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Template:Use British English Template:Use dmy dates Template:Infobox language Template:Tamil transliteration

Tamil (Template:Indic, alternative spelling: Thamizh) is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of South India and North-east Sri Lanka. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Puducherry. Tamil is also a national language of Sri Lanka[1] and an official language of Singapore. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is the first language that was declared a classical language by the government of India in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia, USA and Mauritius as well as emigrant communities around the world.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world according to available evidence. It is also the only Indian language other than Sanskrit to be considered to be ancient and authentically original in its form and rich literature[2][3] It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past"[4] and having "one of the richest literatures in the world".[5] Tamil literature has existed for over 2000 years.[6] The earliest epigraphic records found on rock edicts and hero stones date from around the 3rd century BCE.[7] The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature, is dated from the 300 BCE – 300 CE.[8][9] Tamil language inscriptions written c. 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE have been discovered in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Thailand.[10] The two earliest manuscripts from India,[11][12] to be acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register in 1997 and 2005 were in Tamil.[13] More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India are in the Tamil language.[14] According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies.[15] It has the oldest extant literature amongst other Dravidian languages.[2] The variety and quality of classical Tamil literature has led to its being described as "one of the great classical traditions and literatures of the world".[16]


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.[17] It is also classified as being part of a Tamil language family, which alongside Tamil proper, also includes the languages of about 35 ethno-linguistic groups[18] such as the Irula, and Yerukula languages (see SIL Ethnologue).

The closest major relative of Tamil is Malayalam. Until about the 9th century, Malayalam was a dialect of Tamil.[19] Although many of the differences between Tamil and Malayalam demonstrate a pre-historic split of the western dialect,[20] the process of separation into a distinct language, Malayalam, was not completed until sometime in the 13th or 14th century.[21]


As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian. Linguistic reconstruction suggests that Proto-Dravidian was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region around the lower Godavari river basin in peninsular India. The material evidence suggests that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian were the culture associated with the Neolithic complexes of South India.[22] The next phase in the reconstructed proto-history of Tamil is Proto-South Dravidian. The linguistic evidence suggests that Proto-South Dravidian was spoken around the middle of the second millennium BC, and that proto-Tamil emerged around the 3rd century BC. The earliest epigraphic attestations of Tamil are generally taken to have been written shortly thereafter.[23] Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritised Indian literature.[24]

Scholars categorise the attested history of the language into three periods, Old Tamil (300 BCE – 700 CE), Middle Tamil (700–1600) and Modern Tamil (1600–present).[25]


The exact 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 BCE.[26] Southworth suggests that the name comes from Template:IAST > Template:IAST 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'.[27](see Southworth's derivation of Sanskrit term for "others" or Mleccha).Kamil Zvelebil suggests an etymology of Template:IAST, with Template:IAST meaning "self" or "one's self", and "Template:IAST" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of Template:IAST < Template:IAST < *Template:IAST < *Template:IAST, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)".[28]

The Tamil Lexicon of University of Madras defines the word 'Tamil' as 'sweetness'.[29] S.V Subramanian suggests the meaning 'sweet sound' from 'tam'- sweet and 'il'- 'sound'.[30] A metaphysical meaning was given by Vallalar. Vallalar explains the word Thamizh having 5 units of measure Th+a+m+i+zh as the Natural Truth process of Divine essence involving ('Th+a'), manifesting in the physical body as human being and evolving into the Supramental Being ('m+i') to experience the Perfect Oneness Delight ('zh').[31] This metaphysical meaning indirectly leads to the meaning of Sweetness or Compassion.

Old Tamil

The earliest records in Old Tamil are short inscriptions from around the 2nd century BCE in caves and on pottery. These inscriptions are written in a variant of the Brahmi script called Tamil Brahmi.[32] 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.[25] 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 centuries AD,[33] which makes them the oldest extant body of secular literature in India.[34] Other literary works in Old Tamil include two long epics, Cilappatikāram and Maṇimēkalai, and a number of ethical and didactic texts, written between the 5th and 8th centuries.[35]

