—past, present, and future—indicated by the suffixes, as well as a series of perfects indicated by compound suffixes. Mood is implicit in Tamil, and is normally reflected by the same morphemes which mark tense categories. Tamil verbs also mark evidentiality, through the addition of the hearsay clitic ām.[117] Verb inflection is shown below using example aḻintukkoṇṭiruntēṉ; (அழிந்துக்கொண்டிருந்தேன்); "(I) was being destroyed".

aḻi intu koṇṭu irunta ēn

root destroy voice marker past tense object voice tense marker during aspect marker past progressive person marker first person, singular

Traditional grammars of Tamil do not distinguish between adjectives and adverbs, including both of them under the category uriccol, although modern grammarians tend to distinguish between them on morphological and syntactical grounds.[118] Tamil has a large number of ideophones that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a given state "says" or "sounds".[119] Tamil does not have articles. Definiteness and indefiniteness are either indicated by special grammatical devices, such as using the number "one" as an indefinite article, or by the context.[120] In the first person plural, Tamil makes a distinction between inclusive pronouns நாம் nām (we), நமது namatu (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் nāṅkaḷ (we), எமது ematu (our) that do not.[120] Syntax Tamil is a consistently head-final language. The verb comes at the end of the clause, with a typical word order of subject–object–verb (SOV).[121][122] However, word order in Tamil is also flexible, so that surface permutations of the SOV order are possible with different pragmatic effects. Tamil has postpositions rather than prepositions. Demonstratives and modifiers precede the noun within the noun phrase. Subordinate clauses precede the verb of the matrix clause. Tamil is a null-subject language. Not all Tamil sentences have subjects, verbs, and objects. It is possible to construct grammatically valid and meaningful sentences which lack one or more of the three. For example, a sentence may only have a verb—such as muṭintuviṭṭatu ("completed")—or only a subject and object, without a verb such as atu eṉ vīṭu ("That [is] my house"). Tamil does not have a copula (a linking verb equivalent to the word is). The word is included in the translations only to convey the meaning more easily. Vocabulary The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of linguistic purism is found in Modern Tamil,[123] which opposes the use of foreign loanwords.[124] Nonetheless, a number of words used in classical and modern Tamil are loanwords from the languages of neighbouring groups, or with whom the Tamils
had trading links, including Munda (for example, tavaḷai "frog" from Munda tabeg), Malay (e.g. cavvarici "sago" from Malay sāgu), Chinese (for example, campān "skiff" from Chinese san-pan) and Greek (for example, ora from Greek ὥρα). In more modern times, Tamil has imported words from Urdu
and Marathi, reflecting groups that have influenced the Tamil area at times, and from neighbouring languages such as Telugu, Kannada, and Sinhala. During the modern period, words have also been adapted from European languages, such as Portuguese, French, and English.[125] The strongest impact of purism in Tamil has been on words taken from Sanskrit. During its history, Tamil, along with other Dravidian languages like Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam
etc., was influenced by Sanskrit
in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary styles,[126][127][128][129] reflecting the increased trend of Sanskritisation in the Tamil country.[130] Tamil vocabulary never became quite as heavily Sanskritised as that of the other Dravidian languages, and unlike in those languages, it was and remains possible to express complex ideas (including in science, art, religion and law) without the use of Sanskrit
loan words.[131][132][133] In addition, Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the late medieval period,[134] culminating in the 20th century in a movement called taṉit tamiḻ iyakkam (meaning "pure Tamil movement"), led by Parithimaar Kalaignar and Maraimalai Adigal, which sought to remove the accumulated influence of Sanskrit
on Tamil.[135] As a result of this, Tamil in formal documents, literature and public speeches has seen a marked decline in the use Sanskrit
loan words in the past few decades,[136] under some estimates having fallen from 40–50% to about 20%.[71] As a result, the Prakrit
and Sanskrit
loan words used in modern Tamil are, unlike in some other Dravidian languages, restricted mainly to some spiritual terminology and abstract nouns.[137] In the 20th century, institutions and learned bodies have, with government support, generated technical dictionaries for Tamil containing neologisms and words derived from Tamil roots to replace loan words from English and other languages.[69]

Thani Tamil Iyakkam's Parithimar Kalaignar. He translated his name to Tamil from the Sanskrit
'Suryanarayana Sastri'. 

