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Tamil (தமிழ்)

Spoken in

India , Sri Lanka , Malaysia , Singapore
speaker 85.2 million
Official status
Official language in IndiaIndia India

Sri LankaSri Lanka Sri Lanka Singapore

Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Tamil ( தமிழ் tamiḻ [ ˈt̪amɨɻ ], also Tamil ) is a language from the Dravidian language family . It is spoken as a mother tongue by 85.2 million members of the Tamil people , especially in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka . Tamil has been less influenced by Sanskrit than the other Dravidian literary languages. With an independent literary history of over 2000 years, Tamil has the longest continuous tradition of all modern Indian languages and is recognized as a classical language in India . In modern Tamil there is a situation of diglossia , that is, the written language based on classical Tamil is very different from the colloquial language.

Distribution and number of speakers

Spread of Tamil within South Asia

Tamil is spoken in southern India , Sri Lanka and the worldwide diaspora. The distribution area of ​​Tamil within India largely coincides with the state of Tamil Nadu , whose borders were drawn in 1956 along the language border of Tamil. The Tamil settlement area in Sri Lanka covers the north and east of the island. Due to the settlement of Indian Tamils ​​as tea pickers in the 19th century during the British colonial period, Tamil is now also widespread in the central mountainous region of Sri Lanka. Also during the colonial period, a Tamil diaspora emerged in Southeast Asia ( Malaysia and Singapore ), Réunion , Mauritius and South Africa . Since the 20th century, many Tamil speakers have emigrated to North America and Europe (as a result of the civil war in Sri Lanka ).

There are at least 76 million native speakers of Tamil worldwide. The vast majority of them live in India, where around 69 million Tamil speakers were counted in the 2011 census. 64 million of them live in the state of Tamil Nadu, where Tamil speakers make up the large majority of the population. There are also larger Tamil-speaking minorities in the neighboring states of Karnataka , Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, as well as in Maharashtra . According to the 2012 census, a total of 5 million members of Tamil-speaking ethnic groups ( Sri Lankan Tamils , Tamils ​​of Indian origin and Moors ) live in Sri Lanka . Together they make up a quarter of the population of Sri Lanka. In the northern and eastern provinces as well as in parts of the central province , Tamil speakers make up the majority of the population. Larger groups of Tamil speakers in the diaspora can be found in Malaysia (an estimated 1.6 million), Singapore (110,000), the United States (190,000), Canada (130,000) and the United Kingdom (100,000 in England and Wales alone ).

Tamil is the official language in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry . At the supraregional level, it is recognized as one of 22 constitutional languages ​​in India . Tamil is also the official language in Sri Lanka (along with Sinhala ) and Singapore (along with Malay , Chinese and English ).


Tamil belongs to the family of the Dravidian languages . With around 240 million speakers, these form the second large language family in South Asia alongside the Indo-Aryan languages . Other important Dravidian languages ​​are Telugu , Malayalam and Kannada , all of which are also spoken in southern India. Within the Dravidian language family, Tamil belongs to the South Dravidian branch. Its closest relative is Malayalam, which only emerged as an independent language between 800 and 1000 AD. Also closely related to Tamil are Irula , Toda and Kota , all small tribal languages spoken by the Adivasi people in the Nilgiri Mountains . After Telugu, Tamil is the Dravidian language with the second largest number of speakers, but due to its rich literary history it can be regarded as the most important representative of this language family.

Tamil as a Dravidian language is not related to the Indo-Aryan languages ​​of northern India. While the other Dravidian literary languages, especially in terms of vocabulary and phonology, have been strongly influenced by Indo-Aryan Sanskrit , the classic language of Hinduism , Tamil is less influenced by Indo-Aryan.

Language history

The oldest Tamil texts are handed down as palm leaf manuscripts . Here is a page from a manuscript of the Sangam work Purananuru .

Tamil has a language history of over two thousand years, which is divided into three periods: Ancient Tamil (300 BC - 700 AD), Middle Tamil (700–1600) and modern Tamil (since 1600).

The prehistory of Tamil is largely in the dark, as it is unclear whether the Dravidian languages ​​in India are autochthonous , or whether they reached the subcontinent from outside in prehistoric times. The idea popular among Tamil nationalists that the Tamils ​​came from the sunken continent of Kumarikkandam , on the other hand, must be regarded as purely legendary. The etymology of the name "Tamil" is also unclear. Suggestions include derivations from taku "suitable, appropriate", from tāmarai "lotus" and from * tam-miḻ "own language".

The historical phase of Tamil begins with the oldest known language testimonies, stone inscriptions from 254 BC. BC, which are written in a special form of the Brahmi script. The oldest known work in Tamil literature , the Tolkappiyam grammar work , is usually dated around 100 or 200 BC. Dated. The Tolkappiyam , like the love and hero poems of the Sangam literature that originated in the first centuries AD, is written in Old Tamil. This form of language is characterized by the frequent lack of endings and is not easily understandable for today's Tamils.

Even in the oldest language classes of Tamil, loanwords from Sanskrit and the Central Indian Prakrit languages can be found, even if only in isolated cases . From the 7th century, the influence of Sanskrit increased noticeably in the course of the progressive cultural influence of the Tamil areas by the Aryan culture of northern India and reached its peak around the year 1000. More and more Sanskrit words found their way into Tamil. In religious literature in particular, a regular mixed language of Sanskrit and Tamil (called மணிப்பிரவாளம் maṇippiravāḷam ) became popular between the 14th and 16th centuries . The influence of Sanskrit was never as strong in Tamil as in the other Dravidian literary languages. Unlike these, Tamil did not adopt the voiced and aspirated sounds of Sanskrit into its sound system, but adapted the loanwords largely to Tamil phonology . The Sanskritized Tamil also did not automatically enjoy a higher prestige, but only remained a style that existed alongside the "pure" Tamil.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Tamil nationalist " Dravidian Movement " emerged in Tamil Nadu under the leadership of EV Ramasami , which advocated an independent Dravid state and against the social dominance of the Brahmin caste . At the same time, speculation about a possible Dravidian origin of the recently discovered Indus culture and the rediscovery of a large number of forgotten works of Sangam literature raised the cultural and linguistic self-confidence of the Tamils. It was in this climate that the linguistic puristic Tanittamil-Iyakkam („Rein,“ Pure Tamil Movement ”) came into being, which sought to“ cleanse ”Tamil of Sanskrit influences. Under their influence, much of the Sanskrit loanwords were replaced by Tamil words. Tamil language nationalism was also directed against the growing influence of the North Indian language Hindi after Indian independence . When the Indian central government tried to introduce Hindi as the sole national language in 1965, protests at times violent in Tamil Nadu, including the self-immolation of an activist of the DMK party.

In 2004, the Indian government officially granted Tamil Classical Language status. In addition to Tamil, Sanskrit , Kannada , Malayalam , Odia and Telugu have also received this status.

Forms of speech

Spoken Tamil written language (Wikitongues project)

In today's Tamil there is a pronounced diglossia situation , that is, the colloquial and written language differ greatly from one another. The two varieties are used in a complementary distribution depending on the situation. The more prestigious written language (செந்தமிழ் centamiḻ ) is used for written texts, radio broadcasts and formal occasions (speeches, lectures, etc.), while the colloquial language (கொடுந்தமிழ் koṭuntamiḻ ) is the language of ordinary everyday conversation . In addition, colloquial language is also used to a limited extent in the written domain, for example for dialogue passages in modern prose literature . Diglossia is typical of the South Asian languages, but is most pronounced in Tamil.

