Tamil language

Tamil language

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Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people
Tamil people
Tamil people , also called Tamils or Tamilians, are an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, India and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka. Historic and post 15th century emigrant communities are also found across the world, notably Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, Australia, Canada,...

 of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. It has official status
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

 in the Indian state
States and territories of India
India is a federal union of states comprising twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The states and territories are further subdivided into districts and so on.-List of states and territories:...

 of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

 and in the Indian union territory
States and territories of India
India is a federal union of states comprising twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The states and territories are further subdivided into districts and so on.-List of states and territories:...

 of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and the first Indian language to be declared as a classical language by the government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia and Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

 as well as emigrant communities around the world.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past" and having "one of the richest literatures in the world". Tamil literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 has existed for over 2000 years. The earliest epigraphic
Epigraphy
Epigraphy Epigraphy Epigraphy (from the , literally "on-writing", is the study of inscriptions or epigraphs as writing; that is, the science of identifying the graphemes and of classifying their use as to cultural context and date, elucidating their meaning and assessing what conclusions can be...

 records found on rock edicts and hero stone
Hero stone
Hero stone is a memorial commemorating the honorable death of a hero in battle of Tamil People. A hero stone can display a variety of adornments, including bas relief panels, statues, and figures of carved stone...

s
date from around the 3rd century BCE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

, is dated from the 300 BCE – 300 CE. Tamil language inscriptions written c. 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE have been discovered in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The two earliest manuscripts from India, to be acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register
Memory of the World Programme
UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction...

 in 1997 and 2005 were in Tamil. More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India
Archaeological Survey of India
The Archaeological Survey of India is a department of the Government of India, attached to the Ministry of Culture . The ASI is responsible for archaeological studies and the preservation of archaeological heritage of the country in accordance with the various acts of the Indian Parliament...

 are in the Tamil language. According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies. It has the oldest extant literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 amongst other Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

. 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".

Classification



Tamil belongs to the southern branch of the Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

, a family of around 26 languages native to the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. 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 such as the Irula
Irula language
Irula is a Dravidian language spoken by the Irulas who inhabit the area of the Nilgiri mountains, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, India.- Vowels :...

, and Yerukula
Yerukala language
Yerukula is a Dravidian language mainly spoken by the Yerukala tribe. This language is also called Kurru basha or Kulavatha. Yerukala is linguistically close to South Dravidian languages such as Ravula and Irula...

 languages (see SIL Ethnologue).

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

History


As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian
Proto-Dravidian
Proto-Dravidian is the proto-language of the Dravidian languages. It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 500 BC, although some linguists have argued that the degree of differentiation between the sub-families points...

. 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
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 complexes of South India
South India
South India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying 19.31% of India's area...

. 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. Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritised Indian literature.

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).

Etymology


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 in a text that is perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE.
Southworth suggests that the name comes from > 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'. Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

 suggests an etymology of , with meaning "self" or "one's self", and "" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of < < } < }, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)". (see Southworth's derivation of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 term for "others" or Mleccha
Mleccha
Mleccha , also spelt as Mlechchha, people of foreign extraction in ancient India. Mleccha was used by the Aryans much as the ancient Greeks used barbaros, originally to indicate the uncouth and incomprehensible speech of foreigners and then extended to their unfamiliar behaviour...

)

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
Brāhmī script
Brāhmī is the modern name given to the oldest members of the Brahmic family of scripts. The best-known Brāhmī inscriptions are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India, dated to the 3rd century BCE. These are traditionally considered to be early known examples of Brāhmī writing...

 called Tamil Brahmi. The earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam
Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC. 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
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

. These poems are usually dated to between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, which makes them the oldest extant body of secular literature in India. Other literary works in Old Tamil include two long epics, Cilappatikāram
Cilappatikaram
Silappatikaram Silappatikaram has been dated to likely belong to the beginning of Christian era, although the author might have built upon a pre-existing folklore to spin this tale. The story involves the three Tamil kingdoms of the ancient era, the Chola, the Pandya and the Chera...

 and Maṇimēkalai
Manimekalai
Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai , written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos...

, and a number of ethical and didactic texts, written between the 5th and 8th centuries.

Old Tamil preserved many features of Proto-Dravidian, including the inventory of consonants, the syllable structure, and various grammatical features. 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. (காணேன்) "I do not see", (காணோம்) "we do not see") Nouns could take pronominal suffixes like verbs to express ideas: e.g. (பெண்டிரேம்) "we are women" formed from (பெண்டிர்) "women" and the first person plural marker - (ஏம்).

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.

Middle Tamil


The evolution of Old Tamil into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken to have been completed by the 8th century, 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, the coalescence of the alveolar and dental nasals, and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic
Rhotic consonant
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including "R, r" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p" from the Cyrillic alphabet...

. In grammar, the most important change was the emergence of the present tense. The present tense evolved out of the verb (கில்), meaning "to be possible" or "to befall". In Old Tamil, this verb was used as an aspect marker
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 to indicate that an action was micro-durative, non-sustained or non-lasting, usually in combination with a time marker such as (ன்). In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker – (கின்ற) – which combined the old aspect and time markers.

Middle Tamil also saw a significant increase in the Sanskritisation of Tamil. From the period of the Pallava dynasty onwards, a number of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 loan-words entered Tamil, particularly in relation to political, religious and philosophical concepts. Sanskrit also influenced Tamil grammar, in the increased use of cases and in declined nouns becoming adjuncts of verbs, and phonology. The Tamil script also changed in the period of Middle Tamil. Tamil Brahmi and Vaṭṭeḻuttu
Vatteluttu
Vatteluttu alphabet, also spelled Vattezhuttu alphabet is an abugida writing system originating from the Tamil people of Southern India...

, 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.

Middle Tamil is attested in a large number of inscriptions, and in a significant body of secular and religious literature. These include the religious poems and songs of the Bhakthi
Bhakti movement
The Bhakti movement is a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice is loving devotion among the Shaivite and Vaishnava saints. The Bhakti movement originated in ancient Tamil Nadu and began to spread to the north during the late medieval ages when north India was under Islamic...

 poets, such as the Tēvāram
Tevaram
The Tevaram denotes the first seven volumes of the Tirumurai, the twelve-volume collection of Tamil Saivite devotional poetry. All seven volumes are dedicated to the works of the three most prominent Tamil poets - Campantar , Appar and Cuntarar...

 verses on Saivism and Nālāyira Tivya Pirapantam on Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

, 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. Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ
Iraiyanar Akapporul
Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, or Kaḷaviyal eṉṟa Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, literally "Iraiyanar's treatise on the love-theme, called 'The study of stolen love'" is an early mediaeval work on Tamil poetics, specifically, on the literary conventions associated with the akam tradition of Tamil love poetry...

, an early treatise on love poetics, and Naṉṉūl
Nannul
Nannūl is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language derived from Tolkāppiyam. This was written by Pavananthi Munivar around 13th century....

, a 12th century grammar that became the standard grammar of literary Tamil, are also from the Middle Tamil period.

Modern Tamil


The Nannul
Nannul
Nannūl is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language derived from Tolkāppiyam. This was written by Pavananthi Munivar around 13th century....

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

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
Theta role
In generative grammar , a theta role or θ-role is the formal device for representing syntactic argument structure required syntactically by a particular verb. For example, the verb put requires three arguments...

 of English. Simultaneously, a strong strain of linguistic purism
Linguistic purism
Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

 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. It received some support from Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties include an array of regional political parties in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, which trace their origins and ideologies either directly or indirectly to the Dravidian movement of Periyar E. V...

 and nationalists
Tamil nationalism
Tamil nationalism in India is an aspiration by some Tamils to establish, at minimum, self determination or at maximum secession from India to establish an Independent Tamil State of which would consist of today's Tamil nadu, Puducherry and Tamil Eelam of Sri Lanka...

 who supported Tamil independence. This led to the replacement of a significant number of Sanskrit loanwords by Tamil equivalents, though many others remain.

Geographic distribution



Tamil is the first language of the majority in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Northern Province
Northern Province, Sri Lanka
The Northern Province is one of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but did not have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Between 1988 and 2006 the province was...

, Eastern Province
Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
The Eastern Province is one of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but they didn't have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Between 1988 and 2006 the province was...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

. The language is spoken by small groups of minorities in other parts of these two countries including Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

, Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

, Kerala
Kerala
or Keralam is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was created on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam speaking regions....

, Maharashtra
Maharashtra
Maharashtra is a state located in India. It is the second most populous after Uttar Pradesh and third largest state by area in India...

 and others
States of India by Tamil speakers
This is a list of States and Union Territories of India by speakers of Tamil as of . Gross population figures are...

 in case of India and Colombo
Colombo
Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital of the country, since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo...

, the hill country, in case of Sri Lanka. Previously Tamil had a wider distribution in India than what it is currently. Tamil or dialects of it were used widely in the state of Kerala as the language of administration, literature and common usage until the 12th century CE. Tamil was also used widely in inscriptions found in southern Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

 districts of Chittoor
Chittoor district
Chittoor District , also known as Chittur, is a district of India's Andhra Pradesh state. The district headquarters is Chittoor City. The district has a population of 4,170,468 according to 2011 census of India. Chittoor district is famous for the Tirupati, Kanipakam and Sri Kalahasti temples...

 and Nellore
Nellore district
Sri Amarajeevi Potti Sri Ramulu Nellore District is one of the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Nellore is famous for high paddy field, and so it got its name from "Nelli". The population of the district was 2,966,082 of which 22.45% were urban as of 2011....

 until the 12th centure CE.

There are currently sizable Tamil-speaking populations
Tamil diaspora
The Tamil diaspora is a demographic group of Tamil people of Indian or Sri Lankan origin who have settled in other parts of the world. Significant Tamil diaspora populations can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Middle East, Réunion, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Guyana,...

 descended from colonial-era migrants in Malaysia, Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

, South Africa
Asians in South Africa
The majority of the Asian South African population is Indian in origin, most of them descended from indentured workers transported to work in the 19th century on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area, then known as Natal. They are largely English speaking, although many also retain the...

, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, Burma, and Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. Many in Réunion
Réunion
Réunion is a French island with a population of about 800,000 located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, about south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France...

, Guyana
Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

, Fiji
Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

, Suriname
Suriname
Suriname , officially the Republic of Suriname , is a country in northern South America. It borders French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west, Brazil to the south, and on the north by the Atlantic Ocean. Suriname was a former colony of the British and of the Dutch, and was previously known as...

, and Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

 have Tamil origins, 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. It is also used by groups of migrants from Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora
The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora refers to the global diaspora of the people of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. It can be said to be a subset of the larger Sri Lankan as well as Tamil diaspora....

 and India in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 (especially Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

), USA
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 (especially New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

), Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, many Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

ern countries, and most of the western Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an countries.

Legal status


Tamil is the official language
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

 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. Tamil is also one of the official languages of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. In Malaysia, 543 primary education government schools are available fully in Tamil medium.

In addition, with the creation in 2004 of a legal status for classical languages by the Government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 and following a political campaign supported by several Tamil associations, Tamil became the first legally recognised Classical language
Classical language
A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, 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...

 of India. The recognition was announced by the then President of India
President of India
The President of India is the head of state and first citizen of India, as well as the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces. President of India is also the formal head of all the three branches of Indian Democracy - Legislature, Executive and Judiciary...

, Abdul Kalam
Abdul Kalam
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam usually referred to as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is a renowned aerospace engineer, professor , and first Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram , who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007...

, who himself is a native Tamil speaker, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament
Parliament of India
The Parliament of India is the supreme legislative body in India. Founded in 1919, the Parliament alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all political bodies in India. The Parliament of India comprises the President and the two Houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha...

 on June 6, 2004.

Region specific variations


The socio-linguistic situation of Tamil is characterised by diglossia
Diglossia
In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

: there are two separate registers varying by social status, a high register and a low one. 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"— in Centamil (the classic variety)—has evolved into in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatore
Coimbatore
Coimbatore , also known as Kovai , is the second largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is a major commercial centre in Tamil Nadu and is known as the "Manchester of South India"....

, inga in the dialect of Thanjavur, and in some dialects of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil dialects
The Sri Lankan Tamil dialects or Ceylon Tamil dialects form a group of Tamil dialects used in the modern country of Sri Lanka by Sri Lankan Tamil people that is distinct from the dialects of modern Tamil spoken in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states of India...

