Origins of Tamil:
Origins of Tamil are still left to speculation. As far as we know Tamil Language is member of the Dravidian Language Family. The name Dravidian for the language chain was coined by R.Cladwell in 1856 on the base of the Sanskrit term Dravida found in 7th century A.D.. Tamil is the oldest of the surviving Dravidian languages.
How old is Tamil? This question has resulted in many answers but none of them with any definitive proof, especially with a Language which has been dependent on Oral tradition for long time. Tamil has majorly been an oral Language. As per widely accepted theory the earliest system of Tamil writing is either called Tamil Brahmi or Dameli, is borrowed from the Ashokan Brahmi and changed to the phonetically needs of Tamil. The writing system came as late as 250BC (Ashoka period 272-232 BC). So any historical data regarding Tamil can be obtained only after the writing system got introduced.
The generally admitted fact by various scholars in historical Dravidian Linguistics is that Proto-South Dravidian linguistic unity disintegrated some time between 8th-6th century B.C. and Tamil began to be cultivated as literary language sometime about 4th or 3rd century B.C. During this period, pre literary Tamil developed into Old Tamil. Old Tamil is the first recorded stage of any Dravidian Language. This was followed by final stages of Tamil – Kannada split and beginning of ancient Tamil literature, which was accompanied by conscious efforts of grammarians and body formed by poetic bards to set up some kind of norm – a literary standard. This standard defined the refined, elegant ,high Tamil- ‘Centamil’. This was followed by creating of literature of High standard and descriptive grammar work Tolkappiyam
In the historical past Proto-Dravidian was spoken throughout India. When the Turanians and the Aryans came to India through the Khyber and the Bolan Passes respectively, and mingled with the local population of the North, the North Indian languages of Proto-Dravidian origin changed to a great extent. As a consequence Praakrit and Paali emerged as the languages of the masses in the northern part of India. Despite the commingling of local and foreign ethnic elements, a section of Proto-Dravidians maintained their ethnic and cultural identity in some isolated areas, spoke corrupt forms of Proto-Dravidian languages and these have survived, to this day, as living examples of ancient Dravidian languages. Languages such as Kolami, Parji, Naiki, Gondi, Ku, Kuvi, Konda, Malta, Oroan, Gadba, Khurukh, and Brahui are examples of Dravidian languages prevalent in the North. Today Proto-Dravidian speakers are increasingly mingling with other linguistic groups and learning their languages. Therefore, their numerical strength is on the decline. People living in the Rajmahal mountains in Bengal and in the areas adjacent to Chota Nagpur are good examples of the intermingling. A section of people living in Baluchistan speak Brahui, which has many linguistic features similar to the Dravidian languages spoken in South India. Scholars are surprised today to note many linguistic similarities between Tamil and Brahui, especially in numerals, personal pronouns, syntax and in other linguistic features. The Indian Census report of 1911 classified Brahui as a language belonging to the Dravidian family. It was then spoken by about 170, 000 people, although this number over the years dwindled to a couple of thousands. Whatever be their numerical strength now, they are proof of the fact that the Dravidians in some age of the historical past were spread in the region between Baluchistan and Bengal and spoke the Proto-Dravidian idiom.
North Indian Languages
Since the Dravidians lived throughout the Indian subcontinent at some historical past, certain syntactical affinities are noticeable even today between the South and a large number of North Indian languages.
When Praakrit and Paali became popular in the North, the Proto-Dravidian language lost its ground there, and confined itself entirely to the South. Even in South India it did not remain as one single language for a long time. Dialectical differences arose partly due to the political division of the Tamil country into three distinct Tamil kingdoms and partly due to the natural barriers created by rivers and mountains. The absence of proper land communication among the three Tamil kingdoms also accentuated this process of dialectal differences. As a result the Dravidian language spoken by the people. who lived in the regions north and south of the Tirupati mountains, varied to such an extent as to become two independent languages, Tamil and Telugu. The language spoken in the region of Mysore came to be known as Kannada. Malayalam emerged as yet another distinct language in Kerala. All these far-reaching changes occurred at different periods of time in the history of the Dravidian languages. Among these four languages, it is only the Tamil language which has a long literary tradition.