Colloquial language differs from written language in terms of phonology , morphology and vocabulary. In general, the colloquial language is characterized by stronger phonetic blurring. So the farewell formula போய்விட்டு வாருங்கள் pōyviṭṭu vāruṅkaḷ (literally: “go and come back”) in colloquial language becomes zu வாங்க pōyṭṭu vāṅka . In addition, the colloquial language sometimes uses different suffixes (e.g. -kiṭṭa instead of -iṭam for the locative for people) and differs in the area of ​​vocabulary mainly through the larger number of English loanwords. The language form described in this article is the modern written language.

The colloquial language is in turn divided into numerous dialects . The main differences here are between the dialects of Sri Lanka and those on the Indian mainland. They are particularly conservative and have retained some features of Old Tamil that have been lost in the modern written language (e.g. the three-fold gradation of deixis : இவன் ivaṉ "this (here)", உவன் uvaṉ "this (there)") and அவன் avaṉ “that”). In parallel to the geographical dialects, there are caste dialects or sociolects . The main distinction is between the dialects of Brahmins and non-Brahmans. Not least because of the influence of Tamil film production , a kind of supra-regional standard colloquial language has developed, which is based on the language used by the educated non-Brahmin population.



Tamil has the following 16 or 18 consonantic phonemes (the corresponding letter of the Tamil script , the transliteration and the phonetic value in the IPA phonetic transcription are given ):

labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Plosives ப் p / p / த் t / / ட் / ʈ / ச் c / ʧ / க் k / k /
Nasals ம் m / m / ந் n / / (ன் / n /) *) ண் / ɳ / ஞ் ñ / ɲ / (ங் / ŋ /) **)
Vibrants ற் / r /
Flaps ர் r / ɾ̪ /
Lateral ல் l / / ள் / ɭ /
Approximants வ் v / ʋ / ழ் / ɻ / ய் y / j /

*) The alveolar nasal / n / occurs in a complementary distribution to the dental nasal / n̪ / (between vowels and at the end of a word) and can therefore not be considered a fully-fledged phoneme.
**) The velar nasal / ŋ / occurs almost only before the corresponding plosive / k / and can therefore be interpreted as an allophone of / n /. (Exception: இங்ஙானம் iṅṅaṉam [ ˈiŋːənʌm ] "in this way").

As is typical for the languages ​​of South Asia, Tamil distinguishes between dental (spoken with the tongue against the teeth) and retroflex ( spoken with the tongue bent back) consonants (cf. பத்து pattu [ ˈpat̪ːɯ ] "ten" and பட்டு paṭṭu [ ˈpaʈːɯ ] " Silk"). A sound characteristic of Tamil is the ழ் , which is described partly as a retroflexer approximant / ɻ /, partly as a retroflexer fricative / ʐ /. All consonants except / ɾ / and / ɻ / can appear doubled (cf. புளி puḷi [ ˈpuɭi ] "tamarind" and புள்ளி puḷḷi [ ˈpuɭːi ] "point").

Since voicelessness and voicing are not distinctive in real Tamil words , and since Tamil, unlike most other Indian languages, has no aspirated consonants, the number of consonant phonemes in Tamil is relatively small. For this, the plosives ( plosives ) have a large number of allophones , i. H. they are pronounced differently depending on their position in the word (see pronunciation of Tamil ). In general, the plosives at the beginning of the word and when doubled are voiced, voiced after the nasal and between vowels (cf. பட்டம் paṭṭam [ ˈpaʈːʌm ] "title" and படம் paṭam [ ˈpaɖʌm ] "image"). Between vowels they also tend to be spoken as fricatives (cf. மக்கள் makkaḷ [ ˈmakːəɭ ] "people" and மகள் makaḷ [ ˈmaxəɭ ] "daughter").

In loanwords, voiced plosives can also appear at the beginning of a word (e.g. பஸ் pas [ bas ] "bus", from English bus ). In addition to the native core inventory of consonant phonemes in loan words, the phonemes / f /, / ɦ /, / ʤ /, / s / and / ʂ / occur.

Retroflexes and alveolar consonants as well as liquids cannot appear at the beginning of a word in real Tamil words, at the end of the word there are only / m /, / n /, / ɳ /, / ɾ /, / l /, / ɭ /, / ɻ / and / j / permitted. Consonant clusters occur in real Tamil words only to a limited extent within the word. H. a word cannot begin or end with two consonants. Are not affected by these rules onomatopoeic words (eg. As ணங் Nan [ ɳaŋ ] "sound of a coin") and loanwords (z. B. டிக்கட் ṭikkaṭ [ ʈikːəʈ ] "ticket, ticket" from the English. Ticket ).


The vowel length has a different meaning in Tamil (cf. eri [ ˈjeɾi ] "burn" and ēri [ ˈjeːɾi ] "see"). The five simple vowels a , i , u , e and o appear as short and long variants:

front central back
short long short long short long
closed i / i / ī / / u / u / ū / /
center e / e / ē / / o / ɔ / ō / /
open a / a / ā / /

In addition, the two diphthongsai / a / and ஔ au / a / are counted as phonemes, so that Tamil has a total of 12 vowel phonemes. The exact pronunciation of the vowels depends in part on their position in the word and the sounds around them. In particular, the short u at the end of the word is pronounced unrounded and excessively short as [ ɯ ].

The word accent in Tamil is always on the first syllable, but it is only weakly pronounced.


When parts of a word or words in a sentence come together, phonological processes occur that are called sandhi . If a suffix beginning with a vowel is added to a vowel-like word, a [ɯ] can be dropped at the end of the word (e.g. கதவு katavu + -ஐ -ai > கதவை katavai "the door (accusative)"), in other cases a sliding sound is inserted (தம்பி tampi + -ஐ -ai > தம்பியை tampiyai "the younger brother"). When two consonants meet, certain sound changes can occur, e.g. For example, the final [l] in the word பல் pal “tooth” before the plural suffix -கள் -kaḷ changes into a [r]: பற்கள் paṟkaḷ . In earlier language levels, when two words came together in a sentence (so-called external sandhi), sound changes could occur across the word boundaries (e.g. பணம் paṇam + கொடுங்கள் koṭuṅkaḷ > பணங்கொடுங்கள் paṇaṅkoṭuṅkaḷ “give you money”). In modern Tamil, the external sandhi is essentially limited to the fact that after certain words or endings an initial plosive of the following word is doubled and added to the first word, e.g. B. இந்த inta + புத்தகம் puttakam > இந்தப் புத்தகம் intap puttakam "this book".

Writing and pronunciation


Sign of the Tamil script






























Grantha sign




Main article: Tamil script

Like many Indian languages, Tamil has its own script, the Tamil script . As with all scripts in the Indian group of scripts , it is an intermediate form of alphabet and syllabary, a so-called Abugida . The basic element of the script is a consonant sign with the inherent vowel a (e.g. க ka , ம ma ). If the consonant is followed by another vowel, this is expressed using a diacritical mark (e.g. கா , மா ). This so-called secondary vowel sign is dependent and forms a fixed unit with the consonant sign. Only at the beginning of a word are vowels represented by independent characters (e.g. அ a , ஆ ā ). A consonant that is not followed by a vowel is indicated by a dot above it as a dropped vowel mark (e.g. க் k ).

