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Tamil language

Tamil is one of the Dravidian languages. It is one of the Classical languages of the world.

The 'l' in the word 'Tamil' is pronounced like a retroflex 'r', and is often transliterated as "zh". The letter 'ழ' which is found in 'தமிழ்' (Tamil) is believed to have unique pronunciation and not found in any other languages. See Tamil alphabet.

Tamil (தமிழ்)
Pronunciation (Approximate; no phonetic symbol available yet for the unique final 'l'): tha-mi-zh
SAMPA: /t{mIr\`/
IPA: /tæmɪɻ/
Spoken in: India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia
Region: Tamil Nadu and neighboring states
Total speakers: 63 million
Ranking: 18


Official status
Official language of: India, Sri Lanka, Singapore
Language codes
ISO 639-1: ta
ISO 639-2: tam


Tamil's origins are independent of Sanskrit (which is from the Indo-European language family and the ancestor of many Indian languages). The oldest available book on Tamil Grammar is Tolkaappiyam, which is said to be the world's oldest surviving grammar for any language, published c. 6th century BC.

The earliest records date from inscriptions from 200 BC. Other early works exist, which were preserved on manuscripts made by palm-leaf and through oral transmission. Part of this rich and varied literary output includes a Tamil indigenous grammatical tradition independent of that of the ancient Sanskrit grammarians. The earliest text which describes the language of the classical period is the Tolkappiyam (dating from around 200 BC); another dates from the year 1000 AD.

Three stages appear in the written records: ancient (200 BC to 700), medieval (700 - 1500) and modern (1500 to the present). Sometime between 800 AD and the turn of the millennium, Malayalam, a very closely related Dravidian language, split off and became a distinct language.

During the medieval period, Tamil absorbed many loan words from Sanskrit in the verbal system, but in the 1900s attempts were made to purge Tamil of its Sanskrit loans with the result that modern scientific and bureaucratic terminology is Tamil-based and not Sanskrit-based as in other Indic languages.

Writing system

Main article: Tamil alphabet

The Tamil script evolved from the Grantha script of the Southern Indian group of scripts. Interestingly, the Tamil language is one of the oldest recorded languages in southern India. The earliest texts, written in a southern variant of Brahmi, date from just before the 1st century AD. Later, the Grantha script was employed to write the Tamil language until the 8th century when a distinctive script evolved. The system has changed little since; Thanthai Periyar suggested certain reforms to the alphabet in 1935 and a few of them were implemented around 1975 by MG Ramachandran and followed since then.


According to Today Translations, a British translation service, the Tamil word "செல்லாதிருப்பவர்" (sellaathiruppavar, meaning certain type of truancy ) is ranked 8th in The Most Untranslatable Word In The World list. It is also the only Indian word listed. [1]

See also

External links

Learning Tamil

  • University of Pennsylvania's web based courses for learning and teaching Tamil
  • Tamil virtual University has the largest collection of digitised Tamil literary works and web based courses for learning and teaching Tamil

Recognition of Tamil as a classical language

Tamil has been declared a classical language by the Indian government. These links are about that news.

  • Tamil to be declared classical language
    - The Hindu newspaper article
  • India sets up classical languages - BBC article
  • The classical status of Tamil - The Hindu newspaper article
  • Statement on the Status of Tamil as a Classical Language
    - University of California, Berkeley
  • Tamil - A Living Classical Language
  • India's President Abdul Kalam announcing that Tamil will be declared a classical language - see item 41
  • Tolkappiyam, the earliest available work on Tamil grammar, cannot be dated earlier than the 2nd century A.D. - Frontline article
  • But the Tamil-Brahmi script may be at least 2,800 years old - The Hindu news about archaeological discovery at Adichanallur , Tamil Nadu; dated May 26, 2004

Fonts and Encodings

  • Unicode Converter - Online JavaScript tool to convert various Tamil encodings into Unicode
  • Unicode Chart - Unicode Chart for Tamil (in PDF)
  • thamizh fonts - Has list of almost all Tamil fonts to download.
  • NLS Information - NLS Information page for Windows XP


  • Agathiyar , an extensive discussion list for Tamil Culture
  • Kalaivani , a Malaysian Tamil Information Exchange
  • Thamizmanam , a hub for blogs in Tamil language


  • A brief review of its history and features
  • Ethnologue report for Tamil
  • Tamil inayam - Has Project Madurai , a voluntary effort to archive Tamil works and make them available to everyone on the internet.
  • Tamil Ringtones
  • UCLA Tamil Profile

Last updated: 02-05-2005 02:23:10
Last updated: 02-22-2005 02:35:42