Tamil - A historical and
'Tamil' is placed linguistically and ethnically in the same group as a
Malayalee or a Telugu or a Kannadiga. Yet the strong linguistic and cultural
identity exhibited by a Tamil has often times not been understood in a proper
perspective. This is an attempt to cast some light from a historical and
linguistic perspective, such that the Tamil ethos can be understood a little
The history of the Tamils start well before 2000 Years. There are epigraphical evidences to these assertions. The history has also been documented in the works and poems of Tamil writers, not necessarily in any structured continuity. In the same time era when the North was dominated by the Mauryan and Gupta empires, and other medieval dynasties, the deep souths history was being carved by the Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava dynasties. The Pandyas and the Cheras dominating from pre christian era to about the 3rd century CE, the Pallavas from the 5th to the 8th and the Cholas between 9th and 12th century. The grandest of them all was the Chola kingdom, reaching their zenith in the 10th Century, with perhaps the first Naval fleet of any Indian king.
The Tamil kingdoms were a product of their times and was warring in nature. Yet they were great patrons of fine art and culture. Music and Dance flourished even during early Tamil Kings of the Sangam period. 'silapadikAram', written by the prince poet Ilango, in a narrower perspective, can potentially serve as an encyclopedia of then existing system of music built on 'pann' (loosely equivalent to Ragas ??), various dance forms and plethora of musical instruments. The roots of todays 'Carnatic music' and 'bharatha Natyam' can be traced to these beginnings as expounded in this great Tamil epic 'silapadikAram'. The Temple gopurams all over Tamil Nadu and the stone edifices that challenge the shores at Mamallapuram, are standing testimony to the Tamils mastery of fine artistic sculptures. The bronze works that were produced by the Cholas are national treasures now and coveted with intensity by international art community. Yet the biggest contribution of Tamil Culture, to the colorful diverse Indian heritage, is the rich linguistic traditions of the Tamil language.
Tamil is one of the two classical traditions of India, the other being Sanskrit. Tamil is the oldest living language in India. Madurai, the capital of Pandyas, is usually associated with fostering and developing the language, more than any other, due to the traditions of the Tamil Sangams (an academic gathering for the poets and the writers) that was hosted in Madurai. Although there is this tradition of three Tamil Sangams having existed in different time eras, there has been no works that has come to us from the first Tamil Sangam. The only work, if any, to have come to us from the second Tamil Sangam, which is placed just before the Christian era, is the Tamil Grammar 'tolkAppiyam'. There is another school of thought, which dates 'tolkAppiyam' around 5th to 6th century CE. The third Tamil Sangam works, which is placed around 1st to 3rd century CE, is the one that is traditionally referenced as Sangam Literature. This is a rich compilation of poems from multitude of poets, giving us a glimpse of daily life and thoughts, as it was about 2000 years ago.
The crown jewel of Tamil Literature is 'thirukuRaL', also known as the 'kuRaL', which is placed anywhere from 1st to 5th century CE. Authored by the saintly Thiruvalluvar, these are a collection of 1330 couplets, divided into three sections. 'kuRaL' can be viewed as a code of ethics, that is secular in nature. Very few works are eternal, not constrained by the world you live in and the time era that is reflected. 'kuRaL' is one such. 'kuRaL' is an eternal gem with a universal message.
Tamil has five great epics, the most famous and the first being 'silapadikAram', which is placed around 1st to 6th century CE, chronologically after 'kuRaL'. Couple of the epics are not complete, with some works having been lost in time.
It would be accurate to say that the Bhakthi Movement and the devotional spirit of the Indian psyche was inspired by the 63 Nayanmar saints and the 12 Azhvar saints of Tamil land, who lived from 6th to 11th century CE. These are the saints who gave us 'thEvAram', 'thiruvAsagam' and 'diviyaprabandam'.
Tamils have their own rendering of 'ramAyanam' by 'kampan' of 12th century CE and of 'mahAbhAratham'. Tamil 'ramAyanam' is known for its sheer poetic beauty. There have been some europeans who have contributed to the richness of Tamil literature. The most famous among them being a christian missionary who gave us 'thEmbAvani'. Finally the pre-modern era has given us saint Ramalingars 'thiruarutpA', Bharathiyars nationalistic poems and Bharathidasans song with a social conscience.
Even with all these treasures ingrained in it, Tamil richness is barely recognised outside its sphere of usage. With this rich heritage, a Tamil is eager to contribute to the kaleidoscope that is India and share with the world community that is a just a global village.
Tamil speakers make up the majority of the population of Tamil Nadu state and also inhabit parts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh states, all situated in the southernmost third of India. Emigrant Tamil may be found in some parts of the Malagasy Republic, the Malay Peninsula, Myanmar (Burma), Indochina, Thailand, eastern Africa, South Africa, the Fiji and Mauritius islands, and the West Indies.
The Tamil area in India is a centre of traditional Hinduism. Tamil schools of personal religious devotion (bhakti) have long been important in Hinduism, being enshrined in a literature dating back to the 6th century AD. Buddhism and Jainism were widespread among the Tamil in the early Christian era, and these religions' literatures predate the early bhakti literature in the Tamil area. Although the present-day Tamil are mostly Hindus, there are Christians, Muslims, and Jains among them. In the recent past, the Tamil area was also the home of the Dravidian movement that calls for the desanskritization and debrahmanization of
Tamil culture, language, and literature.
The Tamil have a long history of achievement; sea travel, city life, and commerce seem to have developed early among them. Tamil trade with the ancient Greeks and Romans is verified by literary, linguistic, and archaeological evidence. The Tamil have the oldest cultivated Dravidian language, and their rich literary tradition extends back to the early Christian era.