The Tamil script differs from the other Indian scripts in two ways: Due to the phonology of Tamil, in which voicing and aspiration are not meaningful, it has a much smaller number of characters. In addition, the Tamil script consistently uses the dropped vowel mark to represent consonant connections, while the other Indian scripts use ligatures for this purpose .

The Tamil script has twelve independent vowel characters and 18 consonant characters. There is also the special consonant sign āytam (ஃ, ), which comes from Old Tamil, as well as the so-called Grantha signs, which only appear in loan words from Sanskrit or English. By combining the 18 consonants with the 12 dependent vowel signs, 216 consonant-vowel connecting signs can be formed. In total, this results in 247 letters (without the Grantha symbols, which are usually not counted).


Main article: Pronunciation of Tamil

The pronunciation of the individual characters can depend on their position in the word. In general, the plosives ( plosives ) at the beginning of the word and when doubled are voiced , but voiced between vowels and after nasals , since the voiceless and voiced sounds in Tamil are allophones . For example, the letter ப் p can have the sound value [ p ] as in பெண் peṇ [ pɘɳ ] "girl" or [ b ] as in தம்பி tampi [ ˈt̪ambi ] "younger brother". Thus, the Tamil script is well adapted to the Tamil phonology ( see above ), but is only poorly suited for the writing of loan words from English or Sanskrit, because the occurrence of voiceless and voiced sounds in these is not positional. Contrary to the rule mentioned , the English loan word gesprochen pas "bus" is spoken with a voiced initial [ bas ].


Bilingual place-name sign for the city of Chinnasalem (Tamil: சின்னசேலம் Ciṉṉacēlam ) in Tamil Nadu

For the scientific transcription of Tamil, the transliteration developed for the Tamil Lexicon (1924–1939) according to ISO 15919 is the standard. This transcription is also used in this article. It is similar to the IAST transcription developed for Sanskrit , but has special transcription characters for the Tamil letters. The transcription of the letter ழ், which can be rendered as , or r ̤ , is not handled uniformly . Since the transliteration is based on the Tamil script, a knowledge of the Tamil phonology is necessary in order to be able to deduce the exact pronunciation from the transcription.

In the non-scientific area, e.g. There is no uniform convention, for example, when writing Tamil place names or personal names in Latin script. For one and the same word, several different spellings in Latin script can be common. The spelling depends on the pronunciation and is more or less based on the English spelling (e.g. ee and oo for ī and ū ). It is characteristic that the dental t is usually circumscribed with th (e.g. Thanjavur for தஞ்சாவூர் Tañcāvūr ).


Parts of speech and word formation

There is no consensus in the specialist literature on the number of parts of speech in Tamil. The main parts of speech are nouns (words that can be declined ), verbs (words that can be conjugated ) and indeclinables (words that cannot be inflected ). The latter can be further divided into adjectives , adverbs , postpositions , clitics, etc. according to their function .

The possibilities for derivation (derivation) of words are not particularly pronounced in Tamil. Nouns can be derived from verbs using certain suffixes (e.g. சிரி ciri "to laugh", சிரிப்பு cirippu "(the) laugh"). The reverse is not possible, however, so the verbs form a closed, non-productive class. Both nouns and verbs can be put together to form compounds .


The morphology (theory of forms) of Tamil is highly agglutinative . Tamil uses suffixes (suffixes) to express the relationships between words. In contrast to inflected languages ​​such as German or Latin, these suffixes are clear with a few exceptions, i.e. H. a suffix expresses exactly one function, and a function is always expressed by the same suffix. For example, the form வாத்தியர்களுக்கு vāttiyarkaḷukku “the teachers” is formed by combining the plural suffix -kaḷ and the dative suffix -ukku , while in the Latin forms magistro “the teacher” and magistris “the teachers” the endings -o and - is to express case and number at the same time .

Many facts that are analytical in German , i.e. H. Tamil expresses it synthetically through suffixes. By combining several suffixes, words can be formed, some of which are considerable in length and rich in information. The form செய்யாதவர்களிடமிருந்தும் ceyyātavarkaḷiṭamiruntum can be derived from the verb செய் cey "to do" , which means "also by those who do not" and can be resolved as follows:

cey.y -āt (u) -a -v.ar -kaḷ -iṭam -irunt (u) - around
"do" negation participle Nominalization Plural locative ablative Inclusive marker


The word class of nouns also includes pronouns , quantity terms such as எல்லாம் ellām “everything” and numerals , but not adjectives, as these are indeclinable in Tamil. Articles like in German do not exist in Tamil, but the German indefinite article “ein” often corresponds to the numerical word ஒரு oru , instead of the definite article “der / die / das” the demonstrative pronouns அந்த anta “those” or இந்த inta “are used. this “is used.

The gender (grammatical gender) of the words in Tamil corresponds to their natural gender ( sex ). The nouns are divided into two main classes: The "high class" (உயர்திணை uyartiṇai ), which denotes beings gifted with reason (people, gods), and the "low class" ( அஃறிணை aḵṟiṇai ) or the neuter for beings who are not gifted with reason (children, animals, Things). The high class is further subdivided into masculine (male), feminine (female) and common-sex forms ( epicönum ), which can be used to describe masculine as feminine and at the same time always express politeness . In certain contexts, the liveliness of a noun also plays a role.

The gender of a noun is not always evident from its form, but some nouns have one of the enjoyment suffixes -aṉ (masculine, e.g. மாணவன் māṇavaṉ "student"), -i (feminine, e.g. மாணவி māṇavi "student") or -ar (Epiconum, e.g. மாணவர் māṇavar "student"). Neutra often end in -am .


Tamil knows the following eight cases :

  • The nominative has no ending and is the basic form of a noun.
  • The accusative (ending -ai ) expresses the specific direct object (நீ இந்தப் புத்தகத்தைப் படி nī intap puttakattaip paṭi “read this book”). Indefinite direct objects, on the other hand, appear in the nominative if they do not belong to the high class (நீ ஒரு புத்தகம் படி nī oru puttakam paṭi “read a book”).
  • The dative (ending mostly - (u) kku ) expresses the indirect object (எனக்குப் பணம் கொடுங்கள் enakkup paṇam koṭuṅkaḷ “give me money”) or the goal of a movement (அவன் ஊருக்குப் போனான் avaṉ ūrukkup pōṉāṉ “he went into town”) .
  • The sociative (endings -ōṭu or -uṭan ) denotes an accompaniment and answers the question "(together) with whom?" (அவன் தன் மனைவியோடு வந்தான் avaṉ taṉ maṉaiviyōṭu vantāṉ “he came with his wife”).
  • The genitive (ending -uṭaiya or -atu , usually with a binding suffix -iṉ- ) expresses ownership (அப்பாவினுடைய வேலை appāviṉuṭaiya vēlai "father's work"). The same meaning can also be expressed by the mere oblique form, usually extended by the suffix -iṉ (அப்பாவின் வேலை appāviṉ vēlai "father's work"). The genitive attribute always appears before its reference word.
  • The instrumental (ending -āl ) expresses a means or a reason and answers the question “by what” or “by what means” (நான் சாவியால் கதவைத் திறந்தேன் nāṉ cāviyāl katavait tiṟantēṉ “I opened the door with the key”).
  • The locative uses different suffixes for animate and inanimate nouns, which also differ in their meaning. In inanimate nouns, the suffix -il expresses a location and answers the question "where" (நகரத்தில் nakarattil "in the city"). In animate nouns, the ending -iṭam expresses the indirect object (என்னிடம் பணம் கொடுங்கள் enniṭam paṇam koṭuṅkaḷ “give me money”) or the goal of a movement (குழந்தை அம்மாவிடம் நடந்தது kuḻantai ammāviṭam naṭantatu “the child ran to the mother”), similar to the dative case. . In contrast to the dative, the locative of the indirect object does not express permanent possession.
  • The ablative (locative + -iruntu ) denotes the starting point of a movement and thus answers the question “where from” (அவன் மரத்திலிருந்து விழுந்தான் avaṉ marattiliruntu viḻuntāṉ “he fell from the tree”).