Old Tamil preserved many features of Proto-Dravidian, including the inventory of consonants,[36] the syllable structure,[37] and various grammatical features.[38] Amongst these was the absence of a distinct present tense – like Proto-Dravidian, Old Tamil only had two tenses, the past and the "non-past". Old Tamil verbs also had a distinct negative conjugation (e.g. Template:IAST (காணேன்) "I do not see", Template:IAST (காணோம்) "we do not see")[39] Nouns could take pronominal suffixes like verbs to express ideas: e.g. Template:IAST (பெண்டிரேம்) "we are women" formed from Template:IAST (பெண்டிர்) "women" and the first person plural marker -Template:IAST (ஏம்).[40]

Despite the significant amount of grammatical and syntactical change between Old, Middle and Modern Tamil, Tamil demonstrates grammatical continuity across these stages: many characteristics of the later stages of the language have their roots in features of Old Tamil.[25]

Middle Tamil

The evolution of Old Tamil into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken to have been completed by the 8th century,[25] 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,[41] the coalescence of the alveolar and dental nasals,[42] and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic.[43] In grammar, the most important change was the emergence of the present tense. The present tense evolved out of the verb Template:IAST (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 Template:IAST (ன்). In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker – Template:IAST (கின்ற) – which combined the old aspect and time markers.[44]

Middle Tamil also saw a significant increase in the Sanskritisation of Tamil. From the period of the Pallava dynasty onwards, a number of Sanskrit loan-words entered Tamil, particularly in relation to political, religious and philosophical concepts.[45] Sanskrit also influenced Tamil grammar, in the increased use of cases and in declined nouns becoming adjuncts of verbs,[46] and phonology.[47] The Tamil script also changed in the period of Middle Tamil. Tamil Brahmi and Vaṭṭeḻuttu, into which it evolved, were the main scripts used in Old Tamil inscriptions. From the 8th century onwards, however, the Pallavas began using a new script, derived from the Pallava Grantha script which was used to write Sanskrit, which eventually replaced Vaṭṭeḻuttu.[48]

Middle Tamil is attested in a large number of inscriptions, and in a significant body of secular and religious literature.[49] These include the religious poems and songs of the Bhakthi poets, such as the Tēvāram verses on Saivism and Nālāyira Tivya Pirapantam on Vaishnavism,[50] and adaptations of religious legends such as the 12th century Tamil Ramayana composed by Kamban and the story of 63 shaivite devotees known as Periyapurāṇam.[51] Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, an early treatise on love poetics, and Naṉṉūl, a 12th century grammar that became the standard grammar of literary Tamil, are also from the Middle Tamil period.[52]

Modern Tamil

The 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.[53] 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[54] – negation is, instead, expressed either morphologically or syntactically.[55] Modern spoken Tamil also shows a number of sound changes, in particular, a tendency to lower high vowels in initial and medial positions,[56] and the disappearance of vowels between plosives and between a plosive and rhotic.[57]

Contact with European languages also affected both 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.[58] Simultaneously, a strong strain of linguistic purism emerged in the early 20th century, culminating in the Pure Tamil Movement which called for removal of all Sanskritic and other foreign elements from Tamil.[59] It received some support from Dravidian parties and nationalists who supported Tamil independence.[60] This led to the replacement of a significant number of Sanskrit loanwords by Tamil equivalents, though many others remain.[61]

Geographic distribution

File:Tamil distribution.png

Tamil is the first language of the majority of the people residing in Tamil Nadu in India and Northern Province, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka. The language is also spoken among small minority groups in other states of India which include Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and in certain regions of Sri Lanka such as Colombo and the hill country. Previously Tamil had a wider distribution in India than its current state. 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 CE. Tamil was also used widely in inscriptions found in southern Andhra Pradesh districts of Chittoor and Nellore until the 12th century AD.

There are currently sizeable Tamil-speaking populations descended from colonial-era migrants in Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius,((Seychelles)), South Africa, Indonesia,[62] Thailand,[63] Burma, and Vietnam. A large community of Tamil speakers exists in Karachi, Pakistan, which includes Tamil-speaking Hindus[64][65] as well as Christians and Muslims - including some Tamil-speaking Muslim refugees from Sri Lanka.[66] Many in Réunion, Guyana, Fiji, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago have Tamil origins,[67] but only a small number speak the language. In Reunion where Tamil language was forbidden to be learnt and used in public space is now being relearnt by students and adults.[68] It is also used by groups of migrants from Sri Lanka and India in Canada (especially Toronto), USA (especially New Jersey and New York City), Australia, many Middle Eastern countries, and some Western European countries.

