Andaman & Nicobar Islands
tam – Modern Tamil
oty – Old Tamil
ptq – Pattapu Bhashai
oty Old Tamil
tamil1289 Modern Tamil
oldt1248 Old Tamil
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Tamil is written in a non-Latin script. Tamil text used in this
article is transliterated into the
Latin script according to the ISO
Tamil (English: /ˈtæmɪl/; தமிழ் Tamiḻ [t̪ɐmɨɻ],
pronunciation (help·info)) is a Dravidian language
predominantly spoken by the
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. It has official status in the Indian state of
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. Tamil is spoken by significant minorities
in the four other South Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra
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. It is stated as 20th in the
Ethnologue list of
most-spoken languages worldwide.
Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions from
500 BC have been found on Adichanallur and 2,200-year-old
Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions have been found on Samanamalai. A study
conducted by Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human
History found that the
Dravidian language family, of which Tamil is a
part, may be approximately 4000-4500 years old. It has been
described as "the only language of contemporary
India which is
recognizably continuous with a classical past." The variety and
quality of classical
Tamil literature has led to it being described as
"one of the great classical traditions and literature of the
Tamil literature has been documented for over 2000
years. The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature,
is dated from ca. 300 BC – AD 300. It has the oldest extant
literature among Dravidian languages. The earliest epigraphic
records found on rock edicts and 'hero stones' date from around the
3rd century BC. More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions
(about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of
India are in the
Tamil language inscriptions written in Brahmi
script have been discovered in
Sri Lanka and on trade goods in
Thailand and Egypt. The two earliest manuscripts from
India, acknowledged and registered by the UNESCO Memory of the
World register in 1997 and 2005, were written in Tamil.
In 1578, Portuguese Christian missionaries published a Tamil prayer
book in old
Tamil script named Thambiraan Vanakkam, thus making Tamil
the first Indian language to be printed and published. The Tamil
Lexicon, published by the University of Madras, was one of the
earliest dictionaries published in the Indian languages. According
to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of
which 353 were dailies.
2.3 Old Tamil
2.4 Middle Tamil
2.5 Modern Tamil
3 Geographic distribution
4 Legal status
5.1 Region-specific variations
5.1.1 Loanword variations
6 Spoken and literary variants
7 Writing system
7.1 Numerals and symbols
12 See also
15 Further reading
16 External links
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.
It is also classified as being part of a
Tamil language family that,
alongside Tamil proper, includes the languages of about 35
ethno-linguistic groups 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. Although many of the
differences between Tamil and
Malayalam demonstrate a pre-historic
split of the western dialect, the process of separation into a
distinct language, Malayalam, was not completed until sometime in the
13th or 14th century.
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
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. 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
Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritic
Indian literature. Scholars categorise the attested history of the
language into three periods:
Old Tamil (300 BC–AD 700), Middle Tamil
Modern Tamil (1600–present). In November 2007,
an excavation at Quseir-al-Qadim revealed Egyptian pottery dating back
to first century BC with ancient
Tamil Brahmi inscriptions. John
Guy states that Tamil was the lingua franca for early maritime traders
Tamil Brahmi inscription in Mangulam,
Madurai district, Tamil
Nadu dated to Tamil
Sangam period c. 400 BC to c. 200 AD.
Tamil Brahmi inscription in Mangulam, Madurai
Tamil Nadu dated to Tamil
Sangam period c. 400 BC to c. 200
Tamil Brahmi script in the reverse side of the bilingual silver coin
Vashishtiputra Sātakarni (c. AD 160) of Deccan. Rev:
Ujjain/Sātavāhana symbol, crescented six-arch chaitya hill and river
Tamil Brahmi script 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.
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
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. Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miḻ >
tam-iḻ 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'.(see Southworth's
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
Tamil Lexicon of
University of Madras
University of Madras defines the word 'Tamil' as
'sweetness'. S.V Subramanian suggests the meaning 'sweet sound'
from 'tam'- sweet and 'il'- 'sound'.
