2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages
|Spoken in:||India and Sri Lanka, with significant minorities in Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Mauritius, and South Africa, and emigrant communities around the world|
|Total speakers:||80 million (2005)|
|Ranking:||13-17 (native); in a near tie with Korean, Vietnamese, Telugu, Marathi|
|Language family:|| Dravidian
|Official language of:||India, Sri Lanka and Singapore|
|Regulated by:||Various academies and the Government of Tamil Nadu|
Tamil (தமிழ் tamiḻ) is a classical language and one of the major languages of the Dravidian language family. Spoken predominantly by Tamils in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore, it has smaller communities of speakers in many other countries. As of 1996, it was the eighteenth most spoken language, with over 74 million speakers worldwide. It is one of the official languages of India, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Tamil is one of the few living classical languages and has an unbroken literary tradition of over two millennia. The high level of diglossia exhibited by Tamil, and the prestige accorded to classical Tamil, have resulted in much of the vocabulary and forms of classical Tamil being preserved in modern literary Tamil, such that the higher registers of literary Tamil tend towards the classical language. The classical language also forms an important part of Tamil-medium education: verses from the Tirukkural, a classical work, are, for example, taught in primary school. The ordinary form of the modern language used in speech and writing, in contrast, has undergone significant changes, to the extent that a person who has not learnt the higher literary form will have difficulty understanding it.
The name 'Tamil' is an anglicised form of the native name தமிழ் ( IPA /t̪ɐmɨɻ/). The final letter of the name, usually transcribed as the lowercase l or zh, is a retroflex r. In phonetic transcriptions, it is usually represented by the retroflex approximant.
The origins of Tamil, like the other Dravidian languages are unknown, but unlike most of the other established literary languages of India, are independent of Sanskrit. Tamil has the oldest literature amongst the Dravidian languages (Hart, 1975), but dating the language and the literature precisely is difficult. Literary works in India or Sri Lanka were preserved either in palm leaf manuscripts (implying repeated copying and recopying) or through oral transmission, making direct dating impossible. External chronological records and internal linguistic evidence, however, indicate that the oldest extant works were probably composed sometime in the 2nd century CE.
The earliest extant text in Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam, a work on poetics and grammar which describes the language of the classical period, the oldest portions of this book may date back to around 200 BCE (Hart, 1975). Apart from these, the earliest examples of Tamil writing we have today are rock inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE, which are written in Tamil-Brahmi, an adapted form of the Brahmi script (Mahadevan, 2003). Linguists categorise Tamil literature and language into three periods: ancient (500 BCE to 700 CE), medieval (700 CE to 1500 CE) and modern (1500 CE to the present). During the medieval period, a number of Sanskrit loan words were absorbed by Tamil, which many 20th century purists, notably Parithimaar Kalaignar and Maraimalai Adigal, later sought to remove. This movement was called thanith thamizh iyakkam (meaning pure Tamil movement). As a result of this, Tamil in formal documents, public speeches and scientific discourses is largely free of Sanskrit loan words.
Tamil is a member of the Tamil language family, which includes the Irula, Kaikadi, Betta Kurumba, Sholaga, and Yerukula languages. This group is a subgroup of the Tamil-Malayalam languages, which falls under a subgroup of the Tamil-Kodagu languages, which in turn is a subgroup of the Tamil-Kannada languages. The Tamil-Kannada languages belong to the southern branch of the Dravidian language family. Tamil is most closely related to Malayalam, spoken in the Indian state of Kerala which borders Tamil Nadu, which linguists estimate separated from Tamil between the 8th and 10th centuries.
Tamil is the first language of the majority in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and in northern, eastern and northeastern Sri Lanka. The language is also spoken by small groups of minorities in other parts of these two countries, most notably in the Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, and in Colombo and the hill country in Sri Lanka.
There are currently sizeable Tamil-speaking populations descended from them in Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, and Mauritius. Many people in Guyana, Fiji, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago have Tamil origins, but the language is spoken only by a small number there. (see Tamil diaspora)
Groups of more recent emigrants as well as economic migrants such as engineering, IT, medical professionals and academics from the Sri Lanka and India - exist in Canada (especially Toronto), Australia, the USA and most western European countries.(see Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora)
Tamil is the Official Language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and union territories of Pondicherry/Pudhucherry and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and is one of 23 nationally recognised Official Languages in the Indian Constitution. Tamil carries an international status as official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore, and has constitutional recognition in South Africa, Mauritius and Malaysia.