The term Dravidian, which refers to the language of South India, is of a later origin. Originally it was derived from the word tamil /tamiz> . This word in course of time changed into dravida after undergoing a series of changes like tamiza, tramiza, tramiTa, trapida and travida. At one time the languages spoken in the regions of Karnataka, Kongu and Malabar were respectively known as Karunaattut-tamil, Tulunattut-tamil and Malainattut-tamil. Today however, these regional languages are classified under the blanket term "Dravidian family of languages".
South Indian Languages
Many common linguistic features are still discernible among these Dravidian languages. Some five thousand words are common to these languages. Many grammatical forms are common. The overwhelming influence of Sanskrit scholars and the indiscriminate borrowing of Sanskrit words resulted in the emergence of Kannada and Telugu as distinct languages from Tamil some fifteen hundred years ago. The influence of Sanskrit on Malayalam language came to be felt only about eight centuries ago, and therefore, the areas of difference between Tamil and Malayalam are not many. Tamil was the language of bureaucracy, of literati and of culture for several centuries in Kerala. In fact, fifteen centuries ago the rulers of Kerala were all Tamils. Up to the tenth century the Pandya kings ruled Kerala with royal titles such as Perumaankal and Perumaankanar. It was a Tamil poet from Trivandrum who in fact presided over the academy of Tamil scholars, when they met to evaluate the famous Tamil grammatical work Tolkappiyam. From the third century 13.C. to the first century A.D., many poets from Kerala composed poems in Tamil and their compositions are included in Tamil anthologies such as Akananaru and Purananaru. All the one hundred poems in the anthology PatiRRuppattuextol the greatness of the kings of the Kerala region. The author of the famous Tamil epic Cilappatikaram was a poet from Kerala. The shrine in honor of KaNNaki, the heroine of Cilappatikaram, was built at Tiruvancikkulam in Kerala. Among the Saiva and Vaisnava composers, CEramAn PerumAl Nayanaar and KulacEkara Alvaar respectively, belong to the Kerala region. AiyanEritanaar, the author of the tenth century grammatical work PuRapporul VeNpaamaalai, hailed from Kerala. Many scholars and pundits from Kerala contributed much to the Tamil language and literature and the historical evidence shows that the region now known as the State of Kerala was once an integral part of Tamil Nadu at some period of time. Because of these reasons there is greater affinity between Tamil and Malayalam than between Tamil and Kannada or Telugu.
Contact with Foreign Countries
Tamil occupies a distinctive position among the Dravidian languages owing to its geographical expansion, for it has spread beyond the frontiers of India. Apart from being the language of forty million people in Tamil Nadu it is the spoken and written language of several millions of Tamils living in Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Fiji Islands and Mauritius.
That the Tamils were well advanced in sea-borne and inland trade is evident both from Tamil literary sources as also from the accounts of foreign travellers.* Even as early as the tenth century B.C., articles of trade such as peacock feathers, elephant tusks and spices intended for King Solomon were sent in ships belonging to the Tamil country. Some words in Hebrew, Greek and English point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the countries around the Mediterranean region. Classical Hebrew terms like tuki and ahalat are close to the Tamil words tokai and akil respectively. Although English words like sandalwood and rice are borrowed from the Greek language, their origin is in fact Tamil. Likewise the Greek words for ginger and pepper also owe their origin to Tamil. Sea-borne trade flourished between the Tamil country and the Roman Empire during the period of Emperor Augustus. This fact is borne out by numerous coins issued during his reign, which were unearthed by archaeologists in the Tamil country. Iron age finds in Philippines also point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the Philippine Islands during the ninth and tenth centuries B.C. This apart, Tamil traders frequented the shores of Burma, Malaya and China with their wares and bartered them for Chinese silk and sugar. The Tamil word ciini for sugar indicates its origin. In Tamil classical works, Chinese silk is referred to as ciinattupattu.