While the nominative is the basic form without an ending, the other cases are formed by adding an ending to a special form, the so-called obliquus . The obliquus can also appear without a subsequent case suffix and then has genitive meaning. Most nouns have the same nominative and oblique form. The numerically large group of words ending in -am replaces this ending in the obliquus with -attu (மரம் maram - மரத்து marattu "tree"). Words on -ṭu and -ṟu double the final consonant in the obliquus (வீடு vīṭu - வீட்டு vīṭṭu "house"). Personal pronouns and a few other words have special forms for the obliquus (நான் nāṉ - என் eṉ "I"). In addition, the obliquus can be marked with the so-called euphonic suffix -iṉ .

In addition to the eight cases mentioned, there is also the vocative (ending mostly ), which functions as a form of address (மகனே makaṉē "o son!"). However, because it is not formed on the basis of the obliquus and has no real syntactic function, it is not always counted as a fully-fledged case. More precise relationships between words can be expressed by postpositions that rule the dative or accusative or are added directly to the obliquus (e.g. வீட்டுக்கு முன்னால் vīṭṭukku muṉṉāl “in front of the house”, மேசையின் மேல் mecaiyiṉ mēl “on the table”).

The description of the case system of Tamil is based on the model of Sanskrit grammar. Older grammars even adopt the division into the eight cases of Sanskrit (nominative, accusative, instrumental, dative, ablative, genitive, locative, vocative). More recent descriptions usually evaluate the sociative, which is seen as a variant of the instrumental in older grammars, as a separate case. However, there are still some inconsistencies, as can be seen from the case of the locative, which combines different suffixes with different meanings. It is also difficult to draw a clear line between case suffixes and post positions . Thus, the ablative, although it is composed of a case suffix and a bound post position (locative + -iruntu ), is counted as an independent case, the similarly positioned benefit (dative + -āka ) with the meaning "for", "for ... sake" but not. A rigid case system based on the model of the Indo-European languages is therefore not very suitable for describing Tamil grammar.

Tamil knows two numbers , the singular and the plural . The plural is formed by adding the plural suffix -கள் -kaḷ or (depending on the end of the noun) -க்கள் -kkaḷ . Nouns in -an replace before the plural suffix this ending with -ar (மனிதன் maṉitaṉ "man," மனிதர்கள் maṉitarkaḷ "Men"), on all neuters in -at the auslautende converts -m into a -N (படம் Patam "image" படங்கள் paṭaṅkaḷ "pictures"). The case suffixes are the same in the plural as in the singular and are appended to the plural suffix.

Some grammars divide nouns into four declension classes (masculine on -aṉ , neuter on -am , neuter on -ṭu and -ṟu , all other nouns) according to the phonetic changes that occur in the formation of the obliquus and the plural . Since the changes are predictable based on the phonetic structure of the word and the case suffixes are identical in all declension classes, there is basically only one paradigm . The declination of the word மரம் maram "tree" is given as an example :

case Singular Plural
Nominative மரம் maram மரங்கள் maraṅkaḷ
Obliquus மரத்து marattu -
accusative மரத்தை marattai மரங்களை maraṅkaḷai
dative மரத்திற்கு marattukku மரங்களுக்கு maraṅkaḷukku
Sociative மரத்தோடு marattōṭu மரங்களோடு maraṅkaḷōṭu
Genitive மரத்துடைய marattuṭaiya மரங்களுடைய maraṅkaḷuṭaiya
Instrumental மரத்தால் marattāl மரங்களால் maraṅkaḷāl
locative மரத்தில் marattile மரங்களில் maraṅkaḷil
ablative மரத்திலிருந்து marattiliruntu மரங்களிலிருந்து maraṅkaḷiliruntu

In the personal pronouns , Tamil distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive we in the 1st person plural : The inclusive pronoun nām includes the person addressed (e.g. நாம் சினிமாவுக்குப் போவோம் nām ciṉimāvukkup pōvōm "we go to the cinema", ie you come with us) , while the exclusive pronoun nāṅkaḷ is used when the addressee is excluded (e.g. நாங்கள் சினிமாவுக்குப் போவோம் nāṅkaḷ ciṉimāvukkup pōvōm “we're going to the cinema”, i.e. you will stay at home). In the 3rd person, the demonstrative pronouns also serve as personal pronouns. The forms with i- express a near deixis ( ivaṉ “this, he here”), the forms with a- a distant deixis ( avaṉ “that, he there”). The pronouns of the third person occur in all three genera (masculine, feminine, neuter) as well as the double-gender form (epicönum). There are only two forms in the 3rd person plural, epiconum and neuter. The pronoun of the 2nd person plural nīṅkaḷ "ihr" can be used as a polite address like the German "Sie" . In the 3rd person, the common gender forms always express politeness, whereby the plural form can also be used singularly.

person Tamil German
1. Sg. நான் nāṉ I
2nd Sg. நீ you
3rd Sg. M. இவன் / அவன் ivaṉ / avaṉ he, this / that
3rd Sg. F. இவள் / அவள் ivaḷ / avaḷ them, this / that
3rd Sg. இது / அது itu / atu it, this / that
3rd Sg. M./f. இவர் / அவர் ivar / avar he / she, this (r) / that (r)
1st pl. நாங்கள் nāṅkaḷ we (exclusive)
நாம் nām we (inclusive)
2nd pl. நீங்கள் nīṅkaḷ Ye
3rd pl. M./f. இவர்கள் / அவர்கள் ivarkaḷ / avarkaḷ them, this / that
3rd pl. N. இவைகள் / அவைகள் ivaikaḷ / avaikaḷ them, this / that

The interrogative pronouns (question words) include யார் yār “who”, என்ண eṉṉa “what”, எங்கே eṅkē “where”, ஏன் ēṉ “why”, எப்படி eppaṭi “how” etc. These can be broken down by adding the marker -um in everything- including pronouns (யாரும் yārum “everyone”) and by adding the markers -āvatu or to indefinite pronouns (யாராவது yārāvatu or யாரோ yārō “someone”).


In the number words , the numbers from 1 to 8 as well as the tens, hundreds, etc. each have their own number names . The remaining numbers are made up of these basic numbers. The tens from 20 to 80, the hundreds from 200 to 800 and all thousands are formed as multiples of 10, 100 or 1000 (e.g. 60 அறுபது aṟu-patu ). The numbers 9, 90 and 900, on the other hand, are derived from the next higher number unit by adding the element oṉ or toḷ in front of it: Compare 9 ஒன்பது oṉ-patu with 10 பத்து pattu and 900 தொள்ளாயிரம் toḷḷ-āyiram with 1000 ஆயிரம் āyiram . The independent numerals for 100,000 and 10,000,000 are typical for South Asian languages ​​(see Lakh and Crore ).