In addition, with the creation in 2004 of a legal status for classical languages by the government of India, Tamil became the first legally recognised classical language following a campaign by several Tamil associations supported by academics from India and abroad, most notably Professor George L. Hart, who occupies the Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The recognition was announced by the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament on June 6, 2004.
Spoken and literary variants
In addition to its various dialects, Tamil also exhibits a rather sharp diglossia between its formal or classic variety, called centamil, and its colloquial form, called koduntamil, a broad term which traditionally referred to all spoken Tamil dialects rather than any one standard form. Diglossia has existed in the language since ancient times - the language used in early temple inscriptions differs quite significantly from the language of classical poetry. In consequence, standard centamil is not based on the speech of any one region, a fact which has helped keep the written language mostly the same across various Tamil speaking regions.
In modern times, centamil is generally used in formal writing and speech. It is, for example, the language of textbooks, of much of Tamil literature and of public speaking and debate. In recent times, however, koduntamil has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of centamil. Most contemporary cinema, theatre and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in koduntamil, and many politicians use it to bring themselves closer to their audience.
Spoken dialects did not have much prestige: Tamils believed that the grammatical rules of literary centamil had been formulated by the gods and they were therefore seen as being the only correct speech (see, for example, Kankeyar, 1840). In contrast to most European languages, therefore, Tamil did not have a standard spoken form for much of its history. In modern times, however, the increasing use of koduntamil has led to the emergence of unofficial 'standard' spoken dialects. In India, the 'standard' koduntamil is based on 'educated non-brahmin speech', rather than on any one dialect (Schiffman, 1998), 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 dialects are mainly differentiated from each other by the fact that they have undergone different phonological changes and sound shifts in evolving from Old Tamil. Thus the word for "here" - ingu in Centamil (the classic variety) - has evolved into inge in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatore, inga in the dialect of Thanjavur, ingane in the dialect of Tirunelveli, inguttu in the dialect of Ramanathapuram, ingale and ingade in various northern dialects and ingai in some dialects of Sri Lanka.
Although most Tamil dialects do not differ very significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka retain many words that are not in everyday use in India, and use many other words slightly differently. The dialect of the Iyers of Palakkad has a large number of Malayalam loanwords,has also been influenced by Malayalam syntax and also has a distinct Malayalam accent. Finally, the Sanketi, Hebbar and Mandyam dialects, the former spoken by groups of Tamil Iyers and the latter two by Vaishnavites who migrated to Karnataka in the 11th century, retains many features of the Vaishnava paribasai, a special form of Tamil designed in the 9th and 10th centuries to reflect Vaishnavite religious and spiritual values.Bangalore also has its own version of Tamil,and is mainly spoken by the people whose mother tongue is not Tamil and infuses words from Kannada and even Hindi.
Tamil dialects vary according to both region and community. Several castes have their own dialects which most members of that caste traditionally used regardless of where they come from. Some of these differences have begun to fade away in recent years as a result of the anti-casteist movement, but many traces remain and it is often possible to identify a person's caste by their speech.
The Ethnologue lists twenty-two current dialects of Tamil, including Adi Dravida, Aiyar, Aiyangar, Arava, Burgandi, Kasuva, Kongar, Korava, Korchi, Madrasi, Parikala, Pattapu Bhasha, Sri Lanka Tamil, Malaya Tamil, Burma Tamil, South Africa Tamil, Tigalu, Harijan, Sankethi, Hebbar, Tirunelveli, Tamil Muslim and Madurai. Other known dialects are Kongu and Kumari,which are heavily influenced by Malayalam.
Although not a dialect, the Tamil spoken in Chennai (Capital of Tamil Nadu) infuses English words and is called Madras Bashai.
Tamil is a phonetic language and is subject to well-defined rules of elision and euphony. The present script used to write Tamil text is believed to have evolved from the Brahmi script of the Ashoka era. Later, a southern variant of the Brahmi script ( Tamil-Brahmi)evolved into the Grantha script, which was used to write both Sanskrit and Tamil texts. Between the 6th and 10th centuries, a new script called Vatteluttu (meaning curved letters) or vettezhuthu (meaning letters that are cut) evolved in order to make it easy for creating inscriptions on stone. The over dot, called puLLi was specially defined in Tamil Grammar Tolkappiyam to distinguish consonants from ligatures. During the print revolution, Veeramaamunivar made some changes to Tamil writing, such as placing vowel markers in both left and right of consonants. Around 1935, E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker suggested some changes to make it amenable to printing. Some of these suggestions were incorporated by the M.G. Ramachandran government in 1978.