Legal status

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 also one of the official languages of the union territories of Pondicherry and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.[69][70] Tamil is also one of the official languages of Sri Lanka and Singapore. In Malaysia, 543 primary education government schools are available fully in Tamil medium.[71]

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,[72][73] Tamil became the first legally recognised Classical language of India. The recognition was announced by the then President of India, Abdul Kalam, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament on 6 June 2004.[74][75][76]

See also: States of India by Tamil speakers


Region specific variations

The socio-linguistic situation of Tamil is characterised by diglossia: there are two separate registers varying by social status, a high register and a low one.[77][78] 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"—Template:IAST in Centamil (the classic variety)—has evolved into Template:IAST in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatore, inga in the dialect of Thanjavur, and Template:IAST in some dialects of Sri Lanka. Old Tamil's Template:IAST (where Template:IAST means place) is the source of Template:IAST in the dialect of Tirunelveli, Old Tamil Template:IAST is the source of Template:IAST in the dialect of Madurai, and Template:IAST in various northern dialects. Even now, in the Coimbatore area, it is common to hear "Template:IAST" 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,[79] and use many other words slightly differently.[80] According to Kamil Zvelebil, the Tamil dialects can be segregated on the following 'Centers of Prestige': Madras Tamil, Madurai Tamil, Kongu Tamil, Nellai Tamil, Kanyakumari Tamil, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli Tamil, Jaffna or Yazhpanam Tamil, Triconmalee or Tiruconamalai Tamil, Batticaloa or Mattakkalappu Tamil.[81]

Loanword variations

See also: Indo-Aryan loanwords in Tamil and Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil

The dialect of the district of Palakkad in Kerala has a large number of Malayalam loanwords, has been influenced by Malayalam's syntax and also 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 Mandyam dialects, spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites who migrated to Karnataka in the 11th century, retain many features of the Vaishnava paribasai, a special form of Tamil developed in the 9th and 10th centuries that reflect Vaishnavite religious and spiritual values.[82] 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.[83] Tamil in Sri Lanka incorporates loan words from Portuguese, Dutch, and English.

Spoken and literary variants

In addition to its various dialects, Tamil exhibits different forms: a classical literary style modelled on the ancient language (Template:IAST), a modern literary and formal style (Template:IAST), and a modern colloquial form (Template:IAST). These styles shade into each other, forming a stylistic continuum. For example, it is possible to write Template:IAST with a vocabulary drawn from Template:IAST, or to use forms associated with one of the other variants while speaking Template:IAST.[84]

In modern times, Template:IAST 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, Template:IAST has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of Template:IAST. Most contemporary cinema, theatre and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in Template:IAST, and many politicians use it to bring themselves closer to their audience. The increasing use of Template:IAST in modern times has led to the emergence of unofficial ‘standard' spoken dialects. In India, the ‘standard' Template:IAST is based on ‘educated non-Brahmin speech', rather than on any one dialect,[85] but has been significantly influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur and Madurai. In Sri Lanka, the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna.

Writing system

Main articles: Tamil script and Tamil braille
See also: Vatteluttu and Grantha script
File:Jambai Tamil Brahmi.jpg
After Tamil Brahmi fell out of use, Tamil was written using a script called the Template:IAST 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 inherency is removed by adding a tittle called a Template:IAST, to the consonantal sign. For example,
style="width:45px;height:45px;background:#Template:LangLevelColor ன;text-align:center;font-size:14pt;" | [[Template:LangName ta|ta-ன]] Template:LangLevelText ன
is ṉa (with the inherent a) and 
style="width:45px;height:45px;background:#Template:LangLevelColor ன்;text-align:center;font-size:14pt;" | [[Template:LangName ta|ta-ன்]] Template:LangLevelText ன்
is  (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.[86]


Main article: Tamil phonology

Tamil phonology is characterised by the presence of retroflex consonants and multiple rhotics. Tamil does not distinguish phonologically between voiced and unvoiced consonants; phonetically, voice is assigned depending on a consonant's position in a word.[87] 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 vowels are called Template:IAST (uyir – life, Template:IAST – letter). The vowels are classified into short (Template:IAST) and long (Template:IAST) (with five of each type) and two diphthongs, /ai/ and /au/, and three "shortened" (Template:IAST) vowels.

The long vowels are about twice as long as the short 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.

Short Long
Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a (ai) (aw)


Tamil consonants are known as Template:IAST (mey—body, Template:IAST—letters). The consonants are classified into three categories with six in each category: Template:IAST—hard, Template:IAST—soft or Nasal, and Template:IAST—medium.