. Old Tamil's (where means place) is the source of in the dialect of Tirunelveli
Tirunelveli
Tirunelveli , also known as Nellai , and historically as Tinnevelly, is a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the headquarters of the Tirunelveli District and the sixth biggest city in Tamil Nadu...

, Old Tamil is the source of in the dialect of Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

, and in various northern dialects. Even now, in the Coimbatore area, it is common to hear "" meaning "that place". Although Tamil dialects do not differ significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 retain many words and grammatical forms that are not in everyday use in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and use many other words slightly differently. According to Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

, the Tamil dialects can be segregated on the following 'Centers of Prestige': Madras Tamil
Madras Bashai
Madras Bashai or Madras Tamil, is a colloquial slang of Tamil language spoken in the city of Chennai, India .The word bashai derives from the Sanskrit bhasha . Like Bambaiya Hindi used in Mumbai, Madras Bashai is a loose polyglot blend of Tamil with Indian English, Telugu and Hindustani...

, Madurai Tamil
Madurai Tamil
Madurai Tamil is the dialect spoken in the city of Madurai and over a vast geographical area of South Tamil Nadu, the area once ruled by the Pandiya Kings...

, Kongu Tamil
Kongu Tamil
Kongu Tamil is the dialect of Tamil language that is spoken in Kongu Nadu, which is the western region of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as "Kangee".`...

, Nellai Tamil
Nellai Tamil
Nellai Tamil, also known as Tirunelveli Tamil, is one of the dialects of Tamil which is spoken in the districts of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi as well as over the vast area of south Tamil Nadu which was once ruled by the Pandiya Kings. Nellai Tamil is also known as Thenpaandi Tamil...

, Kanyakumari Tamil, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli
Central Tamil dialect
The Central Tamil dialect is a dialect of Tamil spoken in the districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Tiruchirapalli in central Tamil Nadu, India and to some extent, in the neighbouring Cuddalore and Pudukkottai districts.Along with Madurai Tamil, the Central Tamil dialect is considered...

 Tamil, Jaffna or Yazhpanam Tamil, Trincomalee or Tiriconamalai Tamil, Batticaloa or mattakkalappu Tamil.

Loanword variations



The dialect of the district of Palakkad
Palakkad
Palakkad , formerly known as Palghat, is a municipality and a town in the state of Kerala in southern India, spread over an area of 26.60 km2.The city is situated about north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram. It is the administrative headquarters of Palakkad District...

 in Kerala has a large number of Malayalam
Malayalam language
Malayalam , is one of the four major Dravidian languages of southern India. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India with official language status in the state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry. It is spoken by 35.9 million people...

 loanwords, has also been influenced by Malayalam syntax and also has a distinct Malayalam accent. Similarly, Tamil spoken in Kanyakumari District has unique words and phonetic style than Tamil spoken at other parts of Tamil Nadu. The uniqueness of words and phonetics is such that someone from Kanyakumari district
Kanyakumari District
Kanyakumari District ) is a district of Tamil Nadu state, India and is the southernmost land area of mainland India.The district is the second most urbanised district in Tamilnadu, next only to Chennai and ahead of Coimbatore. It also has the highest literacy and education levels in the...

 is easily identified by the spoken Tamil. Hebbar
Hebbar Iyengars
Hebbar Iyengars , formerly an endogamous group, constitute a part of the Iyengar sub-caste of the Karnataka Brahmins. They are traditionally followers of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika. They hail primarily from Hassan, Mysore, Tumkur, Bangalore, and surrounding areas in southern Karnataka...

 and Mandyam dialects, spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

 who migrated to Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

 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. Several caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

s have their own sociolect
Sociolect
In sociolinguistics, a sociolect or social dialect is a variety of language associated with a social group such as a socioeconomic class, an ethnic group, an age group, etc....

s 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.
Tamil in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 incorporates loan words
Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil
Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil came about mostly due contact between colonial powers and the native population. Linguists study a language's lexicon for a number of reasons. Languages such as Tamil with centuries of literature and multi-cultural contact offer the chance to compare the various...

 from Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 also.

Spoken and literary variants


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

In modern times, is generally used in formal writing and speech. For instance, it is the language of textbooks, of much of Tamil literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 and of public speaking and debate. In recent times, however, has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of . Most contemporary cinema
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

, theatre
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in , and many politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

s use it to bring themselves closer to their audience. The increasing use of in modern times has led to the emergence of unofficial ‘standard' spoken dialects. In India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the ‘standard' is based on ‘educated non-Brahmin speech', rather than on any one dialect, but has been significantly influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur and Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

. In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna
Jaffna
Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district located on a peninsula of the same name. Jaffna is approximately six miles away from Kandarodai which served as a famous emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical...

.

Writing system



After Tamil Brahmi fell out of use, Tamil was written using a script called the amongst others such as Grantha and Pallava script. The current Tamil script consists of 12 vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s, 18 consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s and one special character, the āytam
Aytam
Āytam is a special sound in the Tamil Language. It is represented in the Tamil script by the character ஃ. It is special in the senses of not being an independent sound and being archaic and employed only in idiomatic and fossilized words such as அஃது, இஃது etc.The sound āytam is mentioned in the...

. 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 an overdot called a , to the consonantal sign. For example, is ṉa (with the inherent a) and is (without a vowel). Many Indic scripts have a similar sign, generically called virama
Virama
Virama is a generic term for the diacritic in many Brahmic scripts, including Devanagari and East Nagari, that is used to suppress the inherent vowel that otherwise occurs with every consonant letter. The name is Sanskrit for "cessation, termination, end"...

, 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
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. Tamil phonology permits few consonant...

.

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.

Sounds


Tamil phonology is characterised by the presence of retroflex consonant
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

s and multiple rhotics
Rhotic consonant
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including "R, r" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p" from the Cyrillic alphabet...

. Tamil does not distinguish phonologically between voiced and unvoiced consonants; phonetically, voice is assigned depending on a consonant's position in a word. 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.

Vowels


Tamil vowels are called (uyir – life, – letter). The vowels are classified into short () and long () (with five of each type) and two diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s, /ai/ and /au/, and three "shortened" () vowels.

The long vowels are about twice as long as the short vowels. The diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as the short vowels, though most grammatical texts place them with the long vowels.
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 
Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 
Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

 
Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

 
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 
Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

 
Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i u
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e o
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

a (ai) (aw)
ஒள

Consonants


Tamil consonants are known as (mey—body, —letters). The consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s are classified into three categories with six in each category: —hard, —soft or Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

, and —medium.

Unlike most Indian languages, Tamil does not distinguish aspirated and unaspirated
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

 consonants. In addition, the voicing of plosives is governed by strict rules in . Plosives are unvoiced if they occur word-initially or doubled. Elsewhere they are voiced, with a few becoming fricatives intervocalically. Nasals
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

 and approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

 are always voiced.

As commonplace in languages of India, Tamil is characterised by its use of more than one type of coronal consonant
Coronal consonant
Coronal consonants are consonants articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue. Only the coronal consonants can be divided into apical , laminal , domed , or subapical , as well as a few rarer orientations, because only the front of the tongue has such...

s. Retroflex consonant
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

s include the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ (ழ) (example Tamil), which among the Dravidian languages is also found in Malayalam (example Kozhikode), disappeared from Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

 in pronunciation at around 1000 AD (the dedicated letter is still found in Unicode
Unicode
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems...

), and was never present in Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

. Dental and alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

s also contrast with each other, a typically Dravidian trait not found in the neighboring Indo-Aryan languages. In spoken Tamil, however, this contrast has been largely lost, and even in literary Tamil, and may be seen as allophonic.

A chart of the Tamil consonant phoneme
Phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:
Labial
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

 
Dental  Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

 
Retroflex
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

 
Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

 
Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Plosives p (b) t̪ (d̪) ʈ (ɖ) tʃ (dʒ) k (ɡ)
Nasals
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
ன, ந
Tap ɾ̪
Trill
Trill consonant
In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

r
Central
Central consonant
A central or medial consonant is a consonant sound that is produced when air flows across the center of the mouth over the tongue. The class contrasts with lateral consonants, in which air flows over the sides of the tongue rather than down its center....

 approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

ʋ ɻ j
Lateral
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

 approximants
ɭ


Phonemes in brackets are voiced
Voice (phonetics)
Voice or voicing is a term used in phonetics and phonology to characterize speech sounds, with sounds described as either voiceless or voiced. The term, however, is used to refer to two separate concepts. Voicing can refer to the articulatory process in which the vocal cords vibrate...

 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
Elision
Elision is the omission of one or more sounds in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce...

 in Tamil categorised into different classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.

Āytam


Classical Tamil also had a phoneme called the Āytam
Aytam
Āytam is a special sound in the Tamil Language. It is represented in the Tamil script by the character ஃ. It is special in the senses of not being an independent sound and being archaic and employed only in idiomatic and fossilized words such as அஃது, இஃது etc.The sound āytam is mentioned in the...

, written as ‘ஃ'. Tamil grammarians of the time classified it as a dependent phoneme (or restricted phoneme) (), 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
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

 the sounds it was combined with. It has also been suggested that the āytam was used to represent the voiced implosive
Implosive consonant
Implosive consonants are stops with a mixed glottalic ingressive and pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism. That is, the airstream is controlled by moving the glottis downward in addition to expelling air from the lungs. Therefore, unlike the purely glottalic ejective consonants, implosives can...

 (or closing part or the first half) of geminated voiced plosives inside a word. 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


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

Grammar


Tamil employs agglutinative
Agglutination
In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Languages that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages...

 grammar, where suffixes are used to mark noun class
Noun class
In linguistics, the term noun class refers to a system of categorizing nouns. A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as sex, animacy, shape, but counting a given noun among nouns of such or another class is often clearly conventional...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, and case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

, verb tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

 and other grammatical categories. Tamil's standard metalinguistic
Metalanguage
Broadly, any metalanguage is language or symbols used when language itself is being discussed or examined. In logic and linguistics, a metalanguage is a language used to make statements about statements in another language...

 terminology and scholarly vocabularly is itself Tamil, as opposed to the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 that is standard for most other Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

.

Much of Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest known grammar book for Tamil, the Tolkāppiyam
Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

. Modern Tamil writing is largely based on the 13th century grammar which restated and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely , col, , yāppu, . Of these, the last two are mostly applied in poetry.

Tamil words consist of a lexical root
Lexeme
A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics, that roughly corresponds to a set of forms taken by a single word. For example, in the English language, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme, conventionally written as RUN...

 to which one or more affix
Affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es are attached. Most Tamil affixes are suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es. Tamil suffixes can be derivational
Derivation (linguistics)
In linguistics, derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word, e.g. happi-ness and un-happy from happy, or determination from determine...

 suffixes
, which either change the part of speech of the word or its meaning, or inflection
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

al suffixes
, which mark categories such as person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

, tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

, etc. There is no absolute limit on the length and extent of agglutination
Agglutination
In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Languages that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages...

, which can lead to long words with a large number of suffixes.

Morphology


Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes ()—the "rational" (), and the "irrational" ()—which include a total of five classes (pāl, which literally means ‘gender'). Human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s and deities
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 are classified as "rational", and all other nouns (animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s, 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
Honorific
An honorific is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term is used not quite correctly to refer to an honorary title...

, gender-neutral, singular form.

Suffixes are used to perform the functions of cases
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

 or postpositions. Traditional grammarians tried to group the various suffixes into eight cases corresponding to the cases used in Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. These were the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, sociative
Sociative case
This case in Hungarian language can express the person in whose company the action is carried out, or to any belongings of people which take part in the action . It is denoted by the suffixes "-stul/-stül," depending on vowel harmony. This case is obsolete and nowadays the instrumental-comitative...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

, locative
Locative case
Locative is a grammatical case which indicates a location. It corresponds vaguely to the English prepositions "in", "on", "at", and "by"...

, and ablative
Ablative case
In linguistics, ablative case is a name given to cases in various languages whose common characteristic is that they mark motion away from something, though the details in each language may differ...

. Modern grammarians argue that this classification is artificial, and that Tamil usage is best understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as marking a separate case. Tamil nouns can take one of four prefixes, i, a, u, and e which are functionally equivalent to the demonstrative
Demonstrative
In linguistics, demonstratives are deictic words that indicate which entities a speaker refers to and distinguishes those entities from others...

s in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

.