The Chera, Chola, Pandya, and Pallava dynasties ruled over the Tamil area before the Vijayanagar empire extended its hegemony in the 14th century, and these earlier dynasties produced many great kingdoms. Under them the Tamil people built great temples, irrigation tanks, dams, and roads, and they played an important role in the transmission of Indian culture to Southeast Asia.
The Chola, for example, were known for their naval power and brought the Malay kingdom of Sri Vijaya under their suzerainty in AD 1025. Though the Tamil area was integrated culturally with the rest of India for a long time, politically it was for most of the time a separate entity until the advent of British rule in India.
Tamil, language spoken by tamilians, inhabitants of Tamil Nadu. Tamil is
among the four oldest languages in the world apart from Greek, Latin, and
Sanscrit. Founder of the language Sage Agasthiya came down to Earth to spread
this beautiful language, on the request of Lord Shiva. He wrote first Tamil
grammar book Agathiyam. It was the first grammar book written for any language
in the world. Unfortunately, no copy of this book is known to exist now. The
version written by Agasthiya's disciple, Tholkaapiyar, nearly 5000 years ago,
still exists, and is accepted as the oldest grammar book in any language. This
book is called Tholkaapiyam, after its author. Thirukkural a tamil book on
philosophy and life in general, was written by Thiruvalluvar, a sage and
philosopher, about 2000 years ago. It is one of the greatest and most succinct
books ever written, by popular and critical opinion. After Bible, the
Thirukkural is the book which has been translated into the most number of
Tamil grammar has remained the same, probably for 3000 yrs, maybe more. (Also, many of the words that were used a long time ago are still used today, making Tamil a living ancient language. Tamil is still spoken the same way it was spoken a long time ago. I don't think any other language can claim that. Not Chinese, not Latin, not Sanskrit, not Greek, not Hebrew.)
Tamil is a major member of the Dravidian family of languages, which, in terms of their recorded history at least, are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent -though affinities with languages spoken elsewhere have, with some degree of plausibility, been suggested. In modern times, Dravidian speakers are concentrated in the four southernmost states of India - Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - though there are significant pockets of Dravidian speech as far north as Bihar (Malto), Nepal (Kurux) and Pakistan (Brahui). Second to Telugu with respect to its number of speakers, Tamil is of particular importance as being the member of the group with the longest continuous written history, the earliest extant literature belonging to the beginning of the Christian era or earlier, and as being in certain respects the most typically Dravidian, in that with respect to historical change both autonomous and through contact situations Tamil can be shown to be more conservative than any genetically related language.
Let me state unequivocally that, by any criteria one may choose, Tamil is
one of the great classical literatures and traditions of the world.
The reasons for this are many; let me consider them one by one.
First, Tamil is of considerable antiquity. It predates the literatures of other modern Indian languages by more than a thousand years. Its oldest work, the Tolkappiyam,, contains parts that, judging from the earliest Tamil inscriptions, date back to about 200 BCE. The greatest works of ancient Tamil, the Sangam anthologies and the Pattuppattu, date to the first two centuries of the current era. They are the first great secular body of poetry written in India, predating Kalidasa's works by two hundred years.
Second, Tamil constitutes the only literary tradition indigenous to India that is not derived from Sanskrit. Indeed, its literature arose before the influence of Sanskrit in the South became strong and so is qualitatively different from anything we have in Sanskrit or other Indian languages. It has its own poetic theory, its own grammatical tradition, its own esthetics, and, above all, a large body of literature that is quite unique. It shows a sort of Indian sensibility that is quite different from anything in Sanskrit or other Indian languages, and it contains its own extremely rich and vast intellectual tradition.
Third, the quality of classical Tamil literature is such that it is fit to stand beside the great literatures of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Chinese, Persian and Arabic. The subtlety and profundity of its works, their varied scope (Tamil is the only premodern Indian literature to treat the subaltern extensively), and their universality qualify Tamil to stand as one of the great classical traditions and literatures of the world. Everyone knows the Tirukkural, one of the world's greatest works on ethics; but this is merely one of a myriad of major and extremely varied works that comprise the Tamil classical tradition. There is not a facet of human existence that is not explored and illuminated by this great literature.
Finally, Tamil is one of the primary independent sources of modern Indian culture and tradition. I have written extensively on the influence of a Southern tradition on the Sanskrit poetic tradition. But equally important, the great sacred works of Tamil Hinduism, beginning with the Sangam Anthologies, have undergirded the development of modern Hinduism. Their ideas were taken into the Bhagavata Purana and other texts (in Telugu and Kannada as well as Sanskrit), whence they spread all over India. Tamil has its own works that are considered to be as sacred as the Vedas and that are recited alongside Vedic mantras in the great Vaisnava temples of South India (such as Tirupati). And just as Sanskrit is the source of the modern Indo-Aryan languages, classical Tamil is the source language of modern Tamil and Malayalam. As Sanskrit is the most conservative and least changed of the Indo-Aryan languages, Tamil is the most conservative of the Dravidian languages, the touchstone that linguists must consult to understand the nature and development of Dravidian.
In trying to discern why Tamil has not been recognized as a classical language, I can see only a political reason: there is a fear that if Tamil is selected as a classical language, other Indian languages may claim similar status. This is an unnecessary worry. I am well aware of the richness of the modern Indian languages -- I know that they are among the most fecund and productive languages on earth, each having begotten a modern (and often medieval) literature that can stand with any of the major literatures of the world. Yet none of them is a classical language. Like English and the other modern languages of Europe (with the exception of Greek), they rose on preexisting traditions rather late and developed in the second millennium. The fact that Greek is universally recognized as a classical language in Europe does not lead the French or the English to claim classical status for their languages.
To qualify as a classical tradition, a language must fit several criteria: it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature. Unlike the other modern languages of India, Tamil meets each of these requirements. It is extremely old (as old as Latin and older than Arabic); it arose as an entirely independent tradition, with almost no influence from Sanskrit or other languages; and its ancient literature is indescribably vast and rich.
