Ancient Tamil Scriptures
With a rich heritage, Tamil boasts a remarkable history of over 2000 years of recorded literature. The earliest period, known as Sangam literature, dates back to around 300 BC, making it the oldest existing literature among Dravidian languages. Evidence of Tamil's ancient roots can be found in epigraphic records such as rock edicts and 'hero stones,' which have been discovered as early as the 3rd century BC. The Archaeological Survey of India has identified approximately 60,000 inscriptions in Tamil Nadu, with the majority written in Tamil and only about 5 percent in other languages.
In a noteworthy milestone, Tamil became the first Indian language to be printed and published when Portuguese Christian missionaries released a Tamil prayer book called "Thambiran Vanakkam" in the old Tamil script in 1578. Furthermore, the Tamil Lexicon, published by the University of Madras, emerged as one of the earliest dictionaries in Indian languages, contributing to the preservation and dissemination of the Tamil language.
Tamil Language Family
Tamil is a member of the Dravidian language family, specifically belonging to its southern branch. This language family encompasses approximately 26 languages that are native to the Indian subcontinent. Within the Tamil language family, there are about 35 ethno-linguistic groups, including the Irula and Yerukula languages, which are closely related to Tamil proper.
Among the Dravidian languages, Tamil finds its closest major relative in Malayalam. These two languages began to diverge from each other around the 9th century AD. While some dissimilarities between Tamil and Malayalam can be traced back to a prehistoric split in the western dialect, the process of evolving into a distinct language, namely Malayalam, was not fully completed until the 13th or 14th century.
History of Tamil Language
Tamil, along with other Dravidian languages, can be traced back to its origins in the Proto-Dravidian language. It is believed that Proto-Dravidian was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region near the lower Godavari river basin. Archaeological evidence suggests that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian were associated with the Neolithic cultures of South India.
In the realm of Indian languages, Tamil boasts the most ancient non-Sanskritic Indian literature. Scholars divide the documented history of the language into three distinct periods: Old Tamil (600 BCâ€“AD 700), Middle Tamil (700â€“1600), and Modern Tamil (1600â€“present).
The earliest surviving literary works in Tamil, along with their commentaries, hold great admiration for the Pandiyan Kings. These kings were credited for organizing the Tamil Sangams, long-term gatherings that focused on the research, development, and refinement of the Tamil language. While the language developed by these Tamil Sangams is referred to as Tamil, the exact period when the name "Tamil" came into common usage remains uncertain, as does the precise etymology of the name.
The earliest documented use of the term "Tamil" can be found in the Tholkappiyam, a literary work believed to date back to the late 2nd century BC. Additionally, the Hathigumpha inscription, attributed to Kharavela, the Jain king of Kalinga during a similar time period, makes a reference to a Tamira Samghatta, meaning a Tamil confederacy. Furthermore, the Samavayanga Sutra, which dates to the 3rd century BC, includes mention of a Tamil script called 'Damili.' These inscriptions and references provide valuable historical evidence of the existence and significance of the Tamil language during ancient times.
According to Hindu mythology, the origin of Tamil, or Tamil Thai (Mother Tamil) in personified form, can be traced back to Lord Shiva. It is believed that Lord Murugan, venerated as the Tamil God, together with the sage Agastya, bestowed the gift of Tamil language upon the people.
Old Tamil Language
Old Tamil refers to a significant period in the history of the Tamil language, spanning from the 3rd century BC to the 8th century AD. During this time, the earliest known records in Old Tamil consist of concise inscriptions that date from 300 BC to 700 AD. These inscriptions were written in a variation of the Brahmi script known as Tamil-Brahmi.
The Tolkappiyam, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, stands as the oldest extensive text in Old Tamil. Its origins can be traced back to the late 2nd century BC, showcasing its ancient roots. Additionally, a substantial number of literary works in Old Tamil have been preserved. Among them is a collection of 2,381 poems collectively known as Sangam literature. These poems are generally believed to have been composed between the 1st century BC and the 5th century AD, showcasing the literary richness of the Old Tamil period.
Medieval Tamil Language
During the Chola period around 1000 AD, significant inscriptions in Medieval/ Middle Tamil were etched in stone using the Vatteluttu script. These inscriptions can be found at the Brahadeeswara temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
The transition from Old Tamil to Middle/ Medieval Tamil, a process generally considered to have concluded by the 8th century, witnessed notable phonological and grammatical transformations. Phonologically, key changes included the near disappearance of the â€˜aytamâ€™, an ancient phoneme, the merging of alveolar and dental nasals, and the conversion of the alveolar plosive into a rhotic sound. In terms of grammar, the most significant development was the emergence of the present tense.