Tamil verbs are also inflected through the use of suffixes. A typical Tamil verb form will have a number of suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es, which show person, number, mood, tense, and voice.
  • Person and number are indicated by suffixing the oblique case
    Oblique case
    An oblique case in linguistics is a noun case of synthetic languages that is used generally when a noun is the object of a verb or a preposition...

     of the relevant pronoun. The suffixes to indicate tenses and voice are formed from grammatical particle
    Grammatical particle
    In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes . It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition...

    s, 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 morpheme
    Morpheme
    In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

    s which mark tense categories. Tamil verbs also mark evidentiality
    Evidentiality
    In linguistics, evidentiality is, broadly, the indication of the nature of evidence for a given statement; that is, whether evidence exists for the statement and/or what kind of evidence exists. An evidential is the particular grammatical element that indicates evidentiality...

    , through the addition of the hearsay clitic
    Clitic
    In morphology and syntax, a clitic is a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase. It is pronounced like an affix, but works at the phrase level...

     .


Traditional grammars of Tamil do not distinguish between adjective
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s and adverb
Adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

s, including both of them under the category uriccol, although modern grammarians tend to distinguish between them on morphological and syntactical grounds. Tamil has a large number of ideophone
Ideophone
Ideophones are words used by speakers to evoke a vivid impression of certain sensation or sensory perceptions, e.g. smell, color, shape, sound, action, or movement. Ideophones are attested in all languages of the world, however, languages differ in the extent to which they make use of them...

s that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a given state "says" or "sounds".

Tamil does not have articles
Article (grammar)
An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

. Definiteness and indefiniteness are either indicated by special grammatical devices, such as using the number "one" as an indefinite article, or by the context. In the first person plural, Tamil makes a distinction between inclusive
Clusivity
In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we"...

 pronouns நாம் (we), நமது (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் (we), எமது (our) that do not.

Syntax


Tamil is a consistently head-final
Branching (linguistics)
In linguistics, branching is the general tendency towards a given order of words within sentences and smaller grammatical units within sentences...

 language. The verb comes at the end of the clause, with a typical word order of subject–object–verb (SOV). However, word order in Tamil is also flexible, so that surface permutations of the SOV order are possible with different pragmatic
Pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

 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
Null subject language
In linguistic typology, a null-subject language is a language whose grammar permits an independent clause to lack an explicit subject. Such a clause is then said to have a null subject. Typically, null subject languages express person, number, and/or gender agreement with the referent on the verb,...

. 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 ("completed")—or only a subject and object, without a verb such as ("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.

Vocabulary


The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of linguistic purism
Linguistic purism
Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

 is found in Modern Tamil, which opposes the use of foreign loanwords. 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
Munda languages
-Anderson :Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows. Individual languages are highlighted in italics.*North Munda **Korku**Kherwarian***Santhali***Mundari*South Munda **Kharia–Juang***Juang***Kharia...

 (for example, "frog" from Munda ), Malay
Malay language
Malay is a major language of the Austronesian family. It is the official language of Malaysia , Indonesia , Brunei and Singapore...

 (e.g. "sago" from Malay ), Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 (for example, "skiff" from Chinese san-pan) and Greek (for example, from Greek ὥρα). In more modern times, Tamil has imported words from Arabic, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, Urdu
Urdu
Urdu is a register of the Hindustani language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia. It belongs to the Indo-European family. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. It is also widely spoken in some regions of India, where it is one of the 22 scheduled languages and an...

 and Marathi
Marathi language
Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of western and central India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are over 68 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India and is the fifteenth most...

, reflecting groups that have influenced the Tamil area at various points of time, and from neighbouring languages such as Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

, and Sinhala. During the modern period, words have also been adapted from European languages, such as Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

.

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
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

, Malayalam etc., was influenced by Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary styles, reflecting the increased trend of Sanskritisation
Sanskritisation
Sanskritization or Sanskritisation is a particular form of social change found in India and Nepal. It denotes the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. It is a process similar to...

 in the Tamil country. 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. In addition, Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the late medieval period, culminating in the 20th century in a movement called
{{Tamil transliteration}}

Tamil ({{indic|lang=ta|indic=தமிழ்|trans=tamiḻ|indicipa=t̪ɐmɨɻ|indicaudio=Tamil.ogg|showlang=false|showhelp=true}}) is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by
Tamil people
Tamil people
Tamil people , also called Tamils or Tamilians, are an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, India and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka. Historic and post 15th century emigrant communities are also found across the world, notably Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, Australia, Canada,...

 of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. It has official status
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

 in the Indian state
States and territories of India
India is a federal union of states comprising twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The states and territories are further subdivided into districts and so on.-List of states and territories:...

 of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

 and in the Indian union territory
States and territories of India
India is a federal union of states comprising twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The states and territories are further subdivided into districts and so on.-List of states and territories:...

 of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and the first Indian language to be declared as a classical language by the government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia and Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

 as well as emigrant communities around the world.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past" and having "one of the richest literatures in the world". Tamil literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 has existed for over 2000 years. The earliest epigraphic
Epigraphy
Epigraphy Epigraphy Epigraphy (from the , literally "on-writing", is the study of inscriptions or epigraphs as writing; that is, the science of identifying the graphemes and of classifying their use as to cultural context and date, elucidating their meaning and assessing what conclusions can be...

 records found on rock edicts and hero stone
Hero stone
Hero stone is a memorial commemorating the honorable death of a hero in battle of Tamil People. A hero stone can display a variety of adornments, including bas relief panels, statues, and figures of carved stone...

s
date from around the 3rd century BCE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

, is dated from the 300 BCE – 300 CE. Tamil language inscriptions written c. 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE have been discovered in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The two earliest manuscripts from India, to be acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register
Memory of the World Programme
UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction...

 in 1997 and 2005 were in Tamil. More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India
Archaeological Survey of India
The Archaeological Survey of India is a department of the Government of India, attached to the Ministry of Culture . The ASI is responsible for archaeological studies and the preservation of archaeological heritage of the country in accordance with the various acts of the Indian Parliament...

 are in the Tamil language. According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies. It has the oldest extant literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 amongst other Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

. 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".

Classification


{{Main|Dravidian languages}}
Tamil belongs to the southern branch of the Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

, a family of around 26 languages native to the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. 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 such as the Irula
Irula language
Irula is a Dravidian language spoken by the Irulas who inhabit the area of the Nilgiri mountains, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, India.- Vowels :...

, and Yerukula
Yerukala language
Yerukula is a Dravidian language mainly spoken by the Yerukala tribe. This language is also called Kurru basha or Kulavatha. Yerukala is linguistically close to South Dravidian languages such as Ravula and Irula...

 languages (see SIL Ethnologue).

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

History


As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian
Proto-Dravidian
Proto-Dravidian is the proto-language of the Dravidian languages. It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 500 BC, although some linguists have argued that the degree of differentiation between the sub-families points...

. 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
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 complexes of South India
South India
South India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying 19.31% of India's area...

. 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. Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritised Indian literature.

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).

Etymology


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 in a text that is perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE.
Southworth suggests that the name comes from {{IAST|tam-miḻ}} > {{IAST|tam-iḻ}} 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'. Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

 suggests an etymology of {{IAST|tam-iḻ}}, with {{IAST|tam}} meaning "self" or "one's self", and "{{IAST|-iḻ}}" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of {{IAST|tamiḻ}} < {{IAST|tam-iḻ}} < } < }, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)". (see Southworth's derivation of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 term for "others" or Mleccha
Mleccha
Mleccha , also spelt as Mlechchha, people of foreign extraction in ancient India. Mleccha was used by the Aryans much as the ancient Greeks used barbaros, originally to indicate the uncouth and incomprehensible speech of foreigners and then extended to their unfamiliar behaviour...

)

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
Brāhmī script
Brāhmī is the modern name given to the oldest members of the Brahmic family of scripts. The best-known Brāhmī inscriptions are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India, dated to the 3rd century BCE. These are traditionally considered to be early known examples of Brāhmī writing...

 called Tamil Brahmi. The earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam
Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC. 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
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

. These poems are usually dated to between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, which makes them the oldest extant body of secular literature in India. Other literary works in Old Tamil include two long epics, Cilappatikāram
Cilappatikaram
Silappatikaram Silappatikaram has been dated to likely belong to the beginning of Christian era, although the author might have built upon a pre-existing folklore to spin this tale. The story involves the three Tamil kingdoms of the ancient era, the Chola, the Pandya and the Chera...

 and Maṇimēkalai
Manimekalai
Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai , written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos...

, and a number of ethical and didactic texts, written between the 5th and 8th centuries.

Old Tamil preserved many features of Proto-Dravidian, including the inventory of consonants, the syllable structure, and various grammatical features. 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. {{IAST|kāṇēṉ}} (காணேன்) "I do not see", {{IAST|kāṇōm}} (காணோம்) "we do not see") Nouns could take pronominal suffixes like verbs to express ideas: e.g. {{IAST|peṇṭirēm}} (பெண்டிரேம்) "we are women" formed from {{IAST|peṇṭir}} (பெண்டிர்) "women" and the first person plural marker -{{IAST|ēm}} (ஏம்).

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.

Middle Tamil


The evolution of Old Tamil into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken to have been completed by the 8th century, 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, the coalescence of the alveolar and dental nasals, and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic
Rhotic consonant
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including "R, r" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p" from the Cyrillic alphabet...

. In grammar, the most important change was the emergence of the present tense. The present tense evolved out of the verb {{IAST|kil}} (கில்), meaning "to be possible" or "to befall". In Old Tamil, this verb was used as an aspect marker
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 to indicate that an action was micro-durative, non-sustained or non-lasting, usually in combination with a time marker such as {{IAST|ṉ}} (ன்). In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker – {{IAST|kiṉṟ}} (கின்ற) – which combined the old aspect and time markers.

Middle Tamil also saw a significant increase in the Sanskritisation of Tamil. From the period of the Pallava dynasty onwards, a number of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 loan-words entered Tamil, particularly in relation to political, religious and philosophical concepts. Sanskrit also influenced Tamil grammar, in the increased use of cases and in declined nouns becoming adjuncts of verbs, and phonology. The Tamil script also changed in the period of Middle Tamil. Tamil Brahmi and Vaṭṭeḻuttu
Vatteluttu
Vatteluttu alphabet, also spelled Vattezhuttu alphabet is an abugida writing system originating from the Tamil people of Southern India...

, 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.

Middle Tamil is attested in a large number of inscriptions, and in a significant body of secular and religious literature. These include the religious poems and songs of the Bhakthi
Bhakti movement
The Bhakti movement is a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice is loving devotion among the Shaivite and Vaishnava saints. The Bhakti movement originated in ancient Tamil Nadu and began to spread to the north during the late medieval ages when north India was under Islamic...

 poets, such as the Tēvāram
Tevaram
The Tevaram denotes the first seven volumes of the Tirumurai, the twelve-volume collection of Tamil Saivite devotional poetry. All seven volumes are dedicated to the works of the three most prominent Tamil poets - Campantar , Appar and Cuntarar...

 verses on Saivism and Nālāyira Tivya Pirapantam on Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

, 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. Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ
Iraiyanar Akapporul
Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, or Kaḷaviyal eṉṟa Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, literally "Iraiyanar's treatise on the love-theme, called 'The study of stolen love'" is an early mediaeval work on Tamil poetics, specifically, on the literary conventions associated with the akam tradition of Tamil love poetry...

, an early treatise on love poetics, and Naṉṉūl
Nannul
Nannūl is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language derived from Tolkāppiyam. This was written by Pavananthi Munivar around 13th century....

, a 12th century grammar that became the standard grammar of literary Tamil, are also from the Middle Tamil period.

Modern Tamil


The Nannul
Nannul
Nannūl is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language derived from Tolkāppiyam. This was written by Pavananthi Munivar around 13th century....