It seems strange to me that I should have to write an essay such as this claiming that Tamil is a classical literature -- it is akin to claiming that India is a great country or Hinduism is one of the world's great religions. The status of Tamil as one of the great classical languages of the world is something that is patently obvious to anyone who knows the subject. To deny that Tamil is a classical language is to deny a vital and central part of the greatness and richness of Indian culture.
In the historical past Proto-Dravidian was spoken throughout India. When
the Turanians and the Aryans came to India through the Khyber and the Bolan
Passes respectively, and mingled with the local population of the North, the
North Indian languages of Proto-Dravidian origin changed to a great extent. As a
consequence Praakrit and Paali emerged as the languages of the masses in the
northern part of India. Despite the commingling of local and foreign ethnic
elements, a section of Proto-Dravidians maintained their ethnic and cultural
identity in some isolated areas, spoke corrupt forms of Proto-Dravidian
languages and these have survived, to this day, as living examples of ancient
Dravidian languages. Languages such as Kolami, Parji, Naiki, Gondi, Ku, Kuvi,
Konda, Malta, Oroan, Gadba, Khurukh, and Brahui are examples of Dravidian
languages prevalent in the North. Today Proto-Dravidian speakers are
increasingly mingling with other linguistic groups and learning their languages.
Therefore, their numerical strength is on the decline. People living in the
Rajmahal mountains in Bengal and in the areas adjacent to Chota Nagpur are good
examples of the intermingling. A section of people living in Baluchistan speak
Brahui, which has many linguistic features similar to the Dravidian languages
spoken in South India. Scholars are surprised today to note many linguistic
similarities between Tamil and Brahui, especially in numerals, personal
pronouns, syntax and in other linguistic features. The Indian Census report of
1911 classified Brahui as a language belonging to the Dravidian family. It was
then spoken by about 170, 000 people, although this number over the years
dwindled to a couple of thousands. Whatever be their numerical strength now,
they are proof of the fact that the Dravidians in some age of the historical
past were spread in the region between Baluchistan and Bengal and spoke the
Since the Dravidians lived throughout the Indian subcontinent at some
historical past, certain syntactical affinities are noticeable even today
between the South and a large number of North Indian languages.
When Praakrit and Paali became popular in the North, the Proto-Dravidian language lost its ground there, and confined itself entirely to the South. Even in South India it did not remain as one single language for a long time. Dialectical differences arose partly due to the political division of the Tamil country into three distinct Tamil kingdoms and partly due to the natural barriers created by rivers and mountains. The absence of proper land communication among the three Tamil kingdoms also accentuated this process of dialectal differences. As a result the Dravidian language spoken by the people. who lived in the regions north and south of the Tirupati mountains, varied to such an extent as to become two independent languages, Tamil and Telugu. The language spoken in the region of Mysore came to be known as Kannada. Malayalam emerged as yet another distinct language in Kerala. All these far-reaching changes occurred at different periods of time in the history of the Dravidian languages. Among these four languages, it is only the Tamil language which has a long literary tradition.
The term Dravidian, which refers to the language of South India, is of a later origin. Originally it was derived from the word tamil /tamiz> . This word in course of time changed into dravida after undergoing a series of changes like tamiza, tramiza, tramiTa, trapida and travida. At one time the languages spoken in the regions of Karnataka, Kongu and Malabar were respectively known as Karunaattut-tamil, Tulunattut-tamil and Malainattut-tamil. Today however, these regional languages are classified under the blanket term "Dravidian family of languages".
Many common linguistic features are still discernible among these
Dravidian languages. Some five thousand words are common to these languages.
Many grammatical forms are common. The overwhelming influence of Sanskrit
scholars and the indiscriminate borrowing of Sanskrit words resulted in the
emergence of Kannada and Telugu as distinct languages from Tamil some fifteen
hundred years ago. The influence of Sanskrit on Malayalam language came to be
felt only about eight centuries ago, and therefore, the areas of difference
between Tamil and Malayalam are not many. Tamil was the language of bureaucracy,
of literati and of culture for several centuries in Kerala. In fact, fifteen
centuries ago the rulers of Kerala were all Tamils. Up to the tenth century the
Pandya kings ruled Kerala with royal titles such as 'Perumaankal and 'Perumaankanar'.
It was a Tamil poet from Trivandrum who in fact presided over the academy of
Tamil scholars, when they met to evaluate the famous Tamil grammatical work Tolkappiyam.
From the third century 13.C. to the first century A.D., many poets from Kerala
composed poems in Tamil and their compositions are included in Tamil anthologies
such as Akananaru and Purananaru. All the one hundred poems in the
anthology PatiRRuppattuextol the greatness of the kings of the Kerala
region. The author of the famous Tamil epic Cilappatikaram was a poet
from Kerala. The shrine in honor of KaNNaki, the heroine of Cilappatikaram,
was built at Tiruvancikkulam in Kerala. Among the Saiva and Vaisnava composers,
CEramAn PerumAl Nayanaar and KulacEkara Alvaar respectively, belong to the
Kerala region. AiyanEritanaar, the author of the tenth century grammatical work PuRapporul
VeNpaamaalai, hailed from Kerala. Many scholars and pundits from Kerala
contributed much to the Tamil language and literature and the historical
evidence shows that the region now known as the State of Kerala was once an
integral part of Tamil Nadu at some period of time. Because of these reasons
there is greater affinity between Tamil and Malayalam than between Tamil and
Kannada or Telugu.
Tamil occupies a distinctive position among the Dravidian languages owing
to its geographical expansion, for it has spread beyond the frontiers of India.
Apart from being the language of forty million people in Tamil Nadu it is the
spoken and written language of several millions of Tamils living in Ceylon,
Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Fiji Islands and Mauritius.
