To commemorate our final issue of BeLingual, we will be celebrating a south-Indian language from the very heart of the flourishing Dravidian civilisation dating 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, 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 its 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 also spoken in Malaysia, Mauritius and many other countries, in addition to a significant numbers of speakers in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Interestingly, Tamil is used as a language of education in Malaysia and Singapore. In the early 21st century, over 66 million people were recorded to be native Tamil speakers.
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.
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. This is a very interesting fact indeed.
The way forward
As a new wave of Indic Localisation is sweeping across the internet world in India at this moment, governments and companies alike 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.
On a parting note, let’s strive to not only learn more about the various cultures around us, but also ensure that no linguistic minorities are in a position where they cannot consume web content in their own mother tongues. Let’s contribute to a new-age India.