Unlike most Indian languages, Tamil does not distinguish aspirated and unaspirated consonants. In addition, the voicing of plosives is governed by strict rules in Template:IAST. Plosives are unvoiced if they occur word-initially or doubled. Elsewhere they are voiced, with a few becoming fricatives intervocalically. Nasals and approximants are always voiced.[88]

Tamil is characterised by its use of more than one type of coronal consonants: like many of the other languages of India, it contains a series of retroflex consonants. Notably, the Tamil retroflex series includes the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ (ழ) (example Tamil; often transcribed 'zh'), which is absent in the Indo-Aryan languages. Among the other Dravidian languages, the retroflex approximant also occurs in Malayalam (for example in 'Kozhikode'), disappeared from spoken Kannada around 1000 CE (although the character is still written, and exists in Unicode), and was never present in Telugu.[89] 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

style="width:45px;height:45px;background:#Template:LangLevelColor ந;text-align:center;font-size:14pt;" | [[Template:LangName ta|ta-ந]] Template:LangLevelText ந
(dental) and 
style="width:45px;height:45px;background:#Template:LangLevelColor ன;text-align:center;font-size:14pt;" | [[Template:LangName ta|ta-ன]] Template:LangLevelText ன
(alveolar) may be seen as allophonic.[90]

A chart of the Tamil consonant phonemes in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:[91]

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Plosives p (b) t̪ (d̪) t (d) ʈ (ɖ) tʃ (dʒ) k (ɡ)
Nasals m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
Tap ɾ̪
Trill r
Central approximants ʋ ɻ j
Lateral approximants ɭ

Phonemes in brackets are voiced equivalents. Both voiceless and voiced forms are represented by the same character in Tamil, and voicing is determined by context. 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 different classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.


Classical Tamil also had a phoneme called the Āytam, written as ‘ஃ'. Tamil grammarians of the time classified it as a dependent phoneme (or restricted phoneme[92]) (Template:IAST), 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.[93] The Āytam, in modern Tamil, is also used to convert pa to fa (not the retroflex zha [ɻ]) when writing English words using the Tamil script.

Numerals and symbols

Main article: Tamil numerals

Apart from the usual numerals, Tamil also has numerals for 10, 100 and 1000. Symbols for day, month, year, debit, credit, as above, rupee, and numeral are present as well.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 100 1000
day month year debit credit as above rupee numeral


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 vocabularly is itself Tamil, as opposed to the Sanskrit that is standard for most other Dravidian languages.[94][95]

Much of 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 Template:IAST which restated and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely Template:IAST, col, Template:IAST, yāppu, Template:IAST. Of these, the last two are mostly applied in poetry.[96]

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.


Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes (Template:IAST)—the "rational" (Template:IAST), and the "irrational" (Template:Transl)—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.[97]

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,[98] and that Tamil usage is best understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as marking a separate case.[85] Tamil nouns can take one of four prefixes, i, a, u, and e which are functionally equivalent to the demonstratives in English.

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 Template:IAST.[99]

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.[100] Tamil has a large number of ideophones that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a given state "says" or "sounds".[101]

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.[102] In the first person plural, Tamil makes a distinction between inclusive pronouns நாம் Template:IAST (we), நமது Template:IAST (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் Template:IAST (we), எமது Template:IAST (our) that do not.[102]


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).[103][104] 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 Template:IAST ("completed")—or only a subject and object, without a verb such as Template:IAST ("That [is] my house"). Tamil does not have a copula (a linking verb equivalent to the word is). The word is included in the translations only to convey the meaning more easily.


See also: Wiktionary:Category:Tamil language and Wiktionary:Category:Tamil derivations

The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of linguistic purism is found in Modern Tamil,[105] which opposes the use of foreign loanwords.[106] 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, Template:IAST "frog" from Munda Template:IAST), Malay (e.g. Template:IAST "sago" from Malay Template:IAST), Chinese (for example, Template:IAST "skiff" from Chinese san-pan) and Greek (for example, Template:IAST from Greek ὥρα). In more modern times, Tamil has imported words from Urdu and Marathi, reflecting groups that have influenced the Tamil area at various points of time, and from neighbouring languages such as Telugu, Kannada, and Sinhala. During the modern period, words have also been adapted from European languages, such as Portuguese, French, and English.[107]