That the Tamils were well advanced in sea-borne and inland trade is evident both from Tamil literary sources as also from the accounts of foreign travellers.* Even as early as the tenth century B.C., articles of trade such as peacock feathers, elephant tusks and spices intended for King Solomon were sent in ships belonging to the Tamil country. Some words in Hebrew, Greek and English point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the countries around the Mediterranean region. Classical Hebrew terms like tuki and ahalat are close to the Tamil words tokai and akil respectively. Although English words like 'sandalwood' and 'rice' are borrowed from the Greek language, their origin is in fact Tamil. Likewise the Greek words for ginger and pepper also owe their origin to Tamil. Sea-borne trade flourished between the Tamil country and the Roman Empire during the period of Emperor Augustus. This fact is borne out by numerous coins issued during his reign, which were unearthed by archaeologists in the Tamil country. Iron age finds in Philippines also point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the Philippine Islands during the ninth and tenth centuries B.C. This apart, Tamil traders frequented the shores of Burma, Malaya and China with their wares and bartered them for Chinese silk and sugar. The Tamil word ciini for sugar indicates its origin. In Tamil classical works, Chinese silk is referred to as ciinattupattu. --
* For an interesting account of the ancient Tamils refer, P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar, History of the Tamil from the Earliest Times to 600 A.D., Madras, 1929, pp. 36-43.; and A.L. Basham, The Wonder that was India, London, 1954, p. 62. --
Foreigners who toured India gave an account of the flourishing trade between the Tamil regions of India and other countries. Periplus and Pliny mention that since articles from Tamil Nadu such as pearls, elephant tusks and muslin were bartered for gold, and that the trade balance was more in favour of the Tamils, the Emperor Vespasian viewed especially the drain of gold as a serious threat to his country's economy and took the extreme step of terminating the two-way trade between Rome and the Tamil country. References to the ports of trade in the Tamil country such as ToNTi, MuciRi, KoRkai and Kaavirippumpattinam are also found in the writings of Periplus. Ptolemy writing in A.D. 150 speaks about Ceraas, Cholaas and Paandyas as the rulers of Tamil Nadu. He also mentions the important trading centres like Karur, NagappaTTinam and Pondicherry in his travel notes. Ali these references to the trading activities of the Tamils in foreign writings correlate to those found in the early Tamil classics.
The business acumen of the Tamils is shown in the special terms used by them to refer even to the minutest fractions in calculation. To cite some examples, the term immi referred to the fraction of 1/320 x 1/7. And one-seventh of this fraction was termed as anu. One-eleventh of an anu was known as mummi and one ninth of a mummi was termed kuNam.
The renowned Sanskrit epics the Raamayanaa and the Mahaabhaarata also speak about the Tamil country and in particular the importance of Madurai as the capital of the Paandyaa kings. Megasthenes, who came to India during the period of Chandragupta Maurya, refers to the Paandya country and its polity. The edicts of the famous Indian Emperor Asoka also mention that during his rule the Tamil kings in the far south of India enjoyed political independence.
Among the ancient grammatical works available, the Tolkappiyam was
the earliest and it was written around the third century B.C. There are over two
hundred and fifty references in Tolkaappiyam which, provide substantial
evidence of the existence of many classical and grammatical works in Tamil prior
to Tolkaappiyam itself. It classifies Tamil words into four categories, iyarcol,
tiricol, ticaiccol, and vatacol. Iyarcol refers to
the words in common use, while tiricol refers to the words used
specifically in poetry. Regional words are known as ticaiccol. Words
borrowed from Sanskrit are called vatacol. Certain specific rules were
stipulated in borrowing words from Sanskrit. The borrowed words were to strictly
conform to the Tamil phonetic system and to be written in the Tamil script. All
these indicate the sound grammatical basis on which the Tamil language has
evolved over the years.
Besides, Tolkaappiyam also classifies the Tamil language into centamil and kotuntamil. The former refers to the classical Tamil used exclusively by literati in their works and the latter refers to the colloquial Tamil, spoken by the people. This shows that even in those distant days differences had grown to such an extent as to enable the Tamil grammarians to classify the language into written and spoken.
The earlier Tamil inscriptions were written in braahmi, grantha and vaTTezuttu
scripts.* Inscriptions after the seventh century A.D. contain Tamil
characters similar to the one now in vogue. This prompted some scholars to argue
that vatteluttu and Tamil scripts originated from braahmi scripts. This view has
no solid base, for one can see a copious description of Tamil scripts in
Tolkaappiyam, which belongs to third century B.C. It is obvious therefore, that
Tamil language had a distinct script of its own even at that early period. In
fact vaTTezuttu is none other than the old Tamil script. Even the
southern braahmi was a corrupt form of vaTTezuttu . Distinct differences
exist between the southern and the northern braahmi script, for the southern one
had its genesis in vaTTezuttu . Much before brahmi scripts could become
popular the Tamils possessed a script of their own which they put to use in
their commercial transactions and in their writings.
* According to Professor M. Varadarajan, vaTTezuttu was nothing but the scripts inscribed on stones. They had been known as veTTezuttu or letters inscribed on stones. But in course of time and by usage it was transformed into vaTTezuttu . For an in-depth study of Tamil scripts refer, M. Varadarajan. Moli Varalaaru (The History of Tamil Language), Madras, 1954, pp. 425~37. The view of a historian on the same subject is as follows: "What the vaTTezuttu is and how it came into being and how it was practiced we cannot say definitely. But we can say almost with some definiteness that it represents a very ancient cursive alphabet, perhaps the primitive South Indian alphabet which existed long, long before the inscriptions of Asoka." V.R.R. Dikshitar, Pre-Historic South India, Madras, 1951, p. 218. Yet for another view of the origins of Tamil scripts refer, John R. Marr, "The Early Dravidians" in A.L. Basham (ed.), A Cultural History of India, London. 1975, pp. 32-34.