Foreigners who toured India gave an account of the flourishing trade between the Tamil regions of India and other countries. Periplus and Pliny mention that since articles from Tamil Nadu such as pearls, elephant tusks and muslin were bartered for gold, and that the trade balance was more in favour of the Tamils, the Emperor Vespasian viewed especially the drain of gold as a serious threat to his countrys economy and took the extreme step of terminating the two-way trade between Rome and the Tamil country. References to the ports of trade in the Tamil country such as ToNTi, MuciRi, KoRkai and Kaavirippumpattinam are also found in the writings of Periplus. Ptolemy writing in A.D. 150 speaks about Ceraas, Cholaas and Paandyas as the rulers of Tamil Nadu. He also mentions the important trading centres like Karur, NagappaTTinam and Pondicherry in his travel notes. Ali these references to the trading activities of the Tamils in foreign writings correlate to those found in the early Tamil classics.
The business acumen of the Tamils is shown in the special terms used by them to refer even to the minutest fractions in calculation. To cite some examples, the term immi referred to the fraction of 1/320 x 1/7. And one-seventh of this fraction was termed as anu. One-eleventh of an anu was known as mummi and one ninth of a mummi was termed kuNam.
The renowned Sanskrit epics the Raamayanaa and the Mahaabhaarata also speak about the Tamil country and in particular the importance of Madurai as the capital of the Paandyaa kings. Megasthenes, who came to India during the period of Chandragupta Maurya, refers to the Paandya country and its polity. The edicts of the famous Indian Emperor Asoka also mention that during his rule the Tamil kings in the far south of India enjoyed political independence.
Antiquity of Tamil Grammatical Works
Among the ancient grammatical works available, the Tolkappiyam was the earliest and it was written around the third century B.C. There are over two hundred and fifty references in Tolkaappiyam which, provide substantial evidence of the existence of many classical and grammatical works in Tamil prior to Tolkaappiyam itself. It classifies Tamil words into four categories, iyarcol, tiricol, ticaiccol, and vatacol. Iyarcol refers to the words in common use, while tiricol refers to the words used specifically in poetry. Regional words are known as ticaiccol. Words borrowed from Sanskrit are called vatacol. Certain specific rules were stipulated in borrowing words from Sanskrit. The borrowed words were to strictly conform to the Tamil phonetic system and to be written in the Tamil script. All these indicate the sound grammatical basis on which the Tamil language has evolved over the years.
Besides, Tolkaappiyam also classifies the Tamil language into centamil and kotuntamil. The former refers to the classical Tamil used exclusively by literati in their works and the latter refers to the colloquial Tamil, spoken by the people. This shows that even in those distant days differences had grown to such an extent as to enable the Tamil grammarians to classify the language into written and spoken.
The earlier Tamil inscriptions were written in braahmi, grantha and vaTTezuttu scripts.* Inscriptions after the seventh century A.D. contain Tamil characters similar to the one now in vogue. This prompted some scholars to argue that vatteluttu and Tamil scripts originated from braahmi scripts. This view has no solid base, for one can see a copious description of Tamil scripts in Tolkaappiyam, which belongs to third century B.C. It is obvious therefore, that Tamil language had a distinct script of its own even at that early period. In fact vaTTezuttu is none other than the old Tamil script. Even the southern braahmi was a corrupt form of vaTTezuttu . Distinct differences exist between the southern and the northern braahmi script, for the southern one had its genesis in vaTTezuttu . Much before brahmi scripts could become popular the Tamils possessed a script of their own which they put to use in their commercial transactions and in their writings.
Classification and Formation of Words
There are four kinds of words in Tamil. Among them the root words or uriccol which were used in ancient poems are not popular now. If we exclude them then there exist only three types of words namely nouns, verbs and itaiccol or particles. The nouns indicate animate and inanimate categories of things, gender, number and person. tiNai is classified into uyartiNai (nouns denoting personal class of beings, including men, gods and demons) and akRiNai (inferior class of beings whether animate, inanimate, or neuter). Higher categories of animate beings like human beings fall under uyortiNai. Others, both animate and inanimate come under the category of akriNai. There are three genders in uyartiNai: masculine, feminine and neuter. Palar paal or neuter plural gender indicates many in number. Masculine and feminine genders in Tamil indicate only singular number. AkRiNai is classified into onRan paal (singular of the impersonal class) and palvin pal (plural of the impersonal class).