Thani Tamil Iyakkam's Bharathidasan. A Tamil writer, poet. 

E. V. Ramasami (Periyaar), freedom fighter, social reformer, Tamil language reform. 

C. N. Annadurai, freedom fighter, Tamil scholar, Chief minister of Tamil Nadu, two language policy. 

Influence Main article: Tamil loanwords in other languages Words of Tamil origin occur in other languages. A notable example of a word in worldwide use with Dravidian (not specifically Tamil) etymology is orange, via Sanskrit
nāraṅga from a Dravidian predecessor of Tamil nartaṅkāy "fragrant fruit". One suggestion as to the origin of the word anaconda is the Tamil anaikkonda, "having killed an elephant".[138] Examples in English include cheroot (churuṭṭu meaning "rolled up"),[139] mango (from māngāi),[139] mulligatawny (from miḷaku taṇṇīr, "pepper water"), pariah (from paraiyan), curry (from kari),[140] and catamaran (from kaṭṭu maram, "bundled logs"),[139] congee (from kanji - rice porridge or gruel).[141] See also

Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
portal Tamil People portal Tamil civilization portal Dravidian civilizations portal India

List of countries where Tamil is an official language List of languages by first written accounts Tamil keyboard Tamil population by cities Tamil population by nation Tamil people Tamil Loanwords in other languages


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poetry" – Tieken 2001, p. 18. ^ Vaidyanathan, S. (1967). "Indo-Aryan Loan Words in the Cīvakacintāmaṇi". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 87 (4): 430. doi:10.2307/597587. JSTOR 597587.  ^ Caldwell 1974, pp. 87–88 ^ Takahashi, Takanobu. (1995). Tamil love poetry and poetics. Brill's Indological Library, v. 9. Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 16, 18. ISBN 9004100423. ^ Pollock, Sheldon (1996). "The Sanskrit
Cosmopolis 300–1300: Transculturation, vernacularisation and the question of ideology" in Jan E. M. Houben (ed.), The ideology and status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the history of the Sanskrit
language. E. J. Brill, Leiden. pp. 209–217. ISBN 9004106138. ^ Trautmann, Thomas R. (1999), "Hullabaloo About Telugu", South Asian Research, 19 (1): 53–70, doi:10.1177/026272809901900104  at p. 64 ^ Caldwell 1974, p. 50 ^ Ellis, F. W. (1820), "Note to the introduction" in Campbell, A.D., A grammar of the Teloogoo language. Madras: College Press, pp. 29–30. ^ See Ramaswamy's analysis of one such text, the Tamiḻ viṭututu, in Ramaswamy, S. (1998). "Language of the People in the World of Gods: Ideologies of Tamil before the Nation". The Journal of Asian Studies. 57: 66. doi:10.2307/2659024. JSTOR 2659024.  ^ Varadarajan, M. A History of Tamil Literature, transl. from Tamil by E. Sa. Viswanathan, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1988. p. 12: "Since then the movement has been popularly known as the tanittamil iyakkam or the Pure Tamil movement among the Tamil scholars." ^ Ramaswamy, Sumathy (1997), "Laboring for language", Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891–1970, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-585-10600-2, Nevertheless, even impressionistically speaking, the marked decline in the use of foreign words, especially of Sanskritic origin, in Tamil literary, scholarly, and even bureaucratic circles over the past half century is quite striking.  ^ Meenakshisundaram, T. P. (1982) A History of Tamil Language, Sarvodaya Ilakkiya Pannai. (translated) pp. 241–2 ^ “Origin and Meaning of Anaconda.” Online Etymology Dictionary. ^ a b c "Oxford English Dictionary
Online", Oxford English Dictionary, retrieved 14 April 2007  ^ "curry, n.2", The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 14 August 2009 ^ "congee". academic.ru. 