The Tamii characters which are in use today also can be deemed to have originated from vatteluttu. There are twelve vowels in Tamil consisting of five short vowels, a, i, u, e, and o («, –, ¯, ±, ´); their corresponding five long vowels, aa, ii, uu, ee and oo (¬, ®, °, 2, µ) and two letters ai and au (3, ´Ç) for the prevention of hiatus. There are eighteen consonants made up of six surds k. c, T, t, p, and R (ì, î, ð, ò, ô, ü) and their corresponding six sonants g, j, N, n, m, n2 (í, ï, ñ, ó, õ, ý) and six medials y, r, l, v, z and L ( ö, ÷, ø, ù, ú, û) . The two short vowels e and o (±, ´) which are not in Devanagari are essential to Tamil and other languages of the Dravidian family. There is a world of difference in meaning between the words eTu and ETu (±Î, 2Î); koTu and kOTu (|¸¡Î, §¸¡Î), teL and tEL (|*û, §*û ); as well as koL and kOl (|¸¡û, §¸¡ø). It is therefore, needless to emphasise the importance of short and long vowels like e and ee/E (±, 2); as well as o and O (´, µ ) in Tamil. There are no aspirated consonants like gha or cha in Tamil. Likewise the letter h ( Ý ) is also absent in Tamil. But a corresponding leter k (· ), known as aytam is used to soften the surds in Tamil. The trilled consonant R (ü) is quite different from r (÷).The consonant n (ý ) has a nasal sound and it is different from other dentals. The consonant l ( ø ) is equally essential like that of the consonant L ( û ). These two different l's exist both in Telugu and in Kannada. The consonant z (ú) is found only in Tamil and Malayalam. It had existed in old Kannada but not now. The two vowels ru ( Õ ) and lu ( Ö), which are there in Devanagari, are not there in Tarr.ih The short-nature u (¯) and i ( – ) sounds are in Tamil, but there are no letters to indicate them.
If the letters ka, ca, Ta, ta, pa (¸, º, *, *, À) appear at the beginning of a word, after hard vowel consonants. and after doubling they will be pronounced like surds. In other places they will be pronounced like sonants. Although there are no distinct letters for surds and sonants in Tamil, the vowel consonants themselves are pronounced like surds and sonants depending on the place in which they appear. Therefore the one Tamil consonant ka (k) is pronounced like gha depending upon its placement in a word. Likewise other hard vowel consonants ta (* ), ca (º), Ta (*) and pa (À) are pronounced differently like ( dha, cha, tha, bha) respectively according to the place where they appear in a word. There are no sibilants like sa, sha, Sa in Tamil.
There are distinct letters in Tamil to indicate numerals and fractions. There are evidences to show that the present roman numerals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 originated from Tamil.
There are four kinds of words in Tamil. Among them the root words or uriccol
which were used in ancient poems are not popular now. If we exclude them then
there exist only three types of words namely nouns, verbs and itaiccol or
particles. The nouns indicate animate and inanimate categories of things,
gender, number and person. tiNai is classified into uyartiNai
(nouns denoting personal class of beings, including men, gods and demons) and akRiNai
(inferior class of beings whether animate, inanimate, or neuter). Higher
categories of animate beings like human beings fall under uyortiNai.
Others, both animate and inanimate come under the category of akriNai.
There are three genders in uyartiNai: masculine, feminine and neuter. Palar
paal or neuter plural gender indicates many in number. Masculine and
feminine genders in Tamil indicate only singular number. AkRiNai is
classified into onRan paal (singular of the impersonal class) and palvin
pal (plural of the impersonal class).
Again, number is classified into one and many. Unlike Sanskrit there is no dual number in Tamil. There are three 'persons' in Tamil, namely, first person, second person and third person. Case inflexions are many in Tamil and their indicators form as suffixes in words.
Distinction between animate and inanimate things, and masculine and feminine genders are usually made according to the meaning of words.
Verbs are classified into finite and infinite verbs. Most of the finite verbs are formed with suffixes which indicates this animate or inanimate quality, as also gender. The gender is not distinguished both in abstract nouns and in relative participles. Both verbs and nouns are formed from verbal roots. But very few verbs are formed from noun roots.
Particles have no meaning of their own but acquire meaning when added to other words and help to differentiate their meanings too. Even meaningless words are regarded as particles.
Most of the words in Tamil are agglutinative in character, i.e. case indicators, time and gender markers are affixed to root words. As a result, the formation of words become clear. Even the words in the classical literature are agglutinative in character. There is no distinction between the roots that were. used in ancient classics and those which are now in vogue. The root word which was used to mean 'food' in ancient classics was una. The one used in medieval period was either uN or uNTi. Whereas the modern word for food is uNavu. In all these words whether ancient, mediaeval or modern, the root word un is clear. Only the suffixes differ. Therefore, the Tamil of ancient poetry too begins to seem familiar after a while if one reads the ancient classical poetry for a time. This is the reason why the Tamils of this century find little difficulty in understanding the Cankam classics. It also accounts for the continuity that exists in Tamil literary growth. One finds it used in the poems of the hymnodists and Kampan, composed in the seventh century and the twelfth century respectively.
There is little difference in syntax between ancient and modern Tamil. Although over a period of time word forms have changed the formation of syntax remains intact in all the Dravidian languages. In this respect there exist similarity between the languages of the South and the North, though they fall under a different category known as Indo-European languages. The fact that syntax changes very little, while other aspects of a language do, is brought out in the similarity one finds in the formation of syntax between the Dravidian languages of the South and the languages of the North of India. This explains why syntactical differences exist between the languages of North India on the one hand and Sanskrit, Greek and Latin on the other; and why there exists similarity between north and south Indian languages. This unity in syntactical formation becomes obvious if one analyses all the four major Dravidian languages of South India. If one analyses the continuos growth of Tamil language the perceivable truth is that there is little change in the formation of syntax both in the classical Tamil and the Tamil used in modern short stories.