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

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
Theta role
In generative grammar , a theta role or θ-role is the formal device for representing syntactic argument structure required syntactically by a particular verb. For example, the verb put requires three arguments...

 of English. Simultaneously, a strong strain of linguistic purism
Linguistic purism
Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

 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. It received some support from Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties include an array of regional political parties in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, which trace their origins and ideologies either directly or indirectly to the Dravidian movement of Periyar E. V...

 and nationalists
Tamil nationalism
Tamil nationalism in India is an aspiration by some Tamils to establish, at minimum, self determination or at maximum secession from India to establish an Independent Tamil State of which would consist of today's Tamil nadu, Puducherry and Tamil Eelam of Sri Lanka...

 who supported Tamil independence. This led to the replacement of a significant number of Sanskrit loanwords by Tamil equivalents, though many others remain.

Geographic distribution



Tamil is the first language of the majority in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Northern Province
Northern Province, Sri Lanka
The Northern Province is one of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but did not have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Between 1988 and 2006 the province was...

, Eastern Province
Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
The Eastern Province is one of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but they didn't have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Between 1988 and 2006 the province was...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

. The language is spoken by small groups of minorities in other parts of these two countries including Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

, Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

, Kerala
Kerala
or Keralam is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was created on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam speaking regions....

, Maharashtra
Maharashtra
Maharashtra is a state located in India. It is the second most populous after Uttar Pradesh and third largest state by area in India...

 and others
States of India by Tamil speakers
This is a list of States and Union Territories of India by speakers of Tamil as of . Gross population figures are...

 in case of India and Colombo
Colombo
Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital of the country, since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo...

, the hill country, in case of Sri Lanka. Previously Tamil had a wider distribution in India than what it is currently. Tamil or dialects of it were used widely in the state of Kerala as the language of administration, literature and common usage until the 12th century CE. Tamil was also used widely in inscriptions found in southern Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

 districts of Chittoor
Chittoor district
Chittoor District , also known as Chittur, is a district of India's Andhra Pradesh state. The district headquarters is Chittoor City. The district has a population of 4,170,468 according to 2011 census of India. Chittoor district is famous for the Tirupati, Kanipakam and Sri Kalahasti temples...

 and Nellore
Nellore district
Sri Amarajeevi Potti Sri Ramulu Nellore District is one of the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Nellore is famous for high paddy field, and so it got its name from "Nelli". The population of the district was 2,966,082 of which 22.45% were urban as of 2011....

 until the 12th centure CE.

There are currently sizable Tamil-speaking populations
Tamil diaspora
The Tamil diaspora is a demographic group of Tamil people of Indian or Sri Lankan origin who have settled in other parts of the world. Significant Tamil diaspora populations can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Middle East, Réunion, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Guyana,...

 descended from colonial-era migrants in Malaysia, Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

, South Africa
Asians in South Africa
The majority of the Asian South African population is Indian in origin, most of them descended from indentured workers transported to work in the 19th century on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area, then known as Natal. They are largely English speaking, although many also retain the...

, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, Burma, and Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. Many in Réunion
Réunion
Réunion is a French island with a population of about 800,000 located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, about south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France...

, Guyana
Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

, Fiji
Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

, Suriname
Suriname
Suriname , officially the Republic of Suriname , is a country in northern South America. It borders French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west, Brazil to the south, and on the north by the Atlantic Ocean. Suriname was a former colony of the British and of the Dutch, and was previously known as...

, and Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

 have Tamil origins, 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. It is also used by groups of migrants from Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora
The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora refers to the global diaspora of the people of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. It can be said to be a subset of the larger Sri Lankan as well as Tamil diaspora....

 and India in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 (especially Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

), USA
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 (especially New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

), Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, many Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

ern countries, and most of the western Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an countries.

Legal status


Tamil is the official language
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

 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. Tamil is also one of the official languages of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. In Malaysia, 543 primary education government schools are available fully in Tamil medium.

In addition, with the creation in 2004 of a legal status for classical languages by the Government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 and following a political campaign supported by several Tamil associations, Tamil became the first legally recognised Classical language
Classical language
A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, 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...

 of India. The recognition was announced by the then President of India
President of India
The President of India is the head of state and first citizen of India, as well as the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces. President of India is also the formal head of all the three branches of Indian Democracy - Legislature, Executive and Judiciary...

, Abdul Kalam
Abdul Kalam
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam usually referred to as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is a renowned aerospace engineer, professor , and first Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram , who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007...

, who himself is a native Tamil speaker, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament
Parliament of India
The Parliament of India is the supreme legislative body in India. Founded in 1919, the Parliament alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all political bodies in India. The Parliament of India comprises the President and the two Houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha...

 on June 6, 2004.

{{See also|States of India by Tamil speakers}}

Region specific variations


The socio-linguistic situation of Tamil is characterised by diglossia
Diglossia
In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

: there are two separate registers varying by social status, a high register and a low one. 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"—{{IAST|iṅku}} in Centamil (the classic variety)—has evolved into {{IAST |iṅkū}} in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatore
Coimbatore
Coimbatore , also known as Kovai , is the second largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is a major commercial centre in Tamil Nadu and is known as the "Manchester of South India"....

, inga in the dialect of Thanjavur, and {{IAST |iṅkai}} in some dialects of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil dialects
The Sri Lankan Tamil dialects or Ceylon Tamil dialects form a group of Tamil dialects used in the modern country of Sri Lanka by Sri Lankan Tamil people that is distinct from the dialects of modern Tamil spoken in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states of India...

. Old Tamil's {{IAST|iṅkaṇ}} (where {{IAST|kaṇ}} means place) is the source of {{IAST |iṅkane}} in the dialect of Tirunelveli
Tirunelveli
Tirunelveli , also known as Nellai , and historically as Tinnevelly, is a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the headquarters of the Tirunelveli District and the sixth biggest city in Tamil Nadu...

, Old Tamil {{IAST |iṅkaṭṭu}} is the source of {{IAST |iṅkuṭṭu}} in the dialect of Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

, and {{IAST |iṅkaṭe}} in various northern dialects. Even now, in the Coimbatore area, it is common to hear "{{IAST|akkaṭṭa}}" meaning "that place". Although Tamil dialects do not differ significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 retain many words and grammatical forms that are not in everyday use in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and use many other words slightly differently. According to Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

, the Tamil dialects can be segregated on the following 'Centers of Prestige': Madras Tamil
Madras Bashai
Madras Bashai or Madras Tamil, is a colloquial slang of Tamil language spoken in the city of Chennai, India .The word bashai derives from the Sanskrit bhasha . Like Bambaiya Hindi used in Mumbai, Madras Bashai is a loose polyglot blend of Tamil with Indian English, Telugu and Hindustani...

, Madurai Tamil
Madurai Tamil
Madurai Tamil is the dialect spoken in the city of Madurai and over a vast geographical area of South Tamil Nadu, the area once ruled by the Pandiya Kings...

, Kongu Tamil
Kongu Tamil
Kongu Tamil is the dialect of Tamil language that is spoken in Kongu Nadu, which is the western region of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as "Kangee".`...

, Nellai Tamil
Nellai Tamil
Nellai Tamil, also known as Tirunelveli Tamil, is one of the dialects of Tamil which is spoken in the districts of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi as well as over the vast area of south Tamil Nadu which was once ruled by the Pandiya Kings. Nellai Tamil is also known as Thenpaandi Tamil...

, Kanyakumari Tamil, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli
Central Tamil dialect
The Central Tamil dialect is a dialect of Tamil spoken in the districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Tiruchirapalli in central Tamil Nadu, India and to some extent, in the neighbouring Cuddalore and Pudukkottai districts.Along with Madurai Tamil, the Central Tamil dialect is considered...

 Tamil, Jaffna or Yazhpanam Tamil, Trincomalee or Tiriconamalai Tamil, Batticaloa or mattakkalappu Tamil.

Loanword variations


{{See also|Indo-Aryan loanwords in Tamil|Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil}}
The dialect of the district of Palakkad
Palakkad
Palakkad , formerly known as Palghat, is a municipality and a town in the state of Kerala in southern India, spread over an area of 26.60 km2.The city is situated about north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram. It is the administrative headquarters of Palakkad District...

 in Kerala has a large number of Malayalam
Malayalam language
Malayalam , is one of the four major Dravidian languages of southern India. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India with official language status in the state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry. It is spoken by 35.9 million people...

 loanwords, has also been influenced by Malayalam syntax and also has a distinct Malayalam accent. Similarly, Tamil spoken in Kanyakumari District has unique words and phonetic style than Tamil spoken at other parts of Tamil Nadu. The uniqueness of words and phonetics is such that someone from Kanyakumari district
Kanyakumari District
Kanyakumari District ) is a district of Tamil Nadu state, India and is the southernmost land area of mainland India.The district is the second most urbanised district in Tamilnadu, next only to Chennai and ahead of Coimbatore. It also has the highest literacy and education levels in the...

 is easily identified by the spoken Tamil. Hebbar
Hebbar Iyengars
Hebbar Iyengars , formerly an endogamous group, constitute a part of the Iyengar sub-caste of the Karnataka Brahmins. They are traditionally followers of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika. They hail primarily from Hassan, Mysore, Tumkur, Bangalore, and surrounding areas in southern Karnataka...

 and Mandyam dialects, spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

 who migrated to Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

 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. Several caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

s have their own sociolect
Sociolect
In sociolinguistics, a sociolect or social dialect is a variety of language associated with a social group such as a socioeconomic class, an ethnic group, an age group, etc....

s 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.
Tamil in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 incorporates loan words
Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil
Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil came about mostly due contact between colonial powers and the native population. Linguists study a language's lexicon for a number of reasons. Languages such as Tamil with centuries of literature and multi-cultural contact offer the chance to compare the various...

 from Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 also.

Spoken and literary variants


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

In modern times, {{IAST|centamiḻ}} is generally used in formal writing and speech. For instance, it is the language of textbooks, of much of Tamil literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 and of public speaking and debate. In recent times, however, {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}} has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of {{IAST|centamiḻ}}. Most contemporary cinema
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

, theatre
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}}, and many politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

s use it to bring themselves closer to their audience. The increasing use of {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}} in modern times has led to the emergence of unofficial ‘standard' spoken dialects. In India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the ‘standard' {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}} is based on ‘educated non-Brahmin speech', rather than on any one dialect, but has been significantly influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur and Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

. In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna
Jaffna
Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district located on a peninsula of the same name. Jaffna is approximately six miles away from Kandarodai which served as a famous emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical...

.

Writing system


{{Main|Tamil script}}
{{See also|Vatteluttu|Grantha script}}


After Tamil Brahmi fell out of use, Tamil was written using a script called the {{IAST|vaṭṭeḻuttu}} amongst others such as Grantha and Pallava script. The current Tamil script consists of 12 vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s, 18 consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s and one special character, the āytam
Aytam
Āytam is a special sound in the Tamil Language. It is represented in the Tamil script by the character ஃ. It is special in the senses of not being an independent sound and being archaic and employed only in idiomatic and fossilized words such as அஃது, இஃது etc.The sound āytam is mentioned in the...

. 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 an overdot called a {{IAST|puḷḷi}}, to the consonantal sign. For example, {{lang|ta|ன}} is ṉa (with the inherent a) and {{lang|ta|ன்}} is (without a vowel). Many Indic scripts have a similar sign, generically called virama
Virama
Virama is a generic term for the diacritic in many Brahmic scripts, including Devanagari and East Nagari, that is used to suppress the inherent vowel that otherwise occurs with every consonant letter. The name is Sanskrit for "cessation, termination, end"...

, 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
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. Tamil phonology permits few consonant...

.

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.

Sounds


{{Main|Tamil phonology}}

Tamil phonology is characterised by the presence of retroflex consonant
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

s and multiple rhotics
Rhotic consonant
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including "R, r" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p" from the Cyrillic alphabet...

. Tamil does not distinguish phonologically between voiced and unvoiced consonants; phonetically, voice is assigned depending on a consonant's position in a word. 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.

Vowels


Tamil vowels are called {{IAST|uyireḻuttu}} (uyir – life, {{IAST|eḻuttu}} – letter). The vowels are classified into short ({{IAST|kuṟil}}) and long ({{IAST|neṭil}}) (with five of each type) and two diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s, /ai/ and /au/, and three "shortened" ({{IAST|kuṟṟiyl}}) vowels.

