Tamil script

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The Tamil alphasyllabary has 12 vowels and 18 consonants. These combine to form 216 compound characters. There is one special character (Aaytha ezutthu), giving a total of 247 characters.

The vowels are divided into short and long (five of each type) and two diphthongs. The consonants are classified into three categories with 6 in each category: vallinam - hard, mellinam - soft or nasal, and idayinam - medium. Tamil has neither conjunct consonants nor aspirated and voiced stops. Because of this, the Tamil script, unlike Devanagari, does not have any glyphs for these sounds. Some scholars have suggested that in Sentamil (which refers to Tamil as it existed before Sanskrit words were borrowed), stops were voiceless when at the start of a word and sometimes voiced otherwise allophonically. However, no such distinction is observed by modern Tamil speakers.

The script is sometimes called vattezhuthu (round script). This characterstic has partly to do with the fact that in ancient times, writing involved carving with a sharp point on palm leaves (olaichuvadi) and it was apparently easier to produce curves than straight lines by this method. Some scholars state that the script was originally called vettezhuthu meaning script that was cut (on stone), standing for ease of carving in stones. The script is syllabic, in the sense that each letter is a syllable. However, the signs for the syllables are derived from that of the inherent consonant; thus it is of the abugida type. Some syllables are written by modifying the shape of the consonant in a way that is inherent to the vowel, others are written by adding vowel-inherent suffix to the consonant, yet others a prefix, and finally some vowels require adding both a prefix and a suffix to the consonant. In every case the vowel symbol is different from the vowel standing alone. An overdot (see image) - equivalent to Devanagari sign virama - suppresses the inherent trailing a sound of the consonant sign - that is, it is a pure consonant.

There are some lexical rules for formation of words. Tolkaappiyam describes such rules. Some examples: a word cannot end in certain consonants, and cannot begin with some consonants including 'r' 'l' and 'll'; there are two consonants for the dental 'n' - which one should be used depends on whether the 'n' occurs at the start of the word and on the letters around it.

Missing image
Tamilalphabet.jpg
A Tamil language sign


Contents

The Tamil letters

Basic Consonants

Consonants are also called the 'body' (mei) letters.

Consonant Transliteration Category IPA
க் k vallinam , , , ,
ங் mellinam
ச் c vallinam , , ,
ஞ் mellinam
ட் vallinam , ,
ண் mellinam
த் t vallinam , ,
ந் n mellinam
ப் p vallinam , ,
ம் m mellinam
ய் y idaiyinam
ர் r idaiyinam
ல் l idaiyinam
வ் v idaiyinam
ழ் ẓ, ḻ, ṛ idaiyinam
ள் idaiyinam
ற் ṟ, R vallinam , ,
ன் ṉ, N mellinam

Borrowed consonants

Also called "Grantha" letters, these letters are used almost exclusively for writing words that are borrowed from Sanskrit (or sometimes other languages such as English). Seeing one of these letters in a word is a good indication that the word is probably borrowed from Sanskrit though of course not all such words include these letters.

Consonant Transliteration IPA
j
s
h
க்ஷ kṣ

Vowels

Vowels are also called the 'life' (uyir) or 'soul' letters. Together with the consonants (which are called 'body' letters), they form compound, syllabic (abugida) letters that are called 'living' letters (uyirmei ie. letters that have both 'body' and 'soul').

Isolated Form

Vowel Transliteration IPA
a
ā
i
ī
u ,
ū
e
ē
ai
o
ō
au

Compound Form

Using the consonant 'k' as an example.

Compound form Transliteration IPA
ka
கா
கி ki
கீ
கு ku ,
கூ
கெ ke
கே
கை kai
கொ ko
கோ
கௌ kau

Special letter ஃ (pronounced 'akh') is rarely used by itself - normally serves purely grammatical function as independent vowel form of the dot on consonants that suppresses the inherent 'a' sound in plain consonants.

The long (nedil) vowels are about twice as long as the short (kuRil) vowels. The diphthongs are usually pronounced about 1.5 times as long as the short vowels, though some grammatical texts place them with the long (nedil) vowels.

As can be seen in the compound form, the vowel sign can be added to the right, left or both sides of the consonants. It can also form a ligature. These rules are evolving and older use has more ligatures than modern use. What you actually see on this page depends on your font selection; for example, Code 2000 will show more ligatures than Latha.

There are proponents of script reform who want to eliminate all ligatures and let all vowel signs appear on the right side.

Unicode encodes the character in logical order (always the consonant first), wheras legacy 8-bit encodings (like TSCII) prefer the written order. This is a problem in transcoding these.

Tamil in Unicode

The Unicode range for Tamil is U+0B80 ... U+0BFF.

  0123456789ABCDEF
B80 
B90 
BA0 
BB0 ி
BC0 
BD0 
BE0 
BF0 ௿


See also


External links

References

ta:தமிழ் அரிச்சுவடி

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