Tamil Language – The Oldest of the Dravidian Family


Tamil Language

Vanakkam! This is the greeting you will receive when you enter the southernmost state of our country, Tamil Nadu where people converse in their native language of Tamil. Apart from Tamil Nadu, this recognized classical language and one of the twenty-two official languages of our country is spoken in parts of other states of southern India, the union territory of Pondicherry as well as in countries abroad such as Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia to name a few. It is the official language of the aforementioned countries. It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages which refers to those languages that are predominantly spoken in northern Sri Lanka and South Indian states. Tamil is a language that is widely spoken throughout the globe, even if it by small communities with a total number of speakers totaling around 74 million making it the eighteenth most spoken language in the world.

As aforementioned, Tamil is a recognized classical language. That is because of three main reasons; its origins can be traced back a significant period, it contains a substantial amount of ancient text as well as literature, and last but certainly not the least, its unique and independent tradition because of which it holds a prestigious position as a written language. Furthermore, following legend, the grammatical laws of Tamil are said to have been formulated by the gods themselves which only adds to its prominent status. As true for any language, Tamil has its unique writing system. With a total of 12 vowels and 18 consonants, the language consists of 216 compound characters.

Tamil Language-Script
Tamil Script/Wikimedia

One would be justified in saying that Tamil is an ancient language as the earliest clear evidence in the form of inscriptions of the origins of it leads back to the 5th century BCE making it one of the oldest languages in the entire world. It is also the first language of India to ever be published. That’s another record that Tamil takes home. Tamil, being the language that it is, is inspiring and has influenced various words as well as grammar in other languages, approximately 400, which includes Sanskrit, Korean, Greek and even, Latin, throughout the globe.

However, to say that the language remained the same would be incorrect because naturally, over time various noticeable changes occurred in the grammar and dialect of the language which led to it being divided into three main periods: Old Tamil, Middle Tamil, and Old Tamil. The writing of this language visibly has roots in the script of Brahmi but of course, did change drastically. A noteworthy change in the writing style occurred with the assimilation of Grantha Letters, the roots of which lie in the Pallava script. That is the thing about this language. It survived because it is ever-evolving and even now, in different parts of the state of Tamil Nadu, the colloquially spoken language differs. The local dialects or as commonly called koduntamil and the formal language or centamil of Tamil vary and this is referred to as diglossa, for example, Tamil’s form differs with caste, class, and region.

Tamil Literature is a field so vast that it may just require a piece on its own, but the works of this language are truly magnificent. Prominent pieces often include epics or religious poetry such as devotional pieces dedicated to Nayanmar, Alvars with, later on, great focus on the Bhakti Movement as well as Sangam literature. A rise can be seen among the Chola and Palla rulers providing patronage to poets and authors. Tamil Nadu has produced many great writers and one such, we’re all aware of is Subramanian Bharti who is credited with the start of the modern literary Tamil movement.

Tamil Language-Literature
Tamil Manuscript/Wikimedia

A product of this language that is everyone’s favorite and we all immensely enjoy is the Tamil Cinema, which is now the second-largest network in the country. The industry’s action-packed, entertaining movies are popular throughout the world. Various movies now also inspire their Bollywood adaptations. All the South Indian movies which give us such pleasure wouldn’t have been possible without the glorious Tamil language.

An interesting fact about the etymology of the word Tamil itself is that it has various meanings, apart from denoting this rich classical language, it also refers to beauty, naturalness, and sweetness it remains one of the languages in the entire language that is personified. It is indeed a shocking fact but one that is true that Tamil is treated like a ‘mother’ or a ‘goddess’. UNESCO endorses a variety of documentary heritage in its register: Memory of the World and can you see the inscriptions of which language are featured in it? Of course, the beautiful language of Tamil. Talking about what makes Tamil such a unique language, it is time to bust a common myth. The word Tamil is pronounced as Tamizh. In the language, three different characters are denoting ‘la’ which causes a difference in pronunciation. These little quirks are what is even more fascinating.

There are truly myriad classical languages that are unfortunately not prevalent anymore. However, Tamil remains to have stood the test of time and that is primarily because of the people’s will. The existence of a language depends solely upon the way it is utilized in everyday conversion and written text and in that regard, what is something to appreciate is the efforts of the natives of the state because the language plays such an important role in their culture, heritage and mainly, lives that it is taught to younger generations and is spoken in households. It was Theodore Roosevelt who rightly said, “Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.”

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