The long vowels are about twice as long as the short vowels. The diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as the short vowels, though most grammatical texts place them with the long vowels.
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 
Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 
Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

 
Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

 
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 
Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

 
Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i u
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e o
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

a (ai) (aw)
ஒள

Consonants


Tamil consonants are known as {{IAST|meyyeḻuttu}} (mey—body, {{IAST|eḻuttu}}—letters). The consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s are classified into three categories with six in each category: {{IAST|valliṉam}}—hard, {{IAST|melliṉam}}—soft or Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

, and {{IAST|iṭayiṉam}}—medium.

Unlike most Indian languages, Tamil does not distinguish aspirated and unaspirated
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

 consonants. In addition, the voicing of plosives is governed by strict rules in {{IAST|centamiḻ}}. Plosives are unvoiced if they occur word-initially or doubled. Elsewhere they are voiced, with a few becoming fricatives intervocalically. Nasals
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

 and approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

 are always voiced.

As commonplace in languages of India, Tamil is characterised by its use of more than one type of coronal consonant
Coronal consonant
Coronal consonants are consonants articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue. Only the coronal consonants can be divided into apical , laminal , domed , or subapical , as well as a few rarer orientations, because only the front of the tongue has such...

s. Retroflex consonant
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

s include the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ (ழ) (example Tamil), which among the Dravidian languages is also found in Malayalam (example Kozhikode), disappeared from Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

 in pronunciation at around 1000 AD (the dedicated letter is still found in Unicode
Unicode
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems...

), and was never present in Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

. Dental and alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

s also contrast with each other, a typically Dravidian trait not found in the neighboring Indo-Aryan languages. In spoken Tamil, however, this contrast has been largely lost, and even in literary Tamil, {{lang|ta|ந}} and {{lang|ta|ன}} may be seen as allophonic.

A chart of the Tamil consonant phoneme
Phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:
Labial
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

 
Dental  Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

 
Retroflex
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

 
Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

 
Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Plosives p (b) t̪ (d̪) ʈ (ɖ) tʃ (dʒ) k (ɡ)
Nasals
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
ன, ந
Tap ɾ̪
Trill
Trill consonant
In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

r
Central
Central consonant
A central or medial consonant is a consonant sound that is produced when air flows across the center of the mouth over the tongue. The class contrasts with lateral consonants, in which air flows over the sides of the tongue rather than down its center....

 approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

ʋ ɻ j
Lateral
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

 approximants
ɭ


Phonemes in brackets are voiced
Voice (phonetics)
Voice or voicing is a term used in phonetics and phonology to characterize speech sounds, with sounds described as either voiceless or voiced. The term, however, is used to refer to two separate concepts. Voicing can refer to the articulatory process in which the vocal cords vibrate...

 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
Elision
Elision is the omission of one or more sounds in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce...

 in Tamil categorised into different classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.

Āytam


Classical Tamil also had a phoneme called the Āytam
Aytam
Āytam is a special sound in the Tamil Language. It is represented in the Tamil script by the character ஃ. It is special in the senses of not being an independent sound and being archaic and employed only in idiomatic and fossilized words such as அஃது, இஃது etc.The sound āytam is mentioned in the...

, written as ‘ஃ'. Tamil grammarians of the time classified it as a dependent phoneme (or restricted phoneme) ({{IAST|cārpeḻuttu}}), 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
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

 the sounds it was combined with. It has also been suggested that the āytam was used to represent the voiced implosive
Implosive consonant
Implosive consonants are stops with a mixed glottalic ingressive and pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism. That is, the airstream is controlled by moving the glottis downward in addition to expelling air from the lungs. Therefore, unlike the purely glottalic ejective consonants, implosives can...

 (or closing part or the first half) of geminated voiced plosives inside a word. 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|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

Grammar


{{Main|Tamil grammar}}

Tamil employs agglutinative
Agglutination
In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Languages that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages...

 grammar, where suffixes are used to mark noun class
Noun class
In linguistics, the term noun class refers to a system of categorizing nouns. A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as sex, animacy, shape, but counting a given noun among nouns of such or another class is often clearly conventional...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, and case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

, verb tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

 and other grammatical categories. Tamil's standard metalinguistic
Metalanguage
Broadly, any metalanguage is language or symbols used when language itself is being discussed or examined. In logic and linguistics, a metalanguage is a language used to make statements about statements in another language...

 terminology and scholarly vocabularly is itself Tamil, as opposed to the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 that is standard for most other Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

.

Much of Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest known grammar book for Tamil, the Tolkāppiyam
Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

. Modern Tamil writing is largely based on the 13th century grammar {{IAST|Naṉṉūl}} which restated and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely {{IAST|eḻuttu}}, col, {{IAST|poruḷ}}, yāppu, {{IAST|aṇi}}. Of these, the last two are mostly applied in poetry.

Tamil words consist of a lexical root
Lexeme
A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics, that roughly corresponds to a set of forms taken by a single word. For example, in the English language, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme, conventionally written as RUN...

 to which one or more affix
Affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es are attached. Most Tamil affixes are suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es. Tamil suffixes can be derivational
Derivation (linguistics)
In linguistics, derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word, e.g. happi-ness and un-happy from happy, or determination from determine...

 suffixes
, which either change the part of speech of the word or its meaning, or inflection
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

al suffixes
, which mark categories such as person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

, tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

, etc. There is no absolute limit on the length and extent of agglutination
Agglutination
In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Languages that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages...

, which can lead to long words with a large number of suffixes.

Morphology


Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes ({{IAST|tiṇai}})—the "rational" ({{IAST|uyartiṇai}}), and the "irrational" ({{transl|ta|ISO|akṟiṇai}})—which include a total of five classes (pāl, which literally means ‘gender'). Human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s and deities
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 are classified as "rational", and all other nouns (animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s, 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
Honorific
An honorific is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term is used not quite correctly to refer to an honorary title...

, gender-neutral, singular form.

Suffixes are used to perform the functions of cases
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

 or postpositions. Traditional grammarians tried to group the various suffixes into eight cases corresponding to the cases used in Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. These were the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, sociative
Sociative case
This case in Hungarian language can express the person in whose company the action is carried out, or to any belongings of people which take part in the action . It is denoted by the suffixes "-stul/-stül," depending on vowel harmony. This case is obsolete and nowadays the instrumental-comitative...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

, locative
Locative case
Locative is a grammatical case which indicates a location. It corresponds vaguely to the English prepositions "in", "on", "at", and "by"...

, and ablative
Ablative case
In linguistics, ablative case is a name given to cases in various languages whose common characteristic is that they mark motion away from something, though the details in each language may differ...

. Modern grammarians argue that this classification is artificial, and that Tamil usage is best understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as marking a separate case. Tamil nouns can take one of four prefixes, i, a, u, and e which are functionally equivalent to the demonstrative
Demonstrative
In linguistics, demonstratives are deictic words that indicate which entities a speaker refers to and distinguishes those entities from others...

s in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

.

Tamil verbs are also inflected through the use of suffixes. A typical Tamil verb form will have a number of suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es, which show person, number, mood, tense, and voice.
  • Person and number are indicated by suffixing the oblique case
    Oblique case
    An oblique case in linguistics is a noun case of synthetic languages that is used generally when a noun is the object of a verb or a preposition...

     of the relevant pronoun. The suffixes to indicate tenses and voice are formed from grammatical particle
    Grammatical particle
    In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes . It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition...

    s, 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 morpheme
    Morpheme
    In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

    s which mark tense categories. Tamil verbs also mark evidentiality
    Evidentiality
    In linguistics, evidentiality is, broadly, the indication of the nature of evidence for a given statement; that is, whether evidence exists for the statement and/or what kind of evidence exists. An evidential is the particular grammatical element that indicates evidentiality...

    , through the addition of the hearsay clitic
    Clitic
    In morphology and syntax, a clitic is a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase. It is pronounced like an affix, but works at the phrase level...

     {{IAST|ām}}.


Traditional grammars of Tamil do not distinguish between adjective
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s and adverb
Adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

s, including both of them under the category uriccol, although modern grammarians tend to distinguish between them on morphological and syntactical grounds. Tamil has a large number of ideophone
Ideophone
Ideophones are words used by speakers to evoke a vivid impression of certain sensation or sensory perceptions, e.g. smell, color, shape, sound, action, or movement. Ideophones are attested in all languages of the world, however, languages differ in the extent to which they make use of them...

s that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a given state "says" or "sounds".

Tamil does not have articles
Article (grammar)
An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

. Definiteness and indefiniteness are either indicated by special grammatical devices, such as using the number "one" as an indefinite article, or by the context. In the first person plural, Tamil makes a distinction between inclusive
Clusivity
In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we"...

 pronouns நாம் {{IAST|nām}} (we), நமது {{IAST|namatu}} (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் {{IAST|nāṅkaḷ}} (we), எமது {{IAST|ematu}} (our) that do not.

Syntax


Tamil is a consistently head-final
Branching (linguistics)
In linguistics, branching is the general tendency towards a given order of words within sentences and smaller grammatical units within sentences...

 language. The verb comes at the end of the clause, with a typical word order of subject–object–verb (SOV). However, word order in Tamil is also flexible, so that surface permutations of the SOV order are possible with different pragmatic
Pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

 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
Null subject language
In linguistic typology, a null-subject language is a language whose grammar permits an independent clause to lack an explicit subject. Such a clause is then said to have a null subject. Typically, null subject languages express person, number, and/or gender agreement with the referent on the verb,...

. 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 {{IAST|muṭintuviṭṭatu}} ("completed")—or only a subject and object, without a verb such as {{IAST|atu eṉ vīṭu}} ("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.

Vocabulary


{{See also|Wiktionary:Category:Tamil language|Wiktionary:Category:Tamil derivations}}

The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of linguistic purism
Linguistic purism
Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

 is found in Modern Tamil, which opposes the use of foreign loanwords. 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
Munda languages
-Anderson :Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows. Individual languages are highlighted in italics.*North Munda **Korku**Kherwarian***Santhali***Mundari*South Munda **Kharia–Juang***Juang***Kharia...

 (for example, {{IAST|tavaḷai}} "frog" from Munda {{IAST|tabeg}}), Malay
Malay language
Malay is a major language of the Austronesian family. It is the official language of Malaysia , Indonesia , Brunei and Singapore...

 (e.g. {{IAST|cavvarici}} "sago" from Malay {{IAST|sāgu}}), Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 (for example, {{IAST|campān}} "skiff" from Chinese san-pan) and Greek (for example, {{IAST|ora}} from Greek ὥρα). In more modern times, Tamil has imported words from Arabic, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, Urdu
Urdu
Urdu is a register of the Hindustani language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia. It belongs to the Indo-European family. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. It is also widely spoken in some regions of India, where it is one of the 22 scheduled languages and an...

 and Marathi
Marathi language
Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of western and central India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are over 68 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India and is the fifteenth most...

, reflecting groups that have influenced the Tamil area at various points of time, and from neighbouring languages such as Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

, and Sinhala. During the modern period, words have also been adapted from European languages, such as Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

.

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
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

, Malayalam etc., was influenced by Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary styles, reflecting the increased trend of Sanskritisation
Sanskritisation
Sanskritization or Sanskritisation is a particular form of social change found in India and Nepal. It denotes the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. It is a process similar to...

 in the Tamil country. 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. In addition, Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the late medieval period, culminating in the 20th century in a movement called
{{Tamil transliteration}}

Tamil ({{indic|lang=ta|indic=தமிழ்|trans=tamiḻ|indicipa=t̪ɐmɨɻ|indicaudio=Tamil.ogg|showlang=false|showhelp=true}}) is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by
Tamil people
Tamil people
Tamil people , also called Tamils or Tamilians, are an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, India and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka. Historic and post 15th century emigrant communities are also found across the world, notably Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, Australia, Canada,...

 of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. It has official status
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

 in the Indian state
States and territories of India
India is a federal union of states comprising twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The states and territories are further subdivided into districts and so on.-List of states and territories:...

 of Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

 and in the Indian union territory
States and territories of India
India is a federal union of states comprising twenty-eight states and seven union territories. The states and territories are further subdivided into districts and so on.-List of states and territories:...

 of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and the first Indian language to be declared as a classical language by the government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia and Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

 as well as emigrant communities around the world.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past" and having "one of the richest literatures in the world". Tamil literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 has existed for over 2000 years. The earliest epigraphic
Epigraphy
Epigraphy Epigraphy Epigraphy (from the , literally "on-writing", is the study of inscriptions or epigraphs as writing; that is, the science of identifying the graphemes and of classifying their use as to cultural context and date, elucidating their meaning and assessing what conclusions can be...

 records found on rock edicts and hero stone
Hero stone
Hero stone is a memorial commemorating the honorable death of a hero in battle of Tamil People. A hero stone can display a variety of adornments, including bas relief panels, statues, and figures of carved stone...

s
date from around the 3rd century BCE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

, is dated from the 300 BCE – 300 CE. Tamil language inscriptions written c. 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE have been discovered in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The two earliest manuscripts from India, to be acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register
Memory of the World Programme
UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction...

 in 1997 and 2005 were in Tamil. More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India
Archaeological Survey of India
The Archaeological Survey of India is a department of the Government of India, attached to the Ministry of Culture . The ASI is responsible for archaeological studies and the preservation of archaeological heritage of the country in accordance with the various acts of the Indian Parliament...

 are in the Tamil language. According to a 2001 survey, there were 1,863 newspapers published in Tamil, of which 353 were dailies. It has the oldest extant literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 amongst other Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

. 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".

