Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Demystifying Tamil as a language and a person

What is Tamil? For some it's a language, for some it's a religion, for the uninitiated, wikipedia to the rescue. There is of course also the the Wikipedia in Tamil.

For those who don't like reading pages and pages, google current has it all. From “what is Tamil” to “the latest in Tamil cinema” while discussing matrimonial sites, all under 3 minutes. If you absolutely detest external links, Tamil is an anglicized moniker of “Thamizh”, an ancient language spoken majorly in India, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Speakers of the language are called “Tamils”.

TamilPicture this. The english alphabet has 26 letters. Tamil has 12 vowels and 18 consonants and we have derived characters from the combination of these vowels and consonants. If you do the math, that's 247 characters in all. Our ancestors dumped the idea of having an ABCD rhyme equivalent for the Tamil character set after the initial test ran for more than 1/2 a day. They instead devised a rhyme scheme for the vowels alone that goes “aana aavanna” and so on.[1]

Tamil has innumerable dialects depending on the place it is spoken in. Sanga Thamizh is the ancient form and Tamil still is written in this form. Spoken Tamil is very different compared to written tamil.“Madras baashai” is a very popular variant that has an ever growing vocabulary as it borrows words from English day after day after day. For example: “Peter” means a guy well versed in English and “Mary” is his female counterpart. Note that both “Peter” and “Mary” are Tamil words in this context. Wikipedia has a comprehensive but non-exhaustive list. Adding a “la” after every sentence in “normal” tamil makes it Singapore tamil while the SriLankans have a unique accent and their language set contains some words that do not figure in the vocabulary of “mainstream” Tamil.

Literary works in Tamil date back to 200 BC. “Tolkaappiyam” is one of the earliest known grammar books to have been written. Myle Vaughanan has an interesting post on the history and literary works in tamil. A work of note is the Thiruvasagam, written by Manickavasagar somewhere between 6th and 11th century CE, translated by G.U.Pope to english in the 20th century and set to music by Ilaiyaraaja in the 21st century. Priya has a series of posts on the epic poem.

Tamil language has been computerized for quite some time now and has its own encoding scheme called TSCII. Though the system is fraught with compatibility issues with encoding schemes and OS support, a search on how to solve these will get you ready to read and write tamil web content in less than 10 minutes. Gilli tells you how. Tamil Nation has a more detailed article on tamil keyboards,fonts and software. While companies like Microsoft have embraced the tamil language, Nagarajan is bothered about the Tamil Nadu government switching to open source and discusses the monetary benefits involved. If you still use a Windows 98 machine, “erumbugal” has a post on how to enable tamil fonts. Can't download fonts or feel lazy to go through the entire process? jaffnalibrary has an online application that'll recode data for you to tamil regardless of the format you type in.

Singapore has a considerable number of tamil bloggers. Shivaji Das has a satirical comparison of Jews and Tamils while discussing the simple needs of a tamil. It's a sneak peek into the life of a tamil in Singapore. Thugchic laments that “Ahpunehneh” is not a proper word! though it's been used widely.

Sri Lanka has the second largest tamil speaking population in the world. Sri Rangan writes his views on democracy in the sub-continental region in this post titled “Democracy- A new perspective”. Samarajiva talks about the Tamil Nadu government adopting the Tamil SMS system developed in Sri Lanka.

Listen to news in Tamil on BBC online.
Knowledge-purgation
, authored by an interestingly named “knowledge-undertaker” discusses the future of Tamil language that has been constantly butchered by its improper use and increasing lethargy of native speakers in sticking to semantics.

Interested in learning the language?

[1] – Author's attempt at humor

20 comments

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.