Tamil Language

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tamil Language


the language of the Tamils and the official language of the state of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India. Tamil is also spoken in northern and eastern Sri Lanka and in Malaysia and other countries of Southeast Asia. There are more than 44 million speakers of Tamil (1975, estimate).

Tamil belongs to the southern group of the Dravidian languages. The eastern, northern, and western dialects of Tamil differ from the southern dialect and from the Ceylon (Sri Lanka) dialect. Socially stratified dialects also exist, including the dialects of the Brahmans and other castes and tribes. Written Tamil includes Classical Tamil and the modern literary language. Epigraphical sources of Classical Tamil date from no later than the first century B.C, and Tamil literature dates from no later than the second century B.C. Spoken Tamil differs greatly from the written language.

Classical Tamil has a system of complementary distribution in which voiceless, voiced, and fricative phones with the same point of articulation are combined in a single phoneme; for example, the phoneme k has the allophones [k, g, x], and the phoneme (has the allophones [t, d, δ]. Nominal forms are inflected according to person, for example, nāy (“dog”) and nāyēn (“I am like a dog”). Finite forms of the verb are conjugated, for example, ānāy (“you became”) and the dative case ānāykku (“to you who became”).

Spoken Tamil has nasal vowels, many assimilative features, a simplified verbal paradigm, and compound sentences. The modern literary language tends to converge with the spoken form.


Andronov, M. S. Razgovornyi lamil’skii iazyk i ego dialekty. Moscow, 1962.
Andronov, M. S. Grammatika tamil’skogo iazyka. Moscow, 1966.
Tamil’sko-russkii slovar’. Moscow, 1960.
Russko-tamil’skii slovar’. Moscow, 1965.
Shanmugam Pillai, M. Spoken Tamil, parts 1–2. Annamalainagar, 1965–68.
Andronov, M. A Standard Grammar of Modern and Classical Tamil. Madras, 1969.
Agesthialingom, S., and S. Sakthivel. A Bibliography of Dravidian Linguistics. Annamalainagar, 1973.
Tamil Lexicon, vols. 1–6, with supplement. Madras, 1924–39.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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