Old Tamil language
Old Tamil is the period of the
Tamil language spanning the 5th century
BC to the 8th century AD. The earliest records in
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. The earliest long text in
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. A large
number of literary works in
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
Middle Tamil language
Tamil inscriptions in
Vatteluttu script in stone during Chola period
c.1000 AD at
Brahadeeswara temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
The evolution of
Old Tamil into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken
to have been completed by the 8th century, 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, the coalescence of the alveolar and dental
nasals, and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a
rhotic. 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.
Nannul remains the standard normative grammar for modern literary
Tamil, which therefore continues to be based on
Middle Tamil of the
13th century rather than on Modern Tamil.
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 –
instead, negation is expressed either morphologically or
syntactically. Modern spoken Tamil also shows a number of sound
changes, in particular, a tendency to lower high vowels in initial and
medial positions, and the disappearance of vowels between plosives
and between a plosive and rhotic.
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.
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. It
received some support from Dravidian parties. This led to the
replacement of a significant number of
Sanskrit loanwords by Tamil
equivalents, though many others remain.
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
Maharashtra and in certain regions of
Sri Lanka such
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 districts
of Chittoor and Nellore until the 12th century AD. Tamil was used
for inscriptions from the 10th through 14th centuries in southern
Karnataka districts such as Kolar, Mysore,
Mandya and Bangalore.
There are currently sizeable Tamil-speaking populations descended from
colonial-era migrants in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Mauritius,
South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam. A large
community of Pakistani
Tamils speakers exists in Karachi, Pakistan,
which includes Tamil-speaking Hindus as well as Christians and
Muslims – including some Tamil-speaking Muslim refugees from Sri
Lanka. Many in Réunion, Guyana, Fiji, Suriname, and Trinidad and
Tobago have Tamil origins, but only a small number speak the
language. In Reunion where the
Tamil language was forbidden to be
learnt and used in public space by
France it is now being relearnt by
students and adults. It is also used by groups of migrants from
Sri Lanka and India,
Canada (especially Toronto), United States
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 (
Tsunami early warning
An electrical hazard sign in
Malaysia written in Tamil with other
Nameboard with Tamil at
Koneswaram temple at Thirukonamalai, Sri
A hospital sign in Toronto, Ontario,
Canada written in Tamil
A Multilingual danger sign in
Singapore with Tamil writing
Mauritius 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
See also: States of
India by Tamil speakers
See also: List of territorial entities where Tamil is an official
Tamil is the official language of the Indian state of
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. 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.
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. In Malaysia, 543 primary education government
schools are available fully in Tamil medium. The establishments of
Tamil medium schools have been currently in process in
provide education completely in
Tamil language by the
settled there 200 years ago. 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.
Tamil enjoys a special status of protection under Article 6(b),
Chapter 1 of the Constitution of
South Africa and is taught as a
subject in schools in
KwaZulu-Natal province. Recently, it has
been rolled out as a subject of study in schools in the French
overseas department of Réunion.
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,
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.
Tamil Brahmi inscription near
Tirukkoyilur in Villupuram
Tamil Nadu dated to the early
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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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. 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, and use many other words slightly
differently. 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.
Indo-Aryan loanwords in Tamil and Loan words in Sri Lankan
The dialect of the district of
Kerala has a large number
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 is easily
identifiable by their spoken Tamil. Hebbar and
spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites who migrated to
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. 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. Tamil in
Sri Lanka incorporates loan words from Portuguese, Dutch, and English.
Spoken and literary variants
Thiruppugazh - Umbartharu - Hamsadhwani
Literary Tamil in hymn 'Umbartharu' (Hamsadhwani) on lord
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 ).
Problems playing these files? See media help.
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
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 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, but has been
significantly influenced by the dialects of
Thanjavur and Madurai. In
Sri Lanka, the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna.
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 at bottom.
Thirukkural palm leaf manuscript.