Classification


{{Main|Dravidian languages}}
Tamil belongs to the southern branch of the Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

, a family of around 26 languages native to the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. 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 such as the Irula
Irula language
Irula is a Dravidian language spoken by the Irulas who inhabit the area of the Nilgiri mountains, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, India.- Vowels :...

, and Yerukula
Yerukala language
Yerukula is a Dravidian language mainly spoken by the Yerukala tribe. This language is also called Kurru basha or Kulavatha. Yerukala is linguistically close to South Dravidian languages such as Ravula and Irula...

 languages (see SIL Ethnologue).

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

History


As a Dravidian language, Tamil descends from Proto-Dravidian
Proto-Dravidian
Proto-Dravidian is the proto-language of the Dravidian languages. It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 500 BC, although some linguists have argued that the degree of differentiation between the sub-families points...

. 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
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 complexes of South India
South India
South India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying 19.31% of India's area...

. 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. Among Indian languages, Tamil has the most ancient non-Sanskritised Indian literature.

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).

Etymology


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 in a text that is perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE.
Southworth suggests that the name comes from {{IAST|tam-miḻ}} > {{IAST|tam-iḻ}} 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'. Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

 suggests an etymology of {{IAST|tam-iḻ}}, with {{IAST|tam}} meaning "self" or "one's self", and "{{IAST|-iḻ}}" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of {{IAST|tamiḻ}} < {{IAST|tam-iḻ}} < } < }, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)". (see Southworth's derivation of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 term for "others" or Mleccha
Mleccha
Mleccha , also spelt as Mlechchha, people of foreign extraction in ancient India. Mleccha was used by the Aryans much as the ancient Greeks used barbaros, originally to indicate the uncouth and incomprehensible speech of foreigners and then extended to their unfamiliar behaviour...

)

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
Brāhmī script
Brāhmī is the modern name given to the oldest members of the Brahmic family of scripts. The best-known Brāhmī inscriptions are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India, dated to the 3rd century BCE. These are traditionally considered to be early known examples of Brāhmī writing...

 called Tamil Brahmi. The earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkāppiyam
Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, whose oldest layers could be as old as the 1st century BC. 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
Sangam literature
Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years c. 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous The period during which these poems were composed is commonly referred to as the Sangam...

. These poems are usually dated to between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, which makes them the oldest extant body of secular literature in India. Other literary works in Old Tamil include two long epics, Cilappatikāram
Cilappatikaram
Silappatikaram Silappatikaram has been dated to likely belong to the beginning of Christian era, although the author might have built upon a pre-existing folklore to spin this tale. The story involves the three Tamil kingdoms of the ancient era, the Chola, the Pandya and the Chera...

 and Maṇimēkalai
Manimekalai
Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai , written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos...

, and a number of ethical and didactic texts, written between the 5th and 8th centuries.

Old Tamil preserved many features of Proto-Dravidian, including the inventory of consonants, the syllable structure, and various grammatical features. 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. {{IAST|kāṇēṉ}} (காணேன்) "I do not see", {{IAST|kāṇōm}} (காணோம்) "we do not see") Nouns could take pronominal suffixes like verbs to express ideas: e.g. {{IAST|peṇṭirēm}} (பெண்டிரேம்) "we are women" formed from {{IAST|peṇṭir}} (பெண்டிர்) "women" and the first person plural marker -{{IAST|ēm}} (ஏம்).

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.

Middle Tamil


The evolution of Old Tamil into Middle Tamil, which is generally taken to have been completed by the 8th century, 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, the coalescence of the alveolar and dental nasals, and the transformation of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic
Rhotic consonant
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including "R, r" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p" from the Cyrillic alphabet...

. In grammar, the most important change was the emergence of the present tense. The present tense evolved out of the verb {{IAST|kil}} (கில்), meaning "to be possible" or "to befall". In Old Tamil, this verb was used as an aspect marker
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 to indicate that an action was micro-durative, non-sustained or non-lasting, usually in combination with a time marker such as {{IAST|ṉ}} (ன்). In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker – {{IAST|kiṉṟ}} (கின்ற) – which combined the old aspect and time markers.

Middle Tamil also saw a significant increase in the Sanskritisation of Tamil. From the period of the Pallava dynasty onwards, a number of Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 loan-words entered Tamil, particularly in relation to political, religious and philosophical concepts. Sanskrit also influenced Tamil grammar, in the increased use of cases and in declined nouns becoming adjuncts of verbs, and phonology. The Tamil script also changed in the period of Middle Tamil. Tamil Brahmi and Vaṭṭeḻuttu
Vatteluttu
Vatteluttu alphabet, also spelled Vattezhuttu alphabet is an abugida writing system originating from the Tamil people of Southern India...

, 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.

Middle Tamil is attested in a large number of inscriptions, and in a significant body of secular and religious literature. These include the religious poems and songs of the Bhakthi
Bhakti movement
The Bhakti movement is a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice is loving devotion among the Shaivite and Vaishnava saints. The Bhakti movement originated in ancient Tamil Nadu and began to spread to the north during the late medieval ages when north India was under Islamic...

 poets, such as the Tēvāram
Tevaram
The Tevaram denotes the first seven volumes of the Tirumurai, the twelve-volume collection of Tamil Saivite devotional poetry. All seven volumes are dedicated to the works of the three most prominent Tamil poets - Campantar , Appar and Cuntarar...

 verses on Saivism and Nālāyira Tivya Pirapantam on Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

, 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. Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ
Iraiyanar Akapporul
Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, or Kaḷaviyal eṉṟa Iraiyaṉār Akapporuḷ, literally "Iraiyanar's treatise on the love-theme, called 'The study of stolen love'" is an early mediaeval work on Tamil poetics, specifically, on the literary conventions associated with the akam tradition of Tamil love poetry...

, an early treatise on love poetics, and Naṉṉūl
Nannul
Nannūl is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language derived from Tolkāppiyam. This was written by Pavananthi Munivar around 13th century....

, a 12th century grammar that became the standard grammar of literary Tamil, are also from the Middle Tamil period.

Modern Tamil


The Nannul
Nannul
Nannūl is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language derived from Tolkāppiyam. This was written by Pavananthi Munivar around 13th century....

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

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
Theta role
In generative grammar , a theta role or θ-role is the formal device for representing syntactic argument structure required syntactically by a particular verb. For example, the verb put requires three arguments...

 of English. Simultaneously, a strong strain of linguistic purism
Linguistic purism
Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

 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. It received some support from Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties
Dravidian parties include an array of regional political parties in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, which trace their origins and ideologies either directly or indirectly to the Dravidian movement of Periyar E. V...

 and nationalists
Tamil nationalism
Tamil nationalism in India is an aspiration by some Tamils to establish, at minimum, self determination or at maximum secession from India to establish an Independent Tamil State of which would consist of today's Tamil nadu, Puducherry and Tamil Eelam of Sri Lanka...

 who supported Tamil independence. This led to the replacement of a significant number of Sanskrit loanwords by Tamil equivalents, though many others remain.

Geographic distribution



Tamil is the first language of the majority in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 and Northern Province
Northern Province, Sri Lanka
The Northern Province is one of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but did not have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Between 1988 and 2006 the province was...

, Eastern Province
Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
The Eastern Province is one of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but they didn't have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Between 1988 and 2006 the province was...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

. The language is spoken by small groups of minorities in other parts of these two countries including Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

, Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

, Kerala
Kerala
or Keralam is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was created on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam speaking regions....

, Maharashtra
Maharashtra
Maharashtra is a state located in India. It is the second most populous after Uttar Pradesh and third largest state by area in India...

 and others
States of India by Tamil speakers
This is a list of States and Union Territories of India by speakers of Tamil as of . Gross population figures are...

 in case of India and Colombo
Colombo
Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital of the country, since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo...

, the hill country, in case of Sri Lanka. Previously Tamil had a wider distribution in India than what it is currently. Tamil or dialects of it were used widely in the state of Kerala as the language of administration, literature and common usage until the 12th century CE. Tamil was also used widely in inscriptions found in southern Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh , is one of the 28 states of India, situated on the southeastern coast of India. It is India's fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population. Its capital and largest city by population is Hyderabad.The total GDP of Andhra Pradesh is $100 billion and is ranked third...

 districts of Chittoor
Chittoor district
Chittoor District , also known as Chittur, is a district of India's Andhra Pradesh state. The district headquarters is Chittoor City. The district has a population of 4,170,468 according to 2011 census of India. Chittoor district is famous for the Tirupati, Kanipakam and Sri Kalahasti temples...

 and Nellore
Nellore district
Sri Amarajeevi Potti Sri Ramulu Nellore District is one of the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Nellore is famous for high paddy field, and so it got its name from "Nelli". The population of the district was 2,966,082 of which 22.45% were urban as of 2011....

 until the 12th centure CE.

There are currently sizable Tamil-speaking populations
Tamil diaspora
The Tamil diaspora is a demographic group of Tamil people of Indian or Sri Lankan origin who have settled in other parts of the world. Significant Tamil diaspora populations can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Middle East, Réunion, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Guyana,...

 descended from colonial-era migrants in Malaysia, Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

, South Africa
Asians in South Africa
The majority of the Asian South African population is Indian in origin, most of them descended from indentured workers transported to work in the 19th century on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area, then known as Natal. They are largely English speaking, although many also retain the...

, Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, Burma, and Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. Many in Réunion
Réunion
Réunion is a French island with a population of about 800,000 located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, about south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France...

, Guyana
Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

, Fiji
Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

, Suriname
Suriname
Suriname , officially the Republic of Suriname , is a country in northern South America. It borders French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west, Brazil to the south, and on the north by the Atlantic Ocean. Suriname was a former colony of the British and of the Dutch, and was previously known as...

, and Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

 have Tamil origins, 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. It is also used by groups of migrants from Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora
The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora refers to the global diaspora of the people of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. It can be said to be a subset of the larger Sri Lankan as well as Tamil diaspora....

 and India in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 (especially Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

), USA
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 (especially New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

), Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, many Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

ern countries, and most of the western Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an countries.

Legal status


Tamil is the official language
Official language
An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a...

 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. Tamil is also one of the official languages of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

. In Malaysia, 543 primary education government schools are available fully in Tamil medium.

In addition, with the creation in 2004 of a legal status for classical languages by the Government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 and following a political campaign supported by several Tamil associations, Tamil became the first legally recognised Classical language
Classical language
A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, 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...

 of India. The recognition was announced by the then President of India
President of India
The President of India is the head of state and first citizen of India, as well as the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces. President of India is also the formal head of all the three branches of Indian Democracy - Legislature, Executive and Judiciary...

, Abdul Kalam
Abdul Kalam
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam usually referred to as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is a renowned aerospace engineer, professor , and first Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram , who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007...

, who himself is a native Tamil speaker, in a joint sitting of both houses of the Indian Parliament
Parliament of India
The Parliament of India is the supreme legislative body in India. Founded in 1919, the Parliament alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all political bodies in India. The Parliament of India comprises the President and the two Houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha...

 on June 6, 2004.

{{See also|States of India by Tamil speakers}}

Region specific variations


The socio-linguistic situation of Tamil is characterised by diglossia
Diglossia
In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

: there are two separate registers varying by social status, a high register and a low one. 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"—{{IAST|iṅku}} in Centamil (the classic variety)—has evolved into {{IAST |iṅkū}} in the Kongu dialect of Coimbatore
Coimbatore
Coimbatore , also known as Kovai , is the second largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is a major commercial centre in Tamil Nadu and is known as the "Manchester of South India"....