Again, number is classified into one and many. Unlike Sanskrit there is no dual number in Tamil. There are three persons in Tamil, namely, first person, second person and third person. Case inflexions are many in Tamil and their indicators form as suffixes in words.
Distinction between animate and inanimate things, and masculine and feminine genders are usually made according to the meaning of words.
Verbs are classified into finite and infinite verbs. Most of the finite verbs are formed with suffixes which indicates this animate or inanimate quality, as also gender. The gender is not distinguished both in abstract nouns and in relative participles. Both verbs and nouns are formed from verbal roots. But very few verbs are formed from noun roots.
Particles have no meaning of their own but acquire meaning when added to other words and help to differentiate their meanings too. Even meaningless words are regarded as particles.
Most of the words in Tamil are agglutinative in character, i.e. case indicators, time and gender markers are affixed to root words. As a result, the formation of words become clear. Even the words in the classical literature are agglutinative in character. There is no distinction between the roots that were. used in ancient classics and those which are now in vogue. The root word which was used to mean food in ancient classics was una. The one used in medieval period was either uN or uNTi. Whereas the modern word for food is uNavu. In all these words whether ancient, mediaeval or modern, the root word un is clear. Only the suffixes differ. Therefore, the Tamil of ancient poetry too begins to seem familiar after a while if one reads the ancient classical poetry for a time. This is the reason why the Tamils of this century find little difficulty in understanding the Cankam classics. It also accounts for the continuity that exists in Tamil literary growth. One finds it used in the poems of the hymnodists and Kampan, composed in the seventh century and the twelfth century respectively.
There is little difference in syntax between ancient and modern Tamil. Although over a period of time word forms have changed the formation of syntax remains intact in all the Dravidian languages. In this respect there exist similarity between the languages of the South and the North, though they fall under a different category known as Indo-European languages. The fact that syntax changes very little, while other aspects of a language do, is brought out in the similarity one finds in the formation of syntax between the Dravidian languages of the South and the languages of the North of India. This explains why syntactical differences exist between the languages of North India on the one hand and Sanskrit, Greek and Latin on the other; and why there exists similarity between north and south Indian languages. This unity in syntactical formation becomes obvious if one analyses all the four major Dravidian languages of South India. If one analyses the continuos growth of Tamil language the perceivable truth is that there is little change in the formation of syntax both in the classical Tamil and the Tamil used in modern short stories.
Among the spoken languages of India, Tamil achieved perfection even during the pre-historic period. Literary growth in Tamil took place at the same time when there was similar growth in Sanskrit. Literary works came to be written only at a later period in all other Indian languages. Therefore there was considerable antiquity for Tamil language and literature. Besides, the ancient classical Tamil literature originated and blossomed from the folk song and poetry of the Tamil country. The forms of such poetry were also not borrowed from any other language, but were culled from the folk poetry and songs that was in vogue among the people of Tamil Nadu. The existence of such combination of antiquity and individuality in Tamil literature, was forgotten by later day Sanskrit scholars. As such they not merely denied the greatness due to the Tamil language but began to look upon it on the assumption that it borrowed immensely from Sanskrit from its very inception. Therefore, Sanskritists indulged in unwanted polemics by arguing that Tamil had no intrinsic merit of its own because it borrowed heavily from Sanskrit. To establish this assumption, Caminata Desikar, a Sanskrit scholar and author of a grammatical work entitled ilakkaNakkottu compared the alphabets of Sanskrit and Tamil and found that all, expect five alphabets, the two short vowels e (±) and o (´) and three consonants Ra, na and za (È, É, Æ ) are common to both the languages. Therefore he argued that all the characters common to the two languages essentially belonged to Sanskrit and the five rare symbols which are absent in Sanskrit belonged specifically to Tamil. Based on his findings he wrote an unusual verse in which he posed insolently a question whether Tamil with only five letters of its own could ever be called a language.