Among the spoken languages of India,
Tamil achieved perfection even during the pre-historic period. Literary growth
in Tamil took place at the same time when there was similar growth in Sanskrit.
Literary works came to be written only at a later period in all other Indian
languages. Therefore there was considerable antiquity for Tamil language and
literature. Besides, the ancient classical Tamil literature originated and
blossomed from the folk song and poetry of the Tamil country. The forms of such
poetry were also not borrowed from any other language, but were culled from the
folk poetry and songs that was in vogue among the people of Tamil Nadu. The
existence of such combination of antiquity and individuality in Tamil
literature, was forgotten by later day Sanskrit scholars. As such they not
merely denied the greatness due to the Tamil language but began to look upon it
on the assumption that it borrowed immensely from Sanskrit from its very
inception. Therefore, Sanskritists indulged in unwanted polemics by arguing that
Tamil had no intrinsic merit of its own because it borrowed heavily from
Sanskrit. To establish this assumption, Caminata Desikar, a Sanskrit scholar and
author of a grammatical work entitled ilakkaNakkottu compared the
alphabets of Sanskrit and Tamil and found that all, expect five alphabets, the
two short vowels e (±) and o (´) and three consonants Ra, na and za (È, É,
Æ ) are common to both the languages. Therefore he argued that all the
characters common to the two languages essentially belonged to Sanskrit and the
five rare symbols which are absent in Sanskrit belonged specifically to Tamil.
Based on his findings he wrote an unusual verse in which he posed insolently a
question whether Tamil with only five letters of its own could ever be called a
Intelligent persons will be ashamed
To call it a language
That possesses only five letters.*
* Arumuka Navalar (ed.), llakkanakkottu (Madras). p. 9, lines 27-28.
This scurrilous verse only indicates the irrational attitude of the Sanskrit scholars of the seventeenth century.
Such unreasonable attitude became obvious in analysing the origin of words that were common to Sanskrit and Tamil. Basic words like niir (water) and miin (fish) which had been in use from time immemorial in Tamil language was interpreted by Sanskrit scholars as having originated from Sanskrit roots. They refused to consider the possibility that Sanskrit would have borrowed these common words from Tamil, the most ancient language of the region, and even propagated that most of the words in Tamil had been borrowed from Sanskrit. The Tamil scholars were perplexed by such unfounded claims. However with the arrival of linguists like Caldwell from Europe, and with the publication of books in English refuting the claims of Sanskritists, Tamil scholars gained confidence in the intrinsic value of Tamil language. Despite this, the biased views held by Sanskritists held sway ir the world of letters even up to this century until linguists in England like Burrow falsified these erroneous claims by their researches. This controversy persisted even in analysing the names of places in the Tamil region. After translating certain names of places from Tamil to Sanskrit, the Sanskrit scholars argued that they were borrowed from Sanskrit. One classic example was Vriddhachalam which is a literal translation of the Tamil place called MutukunRam. Likewise, several names of deities were translated into Sanskrit. The devotional hymns of the Nayanmars in fact mentioned these names in their pure Tamil form. Instances are not wanting that while translating names of places from Tamil into Sanskrit, the Sanskrit scholars failed to comprehend the real meaning of the criginal Tamil words and translated them erroneously. Without knowing the actuai meaning of the name of a town ArkkaTu (Arcot), the Sanskrit scholars translated it Sataranyam, which literally means six forests, whereas the Tamil word arkkaTu literally means a forest of fig trees. To perpetuate these Sanskritised names, they wrote stories as well. Despite their efforts Sanskritised names failed to gain currency among the people. The Sanskrit scholars, for example, tried to Sanskritise the name of the river Paalaaru as Ksra Nati. It could not be perpetuated. Thus the Sanskrit scholars unnecessarily sowed the seeds of dissension in the Tamii country.
Sanskrit scholars attempted to
Sanskritise Tamil several centuries ago by the liberal use of Sanskrit words.
They argued that such a liberal mixture enhanced the beauty of the Tamil
language and compared the hybrid language to an ornament made out of equal
number of pearls and corals. They called the hybrid style as manippravala style
and attempted to popularize it in the country. Some of the Jain and Vaisnava
Sanskrit scholars employed that style using grantha scripts Their attempts,
however, failed because of the naturally rich vocabulary and literary wealth of
the Tamil language.
Sanskrit scholars, however, refused to acknowledge the real merit of Tamil literary works. Although they were born in the Tamil country, spoke the Tamil language, and lived as Tamilians, they seldom read such important works as the TEvaram and the Tiruvaacakam. They treated lighty those who attained scholarship only in Tamil. Even the hymns of Nayanmars, which found a pride of place in remple rituals during the Chola period, lost their importance at a later stage. They went to the extent of denigrating Tamil as the language of the mortal and extolling Sanskrit as the language of gods. If the Sanskritists found laudable ideas in Tamil works, they tried to belittle their merit saying that those were borrowed ideas from Sanskrit works. They tried even to underrate the importance of Tiruvalluvar's Tirukkural by running it down as a compendium of ideas translated from Sanskrit works. Likewise they considered that Tolkaappiyam, the first grammatical work by Tolkappiyar was based on Sanskrit. To substantiate their view, they assigned the work of Tolkappiyar to Tiranatumakkini who was a scholar in Sanskrit. The RaamayaNaa, Mahaabhaarata, PuraaNas and other philosophical works were no doubt borrowed from Sanskrit but the Sanskrit scholars tried to camouflage the very existence of great literary works in Tamil like the Cankam classics, didactic and devotional literature. But their efforts were halted only when scholars like V.K. Curiyanaraayana Sastriar and Maraimalaiyatikal focussed the attention of the people on the literary treasures of the Tamil language.
