Train your Tongue in Tamil


Travel around the world with us each Tuesday as we explore a different language every week!


tamillanguageClassification: Dravidian and Tamil; subgroups include Southern, Tamil-Kannada, Tamil-Kodagu, and Tamil-Malayalam

Official In: India, Sri Lanka, Singapore

Also Spoken In: Malaysia, Mauritius, Réunion, Canada, Seychelles

Linguistic Quirks:

  • Tamil is one of the oldest surviving classical languages in the world, dating back to as early as 2nd century B.C.!
  • The language is largely diglossic, meaning that, socio-linguistically, there are two separate dialects depending on the social situation though the vocabulary is not substantially different. Most varieties of Tamil are mutually intelligible.
  • Nouns in Tamil are denoted into two main categories: rational, which applies to human and deities, and irrational, which applies to animals, objects, and abstract nouns.

Notable speakers:

  • A.R. Rahman, musical composer and Oscar winner for his work in Sliumdog Millionaire
  • M.I.A, (AKA Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) British musician and director
  • Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in Chemistry for his work as a structural biologist

Want to learn?

We’ve only given you a small taste of how incredible and unique Tamil is! To keep exploring, check out some of these awesome resources and see if Tamil is a good fit for you: Learn101, TamilCube, this learning module from the University of Pennsylvania, or apps like Learn Tamil. Check in with your SLE campus to see if they are offering Tamil this fall, too!

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