Andronov, M.S. (1970), Dravidian Languages, Nauka Publishing House  Annamalai, E.; Steever, S.B. (1998), "Modern Tamil", in Steever, Sanford, The Dravidian Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 100–128, ISBN 0-415-10023-2  Caldwell, Robert (1974), A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages, New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp.  Hart, George L. (1975), The poems of ancient Tamil : their milieu and their Sanskrit
counterparts, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-02672-1  Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2003), The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge Language Surveys, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-77111-0  Kesavapany, K.; Mani, A; Ramasamy, Palanisamy (2008), Rising India
and Indian Communities in East Asia, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISBN 981-230-799-0  Kuiper, F. B. J. (1958), "Two problems of old Tamil phonology
Tamil phonology
I. The old Tamil āytam (with an appendix by K. Zvelebil)", Indo-Iranian Journal, 2 (3): 191, doi:10.1007/BF00162818  Lehmann, Thomas (1998), "Old Tamil", in Steever, Sanford, The Dravidian Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 75–99, ISBN 0-415-10023-2  Mahadevan, Iravatham (2003), Early Tamil Epigraphy
from the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D, Harvard Oriental Series vol. 62, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-01227-5  Meenakshisundaran, T.P. (1965), A History of Tamil Language, Poona: Deccan College  Murthy, Srinivasa; Rao, Surendra; Veluthat, Kesavan; Bari, S.A. (1990), Essays on Indian History and culture: Felicitation volume in Honour of Professor B. Sheik Ali, New Delhi: Mittal, ISBN 81-7099-211-7  Ramstedt, Martin (2004), Hinduism
in modern Indonesia, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-7007-1533-9  Rajam, VS (1992), A Reference Grammar of Classical Tamil Poetry, Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, ISBN 0-87169-199-X  Ramaswamy, Sumathy (1997), "Laboring for language", Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891–1970, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-585-10600-2  Shapiro, Michael C.; Schiffman, Harold F. (1983), Language and society in South Asia, Dordrecht: Foris, ISBN 90-70176-55-6  Schiffman, Harold F. (1999), A Reference Grammar of Spoken Tamil, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-64074-1  Southworth, Franklin C. (1998), "On the Origin of the word tamiz", International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 27 (1): 129–132  Southworth, Franklin C. (2005), Linguistic archaeology of South Asia, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-33323-7  Steever, Sanford (1998), "Introduction", in Steever, Sanford, The Dravidian Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 1–39, ISBN 0-415-10023-2  Steever, Sanford (2005), The Tamil auxiliary verb system, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-34672-X  Tharu, Susie; Lalita, K., eds. (1991), Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the present – Vol. 1: 600 B.C. to the early twentieth century, Feminist Press, ISBN 1-55861-027-8  Talbot, Cynthia (2001), Precolonial India
in practice: Society, Region and Identity in Medieval Andhra, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-513661-6  Tieken, Herman (2001), Kavya in South India: Old Tamil
Old Tamil
Cankam Poetry, Gonda Indological Studies, Volume X, Groningen: Egbert Forsten Publishing, ISBN 90-6980-134-5  Varadarajan, Mu. (1988), A History of Tamil Literature, New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi  (Translated from Tamil by E.Sa. Viswanathan) Zvelebil, Kamil (1992), Companion studies to the history of Tamil literature, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 90-04-09365-6 

Further reading

Fabricius, Johann Philip (1933 and 1972), Tamil and English Dictionary. based on J.P. Fabricius Malabar-English Dictionary, 3rd and 4th Edition Revised and Enlarged by David Bexell. Evangelical Lutheran Mission Publishing House, Tranquebar; called Tranquebar Dictionary. Freeman, Rich (February 1998), "Rubies and Coral: The Lapidary Crafting of Language in Kerala", The Journal of Asian Studies, Association for Asian Studies, 57 (1): 38–65, doi:10.2307/2659023, JSTOR 2659023  Keane, Elinor (2004), "Tamil", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 34 (1): 111–116, doi:10.1017/S0025100304001549 

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