Though the efforts to Sanskritise
Tamil no longer exist, the repercussions of those earlier efforts are still felt
in society. One effect, of course, was the virulent opposition to the use of
Sanskrit words in Tamil, and this opposition has not subsided even today. At a
time when all merit and greatness were attributed to Sanskrit alone, Tamil
scholars like cUriyanarayana Sastriar and CuvAmi Vetaacalam preferred to use
only the Tamil equivalents of their Sanskrit names, Paritimarkalainjar and
MaRaimalaiyaTikal respectively. Despite their stance, their earlier Tamil prose
works contained many words of Sanskrit origin. When the Sanskritists claimed
that Tamil could not exist without Sanskrit, the two Tamil scholars addressed
themselves to the task of writing Tamil without borrowing from Sanskrit.
Curiyanarayana Sastriyar, the pioneer of this style of writing died at a very
young age. His contemporary, MaTaimalaiyaTikal lived longer and crystallized
this attitude into a movement in 1916. Since then the movement has been
popularly known as the Tanit-Tamil lyakkam or the Pure Tamil Movement
among the Tamil scholars. Its impact still persists among the Tamils. Those who
have interest in m ai n tai n ing the purity of Tamil language even now prefer
to substitute a Tamil equivalent for Sanskrit names given by their parents. With
vengeance they totally reject borrowines from Sanskrit. Instead they prefer to
borrow from English. The Tamil scholars consider it their duty to write in
chaste Tamil free from Sanskrit and have been writing like this since the
inception of the Pure Tamil Movement. The virulence of the movement was due to
the past pride of the Sanskritists in their knowledge of Sanskrit language. The
blunders committed by them have given rise to two different views as well as
controversies in the use of Tamil. One group preferred to use as far as possible
a pure Tamil without the admixture of Sanskrit words; others preferred to write
in a hybrid language. Even now many writers to daily newspapers, weeklies and
monthlies write in a hybrid language. Therefore the Tamil scholars denounce
their writing as faulty. The writings of the Tamil scholars are criticised as
too difficult to read, lifeless and artificial. Thus the effect of the old
controversy still exists, although in a different form.
In the historic past, Sanskrit played the role of a communication language among the scholars, who lived in different parts of the Indian sub-continent. Therefore it was learnt avidly by scholars at Kanchipuram as well as at Banaras. The sum-total of human knowledge available from Kaveri to the Gangetic plains was written in the Sanskrit language. Ideas relating to literature, religion and theories of art were found elaborately set forth in Sanskrit. Many forget that quite a lot of authors of these Sanskrit works were scholars from South India. For example Dandin the author of the Kavyadarga in Sanskrit, was a scholar from Kanchipuram in the Tamil country. Sankara the exponent of Advaita philosophy, was again a South Indian. He mentioned in his works Saint Njanacampantar, the crusader against Jainism in South India. Raamanujar, the originator of Visishtaadvaita philosophy was a Tamillian and he lived every close to Kanchipuram. Scholars who analysed the life-style and arts of the people of the Tamil country, wrote many works on the Bharata Naatyasastra, the Carnatic music and on astrology. Therefore, if one considers these facts dispassionately, it was unrealistic on the part of later day Sanskrit scholars to denigrate Tamil language and literature. It is equally true in the case of Tamil scholars to think that theories and ideas found in Sanskrit were alien to Tamil.
The Tamil scholars took the cue from the old commentators for writing prose. The commentators including Parimelazakar and others, who were known for their scholarship in Sanskrit, wrote in pure Tamil with the least borrowing from Sanskrit. Their style of writing was similar to the one now in vogue, for the present-day Tamil scholars adopted only their style.
The journalists' style has been based on the spoken language of the Tarnils. In spoken language, foreign loan words are mixed freely and syntax corresponds to emotional situations. Poet Paaratiyaar composed pooms largely in pure Tamil. He followed the same method while writing essays too.
Tiru. Vi. Kaliyanacuntaraar moved very closely with Tamil scholars and journalists. He was himself a distinguished scholar and a seasoned journalist. He wrore many literary works and also edited a number of daily newspapers and weeklies. He was a link between the Tamil schoiars and the journalist of his day. His earlier writings abound in Sanskrit words. With the advent of the Pure Tamil Movement, he began to write without the admixture of Sanskrit words. He used foreign words only when there were no suitable Tamil words to express a particular idea. He gave up long and stilted sentences and largely used emotionally charged short sentences common to spokon language. Thus his writings and speeches, tried to bridge the chasm that existed between the scholars and journalists. Even now two different types of styles exist: one adoptod by the scholars and the other followed by the journalists.