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 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 have a similar sign, generically called
virama, but the
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 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. ISO
15919 is an international standard for the transliteration of Tamil
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,
English language uses the
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
Part of a series on
History of Tamil Nadu
History of Sri Lanka
Sources of ancient Tamil history
Sri Lankan Tamils
Indian Tamil diaspora
Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora
Malaysian Tamil diaspora
Tamil Australians, French Tamils, British Tamils, Tamil Italians,
Tamil Indonesians, Tamil Canadians, Tamil Americans, Tamil South
Myanmar Tamils, Tamil Mauritians, Tamil Germans, Tamil
Pakistanis, Tamil Seychellois, Tamil New Zealanders, Swiss Tamils
Religion in ancient Tamil country
Hinduism in Tamil Nadu
Hinduism in Sri Lanka
Buddhism amongst Tamils
Christianity in Tamil Nadu
Politics of Tamil Nadu
Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism
Part of a series on
Dravidian culture and history
Indus Valley Civilisation
History of South India
Ancient history of Sri Lanka
South Indian culture
History of Dravidian languages
Dravidian folk religion
Kannada language rights
Tulu Nadu state movement
Telugu Desam Party
Main article: Tamil phonology
Tamil tongue twisters.
'குலை குலையாய் வாழைப்பழம்,
மழையில் அழுகி கீழே
(பேச்சுத் தமிழில்) ந-கரம்,
கொக்கு நெட்ட கொக்கு. நெட்ட
கொக்கு இட்ட முட்ட, கட்ட
ஏழை கிழவன் வாழைப் பழத்
தோல் மேல் சருசருக்கி
'அவள் அவலளந்தால், இவள்
அவலளப்பாள். அவளும் இவளும்
அவல் அளக்காவிட்டால், எவள்
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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/. 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. 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
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.
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) (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. The āytam, in modern Tamil, is also used to
convert p to f when writing English words using the Tamil script.
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.
Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest known
grammar book for Tamil, the Tolkāppiyam.
Modern Tamil writing is
largely based on the 13th century grammar Naṉṉūl which restated
and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications.
Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely eḻuttu,
sol, poruḷ, yāppu, aṇi. Of these, the last two are mostly applied
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
means "for the sake of those who cannot go" and consists of the
he/she who does
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.
Example: the Tamil words for "doer"
He who did
She who did
They who did
That which did
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, and that Tamil usage is best
understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as
marking a separate case. 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)
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.
Verb inflection is shown below using example
"(I) was being destroyed".
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. Tamil has a large number
of ideophones that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a
given state "says" or "sounds".
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. 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.
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). 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
The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of
linguistic purism is found in Modern Tamil, which opposes the use
of foreign loanwords. 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
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, reflecting the increased trend of
Sanskritisation in the Tamil country. 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. In addition,
Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the
late medieval period, 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.
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, under some estimates having fallen from
40–50% to about 20%. As a result, the
words used in modern Tamil are, unlike in some other Dravidian
languages, restricted mainly to some spiritual terminology and
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.
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
C. N. Annadurai, freedom fighter, Tamil scholar, Chief minister of
Tamil Nadu, two language policy.
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". Examples in English include cheroot
(churuṭṭu meaning "rolled up"), mango (from māngāi),
mulligatawny (from miḷaku taṇṇīr, "pepper water"), pariah (from
paraiyan), curry (from kari), and catamaran (from kaṭṭu
maram, "bundled logs"), congee (from kanji - rice porridge or
Tamil Nadu portal
Tamil People portal
Tamil civilization portal
Dravidian civilizations portal
List of countries where Tamil is an official language
List of languages by first written accounts
Tamil population by cities
Tamil population by nation
Tamil Loanwords in other languages
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Tamil edition of, the free encyclopedia
For a list of words relating to Tamil language, see the Tamil language
category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Tamil at Wikibooks
Tamil travel guide from Wikivoyage
Media related to
Tamil language at Wikimedia Commons
Bangalore Tamil dialects
Central Tamil dialect
World Tamil Conference
World Classical Tamil Conference 2010
Tamil books of Law
The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature
The Five Lesser Epics of Tamil Literature
List of Sangam poets
Naalayira Divya Prabhandham
Tamil Lexicon dictionary
Madurai Tamil Paeragaraadhi
Yāzhpāna Vaipava Mālai
Megalithic graffiti symbols
Standardisation of Tamil script
Simplified Tamil script
Printing in Tamil language
Ancient manuscript digitalisation
Formation of CICT
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