While the script was still evolving, many Sanskrit words were borrowed into Tamil. To facilitate writing these words, some characters from the Grantha script are still retained. However, there are many purists who would argue against the use of such characters as there are well-defined rules in the Tolkāppiyam for Tamilising loan words.
- A Tamil tongue twister —
- The sentence literally means: "An old pauper stepped on a banana peel, and slipped, slithered, and fell"
The vowels are called uyir ezhuthu (uyir - life, ezhuthu - letter). The vowels are classified into short and long (five of each type) and two diphthongs.
The long (nedil) vowels are about twice as long as the short (kuRil) vowels. The diphthongs are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as the short vowels, though most grammatical texts place them with the long vowels.
The diphthongs of Tamil are
The vowels /ə/, /æː/, and /ɔː/ are peripheral to the phonology of Tamil, occurring only in loanwords.
The consonants are classified into three categories with six in each category: vallinam - hard, mellinam - soft or Nasal, and idayinam - medium. Tamil has very restricted consonant clusters (eg: never word initial etc.) and has neither aspirated nor voiced stops. Some scholars have suggested that in Chenthamil (which refers to Tamil as it existed before Sanskrit words were borrowed), stops were voiceless when at the start of a word and voiced allophonically otherwise. However, no such distinction is observed by most modern Tamil speakers.
A chart of the Tamil consonant phonemes in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:
|Stop||p (b)||t̪ (d̪)||t||ʈ (ɖ)||c (ɟ)||k (g)|
The sounds /b/, /d̪/, /ɖ/, /ɟ/, /g/, /f/, /ʂ/, /ɕ/, /x/ are peripheral to the phonology of Tamil, being found only in loanwords and frequently replaced by native sounds.
The special character 'ஃ' (pronounced 'akh') is called āytham in the Tolkāppiyam (see Tolkāppiyam 1:1:2). The āytham is rarely used by itself: it normally serves a purely grammatical function as an independent vowel form, the equivalent of the overdot diacritic of plain consonants. The rules of pronunciation given in the Tolkāppiyam suggest that the āytham could have glottalised the sounds it was combined with. Although the character was common in classical Tamil, it fell out of use in the early modern period and is now very rare in written Tamil. It is occasionally used with a 'p' (as ஃப) to represent the phoneme [f]. It can also be used with 'j' to represent 'z' (see external link #2 - "Omniglot").
The āytham is also called ahenam (literally, 'the "ah" sound'). Its resemblance to the three dots that were found on shields in mediaeval times, and the similarity of the name āytham to the word āyutham meaning 'weapon' or 'tool' has resulted in it often being called āyutha ezhuthu (literally, 'the war-weapon letter').
Many researchers now feel that the āytham is actually used to represent the voiced implosive (or closing part or the first half) of geminated voiced plosives inside a word. For example, a word written as 'mu-āytham-dee-dhu' (from MuLL+dheedhu) should be read as 'muddeedhu' (MuLL+dheedhu). (This derivation is in accordance with the puṇarci rules for agglutination in Tamil.) Thus the letter doesn't have a unique pronunciation ('akh') as commonly believed, but takes its pronunciation from the succeeding plosive in the word. Thus it doesn't have a separate place of origin in the oral cavity on its own, it shares the place of origin of the succeeding plosive. This is the reason why Tolkāppiyam calls it a 'Saarbezhuthu' (a dependent letter/sound).
It is used to defend the mixing of other language words in Tamil.
Unlike most other Indian languages, Tamil does not have aspirated consonants. The Tamil script does not have distinct letters for voiced and unvoiced plosives, although both are present in the spoken language as allophones--i.e., they are in complementary distribution and the places they can occur do not intersect. For example, the unvoiced plosive 'p' occurs at the beginning of the words and the voiced plosive 'b' cannot. In the middle of words, unvoiced plosives commonly occur as a geminated pair like -pp- , while voiced plosives do not usually come in pairs. Only the voiced plosives occur after a vowel, or after a corresponding nasal. Thus both the voiced and unvoiced plosives can be represented by the same script in Tamil without ambiguity, the script denoting only the place and broad manner of articulation (plosive, nasal, etc.). The Tolkāppiyam cites detailed rules as to when a letter is to be pronounced with voice and when it is to be pronounced unvoiced. The rule is identical for all plosives.
