We really don’t know a lot about the origin of Tamil. In fact, the origins of all classical languages are really unclear. What we do know is that Tamil is older than 1st century BC when Tolkappiyam* – one of the world’s oldest works on Grammar – was written. Since Tolkappiyam talks a lot of grammar and structure, the language must have been in vogue much before that time.

Tamil is part of the Dravidian language family that is predominantly used in South India and Baluchistan. In terms of number of native speakers, it is about as big as Korean, French or Vietnamese.  The legend is that there were Tamil Sangams – literary organizations that built the language – for 1000s of years and these were all lost to the sea (sort of the Atlantis myth among Greeks).

Color indicate the various subgroups within the Dravidian languages. Telugu belongs to one group. Brahui & Kuruk belong to an another. Tamil, Malayalam & Kannada belongs to the third.

Unlike other major languages, Tamil has changed almost nothing at all in over 2 millenia. Thus, the 2000 year old Tamil classic – Tirukkuṛaḷ – can be read by modern Tamil kids without much effort.


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