Tamil – A classical, Dravidian language

  India is a multi-facet country, with varied traditions and cultures and Indians speak in different languages. Besides the Indo-Aryan group of languages spoken across the country, except the southern part, we have another relatively large group of Dravidian languages spoken only in the south. Origin of Tamil, unlike that of other Indian languages is unclear. But Tamil has been free from influence of Sanskrit, mother of most north Indian languages.  Tamil is one major representative of the classical Dravidian language, with nearly 2 millennia old history and background and its literature is the oldest amongst that of all Dravidian languages. It is one of the several languages that form the Tamil-Kannada group, which itself forms a part of greater Tamil-Malayalam group (there are 22 Tamil dialects, heavily influenced by Malayalam) – all forming the Dravidian group of languages. Tamil is spoken maximum in countries like India and Sri Lanka, the cradle for Tamil language. Fewer (minority) Tamils are found in South Asia – Singapore, Malaysia and Mauritius, besides also in Dubai, and South Africa, and by even groups migrated and settled abroad.  Tamil, Malayalam (official language of Kerala), Kannada (official language of Karnataka) and Telugu (official language of Andhra Pradesh) that constitute the Dravidian group of languages – all form the part of the list of 23 official languages of India. Tamil also is the official language of Tamil Nadu state and of union territories of Pondicherry and Andaman and Nicobar too. Tamil also happens to be one of the official languages of Sri Lanka and Singapore.  Tamil language, by any parameter does not qualify as one of the most spoken languages of the world. As per the last census count (2005), there must be over 80 million Tamils across the globe today. This places it at the same level as Telugu or Marathi – around 15th most spoken language. Keeping these facts in mind, it deserves its due attention – both from point of view of translation as well as literature. Contemporary Tamil language and literature have inherited greatly from its two millennia old ancient history and it has retained great number of words from its classical form. Parts of old classical works are taught at primary level, which reflects the extent of its influence over the contemporary form.  Tamil displays a unique property, by which its classical or written or centamil and spoken (in more than 22 different) colloquial or koduntamil forms exist at the same time differently. Whereas, the former has helped to retain written language uniform across times and geography, the latter represents different dialects spoken in different regions and by different communities. The written form is more standardized and has specific grammatical rules, while the spoken form depends on the area or region where used. All literature and text books use centamil, while cinema uses commonly spoken dialects, or koduntamil. However, the vocabulary across dialects has remained unchanged.  Tamil characters are based on phonetic properties of the uttered sound. The present Tamil script has undergone a sea change over time. Its original form was adopted from the Brahmi script form of Ashoka times, but later modified to create Tamil-Brahmi and once again modified to get Grantha script for writing both Sanskrit and Tamil texts. Subsequent changes to present times have been adaptations to make it more suitable, first for engraving on stone and later (as now) for printing.  

3 thoughts on “Tamil – A classical, Dravidian language

  1. This is a shorty but an excellent description of the language. I hope you do some more work on this to keep it updated with latest information and also provide some credible historical evidences to support the claim that tamil is not influenced by sanskrit like other south indian languages.

  2. This description is very nice. The sangam literature is the best example for the traditional value of tamil. The text itself is a guide for the learners. The language tamil always tries to keep its purity with new words even if those are from technical background. The word kanini for computer is an instance. The culture of the pepole to recieve all sorts of developments should be appreciated.