With the exception of one rule - the pronunciation of the letter c at the beginning of a word - these rules are largely followed even today in pronouncing centamil. The position is, however, much more complex in relation to spoken koduntamil. The pronunciation of southern dialects and the dialects of Sri Lanka continues to reflect these rules to a large extent, though not completely. In northern dialects, however, sound shifts have changed many words so substantially that these rules no longer describe how words are pronounced. In addition many, but not all, Sanskrit loan words are pronounced in Tamil as they were in Sanskrit, even if this means that consonants which should be unvoiced according to the Tolkāppiyam are voiced.
Phonologists are divided in their opinion over why written Tamil did not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced characters. One point of view is that Tamil never had conjunct consonants or voiced stops - voice was rather the result of elision or sandhi. Consequently, unlike Indo-European languages and other Dravidian languages, Tamil did not need separate characters for voiced consonants. A slightly different theory holds that voiced consonants were at one stage allophones of unvoiced consonants, and the lack of distinction between the two in the modern script merely reflects that.
Elision is the reduction in the duration of sound of a phoneme when preceded by or followed by certain other sounds. There are well-defined rules for elision in Tamil. They are categorised into different classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.
- Kutriyalukaram - the vowel u
- Kutriyalikaram - the vowel i
- Aiykaarakkurukkam - the diphthong ai
- Oukaarakkurukkam - the diphthong au
- Aaythakkurukkam - the special character akh (aaytham)
- Makarakkurukkam - the phoneme m
Much of Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest available 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. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely eḻuttu, col, porul, yāppu, aṇi. Of these, the last two are mostly applicable in poetry.
Tamil, like other Dravidian languages, is an agglutinative language. 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.
Parts of speech
Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes (tiṇai) - the " rational" (uyartiṇai), and the " irrational" (aḵṟiṇai) - which include a total of five classes (paal, 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 (paal) - masculine singular, feminine singular, and rational plural. The " irrational" nouns and pronouns belong to one of two classes (paal) - irrational singular and irrational plural. The paal is often indicated through suffixes. The plural form for rational nouns may be used as an honorific, gender-neutral, singular form.
Suffixes are also used to perform the functions of cases or postpositions. Traditional grammars tried to group the various suffixes into 8 cases corresponding to the cases used in Sanskrit. These were the nominative, accusative, dative, sociative, genitive, instrumental, locative, and ablative. Modern grammarians, however, 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. (Schiffman, 1999). Tamil nouns can also take one of four prefixes, i, a, u and e which are functionally equivalent to demonstratives in English.
Like Tamil nouns, 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 (ēn in the above example). 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 simple suffixes, and 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 does not distinguish between adjectives and adverbs - both fall under the category urichchol.
Tamil has no 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), namathu (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் (nāṅkaḷ)(we), emathu (our) that do not. The bifurcation of the First Person Plural pronoun (we in English) into inclusive and exclusive versions can also be found in a few more languages.
Tamil is a consistent head-final language. The verb comes at the end of the clause, with typical word order Subject Object Verb (SOV). 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 valid sentences that have only a verb - such as muṭintuviṭṭatu ("It is completed") - or only a subject and object, such as atu eṉ vīṭu ("That is my house"). Tamil does not have a copula (a linking verb equivalent to the word is) and the word is included in the translations only to convey the meaning.
Modern Tamil vocabulary still retains most of the words from classical Tamil. Due to this and because of the emphasis on learning classical works like Tirukkural, classical Tamil is comprehensible in various degrees to most native speakers of today. However, a number of Prakrit and Sanskrit loan words have been adapted and used commonly in modern Tamil. But, unlike some other Dravidian languages, these words are restricted mainly to spiritual terminology and abstract nouns.
Besides Sanskrit, there are a few loan words from Persian and Arabic implying trade ties in ancient times. Since around the 20th century, English words have also begun to be used freely in colloquial Tamil. Some modern technical terminology is borrowed from English, though attempts are being made to have a pure Tamil technical terminology. Many individuals, and some institutions like the Government of Sri Lanka, Tamil Virtual University, and Annamalai University have generated technical dictionaries for Tamil. During the colonial period many loan words from Portuguese and Dutch were introduced into colloquial as well as written Tamil.