The present tense emerged from the verb â€˜kilâ€™, which originally conveyed the meaning of "to be possible" or "to befall." In Old Tamil, this verb served as an aspect marker, indicating that an action was micro-durative, non-sustained, or non-lasting, often combined with a time marker. In Middle Tamil, this usage evolved into a present tense marker known as â€˜kinraâ€™, combining the previous aspect and time markers.
Modern Tamil Language
Modern Tamil is influenced by the Nannul, a normative grammar that continues to serve as the standard for literary Tamil. As a result, modern literary Tamil is based on Middle Tamil from the 13th century rather than Modern Tamil itself. However, colloquial spoken Tamil has undergone several changes. For instance, the negative conjugation of verbs has largely fallen out of use in Modern Tamil, and instead, negation is expressed morphologically or syntactically. Sound changes are also evident in spoken Tamil as well as the disappearance of vowels between plosives and between a plosive and rhotic sounds.
The influence of European languages has had an impact on both written and spoken Tamil. This includes the adoption of European-style punctuation and the use of consonant clusters that were not permitted in Middle Tamil. The syntax of written Tamil has also undergone modifications, incorporating new aspectual auxiliaries and more complex sentence structures.
In parallel, a strong emphasis on linguistic purism emerged in the early 20th century, culminating in the Pure Tamil Movement, which advocated for the removal of all Sanskritic elements from Tamil. This movement gained some support from Dravidian parties. Consequently, a significant number of Sanskrit loanwords were replaced with Tamil equivalents, although many loanwords still remain in use today.
Official Status of Tamil Language
Tamil holds the status of an official language in Tamil Nadu and is recognized as one of the 22 languages listed in Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution. It is also an official language in the union territories of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In Sri Lanka, it is an official and national language, alongside Sinhala.
Furthermore, Tamil achieved the distinction of being the first legally recognized classical language in India. This recognition came about in October 2004 when the Government of India established a legal status for classical languages. The announcement was made by the then President of India, Abdul Kalam, who himself was of Tamil origin, during a joint session of the Indian Parliament on 6 June 2004.
Dialects of Tamil Language
The sociolinguistic landscape of Tamil is characterized by diglossia, where two distinct registers exist, varying based on socioeconomic status. These registers are known as the high register and the low register. Tamil dialects exhibit variations primarily due to different phonological changes and sound shifts that have occurred over time from Old Tamil.
While Tamil dialects generally do not differ significantly in vocabulary, there are a few exceptions. Tamil dialects encompass Central Tamil dialect, Kongu Tamil, Madras Bashai, Madurai Tamil, Nellai Tamil, Kumari Tamil in India. The Sankethi dialect in Karnataka has undergone significant influence from Kannada.
Literary Variants of Tamil Language
Tamil encompasses various forms and styles, including a classical literary style known as sankattami?, a modern literary and formal style called centami?, and a contemporary colloquial form known as ko?untami?. These different styles blend into one another, creating a continuum of linguistic expressions. It is possible to write centami? using vocabulary from cankattami? or incorporate forms associated with other variants while conversing in ko?untami?.
In present times, centami? is predominantly used in formal writing and speeches. It serves as the language of textbooks, much of Tamil literature, and public speaking engagements and debates. However, ko?untami? has gained prominence in areas that were traditionally considered the domain of centami?. Contemporary cinema, theatre, popular entertainment on television and radio largely employ ko?untami?, and many politicians use it to connect with their audience. The increasing usage of ko?untami? in modern times has resulted in the emergence of unofficial "standard" spoken dialects. In India, the "standard" ko?untami? draws influences from various dialects rather than relying on a single specific dialect. However, it has been notably influenced by the dialects of Thanjavur and Madurai.
Writing system in Tamil Language
Following the decline of Tamil Brahmi, the Tamil language began to be written using various scripts, including va??e?uttu, Grantha, and Pallava. The current script used for Tamil consists of 12 vowels, 18 consonants, and one special character known as the aytam. These vowels and consonants combine to form 216 compound characters, resulting in a total of 247 characters.
In the Tamil script, all consonants come with an inherent vowel "a" similar to other Indic scripts. This inherent vowel is eliminated by adding a diacritic mark known as a pu??i above the consonantal sign.
Influences of Tamil Language
Tamil has contributed words to various languages, showcasing its influence beyond its own boundaries. In English, several words have their origins in Tamil. Some instances include "cheroot," derived from curu??u meaning "rolled up"; "mango," originating from mangay, etc. These examples demonstrate the influence of Tamil words in the English language.
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