History and Major Facts about Tamil Language

Tamil is a member of the Dravidian language family, a group of languages predominantly spoken in South India and some parts of Central and Eastern India. It is one of the 22 officially recognized languages in India, along with the likes of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Nepali.

Below, WHE presents everything you need to know about the Tamil language:

How old is Tamil Language?

It’s one of the oldest surviving languages, with a history extending beyond 2,500 years. While the precise age of the language is debated, there’s consensus about its ancient status.

Tamil, a Dravidian language, is primarily spoken by the Tamil community in South Asia. Image: Mangulam Tamil Brahmi inscription in Mangulam, Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, dated to Tamil Sangam period (c. 400 BC – c. 200 AD)

Classical Language

The Indian government has designated Tamil as a “Classical Language,” signifying its longstanding literary tradition and rich heritage.

Sangam Literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between 500 BC and 300 AD, a testament to the language’s ancient literary tradition.

While Sangam literature is renowned, Tamil’s literary heritage doesn’t stop there. Works like “Thirukkural” provide profound insights into life and ethics.

Dynastic Influence and Geographical Spread

The Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras were significant Tamil dynasties that have left an indelible mark on Tamil literature, art, and culture.

While Tamil’s heartland is Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in India, its influence isn’t limited to these areas.

Through historical trade routes, migration, and colonization, Tamil has found speakers in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and even some regions of Africa.

Official Status

Beyond its native region, Tamil is an official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore, emphasizing its global significance. For example, the Sri Lankan Moors count Tamil as their native tongue.

In India, Tamil stands proud as one of the country’s six classical languages.

Uniqueness and nature

Tamil boasts its own script distinct from other Indian languages.

While many scripts are alphabetic (with separate symbols for consonants and vowels), Tamil’s script combines both, making it syllabic.

Speakers in the diaspora and cultural influence

Large Tamil-speaking populations have settled in diverse parts of the world, from Southeast Asia to North America, enriching global cultural tapestries.

The language’s reach has influenced other cultures, notably in the form of its script shaping the writing systems of certain Southeast Asian languages.

Today, Tamil cinema, colloquially known as Kollywood (based in Chennai, formerly known as Madras), produces a large number of films each year, further popularizing the language and culture both domestically and internationally.

UNESCO Recognition

The International Mother Language Day is a nod to linguistic diversity and rights. While its origins lie in a tragic event in Bangladesh, regions like Tamil Nadu have used it to promote their linguistic heritage, as evidenced by the inauguration of “Semmozhi Poonga” in Chennai.

Major milestone

The Tamil language has a rich history marked by notable milestones. In 1578, “Thambiran Vanakkam,” a prayer book written in the ancient Tamil script, was printed and published by Portuguese Christian missionaries. This distinction made Tamil the first Indian language to be printed. Furthermore, the “Tamil Lexicon,” released by the University of Madras, was among the pioneering dictionaries published in Indian languages. These achievements highlight Tamil’s deep linguistic roots and its pivotal role in the historical tapestry of the Indian subcontinent.

Major Facts about Tamil Language

Tamil literature is renowned for its richness and depth, ranking it among the world’s foremost classical traditions and literatures. Its documented history spans over two millennia. Image: The word “Tamil” in Tamil script

  • Sangam literature, dating from approximately 300 BC to AD 300, stands as a testament to the ancient Tamil literary tradition, celebrated for its diversity and depth, reflecting the Tamil community’s profound literary achievements during that period.
  • Of the inscriptions unearthed by the Archaeological Survey of India, about 60% of the estimated 100,000 are found in Tamil Nadu, with a predominant majority in Tamil. Outside India, Tamil inscriptions in the Brahmi script have appeared in Sri Lanka and on traded goods in Thailand and Egypt.
  • Emphasizing Tamil’s historic importance, UNESCO’s Memory of the World register acknowledged two early Tamil manuscripts in 1997 and 2005, underlining the language’s timeless legacy
  • Apart from India, Tamil has official language status in Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is also one of the six living classical languages of India.
  • The language has its own unique script, which has evolved over time. The script is syllabic and not purely alphabetic.

  • Large Tamil-speaking communities can be found worldwide, particularly in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North America, Australia, and parts of Europe.
  • The Tamil language has greatly influenced other cultures. For instance, its script was used as the basis for the scripts of certain Southeast Asian languages.
  • Apart from the renowned Sangam literature, Tamil boasts other classic literary works, such as “Thirukkural” by Thiruvalluvar, which offers moral guidance and wisdom.
  • In 2008, UNESCO declared the 21st of February as International Mother Language Day based on a recommendation from Bangladesh. On that day in 1952, several students died in Dhaka (Bangladesh’s capital) protesting for the recognition of their mother language, Bengali. To commemorate this day and promote linguistic diversity, a monument called “Semmozhi Poonga” (Classical Language Park) was inaugurated in Chennai in 2010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *