History of the Tamil Language

Tamil is the first language of Tamil Nadu and one of the official languages of the union territories - Pondicherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is also one of the 23 nationally accepted languages in the Indian Constitution.

The Tamil language is spoken in southern India as well as north eastern part of Sri Lanka. It is one of the few languages that have gained an official status in India, Sri Lanka as well as Singapore. There are roughly about 60 million Tamil speakers in the world.

Popularly known as the administrative language of Tamil Nadu, it is also the first Indian language that earned the ‘classical language’ status by the Government of India, in the year 2004.

The literature of Tamil is the oldest amongst the Dravidian languages. The following 3 periods define the history of the Tamil language:

  • Early Tamil - period between the 6th century B.C. and 6th century A.D.
  • Mediaeval Tamil – period between the 6th and the 12th century
  • Modern Tamil – period from the twelfth century onwards

The accurate period during which the name "Tamil" was applied to the language is not known. Interestingly, the progression of early Tamil into middle Tamil witnessed a number of phonological and grammatical changes, the most important being the emergence of the present tense.

Middle Tamil also saw a considerable enhancement in the Sanskritisation of Tamil. A number of Sanskrit words entered Tamil after the Pallava dynasty era.

Modern Tamil too experienced a number of changes. However, despite several grammatical and syntactical changes between Early, Middle and Modern Tamil, Tamil continues to exhibit an excellent grammatical continuity across all stages.

The Tamil language is written in alpha syllabic script just like any other South Asian language. It is universally known to be as classical as the Sanskrit, Latin or Greek and as dynamic and contemporary as the modern Indian languages.

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