What writing system(s) does this language use?
Tamil is written using modern Tamil script which was evolved from Grantha script, Vattezhutthu (means rounded letters) and Tamil Brahmi. Just like the Latin alphabet, the Tamil script has letters representing vowels and consonants. In addition, unlike the Latin alphabet, there are letters representing combinations of vowels and consonants! For example, to represent 'PA' using Tamil script we have to combine the consonant ப் (P) with the vowel அ (A) to form ப (PA). This type of letters are simply called as uyirmeyyeḻuttu or vowel-consonants.
The Tamil script has 12 vowels, 18 consonants and 216 vowel-consonants (12 vowels x 18 consonants = 216 vowel-consonants). In addition, there is a special letter called āytam (ஃ) which is classified as neither a consonant nor a vowel. Hence, the complete script is comprised of 247 letters!
In Tamil, vowels are called as Uyirezhutthu which means soul-letters, consonants are called as Meiyezhutthu which means body-letters and vowel-consonants are called as Uyirmeiyezhutthu which means body & soul letters. Do you have any idea of why vowels are called as souls? It is because they give life (sound) to the soundless bodies - consonants!
How many people speak this language?
Over 66 million people speak Tamil as their native language and an estimated 11 million speak it as a secondary language.
Where is this language spoken?
Most Tamil speakers live in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore. Tamil is recognized as an official language in India, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Within India, Tamil is spoken mainly in Tamil Nadu, a state in India. Emigrant Tamil speakers live all over the world and have taken their language with them to their new communities.
What is the history of this language?
Some of the oldest Tamil writing can be seen in rock inscriptions from 200BC. The oldest work of Tamil literature, called தொல்காப்பியம் (tholkaappiyam, or "ancient vault"), was written sometime between 300BC and 1000AD. This work is a grammar book for Tamil.
Tamil has always been spoken by people of the Tamil culture in India since antiquity; the history of the language (and of the similar south Indian languages belonging to the Dravidian family of languages) before this is not clear. Tamil literature was developed during the classical period by literature events hosted at the historic Tamil city of Madurai by different Tamil kings.
திருவள்ளுவர்(thiruvalluvar) is a popular Tamil poet, who wrote the திருக்குறள் (thirukkural). It is a collection of philosophical and practical advice, and has been widely translated to the languages of the world.
Ancient poets of note are இளங்கோ அடிகள் (ilango adigal), ஔவையார் (ouvaiyaar), கனியன் பூங்குன்றனார் (kaniyan poonguntranaar).
Some popular, late poets of the past two centuries include பாரதியார் (baaradhiyaar),பாரதிதாசன் (baradhidasan) and கண்ணதாசன் (kannadhaasan)
Popular current poets include வைரமுத்து (vairamuthu), வாலி (vaali)
What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?
Hello: vanakkam வணக்கம்
Good-bye: paarkkalaam பார்க்கலாம் (literally "let us see [each other again]")
Mother: ammaa அம்மா
Street: theru தெரு
School: palli பள்ளி
Fire: thee தீ
Sound: oli ஒலி
Song: paattu பாட்டு
Jasmine: mullai முல்லை and malligai மல்லிகை
Rice: arisi அரிசி (the English word 'rice' is derived from this Tamil word)
Cooked Rice: soaru சோறு
Father: appa அப்பா
Hunger: Pasi பசி
Love: Anbu அன்பு
A typical greeting:
How are you? eppadi irukkeenga? எப்படி இருக்கீங்க?
I'm quite fine : nallaave irukken நல்லாவே இருக்கேன்
What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?
குறிஞ்சி - தலைவன் கூற்று
யாயும் ஞாயும் யாரா கியரோ
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம்முறைக் கேளிர்
யானும் நீயும் எவ்வழி யறிதும்
செம்புலப் பெயனீர் போல
அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாங்கலந் தனவே.
-- செம்புலப் பெயனீரார்
kurinchi - thalaivan kootru
yaayum ngaayum yaaraa giyaro?
endhaiyum tnundhaiyum emmurai kelir?
yaanum tneeyum evvali yaridhum,
chembulap peyaneer pola
anbudai tnencham thaangalandh thanave.
-- chembulap peyaneeraar
In hilly lands - The hero speaks
What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain
-- chembulap peyaneeraar (a nickname meaning "[one who sang of] red earth and pouring rain")
Translated by AK Ramanujan (kurunthogai குறுந்தொகை - poem 40)
A poem from the Eight Anthologies எட்டுத்தொகை collection.
Introduction • Glossary • Authors and Contributing • Print Version
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