The basic numbers in Tamil
number Numeral
1 ஒன்று oṉṟu
2 இரண்டு iraṇṭu
3 மூன்று mūṉṟu
4th நான்கு nāṉku
5 ஐந்து aintu
6th ஆறு āṟu
7th ஏழு ēḻu
8th எட்டு eṭṭu
9 ஒன்பது oṉpatu
10 பத்து pattu
100 நூறு nūṟu
1000 ஆயிரம் āyiram
100,000 ஒரு லட்சம் oru laṭcam
10,000,000 ஒரு கோடி oru kōṭi


The verb in Tamil forms three tenses in the indicative ( present , past , future ), an imperative and a large number of infinite verb forms . The present tense is used for present, the past tense for past actions. The future tense can express future actions as well as habitual actions of the past or present (e.g. அவன் தினமும் தோசை சாப்பிடுவான் avaṉ tinamum tōcai cāppiṭuvāṉ “he eats Dosai daily ”). In addition to these three simple tenses, a variety of other grammatical concepts can be expressed using auxiliary verbs . The auxiliary verbs form a verb compound with the main verb, which indicates a certain mode or aspect : For example, the auxiliary verb iru “sein” expresses the perfect tense (நான் நேற்று வந்திருக்கிறேன் nāṉ nēṟṟu vantirukkiṟēṉ “I came yesterday”), the auxiliary verb koḷ “hold” and iru “to be” together form the progressive form (அவள் படித்துக் கொண்டிருக்கிறாள் avaḷ paṭittuk koṇṭirukkiṟāḷ “she is currently learning”).

A word like the German “nicht” does not exist in Tamil. The negation , on the other hand, is expressed through its own verb forms. These can either be formed synthetically (e.g. negative imperative செய்யாதே ceyyātē “don't do!”) Or with the help of auxiliary verbs (e.g. அவன் செய்யவில்லை avaṉ ceyya.v-illai “he does / didn't do”).


The three finite tenses are conjugated according to person and number. A conjugated verb is made up of the verb stem, a tense suffix and a personal suffix. Depending on the suffixes they use to form the tenses, the verbs in Tamil can be divided into seven classes. While there are only two different tense suffixes in the present tense and three different tense suffixes in the future tense, the past tense has the greatest range with five different forms of formation. Sometimes there are variants of the tense suffixes; thus the present suffix - (k) kiṟ- can be replaced by - (k) kiṉṟ- in the elevated language . Which class a verb belongs to can be inferred from its phonetic structure. Often the same verb stem is conjugated in two different classes, depending on whether the meaning is transitive or intransitive (e.g. பிரி piri (class II) “to separate” and பிரி piri (class VI) “to separate (something)”).

Classes I and V can be further subdivided into three and four subclasses, respectively , after the Sandhi changes that occur when the verb stem and tense suffix come together. In parallel to the division into seven verb classes based on the tense suffixes, there is a division into weak, medium and strong verbs based on the stem change in front of vowel-like suffixes. The verbs in classes I to Vb are weak and do not change if a vowel-like suffix is ​​added to the verb stem. In contrast, the middle class of verbs Vc and Vd insert -K- , the strong verbs of the classes VI and VII a -kk- a between the trunk and extension.

class example
tribe meaning Present preterite Future tense
Yes செய் cey do செய்கிறேன் ceykiṟēṉ செய்தேன் ceytēṉ செய்வேன் ceyvēṉ
Ib கொள் koḷ hold கொள்கிறேன் koḷkiṟēṉ கொண்டேன் koṇṭēṉ கொள்வேன் koḷvēṉ
Ic கொல் col kill கொல்கிறேன் kolkiṟēṉ கொன்றேன் koṉṟēṉ கொல்வேன் kolvēṉ
II வாழ் vāḻ Life வாழ்கிறேன் vāḻkiṟēṉ வாழ்ந்தேன் vāḻntēṉ வாழ்வேன் vāḻvēṉ
III வாங்கு vāṅku to buy வாங்குகிறேன் vāṅkukiṟēṉ வாங்கினேன் vāṅkiṉēṉ வாங்குவேன் vāṅkuvēṉ
IV கூப்பிடு kūppiṭu call கூப்பிடுகிறேன் kūppiṭukiṟēṉ கூப்பிட்டேன் kūppiṭṭēṉ கூப்பிடுவேன் kūppiṭuvēṉ
Va உண் U.N eat உண்கிறேன் uṇkiṟēṉ உண்டேன் below உண்பேன் uṇpēṉ
Vb என் eṉ say என்கிறேன் eṉkiṟēṉ என்றேன் eṉṟēṉ என்பேன் eṉpēṉ
Vc கேள் kēḷ ask கேட்கிறேன் kēṭkiṟēṉ கேட்டேன் kēṭṭēṉ கேட்பேன் kēṭpēṉ
Vd வில் vil to sell விற்கிறேன் viṟkiṟēṉ விற்றேன் viṟṟēṉ விற்பேன் viṟpēṉ
VI படி paṭi read படிக்கிறேன் paṭikkiṟēṉ படித்தேன் paṭittēṉ படிப்பேன் paṭippēṉ
VII நட naṭa to run நடக்கிறேன் naṭakkiṟēṉ நடந்தேன் naṭantēṉ நடப்பேன் naṭappēṉ

The personal endings are in principle the same for all three tenses. In conjugation, in the 3rd person as well as in the personal pronouns, four (in the singular) or two (in the plural) gender forms are distinguished. For the inclusive and exclusive forms of the 1st person plural, however, there is only one verb form. The 3rd person neuter is partly irregular; so it is not formed in the future tense in the singular and plural by the combination of the tense and personal suffix, but consists of the stem and the suffix -um (அது செய்யும் atu ceyyum "it will make"). Also in the past tense there are irregularities in the 3rd person neuter in class III.

person Ending example
1. Sg. -ēṉ நான் செய்கிறேன் nāṉ ceykiṟēṉ I do
2nd Sg. -āy நீ செய்கிறாய் nī ceykiṟāy are you doing
3rd Sg. M. -on அவன் செய்கிறான் avaṉ ceykiṟāṉ he makes
3rd Sg. F. -āḷ அவள் செய்கிறாள் avaḷ ceykiṟāḷ she makes
3rd Sg. -atu அது செய்கிறது atu ceykiṟatu it does
3rd Sg. M./f. -ār அவர் செய்கிறார் avar ceykiṟār he / she does
1st pl. -ōm நாங்கள் / நாம் செய்கிறோம் nāṅkaḷ / nām ceykiṟōm we do
2nd pl. -īrkaḷ நீங்கள் செய்கிறீர்கள் nīṅkaḷ ceykiṟīrkaḷ you do
3rd pl. M./f. -ārkaḷ அவர்கள் செய்கிறார்கள் avarkaḷ ceykiṟārkaḷ they do
3rd pl. N. -aṉa அவைகள் செய்கின்றன avaikaḷ ceykiṉṟaṉa *) they do

*) The 3rd person plural neuter regularly uses the variant - (k) kiṉṟ- instead of - (k) kiṟ- of the tense suffix in the present tense .

Infinite verb forms

Tamil knows a large number of infinite verb forms with which various syntactic relationships can be expressed in complex sentence structures. To use these forms, see the section on compound sentences .