There exist slight regional
differences in the spoken Tamil of the people living in various parts of the
Tamil country. In the nineteenth century, in the absence of transport
facilities, dailectical differences would have been more pronounced than it is
now. Now they are on the decline because of increased transport and educational
facilities. Besides mass-media, such as daily newspapers, journals, radio and
television are also contributing factors. However, there are some differences
between the Tamil spoken at Tirunelveli and Coimbature. These two dialects
differ distinctly from the Tamil spoken in Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli. The
Tamil spoken in the city of Madras on the other hand differs from all of them,
because of the liberal borrowing of words from Telugu, Urdu and English
Similar differences exist in the phonetics also. The vowel consonant ca ( º ) is distinctly pronounced in Tirunelveli, whereas in the northern part of Tamil Nadu it is pronounced as sa (… ) at the beginning of words. The letter za (Æ), which is unique to the Tamil language is pronounced differently from one district to another. In the southern districts it is pronounced as la (Ç ), in Salem as ya ( Â ) and in the city of Madras it is pronounced in both the ways. The verb izu (–Ø) is pronounced as icu (–Í ). In spoken language vaazaippazam (Å¡¨ÆôÀÆõ ) is pronounced to the detestation of scholars as vaaLappaLam (Å¡ÇôÀÇõ) and Vaayappayam (Å¡ÂôÀÂõ). Certain classes of people pronounce the verb irukkiratu (–Õì¸¢ÈÐ) as irukku (–ÕìÌ). Others pronounce it is irukkutu (–ÕìÌÐ) and the illiterates as kiitu (¸£Ð). The verb ceytuvittaar (|ºöÐÅ¢ð*¡÷, has done it) is pronounced in spoken language as ceynjiTTaar, cenjiTTaar and cenjipuTTaar (|ºö»¢ð*¡÷, |ºïº¢ð*¡÷, |ºïº¢Òð*¡÷). Likewise the verb eTuttukkoNtan (±ÎòÐì|¸¡ñ*¡ý, has taken it) is pronounced as etuttukkinan, etuttukNan, and etuttukkittan (±ÎòÐì¸¢É¡ý, ±ÎòÐìÉ¡ý, ±ÎòÐì¸¢ð*¡ý).
Some words have altogether a different meaning in the Tamil used in Sri Lanka. The known meaning for the word aRutalaka (¬Ú*Ä¡¸) is comforting. But in Sri Lanka 'calmly' and 'leisurely (amaitiyaaka and kaalataamatamaaka) («¨Á*¢Â¡¸, ¸¡Ä*¡Á*Á¡¸). The Tamils in Sri Lanka use the word kataippOm (¸¨*ô§À¡õ) instead of pecikkoNTirappOm (§À¡º¢ì|¸¡ñÊÕô§À¡õ) which means 'will be talking'. Likewise they use caTanku (º*íÌ, rituals) for tirumaNam (*¢ÕÁ*õ, marriage); kaNakka (¸*ì¸¡, heavy or weightly) for niRaiya (¿¢¨ÈÂ, full); vaTivaai(ÅÊÅ¡¸, beautiful) for nanRaaka (¿ýÈ¡¸, better or well); and kantOr (¸ó§*¡÷, office) for aluvalakarn («ÖÅÄ¸õ, office).
Words borrowed from English are
phonetically changed and used as such in Sri Lanka. For example pan (bun)
is written as pan (Àý); kappi (coffee) as koppi (¸¡ôÀ¢),
kOrt (court) as kot (§¸¡ð); Sart (shirt) as set (|ºð), taarc
(torch) as rOc and taval (towel) as tuvaai. Likewise many Tamil words
are phonetically changed and used as such in spoken and written Tarnil of Sri
English and Hindi words are used in spoken Tamil of the people who live in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu. Such loan words are not phonetically changed but written in the same way as they are pronounced in the concerned languages. For example such words as bus, cycle, car, office, late, post, bank, and coffee (pas/ÀS , caikkil/¨ºì¸¢û, kaar/¸¡÷, apis/¬À£S, let/§Äð, post/§À¡Sð, pank/À¡íì and kaappi/¸¡ôÀ¢ respectively) are written in Tamil characters in the manner they are pronounced in English. Script writers, novelists and short story writers use these Tamilised forms in their writings. Some of them use such loan words frequently in their writings,.while others use them only when their Tamil equivalents are non-existent. Although in spokon Tamil such English words as leave, stamp, rail, station and telephone are commonly used, in written Tamil their equivalents vitumuRai (Å¢ÎÓ¨È), tapaaltalai(*À¡ø*¨Ä), pukaivaNTi nilaiyam (Ò¨¸ÅñÊ ¿¢¨ÄÂõ) and tolaipEci (|*¡¨Ä§Àº¢) respectively are used. Some Urdu words like calam and capacu found place in the devotional poems of saints Arunakirinˆtar and Kumarakuruparar, who lived in the seventeenth century. As a result of North Indian's contact some words from the Hindi language are used in the present-day spoken Tamil. For the same reason many sweets prepared in hotels of Tamil Nadu bear Hindi names.
From time immemorial a few Sanskrit words had been intermixed with Tamil. Prior to the second century A.D., and during the Cankam period only one per cent of Sanskrit words intermingled with Tamil. This increased to three to five per cent in the devotional songs of Alvars and Naayanmaars who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries respectively. During the period of the epics also the intermixing of Sanskrit words with Tamil continued to increase. It reached its high water mark in the thirteenth century when the maNippravaala style became popular. As a result the number of Sanskrit loan words increased phenomenally in the religious prose works of the Jains and the Vaisnavites. But the commentators of grammatical and literary works wrote in chaste Tamil with the least number of Sanskrit loan words. As a result the maNippravaala style fell into disuse. However in the Puranas, Talapuraanas, Ulaas and Kalambakams the percentage of Sanskrit loan words continued to remain at five to eight per cent. In the subsequent centuries the frequency increased with the advent of certain new types of versifications like yarnakam, ciletai and matakku. They, however, became obsolete in course of time. Most of the devotional songs of Raamalinka Cuvaamikal contain very few Sanskrit loan words. Their percentage is very high in his prose work. Certain new usages peculiar to the Christians found their place in the Bible. A new translation of the Bible in chaste Tamil is now available. Certain Arabic words were frequently used by Muslim writers in their works. Even today stories written on Muslim families contain some words of Arabic origin. Stories about anglicized families or families living in metropolitan cities contain many words from English to reflect the spirit of their spoken Tamil as well as to give realism to the story. Though foreign loan words were used in Tamil in lesser or greater degree for various reasons and at different periods of time, the Tamil language itself retained its individuality. It can be said that among the living languages of India, it is the Tamil language which has the least number of foreign loan words.