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,[108][109][110][111] reflecting the increased trend of Sanskritisation in the Tamil country.[112] 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.[113][114][115] In addition, Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the late medieval period,[116] culminating in the 20th century in a movement called [[Tanittamil Iyakkam|Template:IAST]] (meaning "pure Tamil movement"), led by Parithimaar Kalaignar and Maraimalai Adigal, which sought to remove the accumulated influence of Sanskrit on Tamil.[117] 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,[118] under some estimates having fallen from 40–50% to about 20%.[61] As a result, the Prakrit and Sanskrit loan words used in modern Tamil are, unlike in some other Dravidian languages, restricted mainly to some spiritual terminology and abstract nouns.[119]

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.[59]


Main article: Words of Tamil origin

A notable example of a word in worldwide use with Dravidian (not specifically Tamil) etymology is orange, via Sanskrit Template:IAST from a Dravidian predecessor of Tamil nartankāy "fragrant fruit".

Words of Tamil origin occur in other languages. Popular examples in English are cheroot (Template:IAST meaning "rolled up"),[120] mango (from mangai),[120] mulligatawny (from Template:IAST meaning pepper water), pariah (from paraiyan), curry (from kari),[121] catamaran (from Template:IAST, கட்டு மரம், meaning "bundled logs"),[120] pandal (shed, shelter, booth),[120] tyer (curd),[120] anicut (from Template:IAST, அணைக்கட்டு, meaning dam),[120] and coir (rope).[122] Tamil words are also found in Sinhala, Malayalam, Thai, and Malay.[citation needed]