  • Infinitive (செய்ய ceyya )
  • Verbal participle (positive: செய்து ceytu , negative: செய்யாமல் ceyyāmal )
  • Conditional : (positive: செய்யால் ceyyāl , negative: செய்யாவிட்டால் ceyyāviṭṭāl )
  • Adjective participle (present: செய்கிற ceykiṟa , simple past: செய்த ceyta , future tense: செய்யும் ceyyum , negative: செய்யாத ceyyāta )
  • Participle nouns (present tense: செய்கிறவன் ceykiṟavaṉ , simple past: செய்தவன் ceytavaṉ , future tense: செய்பவன் ceypavaṉ , negative: செய்யாதவன் ceyyātavaṉ )
  • Verbal nouns (present tense: செய்கிறது ceykiṟatu , simple past: செய்தது ceytatu , future tense: செய்வது ceyvatu , negative: செய்யாதது ceyyātatu )

In addition, the infinitive and the verbal participle are used to form verbal compounds (compound verbs). These can have a grammatical or lexical meaning. In the first case, as already described, an auxiliary verb serves as the second component of a verb compound to express a certain grammatical concept. In lexical verb compounds, two verbs form a compound verb with a new meaning. For example, the compound verb கொண்டுவா koṇṭuvā “bring” is composed of the simple verbs கொள் koḷ “hold” and வா “come”.


In Tamil, the adjectives are divided into derived and non-derived adjectives. The non-derived adjectives form a closed class of words to which a few central terms such as நல்ல nalla “good”, பெரிய periya “large”, சின்ன ciṉṉa “small”, பழைய paḻaiya “old”, புதிய putiya “new” etc. belong. The derived adjectives are formed by the suffix -āṉa from nouns: அழகு aḻaku "beauty" - அழகான aḻakāṉa "beautiful".

Adjective attributes are not declined and always stand unchanged in front of their reference word (cf. பெரிய வீடு periya vīṭu "big house" and பெரிய வீடுகளில் periya vīṭukaḷil "in big houses"). If, on the other hand, an adjective functions as a predicate of a nominal sentence, it is nominalized and takes on a personal ending that congruces with the subject: இந்த வீடு பெரியது inta vīṭu periya-tu "this house is big (= a big one)", அவள் அழகானவள் avaḷ aḻakāṉa-vaḷ "She is beautiful (= beautiful)".

Similar to adjectives, adverbs can also be derived from nouns using the suffixes -āka or -āy : அவள் அழகாகப் பாடுகிறாள் avaḷ aḻakāka.p pāṭukiṟāḷ "she sings beautifully (= beautifully)".


Simple sentences

The word order in Tamil is subject-object-verb (SOV). Accordingly, the subject is usually in the first place in the sentence (it can only be preceded by circumstances of time and place) and the predicate , which can either be a verb or a noun, at the end of the sentence.

குமார் ஒரு புத்தகம் படிக்கிறான்.
kumār oru puttakam paṭikkiṟāṉ.
Kumar a book read.
Kumar is reading a book.

Tamil also has the other typological features that are characteristic of SOV languages: It uses postpositions instead of prepositions (e.g. வீட்டுக்கு முன்னால vīṭṭukku muṉṉāl literally "in front of the house" = "in front of the house") and sets the determining element before the definite, d. H. Attributes precede their reference words and subordinate clauses (e.g. அப்பாவுடைய வீடு appāvuṭaiya vīṭu "the father's house" = "the father's house").

Sentences that have the copula "sein" as a predicate in German correspond to nominal sentences in Tamil that have a noun as a predicate and have no copula. In the negative nominal sentence, however, the negative copula இல்லை illai “not to be” appears.

அவன் என் நண்பன்.
avaṉ eṉ naṇpaṉ.
he my friend.
He is my friend.
அவன் என் நண்பன் இல்லை.
avaṉ eṉ naṇpaṉ illai.
he my friend is not.
He is not my friend.

In Tamil, the subject of a sentence does not necessarily have to be in the nominative . The possession construction ("have") and certain verbs require a subject in the dative . Here it becomes clear that the delimitation of subject and object is not just as easy in Tamil as it is in Indo-European languages. In the following example sentence, for example, the object is in the nominative and congruent with the predicate. Nevertheless, the part of the sentence in the dative is evaluated as a subject because it is at the beginning of the sentence and shows certain characteristics of the subject in compound sentences.

எங்களுக்கு ஒரு வேலைக்காரன் கிடைத்தான்.
eṅkaḷukku oru vēlaikkāraṉ kiṭaittāṉ.
us a servant got.
We got a servant.

Decision-making questions are marked by the marker (நீ வருகிறாய் nī varukiṟāy “you are coming” - நீ வருகிறாயா nī varukiṟāyā “are you coming?”).

Compound sentences

In Tamil, sentence structures are not expressed using conjunctions ("dass", "weil" etc.) as in German . Basically there can only be one finite verb in a Tamil sentence . The predicates of subordinate or associated clauses can be linked to the main clause through various infinite verb forms or nominalized verbs . For example, if you want to convert the sentence அவள் நாளைக்கு வருவாள் avaḷ nāḷaikku varuvāḷ “she comes tomorrow” into a conditional sentence , you don't use a conjunction (“when she comes tomorrow”), as in German, but convert the predicate வருவாள் varuvāḷ into a special infinite verb form , the conditional வந்தால் vantāl , um, which expresses the connotation of the condition. Another way of connecting two sentences is to embed the first sentence in the second sentence using certain function words. The following options are available to form compound sentences:

Verbal participle

The verbal participle expresses a sequence of actions that are linked in German with "and". With regard to subject, tense and mode, the verbal participle is based on the superordinate verb. In the following example sentences , the verbal participle போய் pōy expresses the 3rd person singular masculine imperfect ("he went") depending on the respective finite verb at the end of the sentence. and in the second case the 2nd person singular imperative ("go!") from:

கடைக்குப் போய் அவன் முட்டைகள் கொண்டுவந்தான்.
kaṭaikkup pōy avaṉ muṭṭaikaḷ koṇṭuvantāṉ.
Shop-in go-vbp. he Eggs brought.
"He went into the shop and brought eggs."
கடைக்குப் போய் நீ முட்டைகள் கொண்டுவா.
kaṭaikkup pōy muṭṭaikaḷ koṇṭuvā.
Shop-in go-vbp. you Eggs bring.
"Go to the store and bring eggs."

In order to express explicit temporal relationships, the verbal participle can be combined with the forms -viṭṭu for prematurity and -koṇṭu for simultaneity :

நீ வேலையை முடித்துவிட்டு வீட்டுக்குப் போ.
vēlaiyai muṭittuviṭṭu vīṭṭukkup pō.
you the work end-Vbp.-Sign. House-in go
"Go home after you finish work."
நான் பத்திரிகையைப் படித்துக்கொண்டு காப்பி குடித்தேன்.
nāṉ pattirikaiyaip paṭittukkoṇṭu cap kuṭittēṉ.
I the newspaper read-vbp.-equiv. coffee drank.
"While I was reading the newspaper, I was drinking coffee."


The infinitive occurs as a supplement to verbs (e.g. எனக்கு அங்கே போக வேண்டாம் eṉakku aṅkē pōka vēṇṭām “I don't want to go there”). He also forms final , causal (with the marker ) and simultaneous temporal clauses .