, inga in the dialect of Thanjavur, and {{IAST |iṅkai}} in some dialects of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil dialects
The Sri Lankan Tamil dialects or Ceylon Tamil dialects form a group of Tamil dialects used in the modern country of Sri Lanka by Sri Lankan Tamil people that is distinct from the dialects of modern Tamil spoken in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states of India...

. Old Tamil's {{IAST|iṅkaṇ}} (where {{IAST|kaṇ}} means place) is the source of {{IAST |iṅkane}} in the dialect of Tirunelveli
Tirunelveli
Tirunelveli , also known as Nellai , and historically as Tinnevelly, is a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the headquarters of the Tirunelveli District and the sixth biggest city in Tamil Nadu...

, Old Tamil {{IAST |iṅkaṭṭu}} is the source of {{IAST |iṅkuṭṭu}} in the dialect of Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

, and {{IAST |iṅkaṭe}} in various northern dialects. Even now, in the Coimbatore area, it is common to hear "{{IAST|akkaṭṭa}}" meaning "that place". Although Tamil dialects do not differ significantly in their vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. The dialects spoken in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 retain many words and grammatical forms that are not in everyday use in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and use many other words slightly differently. According to Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

, the Tamil dialects can be segregated on the following 'Centers of Prestige': Madras Tamil
Madras Bashai
Madras Bashai or Madras Tamil, is a colloquial slang of Tamil language spoken in the city of Chennai, India .The word bashai derives from the Sanskrit bhasha . Like Bambaiya Hindi used in Mumbai, Madras Bashai is a loose polyglot blend of Tamil with Indian English, Telugu and Hindustani...

, Madurai Tamil
Madurai Tamil
Madurai Tamil is the dialect spoken in the city of Madurai and over a vast geographical area of South Tamil Nadu, the area once ruled by the Pandiya Kings...

, Kongu Tamil
Kongu Tamil
Kongu Tamil is the dialect of Tamil language that is spoken in Kongu Nadu, which is the western region of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as "Kangee".`...

, Nellai Tamil
Nellai Tamil
Nellai Tamil, also known as Tirunelveli Tamil, is one of the dialects of Tamil which is spoken in the districts of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi as well as over the vast area of south Tamil Nadu which was once ruled by the Pandiya Kings. Nellai Tamil is also known as Thenpaandi Tamil...

, Kanyakumari Tamil, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli
Central Tamil dialect
The Central Tamil dialect is a dialect of Tamil spoken in the districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Tiruchirapalli in central Tamil Nadu, India and to some extent, in the neighbouring Cuddalore and Pudukkottai districts.Along with Madurai Tamil, the Central Tamil dialect is considered...

 Tamil, Jaffna or Yazhpanam Tamil, Trincomalee or Tiriconamalai Tamil, Batticaloa or mattakkalappu Tamil.

Loanword variations


{{See also|Indo-Aryan loanwords in Tamil|Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil}}
The dialect of the district of Palakkad
Palakkad
Palakkad , formerly known as Palghat, is a municipality and a town in the state of Kerala in southern India, spread over an area of 26.60 km2.The city is situated about north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram. It is the administrative headquarters of Palakkad District...

 in Kerala has a large number of Malayalam
Malayalam language
Malayalam , is one of the four major Dravidian languages of southern India. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India with official language status in the state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry. It is spoken by 35.9 million people...

 loanwords, has also been influenced by Malayalam syntax and also has a distinct Malayalam accent. Similarly, Tamil spoken in Kanyakumari District has unique words and phonetic style than Tamil spoken at other parts of Tamil Nadu. The uniqueness of words and phonetics is such that someone from Kanyakumari district
Kanyakumari District
Kanyakumari District ) is a district of Tamil Nadu state, India and is the southernmost land area of mainland India.The district is the second most urbanised district in Tamilnadu, next only to Chennai and ahead of Coimbatore. It also has the highest literacy and education levels in the...

 is easily identified by the spoken Tamil. Hebbar
Hebbar Iyengars
Hebbar Iyengars , formerly an endogamous group, constitute a part of the Iyengar sub-caste of the Karnataka Brahmins. They are traditionally followers of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika. They hail primarily from Hassan, Mysore, Tumkur, Bangalore, and surrounding areas in southern Karnataka...

 and Mandyam dialects, spoken by groups of Tamil Vaishnavites
Vaishnavism
Vaishnavism is a tradition of Hinduism, distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu, or his associated Avatars such as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God....

 who migrated to Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

 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. Several caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

s have their own sociolect
Sociolect
In sociolinguistics, a sociolect or social dialect is a variety of language associated with a social group such as a socioeconomic class, an ethnic group, an age group, etc....

s 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.
Tamil in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 incorporates loan words
Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil
Loan words in Sri Lankan Tamil came about mostly due contact between colonial powers and the native population. Linguists study a language's lexicon for a number of reasons. Languages such as Tamil with centuries of literature and multi-cultural contact offer the chance to compare the various...

 from Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 also.

Spoken and literary variants


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

In modern times, {{IAST|centamiḻ}} is generally used in formal writing and speech. For instance, it is the language of textbooks, of much of Tamil literature
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 and of public speaking and debate. In recent times, however, {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}} has been making inroads into areas that have traditionally been considered the province of {{IAST|centamiḻ}}. Most contemporary cinema
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

, theatre
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 and popular entertainment on television and radio, for example, is in {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}}, and many politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

s use it to bring themselves closer to their audience. The increasing use of {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}} in modern times has led to the emergence of unofficial ‘standard' spoken dialects. In India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the ‘standard' {{IAST|koṭuntamiḻ}} is based on ‘educated non-Brahmin speech', rather than on any one dialect, but has been significantly influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur and Madurai
Madurai
Madurai is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as the capital city of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and...

. In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 the standard is based on the dialect of Jaffna
Jaffna
Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district located on a peninsula of the same name. Jaffna is approximately six miles away from Kandarodai which served as a famous emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical...

.

Writing system


{{Main|Tamil script}}
{{See also|Vatteluttu|Grantha script}}


After Tamil Brahmi fell out of use, Tamil was written using a script called the {{IAST|vaṭṭeḻuttu}} amongst others such as Grantha and Pallava script. The current Tamil script consists of 12 vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s, 18 consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s and one special character, the āytam
Aytam
Āytam is a special sound in the Tamil Language. It is represented in the Tamil script by the character ஃ. It is special in the senses of not being an independent sound and being archaic and employed only in idiomatic and fossilized words such as அஃது, இஃது etc.The sound āytam is mentioned in the...

. 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 an overdot called a {{IAST|puḷḷi}}, to the consonantal sign. For example, {{lang|ta|ன}} is ṉa (with the inherent a) and {{lang|ta|ன்}} is (without a vowel). Many Indic scripts have a similar sign, generically called virama
Virama
Virama is a generic term for the diacritic in many Brahmic scripts, including Devanagari and East Nagari, that is used to suppress the inherent vowel that otherwise occurs with every consonant letter. The name is Sanskrit for "cessation, termination, end"...

, 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
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. Tamil phonology permits few consonant...

.

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.

Sounds


{{Main|Tamil phonology}}

Tamil phonology is characterised by the presence of retroflex consonant
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

s and multiple rhotics
Rhotic consonant
In phonetics, rhotic consonants, also called tremulants or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including "R, r" from the Roman alphabet and "Р, p" from the Cyrillic alphabet...

. Tamil does not distinguish phonologically between voiced and unvoiced consonants; phonetically, voice is assigned depending on a consonant's position in a word. 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.

Vowels


Tamil vowels are called {{IAST|uyireḻuttu}} (uyir – life, {{IAST|eḻuttu}} – letter). The vowels are classified into short ({{IAST|kuṟil}}) and long ({{IAST|neṭil}}) (with five of each type) and two diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s, /ai/ and /au/, and three "shortened" ({{IAST|kuṟṟiyl}}) vowels.

The long vowels are about twice as long as the short vowels. The diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as the short vowels, though most grammatical texts place them with the long vowels.
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

 
Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 
Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

 
Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

 
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 
Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

 
Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i u
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e o
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

a (ai) (aw)
ஒள

Consonants


Tamil consonants are known as {{IAST|meyyeḻuttu}} (mey—body, {{IAST|eḻuttu}}—letters). The consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s are classified into three categories with six in each category: {{IAST|valliṉam}}—hard, {{IAST|melliṉam}}—soft or Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

, and {{IAST|iṭayiṉam}}—medium.

Unlike most Indian languages, Tamil does not distinguish aspirated and unaspirated
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

 consonants. In addition, the voicing of plosives is governed by strict rules in {{IAST|centamiḻ}}. Plosives are unvoiced if they occur word-initially or doubled. Elsewhere they are voiced, with a few becoming fricatives intervocalically. Nasals
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

 and approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

 are always voiced.

As commonplace in languages of India, Tamil is characterised by its use of more than one type of coronal consonant
Coronal consonant
Coronal consonants are consonants articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue. Only the coronal consonants can be divided into apical , laminal , domed , or subapical , as well as a few rarer orientations, because only the front of the tongue has such...

s. Retroflex consonant
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

s include the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ (ழ) (example Tamil), which among the Dravidian languages is also found in Malayalam (example Kozhikode), disappeared from Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

 in pronunciation at around 1000 AD (the dedicated letter is still found in Unicode
Unicode
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems...

), and was never present in Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

. Dental and alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

s also contrast with each other, a typically Dravidian trait not found in the neighboring Indo-Aryan languages. In spoken Tamil, however, this contrast has been largely lost, and even in literary Tamil, {{lang|ta|ந}} and {{lang|ta|ன}} may be seen as allophonic.

A chart of the Tamil consonant phoneme
Phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s in the International Phonetic Alphabet follows:
Labial
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

 
Dental  Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

 
Retroflex
Retroflex consonant
A retroflex consonant is a coronal consonant where the tongue has a flat, concave, or even curled shape, and is articulated between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. They are sometimes referred to as cerebral consonants, especially in Indology...

 
Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

 
Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Plosives p (b) t̪ (d̪) ʈ (ɖ) tʃ (dʒ) k (ɡ)
Nasals
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m n ɳ ɲ ŋ
ன, ந
Tap ɾ̪
Trill
Trill consonant
In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

r
Central
Central consonant
A central or medial consonant is a consonant sound that is produced when air flows across the center of the mouth over the tongue. The class contrasts with lateral consonants, in which air flows over the sides of the tongue rather than down its center....

 approximants
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

ʋ ɻ j
Lateral
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

 approximants
ɭ


Phonemes in brackets are voiced
Voice (phonetics)
Voice or voicing is a term used in phonetics and phonology to characterize speech sounds, with sounds described as either voiceless or voiced. The term, however, is used to refer to two separate concepts. Voicing can refer to the articulatory process in which the vocal cords vibrate...

 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
Elision
Elision is the omission of one or more sounds in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce...

 in Tamil categorised into different classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.

Āytam


Classical Tamil also had a phoneme called the Āytam
Aytam
Āytam is a special sound in the Tamil Language. It is represented in the Tamil script by the character ஃ. It is special in the senses of not being an independent sound and being archaic and employed only in idiomatic and fossilized words such as அஃது, இஃது etc.The sound āytam is mentioned in the...

, written as ‘ஃ'. Tamil grammarians of the time classified it as a dependent phoneme (or restricted phoneme) ({{IAST|cārpeḻuttu}}), 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
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

 the sounds it was combined with. It has also been suggested that the āytam was used to represent the voiced implosive
Implosive consonant
Implosive consonants are stops with a mixed glottalic ingressive and pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism. That is, the airstream is controlled by moving the glottis downward in addition to expelling air from the lungs. Therefore, unlike the purely glottalic ejective consonants, implosives can...

 (or closing part or the first half) of geminated voiced plosives inside a word. 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|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

Grammar


{{Main|Tamil grammar}}

Tamil employs agglutinative
Agglutination
In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Languages that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages...

 grammar, where suffixes are used to mark noun class
Noun class
In linguistics, the term noun class refers to a system of categorizing nouns. A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as sex, animacy, shape, but counting a given noun among nouns of such or another class is often clearly conventional...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, and case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

, verb tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

 and other grammatical categories. Tamil's standard metalinguistic
Metalanguage
Broadly, any metalanguage is language or symbols used when language itself is being discussed or examined. In logic and linguistics, a metalanguage is a language used to make statements about statements in another language...

 terminology and scholarly vocabularly is itself Tamil, as opposed to the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 that is standard for most other Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages
The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

.