There are also many instances of words of Tamil loan words in other languages. Popular examples in English are cheroot (churuttu meaning "rolled up"), mango, mulligatawny (from milagu thanni meaning pepper water) and catamaran (from kattu maram, கட்டு மரம், meaning "bundled logs"). Tamil has also contributed many loan words to Sinhala, Malay and Bahasa Indonesia amongst other South and Southeast Asian languages.
A sample passage in Tamil script with a Romanised transcription:
ஆசிரியர் வகுப்பறையுள் நுழைந்தார். அவர் உள்ளே நுழைந்தவுடன் மாணவர்கள் எழுந்தனர். வளவன் மட்டும் தன் அருகில் நின்றுகொண்டிருந்த மாணவி கனிமொழியுடன் பேசிக் கொண்டிருந்தான். நான் அவனை எச்சரித்தேன்.
aasiriyar vakuppaRaiyuL nuzhainthaar. avar uLLE nuzhainthavudan maaNavarkaL ezhunthanar. vaLavan mattum than arukil ninRu kondiruntha maaNavi kanimozhiyudan pEsik kondirunthaan. naan avanai echarithEn.
English translation of the passage given above:
The teacher entered the classroom. As soon as he entered, the students got up. Only Valavan was talking to Kanimozhi who was standing next to him. I warned him.
- Tamil does not have articles. The definite article used above is merely an artefact of translation.
- To understand why Valavan would want to be warned, it is necessary to comprehend Asian social etiquette. It is considered impolite to be distracted when a person of eminence (the teacher in this case) makes an entry and the teacher may feel insulted or slighted.
|Word ( romanised)||Translation||Morphemes||Part of speech||Person, Gender, Tense||Case||Number||Remarks|
|aasiriyar||Teacher||aasiriyar||noun||n/a, gender-neutral, n/a||Nominative||honorific plural indicated by suffix ar||The feminine gender aasiriyai can be used here too; the masculine gender aasiriyan is rarely used, considering the honored position of the teacher|
|vakuppaRaiyuL||inside the class room||vakuppu+aRai
|adverb||n/a||Locative||n/a||Sandhi (called puṇarci in Tamil) rules in Tamil require euphonic changes during agglutination (such as the introduction of y in this case)|
|nuzhainthaar||entered||nuzhainthaar||verb||third, gender-neutral, past||honorific plural||In an honorific context, the masculine and feminine equivalents nuzhainthaan and nuzhainthaaL are replaced by the collective nuzhainthaar|
|avar||He||avar||pronoun||third, gender-neutral, n/a||Nominative||honorific plural indicated by suffix ar||In honorific contexts, the masculine and feminine forms avan and avaL are not used|
|nuzhainthavudan||upon entering||nuzhaintha +
|adverb||n/a||n/a||Sandhi rules require a v to be inserted between an end-vowel and a beginning-u during agglutination.|
|maaNavarkaL||students||maaNavarkaL||collective noun||n/a, masculine, often used with gender-neutral connotation, n/a||Nominative||plural indicated by suffix kaL|
|ezhunthanar||got up||ezhunthanar||verb||third, gender-neutral, past||plural|
|VaLavan||VaLavan (name)||VaLavan||Proper noun||n/a, masculine, usually indicated by suffix an, n/a||Nominative||singular|
|than||his (self) own||than||pronoun||n/a, gender-neutral, n/a||singular|
|arukil||near (lit. "in nearness")||aruku + il||adverb||n/a||Locative||n/a||The postposition il indicates the locative case|
|ninRu kondiruntha||standing||ninRu + kondu + iruntha||adverb||n/a||n/a||the verb has been morphed into an adverb by the incompleteness due to the terminal a|
|maaNavi||student||maaNavi||pronoun||n/a, feminine, n/a||singular|
|kanimozhiyudan||with Kanimozhi (name of a person)||kanimozhi + udan||adverb||n/a||Comitative||n/a||the name Kanimozhi literally means sweet language|
|pEsik kondirunthaan||was talking||pEsi + kondu +irunthaan||verb||third, masculine, past continuous||singular||continuousness indicated by the incompleteness brought by kondu|
|naan||I||naan||pronoun||first person, gender-neutral, n/a||Nominative||singular|
|avanai||him||avanai||pronoun||third, masculine, n/a||Accusative||singular||the postposition ai indicates accusative case|
|echarithEn||cautioned||echarithEn||verb||first, indicated by suffix En, gender-neutral, past||singular, plural would be indicated by substituting En with Om|