மாம்பழம் வாங்க நான் சந்தைக்குப் போனேன்.
māmpaḻam vāṅka nāṉ cantaikkup pōṉēṉ.
mango to buy I Market-in went.
I went to the market to buy mangoes.


The conditional expresses a conditional sentence ("if / if ..."). In combination with the -um marker , it expresses concession ("although ...").

நீ வந்தால் நானும் வருவேன்.
vantāl nāṉum varuvēṉ.
you come-cond. me too will come.
"If you come, I'll come too."

Adjective participle

The adjective participle acts as a predicate of an attributive sentence, which appears in front of a noun, similar to an adjective. Such an adjectival sentence can also correspond to a participle construction (“the man going home”) or a relative clause (“the man who goes home”) in German. In contrast to a relative clause in German, the case relationship between the reference word and the adjective sentence in the adjectival participle is not explicitly expressed and must be deduced from the context. Compare:

என்னைப் பார்த்த மனிதன்
eṉṉaip pārtta maṉitaṉ
me having seen man
The man who saw me.
நான் பார்த்த மனிதன்
nāṉ pārtta maṉitaṉ
I having seen man
The man I saw.

By combining the adjectival participle with certain nouns, a number of temporal or modal relationships can be expressed (e.g. அவன் வந்த போது avaṉ vanta pōtu literally “the time when he came” = “when he came”).

Participle nouns

The participle corresponds to a nominalized form of the adjectival participle (cf. adjectival participle in நான் பார்த்த மனிதன் nāṉ pārtta maṉitaṉ “the man I saw” and participle in நான் பார்த்தவன் nāṉ pārttavaṉ “the one I saw”).

Verbal nouns

The verbal noun nominalizes an entire subordinate clause in order to link it as a subject or object clause with the main clause. The verbal noun can also be used in the instrumental , dative or ablative case , the nominalized sentence functions as a causal sentence (“because”), a final sentence (“with”) or an early temporal sentence (“since”).

நீ அதைச் சொன்னது எனக்குப் பிடிக்கும்.
ataic coṉṉatu eṉakkup piṭikkum.
you the Have said me like.
I like that you said that.
மழை பெய்கிறதால் குழந்தைகள் வெளியே விளையாடவில்லை.
maḻai peykiṟatāl kuḻantaikaḷ veḷiyē viḷaiyāṭavillai.
rain Raining-through children outside not playing.
Because it's raining, the children don't play outside.

Function words

In addition to the possibility of identifying a sentence as a subordinate clause using an infinite verb form, in Tamil also sentences with a finite verb form can be embedded in a sentence structure using certain functional words. The forms of the verb என் eṉ “say” are particularly useful for this purpose . The verbal participle என்று eṉṟu "having said" marks the object sentence in verbs of speaking, thinking, etc. and can mark both direct and indirect speech.

கண்ணன் அதைச் செய்ய மாட்டான் என்று நான் நினைக்கிறேன்.
Can be ataic ceyya māṭṭāṉ eṉṟu nāṉ niṉaikkiṟēṉ.
Can be the not-will-do saying I think.
I think "Kannan won't do that".
Or: I think Kannan won't do that.


Much of the Tamil vocabulary consists of hereditary words that can be traced back to a Proto-Dravidian origin. In addition, Tamil has also borrowed words from other languages, especially Sanskrit and, more recently, English .

A considerable part of the Tamil vocabulary comes from Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism. In many cases there are duplicates of synonymous words that have their origins in Sanskrit or Tamil, e.g. B. பூமி pūmi (from Sanskrit भूमि bhūmi ) and மண் maṇ “earth” or சந்திரன் cantiraṉ (from Sanskrit चन्द्र candra ) and நிலா nilā “moon”. The influence of Sanskrit was significantly greater at times, but in the first half of the 20th century numerous Sanskrit loanwords were replaced by Tamil words for linguistic reasons (see the section on the history of language ). It is estimated that around 1900 around 50 percent of the words in written Tamil came from Sanskrit, while by 1950 their proportion had dropped to 20 percent. The proportion of Sanskrit words in Tamil is therefore significantly lower than in the other languages ​​of India, including the neighboring Dravidian languages. For neologisms , in the formation of which Sanskrit is used in the other Indian languages ​​in a similar way as Latin or ancient Greek is used in Europe , Tamil roots are used in the case of Tamil. However, these word creations often have a hard time asserting themselves against English loanwords: For example, instead of the Tamil தொலைபேசி tolaipēci (literally “telephone”) one usually hears the English டெலிபோன் ṭelipōṉ for “telephone” .

During the British colonial era , English left a clear mark on the Tamil vocabulary. The influence of English has continued unabated after Indian independence. Many words come from English, especially for modern terms such as பஸ் pas “bus” (from English bus ), லீவு līvu “vacation” (from English leave ) or ரெயில் reyil “railroad” (from English rail ). In the spoken language in particular, there is an enormous amount of English words used. You can certainly hear a sentence like உன் வாய்ஸ் ஸ்வீட்டா இருக்கு uṉ vāys (voice) svīṭṭā (sweet ) irukku "your voice is sweet".

Through its contact with Islam , Tamil took over some words from Arabic and Persian , such as வக்கீல் vakkīl "lawyer" (from Arabic وكيل wakīl ) or திவான் tivāṉ "minister" (from Persian ديوان dīwān ). And the Portuguese and Dutch left, although to a much lesser extent than the English as colonial influences in Tamil. Words like மேசை mēcai “table” (from Portuguese mesa ), ஜன்னல் jaṉṉal “window” (from Portuguese janela ) or கக்குசு kakkucu “toilet” (from Dutch kakhuis ) come from these languages .

The few Tamil loanwords in German include “ catamaran ” (Tamil கட்டுமரம் kaṭṭumaram , from kaṭṭu “band, bundle”, and maram “tree”, meaning “boat made from tied tree trunks”), “ curry ” (from கறி kaṟi , originally "Vegetables"), pariah (from பறையர் paṟaiyar , originally the name of a drumming caste ) and possibly “ mango ” (from மாங்காய் māṅkāy “(unripe) mango”) and “ coolie ” (from கூலி kūli “wage”).

Research history

Page from a Tamil Bible published by Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar in 1723 .

Tamil has a very old indigenous grammar tradition. The oldest Tamil grammar and at the same time the oldest known work of Tamil literature at all, the Tolkappiyam , comes from the 1st or 2nd century BC. BC. But there were probably older forerunners that have not survived. A second well-known grammar is the Nannul (around 1200).

The first Europeans who dealt with Tamil, then called "Malabar", were Christian missionaries . The Portuguese Jesuit Anrique Anriquez (approx. 1520–1600) wrote religious texts in Tamil, wrote a Tamil grammar and had the first Tamil book printed in 1554, still in Latin script, and the first book in Tamil script in 1578. Other missionaries who took care of Tamil were the Italian Constantine Beschi (1680–1743), to whom some lasting spelling changes in the Tamil script go back, and the German Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682–1719).

Western Indology , which emerged around 1800 , was initially primarily concerned with Sanskrit. When Robert Caldwell discovered the independence of the Dravidian languages ​​in 1856, scientific interest in this language family increased. The Tamilistics (linguistics and literature of Tamil) is the indologists but by how much less than the present study of the Sanskrit or Hindi. The only institute in Europe that focuses on Tamil Studies is the Institute for Indology and Tamil Studies at the University of Cologne . In addition, Tamil is taught in German-speaking countries at the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University .