Much of Tamil grammar is extensively described in the oldest known grammar book for Tamil, the Tolkāppiyam
Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

. Modern Tamil writing is largely based on the 13th century grammar {{IAST|Naṉṉūl}} which restated and clarified the rules of the Tolkāppiyam, with some modifications. Traditional Tamil grammar consists of five parts, namely {{IAST|eḻuttu}}, col, {{IAST|poruḷ}}, yāppu, {{IAST|aṇi}}. Of these, the last two are mostly applied in poetry.

Tamil words consist of a lexical root
Lexeme
A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics, that roughly corresponds to a set of forms taken by a single word. For example, in the English language, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme, conventionally written as RUN...

 to which one or more affix
Affix
An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes...

es are attached. Most Tamil affixes are suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es. Tamil suffixes can be derivational
Derivation (linguistics)
In linguistics, derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word, e.g. happi-ness and un-happy from happy, or determination from determine...

 suffixes
, which either change the part of speech of the word or its meaning, or inflection
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

al suffixes
, which mark categories such as person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

, tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

, etc. There is no absolute limit on the length and extent of agglutination
Agglutination
In contemporary linguistics, agglutination usually refers to the kind of morphological derivation in which there is a one-to-one correspondence between affixes and syntactical categories. Languages that use agglutination widely are called agglutinative languages...

, which can lead to long words with a large number of suffixes.

Morphology


Tamil nouns (and pronouns) are classified into two super-classes ({{IAST|tiṇai}})—the "rational" ({{IAST|uyartiṇai}}), and the "irrational" ({{transl|ta|ISO|akṟiṇai}})—which include a total of five classes (pāl, which literally means ‘gender'). Human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s and deities
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 are classified as "rational", and all other nouns (animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s, 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
Honorific
An honorific is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term is used not quite correctly to refer to an honorary title...

, gender-neutral, singular form.

Suffixes are used to perform the functions of cases
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

 or postpositions. Traditional grammarians tried to group the various suffixes into eight cases corresponding to the cases used in Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. These were the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, sociative
Sociative case
This case in Hungarian language can express the person in whose company the action is carried out, or to any belongings of people which take part in the action . It is denoted by the suffixes "-stul/-stül," depending on vowel harmony. This case is obsolete and nowadays the instrumental-comitative...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

, locative
Locative case
Locative is a grammatical case which indicates a location. It corresponds vaguely to the English prepositions "in", "on", "at", and "by"...

, and ablative
Ablative case
In linguistics, ablative case is a name given to cases in various languages whose common characteristic is that they mark motion away from something, though the details in each language may differ...

. Modern grammarians argue that this classification is artificial, and that Tamil usage is best understood if each suffix or combination of suffixes is seen as marking a separate case. Tamil nouns can take one of four prefixes, i, a, u, and e which are functionally equivalent to the demonstrative
Demonstrative
In linguistics, demonstratives are deictic words that indicate which entities a speaker refers to and distinguishes those entities from others...

s in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

.

Tamil verbs are also inflected through the use of suffixes. A typical Tamil verb form will have a number of suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es, which show person, number, mood, tense, and voice.
  • Person and number are indicated by suffixing the oblique case
    Oblique case
    An oblique case in linguistics is a noun case of synthetic languages that is used generally when a noun is the object of a verb or a preposition...

     of the relevant pronoun. The suffixes to indicate tenses and voice are formed from grammatical particle
    Grammatical particle
    In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes . It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition...

    s, 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 morpheme
    Morpheme
    In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

    s which mark tense categories. Tamil verbs also mark evidentiality
    Evidentiality
    In linguistics, evidentiality is, broadly, the indication of the nature of evidence for a given statement; that is, whether evidence exists for the statement and/or what kind of evidence exists. An evidential is the particular grammatical element that indicates evidentiality...

    , through the addition of the hearsay clitic
    Clitic
    In morphology and syntax, a clitic is a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase. It is pronounced like an affix, but works at the phrase level...

     {{IAST|ām}}.


Traditional grammars of Tamil do not distinguish between adjective
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s and adverb
Adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

s, including both of them under the category uriccol, although modern grammarians tend to distinguish between them on morphological and syntactical grounds. Tamil has a large number of ideophone
Ideophone
Ideophones are words used by speakers to evoke a vivid impression of certain sensation or sensory perceptions, e.g. smell, color, shape, sound, action, or movement. Ideophones are attested in all languages of the world, however, languages differ in the extent to which they make use of them...

s that act as adverbs indicating the way the object in a given state "says" or "sounds".

Tamil does not have articles
Article (grammar)
An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

. Definiteness and indefiniteness are either indicated by special grammatical devices, such as using the number "one" as an indefinite article, or by the context. In the first person plural, Tamil makes a distinction between inclusive
Clusivity
In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we"...

 pronouns நாம் {{IAST|nām}} (we), நமது {{IAST|namatu}} (our) that include the addressee and exclusive pronouns நாங்கள் {{IAST|nāṅkaḷ}} (we), எமது {{IAST|ematu}} (our) that do not.

Syntax


Tamil is a consistently head-final
Branching (linguistics)
In linguistics, branching is the general tendency towards a given order of words within sentences and smaller grammatical units within sentences...

 language. The verb comes at the end of the clause, with a typical word order of subject–object–verb (SOV). However, word order in Tamil is also flexible, so that surface permutations of the SOV order are possible with different pragmatic
Pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

 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
Null subject language
In linguistic typology, a null-subject language is a language whose grammar permits an independent clause to lack an explicit subject. Such a clause is then said to have a null subject. Typically, null subject languages express person, number, and/or gender agreement with the referent on the verb,...

. 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 {{IAST|muṭintuviṭṭatu}} ("completed")—or only a subject and object, without a verb such as {{IAST|atu eṉ vīṭu}} ("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.

Vocabulary


{{See also|Wiktionary:Category:Tamil language|Wiktionary:Category:Tamil derivations}}

The vocabulary of Tamil is mainly Dravidian. A strong sense of linguistic purism
Linguistic purism
Linguistic purism or linguistic protectionism is the practice of defining one variety of a language as being purer than other varieties. The ideal of purity is often opposed in reference to a perceived decline from an "ideal past" or an unwanted similarity with other languages, but sometimes simply...

 is found in Modern Tamil, which opposes the use of foreign loanwords. 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
Munda languages
-Anderson :Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows. Individual languages are highlighted in italics.*North Munda **Korku**Kherwarian***Santhali***Mundari*South Munda **Kharia–Juang***Juang***Kharia...

 (for example, {{IAST|tavaḷai}} "frog" from Munda {{IAST|tabeg}}), Malay
Malay language
Malay is a major language of the Austronesian family. It is the official language of Malaysia , Indonesia , Brunei and Singapore...

 (e.g. {{IAST|cavvarici}} "sago" from Malay {{IAST|sāgu}}), Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 (for example, {{IAST|campān}} "skiff" from Chinese san-pan) and Greek (for example, {{IAST|ora}} from Greek ὥρα). In more modern times, Tamil has imported words from Arabic, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, Urdu
Urdu
Urdu is a register of the Hindustani language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia. It belongs to the Indo-European family. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. It is also widely spoken in some regions of India, where it is one of the 22 scheduled languages and an...

 and Marathi
Marathi language
Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of western and central India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are over 68 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India and is the fifteenth most...

, reflecting groups that have influenced the Tamil area at various points of time, and from neighbouring languages such as Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

, and Sinhala. During the modern period, words have also been adapted from European languages, such as Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

.

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
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

, Malayalam etc., was influenced by Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary styles, reflecting the increased trend of Sanskritisation
Sanskritisation
Sanskritization or Sanskritisation is a particular form of social change found in India and Nepal. It denotes the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. It is a process similar to...

 in the Tamil country. 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. In addition, Sanskritisation was actively resisted by a number of authors of the late medieval period, culminating in the 20th century in a movement called {{IAST
Tanittamil Iyakkam
The Thanittamil Iyakkam is a movement of linguistic purism in Tamil literature attempting to emulate the "unadulterated Tamil language" of the Sangam period, avoiding Sanskrit, Persian and English loanwords. It was notably initiated by the writings of Maraimalai Adigal and Paventhar ...

(meaning "pure Tamil movement"), led by Parithimaar Kalaignar
Parithimaar Kalaignar
Parithimaar Kalaignyar was a Vedic scholar and priest born in a Brahmin Iyer family as Suryanarayana Sastri who lived in the 19th century. He studied the Tamil language intensively and, along with Maraimalai Adigal, started advocating 'purification' of the language by removing Sanskrit loan words...

 and Maraimalai Adigal
Maraimalai Adigal
Maraimalai Adigal was an eminent Tamil orator and writer. He was a devout Hindu as a staunch follower of Saivism. He has authored more than 100 books, including works on original poems and dramas, but most famous are his books on his research into Tamil literature. Most of his literary works were...

, which sought to remove the accumulated influence of Sanskrit on Tamil. 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, under some estimates having fallen from 40–50% to about 20%. 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.

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.

Influence


{{main|Words of Tamil origin}}
A notable example of a word in worldwide use with Dravidian (not specifically Tamil) etymology is orange, via Sanskrit {{IAST|nāraṅga}} from a Dravidian predecessor of Tamil nartankāy "fragnant fruit".

Words of Tamil origin occur in other languages. Popular examples in English are cheroot ({{IAST|curuṭṭu}} meaning "rolled up"), mango (from mangai), mulligatawny (from {{IAST|miḷaku taṉṉir}} meaning pepper water), pariah (from paraiyan), curry (from kari), catamaran (from {{IAST|kaṭṭu maram}}, கட்டு மரம், meaning "bundled logs"), pandal (shed, shelter, booth), tyer (curd), anicut (from {{IAST|anaikattu}}, அணைக்கட்டு, meaning dam), and coir (rope). Tamil words are also found in Sinhala
Sinhala words of Tamil origin
Sinhala words of Tamil origin came about as part of the more than 2000 years of language interactions between Sinhala and Tamil in the Island of Sri Lanka.-Kinds of loanwords:Borrowings...

 and Malay.

See also

  • Tamil literature
    Tamil literature
    Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

  • Tamil people
    Tamil people
    Tamil people , also called Tamils or Tamilians, are an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, India and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka. Historic and post 15th century emigrant communities are also found across the world, notably Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, Australia, Canada,...

  • Tamil diaspora
    Tamil diaspora
    The Tamil diaspora is a demographic group of Tamil people of Indian or Sri Lankan origin who have settled in other parts of the world. Significant Tamil diaspora populations can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Middle East, Réunion, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Guyana,...

  • Tamil radio on internet
    Tamil radio on internet
    Tamil radio on internet has become very popular after the Sri Lankan Tamil national radio started broadcasting their services on the Internet. This new trend has attracted millions of Tamil listeners from all over the world, specially listeners from south India and a commercial service called...

  • Tamil script
    Tamil script
    The Tamil script is a script that is used to write the Tamil language as well as other minority languages such as Badaga, Irulas, and Paniya...

  • Tamil units of measurement
  • Tamil numerals
    Tamil numerals
    Tamil numerals , refers to the numeral system of the Tamil language used officially in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Mauritius, as well as by the other Tamil-speaking populations around the world including Malaysia, Réunion, and South Africa, and other emigrant communities around the world...

  • Invocation to Goddess Tamil
    Invocation to Goddess Tamil
    Invocation to Goddess Tamil is the State song of the Government of Tamil Nadu. The Song was written by Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai. All official functions of the Government of Tamil Nadu start with this song and end with the Indian National Anthem....

  • List of Indian languages by total speakers
  • List of languages by first written accounts

External links


{{InterWiki|code=ta}}
{{wikibooks|Tamil}}
{{Commons|Tamil language}}

{{Dravidian languages}}
{{Languages of India}}
{{Languages of Sri Lanka}}
{{Languages spoken in Kerala}}

{{featured article}}

{{DEFAULTSORT:Tamil Language}}