Indonesia and Thailand

A Tamil-Brahmi inscription on pottery from the 2nd century AD has been excavated in Thailand, by a Thai-French team of archaeologists, led by Dr. Bérénice Bellina of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France and Praon Silpanth, Lecturer - Silpakorn University, Thailand. They discovered a shard of inscribed pottery during their excavations at Phu Khao Thong in Thailand. A touchstone engraved in Tamil in the Tamil-Brahmi script from about the 3rd or 4th century AD had already been found in Thailand and is in a museum in the ancient port city of Khuan Luk Pat in Southern Thailand.[123]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Stein, Burton (1977), "Circulation and the Historical Geography of Tamil Country", The Journal of Asian Studies 37 (1): 7–26, DOI 10.2307/2053325
  3. Steever, Sanford B. "The Dravidian languages", First Published (1998), pp. 6–9. ISBN 0-415-10023-2
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  5. George L. Harte and Hank Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan University of California Press, 1988, p1
  6. Zvelebil 1992, p. 12: "...the most acceptable periodisation which has so far been suggested for the development of Tamil writing seems to me to be that of A Chidambaranatha Chettiar (1907–1967): 1. Sangam Literature – 200BC to AD 200; 2. Post Sangam literature – AD 200 – AD 600; 3. Early Medieval literature – AD 600 to AD 1200; 4. Later Medieval literature – AD 1200 to AD 1800; 5. Pre-Modern literature – AD 1800 to 1900"
  7. Maloney 1970, p. 610
  8. Classical Tamil, Government of India
  9. Abraham 2003
  10. Mahathevan, Iravatham. "An epigraphic perspective on the antiquity of Tamil", The Hindu, The Hindu Group, 24 June 2010. Retrieved on 13 September 2010. 
  11. The I.A.S. Tamil Medical Manuscript Collection. Retrieved on 2012-09-13.
  12. Saiva Manuscript in Pondicherry. Retrieved on 2012-09-13.
  13. Memory of the World Register: India. Retrieved on 2012-09-13.
  14. Staff Reporter (22 November 2005), Students get glimpse of heritage, Chennai, India, <> (retrieved on 26 April 2007)
  15. India 2001: A Reference Annual 2001. Compiled and edited by Research, Reference and Training Division, Publications Division, New Delhi: Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  16. Hart, George L. Statement on the Status of Tamil as a Classical Language, University of California Berkeley Department of South Asian Studies – Tamil
  17. Krishnamurti 2003, p. 19
  18. Perumal, A. K. Manorama Yearbook (Tamil) 2005, pp.302–318.
  19. Freeman 1998, p. 39
  20. Menon 1990
  21. Andronov 1970, p. 21
  22. Southworth 2005, pp. 249–250
  23. Southworth 2005, pp. 250–251
  24. Sivathamby, K (December 1974) Early South Indian Society and Economy: The Tinai Concept, Social Scientist, Vol.3 No.5 Dec 1974
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  29. University of Madras (1924–36), Tamil lexicon, Madras: University of Madras, <> (retrieved on 26 February 2012) (Online edition at the University of Chicago)
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  32. Mahadevan 2003, pp. 90–95
  33. Lehmann 1998, p. 75. The dating of Sangam literature and the identification of its language with Old Tamil have recently been questioned by Herman Tieken who argues that the works are better understood as 9th century Pāṇṭiyan dynasty compositions, deliberately written in an archaising style to make them seem older than they were (Tieken 2001). Tieken's dating has, however, been criticised by reviewers of his work. See e.g. Hart 2004, Ferro-Luzzi 2001, Monius 2002 and Wilden 2003
  34. Tharu & Lalitha 1991, p. 70
  35. Lehmann 1998, pp. 75–6
  36. Krishnamurthi 2003, p. 53
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  38. Krishnamurthi 2003, pp. 182–193
  39. Steever 1998, p. 24
  40. Lehmann 1998, p. 80
  41. Kuiper 1958, p. 194
  42. Meenakshisundaran 1965, pp. 132–133
  43. Kuiper 1958, pp. 213–215
  44. Rajam 1985, pp. 284–285
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  106. Krishnamurti 2003, p. 480.
  107. Meenakshisundaram 1965, pp. 169–193
  108. "Literature in all Dravidian languages owes a great deal to Sanskrit, the magic wand whose touch raised each of the languages from a level of patois to that of a literary idiom" (Sastri 1955, p309); Trautmann, Thomas R. 2006. Languages and nations: the Dravidian proof in colonial Madras. Berkeley: University of California Press. "The author endeavours to demonstrate that the entire Sangam poetic corpus follows the "Kavya" form of Sanskrit poetry"-Tieken, Herman Joseph Hugo. 2001. Kāvya in South India: old Tamil Template:IAST poetry. Groningen: Egbert Forsten; Vaiyapuri Pillai in Takahashi, Takanobu. 1995, p18.
  109. See Vaidyanathan's analysis of an early medieval text in S. Vaidyanathan, "Indo-Aryan loan words in the Civakacintamani" Journal of the American Oriental Society 87:4. (October – December 1967), pp. 430–434.
  110. Caldwell, Robert. 1974. A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp, p.87–88.
  111. Takahashi, Takanobu. 1995. Tamil love poetry and poetics. Brill's Indological Library, v. 9. Leiden: E.J. Brill, p16,18
  112. Pollock, Sheldon. "The Sanskrit Cosmopolis 300–1300: Transculturation, vernacularisation and the question of ideology" in Jan E.M. Houben (ed.), The ideology and status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the history of the Sanskrit language (E.J. Brill, Leiden: 1996) at pp. 209–217.
  113. Trautmann, Thomas R. (1999), "Hullabaloo About Telugu", South Asian Research 19 (1): 53–70, DOI 10.1177/026272809901900104 at p. 64
  114. Caldwell, Robert. 1974. A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp, p.50.
  115. Ellis, F. W. (1820), "Note to the introduction" in Campbell, A.D., A grammar of the Teloogoo language. Madras: College Press, pp. 29–30.
  116. See Ramaswamy's analysis of one such text, the Template:Transl, in Ramaswamy, Sumathi. "Language of the People in the World of Gods: Ideologies of Tamil before the Nation" The Journal of Asian Studies, 57:1. (February 1998), pp. 66–92.
  117. Varadarajan, M. A History of Tamil Literature, transl. from Tamil by E. Sa. Viswanathan, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1988. p.12: "Since then the movement has been popularly known as the tanittamil iyakkam or the Pure Tamil movement among the Tamil scholars."
  118. Ramaswamy, Sumathy (1997), "Laboring for language", Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891–1970, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-585-10600-2, <>
  119. Meenakshisundaram, T. P. A History of Tamil Language, Sarvodaya Ilakkiya Pannai, 1982. (translated) p. 241-2
  120. 120.0 120.1 120.2 120.3 120.4 120.5 Oxford English Dictionary Online, <> (retrieved on 14 April 2007)
  121. "curry, n.2", The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 14 Aug 2009
  122. Entry in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, <> (retrieved on 14 April 2007)
  123. Tamil Inscriptions. Retrieved on 2012-09-13.



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