Language example

A sample of the text is given with the original text in Tamil script, transliteration, IPA phonetic transcription , interlinear translation and German translation:

ஆசிரியர் வகுப்புக்குள் நுழைந்தார்.
āciriyar vakuppukkuḷ nuḻaintār.
[ ˈAːsiɾi̯yaɾ ˈƲaxupːukːuɭ ˈN̪uɻai̯n̪d̪aːɾ ]
Teacher Class-in-into entered.
The teacher entered the class.
அவர் உள்ளே நுழைந்தவுடன் மாணவர்கள் எழுந்தனர்.
avar uḷḷē nuḻaintavuṭan māṇavarkaḷ eḻuntaṉar .
[ ˈAʋər ˈUɭːeː ˈN̪uɻai̯n̪d̪əʋuɖən ˈMaːɳəʋəɾxəɭ ˈJɘɻun̪d̪ənəɾ ]
he inside entering moment student stand up.
As soon as he entered, the students rose.
வளவன் மட்டும் தன் அருகில் நின்று கொண்டிருந்த மாணவி கனிமொழியுடன் பேசிக் கொண்டிருந்தான்.
vaḷavaṉ maṭṭum taṉ arukil niṉṟu koṇṭirunta māṇavi kaṉimoḻiyuṭaṉ pēcik koṇṭiruntāṉ.
[ ˈƲaɭəʋən ˈMaʈːum t̪an ˈAɾuɣil ˈN̪indrɯ ˈkɔɳɖiɾun̪d̪ə ˈMaːɳəʋi ˈKanimɔɻijuɖən ˈPeːsi ˈkːɔɳɖiɾun̪d̪aːn ]
Valavan just his Near-in stop-being pupil Kanimoli-with keep talking-was.
Only Valavan spoke to the student Kanimoli, who was standing near him.
நான் அவனை எச்சரித்தேன்.
nāṉ avaṉai eccarittēṉ.
[ n̪aːn ˈAʋənɛi̯ ˈJeʧəɾit̪ːeːn ]
I him warned.
I warned him.

Sources and further information


  • MS Andronov: A Standard Grammar of Modern and Classical Tamil . Madras: New Century Book House, 1969.
  • E. Annamalai and Sanford B. Steever: Modern Tamil . In: Sanford B. Steever (Ed.): The Dravidian Languages . London / New York: Routledge, 1998. pp. 100-128.
  • AH Arden: A Progressive Grammar of the Tamil Language . Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1942 (reprinted 1969).
  • Hermann Beythan: Practical grammar of the Tamil language . Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1943.
  • Francis Britto: Diglossia: A Study of the Theory with Application to Tamil . Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 1986.
  • Thomas Lehmann: A Grammar of Modern Tamil . Pondicherry: Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture, 1989.
  • Horst Schweia, Krishnamoortthypillai Muruganandam: Tamil. Word for word (=  gibberish . Volume 39 ). 5th edition. Reise Know-How Verlag Rump, Bielefeld 2010, ISBN 978-3-89416-011-1 .
  • Sanford B. Steever: Tamil and the Dravidian Languages . In: Bernard Comrie (Ed.): The Major Languages ​​of South Asia, the Middle East and Africa . Routledge, London 1990.

Web links

Commons : Tamil language gallery  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Tamil  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Official languages ​​of Tamil Nadu . In: Tamil Nadu Government . Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved May 1, 2007.
  2. Official languages . UNESCO. Archived from the original on September 28, 2005. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved May 10, 2007. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / portal.unesco.org
  3. ^ Census of India 2011: Data on Language and Mother Tongue. Part A: Distribution of the 22 scheduled languages-India / States / Union Territories - 2011 census.
  4. Department of Census and Statistics Sri Lanka: Population by ethnic group according to districts, 2012.
  5. ↑ In 2017, 7.0 percent of the 28.7 million Malaysian citizens, i.e. 2.0 million people, were of Indian descent ( Department of Statistics Malaysia: Current Population Estimates, Malaysia, 2016-2017 ). Current figures on the exact ethnic composition of the Indian population are not available, but in 1980 Tamils ​​made up 80 percent of Indian Malaysians (according to Fred W. Clothey: Ritualizing on the Boundaries. Continuity and Innovation in the Tamil Diaspora, Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2006, p. 10).
  6. ^ Department of Statistics Singapore: Census of Population 2010. Statistical Release 1: Demographic Characteristics, Education, Language and Religion.
  7. United States Census Bureau: Detailed Languages ​​Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over for United States: 2009-2013.
  8. 2011 Census of Canada: Detailed Mother Tongue (232), Knowledge of Official Languages ​​(5), Age Groups (17A) and Sex (3) for the Population Excluding Institutional Residents of Canada and Forward Sortation Areas, 2011 Census.
  9. 2011 Office for National Statistics: 2011 Census: Quick Statistics for England and Wales, March 2011.
  10. ^ Hermann Berger: The diversity of the Indian languages. In: Dietmar Rothermund (Ed.): India. Culture, history, politics, economy, environment. A manual. Munich 1995, here p. 108.
  11. ^ E. Annamalai and Sanford B. Steever: Modern Tamil. In: Sanford B. Steever (Ed.): The Dravidian Languages , London / New York 1998, here p. 100.
  12. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti: The Dravidian Languages , Cambridge 2003, pp. 20 f.
  13. Annamalai, Steever 1998, p. 101.
  14. Thomas Lehmann: Old Tamil. In: Sanford B. Steever (Ed.): The Dravidian Languages , London / New York 1998, here p. 75.
  15. Sanford B. Steever: Tamil and the Dravidian Languages. In: Bernard Comrie (Ed.): The Major Languages ​​of South Asia, the Middle East and Africa , London 1990, here p. 235.
  16. ^ Francis Britto: Diglossia: A Study of the Theory with Application to Tamil , Washington DC 1986, pp. 79-84.
  17. Britto 1986, pp. 100-106.
  18. BBC News: India sets up classical languages (September 17, 2004)
  19. ^ Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India: Declaration of Telugu and Kannada as classical languages, October 31, 2008.
  20. On diglossia in Tamil see Britto 1986.
  21. Berger 1995, p. 109.
  22. ^ Harold F. Schiffman: Standardization and Restandardization: the case of Spoken Tamil. (PDF; 122 kB) In: Language in Society. Volume 27, No. 3, 1998, pp. 359-385.
  23. The case system of Tamil is not described uniformly in the specialist literature. The following information is based essentially on Annamalai, Steever 1998, pp. 105-108.
  24. cf. AH Arden: A Progressive Grammar of the Tamil Language , Madras 1942, pp. 74-81.
  25. Lehmann 1989 counts the Benefaktiv as an independent case (p. 35 f.).
  26. Harold F. Schiffman: The Tamil Case System . In: Jean-Luc Chevillard (Ed.): South-Indian Horizons: Felicitation Volume for François Gros on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Publications du Département d'Indologie 94. Pondichéry: Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2004. pp. 301–313. (PDF; 126 kB)
  27. cf. Arden 1942, pp. 83-92.
  28. Britto 1986, p. 104.
  29. ^ HW Schomerus: The Tamil literature. In: Helmuth von Glasenapp : The literatures of India. From its beginnings to the present (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 318). Kröner, Stuttgart 1961, DNB 363784993 , here p. 373.
  30. Britto 1986, p. 93.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on March 13, 2008 in this version .