Two Different Types of Tamil Style
Though the efforts to Sanskritise Tamil no longer exist, the repercussions of those earlier efforts are still felt in society. One effect, of course, was the virulent opposition to the use of Sanskrit words in Tamil, and this opposition has not subsided even today. At a time when all merit and greatness were attributed to Sanskrit alone, Tamil scholars like cUriyanarayana Sastriar and CuvAmi Vetaacalam preferred to use only the Tamil equivalents of their Sanskrit names, Paritimarkalainjar and MaRaimalaiyaTikal respectively. Despite their stance, their earlier Tamil prose works contained many words of Sanskrit origin. When the Sanskritists claimed that Tamil could not exist without Sanskrit, the two Tamil scholars addressed themselves to the task of writing Tamil without borrowing from Sanskrit. Curiyanarayana Sastriyar, the pioneer of this style of writing died at a very young age. His contemporary, MaTaimalaiyaTikal lived longer and crystallized this attitude into a movement in 1916. Since then the movement has been popularly known as the Tanit-Tamil lyakkam or the Pure Tamil Movement among the Tamil scholars. Its impact still persists among the Tamils. Those who have interest in m ai n tai n ing the purity of Tamil language even now prefer to substitute a Tamil equivalent for Sanskrit names given by their parents. With vengeance they totally reject borrowines from Sanskrit. Instead they prefer to borrow from English. The Tamil scholars consider it their duty to write in chaste Tamil free from Sanskrit and have been writing like this since the inception of the Pure Tamil Movement. The virulence of the movement was due to the past pride of the Sanskritists in their knowledge of Sanskrit language. The blunders committed by them have given rise to two different views as well as controversies in the use of Tamil. One group preferred to use as far as possible a pure Tamil without the admixture of Sanskrit words; others preferred to write in a hybrid language. Even now many writers to daily newspapers, weeklies and monthlies write in a hybrid language. Therefore the Tamil scholars denounce their writing as faulty. The writings of the Tamil scholars are criticised as too difficult to read, lifeless and artificial. Thus the effect of the old controversy still exists, although in a different form.
In the historic past, Sanskrit played the role of a communication language among the scholars, who lived in different parts of the Indian sub-continent. Therefore it was learnt avidly by scholars at Kanchipuram as well as at Banaras. The sum-total of human knowledge available from Kaveri to the Gangetic plains was written in the Sanskrit language. Ideas relating to literature, religion and theories of art were found elaborately set forth in Sanskrit. Many forget that quite a lot of authors of these Sanskrit works were scholars from South India. For example Dandin the author of the Kavyadarga in Sanskrit, was a scholar from Kanchipuram in the Tamil country. Sankara the exponent of Advaita philosophy, was again a South Indian. He mentioned in his works Saint Njanacampantar, the crusader against Jainism in South India. Raamanujar, the originator of Visishtaadvaita philosophy was a Tamillian and he lived every close to Kanchipuram. Scholars who analysed the life-style and arts of the people of the Tamil country, wrote many works on the Bharata Naatyasastra, the Carnatic music and on astrology. Therefore, if one considers these facts dispassionately, it was unrealistic on the part of later day Sanskrit scholars to denigrate Tamil language and literature. It is equally true in the case of Tamil scholars to think that theories and ideas found in Sanskrit were alien to Tamil.
The Tamil scholars took the cue from the old commentators for writing prose. The commentators including Parimelazakar and others, who were known for their scholarship in Sanskrit, wrote in pure Tamil with the least borrowing from Sanskrit. Their style of writing was similar to the one now in vogue, for the present-day Tamil scholars adopted only their style.
The journalists style has been based on the spoken language of the Tarnils. In spoken language, foreign loan words are mixed freely and syntax corresponds to emotional situations. Poet Paaratiyaar composed pooms largely in pure Tamil. He followed the same method while writing essays too.
Tiru. Vi. Kaliyanacuntaraar moved very closely with Tamil scholars and journalists. He was himself a distinguished scholar and a seasoned journalist. He wrore many literary works and also edited a number of daily newspapers and weeklies. He was a link between the Tamil schoiars and the journalist of his day. His earlier writings abound in Sanskrit words. With the advent of the Pure Tamil Movement, he began to write without the admixture of Sanskrit words. He used foreign words only when there were no suitable Tamil words to express a particular idea. He gave up long and stilted sentences and largely used emotionally charged short sentences common to spokon language. Thus his writings and speeches, tried to bridge the chasm that existed between the scholars and journalists. Even now two different types of styles exist: one adoptod by the scholars and the other followed by the journalists.