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Tamil: The classical language from the land of Bharatnatyam

Brief Description

The Tamil alphabet has 12 vowels and 18 consonants, combining to form 216 compound characters. There is also one special character called "Aaytha ezutthu", serving a purely grammatical function as an independent vowel form (or the equivalent of the overdot diacritic of plain consonants), giving a total of 247 characters in the entire alphabet system. The vowels are called "Uyir ezhuthu" (literally "life letters") and are classified into five short, five long and two diphthongs. The consonants are classified into three categories with six in each category: vallinam ("hard"), mellinam ("soft" or "nasal") and idayinam ("medium"). With restricted consonant clusters, the lack of aspirated and voiced stops and the lack of distinction between voiced and unvoiced sounds (although both are present in the spoken form), Tamil is very distinctive from most other languages.

Regions where spoken

It is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamils in India and Sri Lanka, with smaller communities of speakers in many other countries. It is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and also has official status in Sri Lanka and Singapore. With more than 77 million speakers, an ancient history, a rich and continuous literature, and an international and modern presence, Tamil is one of the major languages of the world.

Development & Spread

The exact chronological point of evolution of Tamil has been an ongoing quest for several decades now. One of the reasons ascribed to this current difficulty lies in the fact that Tamil evolved a writing system from the Brahmi script, circa 300 BC. However, the dating system on the manuscripts alluding to this date have not provided conclusive results on this date, as these manuscripts are made from palm leaves, which imply that these documents are products of repeated reproduction. The earliest discovered text was the defining point in Tamil poetics and grammar the Tolkappiyam, which was produced between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Recently excavated evidence in 2005 indicates the existence of the language as long ago as 1000 BC.

In recent times, Tamil has officially been recognized as a "classical language" in the wake of its millennia-spanning rich literary history. Sharing ranks with other languages like Latin, Greek (Hellenistic) and Sanskrit, Tamil is the first "living" language (with reference to continued usage in its original form) to be given this honour.


Tamil writing is a phonetic system, believed to have evolved into the form prevalent today from the Brahmi script of Emperor Ashoka's era. Subsequently, a variant of the Brahmi script evolved into the Grantha script, which is utilized to write both Sanskrit and Tamil text. Between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, a new script, "Vettezhuthu" (literally meaning "letters that are cut") evolved to facilitate stone inscriptions. The changes involved, inspired some people to also call this script, "Vattezhuthu" (meaning "curved letters") on account of its smoothened edges and curved features. Linguistic changes such as the introduction of the overdot diacritic for pure consonants and the ligatures for the compounds of certain vowels were also incorporated in subsequent centuries.

Important Writers or works

Silappadhikaram ("The Anklet"), he is considered one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature along with Manimegalai, Seevaga Sindhamani, Valayaapathi and Kundalakesi. Other great works like the Sangam, Kumarikkandam, Thirukkural, Aathichoodi, Muthollayiram, Periya Puranaam, Divya Prabhandham, Thiruppavai, Thiruvempaavai and Dhevaaram serve as the finest examples in affirming and confirming Tamils rich literary tapestry.

Other details

Tamil has also contributed several words to the English lexicon. Cash, Cheroot, Mango, Catamaran, Mulligatawny are few examples of Tamil's migration into other languages.

There are variety of popular fonts used in Tamil typing; Unicode, Latha- Tamil, Baraha etc.

Source: www.wikipedia.com , www.tamilnation.org , www.encarta.msn.com

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