India is a country of rich cultural diversity where 22 officially recognised languages and over 1650 dialects are spoken across 29 states and 7 union territories, as in 2019. The 2011 Census of India last listed 1369 ‘mother tongues’, however, our country has been a witness to a great number of tongues over the centuries. One such distinctive and culturally rich language is Tamil.

This south-Indian language hails from the very heart of the flourishing Dravidian civilisation, which dates back to over 2000 years! The state of Tamil Nadu has been ruled by the Cholas, Pandyas and the Pallavas, and boasts of some stunning art and architecture reflecting the same, in addition to its culture-laden temples and the iconic Marina beach. Popular for their Idli-vada-sambhar with coconut chutney, Dosa, Sambhar-rice, Vada and more specifically, its Chettinad cuisine from Karaikudi, the white lungis for men and Kanchipuram Sarees with golden zari borders for women are also well sought after. Let’s learn a little more about this untainted, classical language: Tamil.


The what and where of Tamil

A Dravidian language that is spoken primarily in southern India – Tamil is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Puducherry. It is also an official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore, while spoken in Malaysia, Mauritius and many other countries as well, in addition to a significant numbers of speakers in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. In the early 21st century, over 66 million people were recorded to be native Tamil speakers. Interestingly, Tamil is used as a language of education in Malaysia and Singapore.


Tracing back the links

The earliest known inscriptions in Tamil date back to about 500 BC. Tamilian literature first started to appear in 300 BC. Tamil was originally written with a version of the Brahmi script known as Tamil Brahmi. By the 5th century AD, this script had become more rounded and developed into the Vaṭṭeḻuttu script, which then developed into the Chola-Pallava script in the 6th century, during the Pallava dynasty. During the next few centuries, the modern Tamil script evolved from the Chola-Pallava script.

The language used until 700 AD is what we refer to as Old Tamil today, while the language used post 1600 AD, is known as Modern Tamil.


Fun facts

Did you know that the alphabet was originally written on palm leaves? As a result, the letters are made up mainly of curved strokes so as not to rip the leaves.

Back in 2004, Tamil was declared a classical language of India, which meant that it met three criteria: its origins are ancient; it has an independent tradition; and it possesses a considerable body of ancient literature. Another interesting fact is that it is one of the very few Indian languages, known to have an equivalent for nearly every English term!


The way forward

A new wave of Indic Localisation is sweeping across the internet world in India at the moment, as governments and companies are making a painstaking effort to bridge linguistic barriers and reach out to the 90% population of India that does not communicate in English.

Interestingly, back in 2017, in a report released by Google and KPMG regarding the internet adoption levels in India – Tamil, Kannada and Telugu users were predicted to be among the most digitally engaged through 2016 and 2021. This research also said that Tamil currently has the highest internet adoption levels (42%), followed by Hindi and Kannada among the Indian language users, and that by 2021, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu users were expected to form 30% of the total Indian language internet user base.


Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna