A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil/Chapter I

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On the Alphabet and Orthography

1. Before commencing this chapter, the student should read the preface, and especially the introductory remarks, which form the conclusion of the preface.

2. This chapter shows the system on which Tamil is written, and explains the pronunciation of the various letters, so far as it is advisable to attempt to do so on paper. It must from the first be clearly understood that it is impossible to explain correctly through the medium of the English language, all the exact shades of pronunciation that occur in the Tamil letters, and in their various combinations. It is presupposed that the student has the assistance of a competent teacher, and without such assistance it is better for him not to attempt to study Tamil for colloquial purposes. With such assistance, it is unnecessary in these pages to do more than give a general description of the sounds of the Tamil letters, leaving the more delicate shades of pronunciation to be communicated by oral instruction.

3. When learning to write Tamil, great care must be taken to form the letters in the proper manner. Watch the teacher as he writes each letter, and notice carefully how he forms it. Theoretically there is no difference between the forms of the Tamil letters in printing and in handwriting; but, as a matter of fact, the printed letters naturally assume a somewhat more uniform and sharply cut shape; whereas in handwriting they are more rounded off, and somewhat less sharply defined. The native running hand need not be studied till a considerable knowledge of the language has been acquired.

4. When learning to read and to speak Tamil, the greatest attention must be paid to pronunciation. There are several sounds which do not exist in English; and the meaning of a word not unfrequently depends upon the hard or soft pronunciation of a consonant. Mark carefully the teacher's pronunciation; repeat each letter and each word after him several times; and speak clearly, distinctly, in a loud voice, and with the head well up, and the shoulders thrown back.


5. In Tamil there are twelve vowels, and eighteen consonants.

6. The twelve Tamil vowels are given in the following table, with their approximate sounds in English, as they are sounded in the Tamil alphabet.

7. The second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and eleventh vowels are the lengthened sounds of the short vowels which immediately precede them. The short vowels are pronounced somewhat more abruptly than the corresponding English sounds.

8. All the Tamil long vowels have a drawling pronunciation, which is not used in English, and therefore cannot be exactly rendered by the English examples given below. Thus, for instance, has the sound of the French ê in même.


resembles the sound of u in up, (or of final a in China.)
,, a ,, father (Para. 8.)
resembles the sound of i in ink.
(Indic characters) or ,, ee ,, eel. (Para. 8.)
,, u ,, full.
,, u ,, June. (Para. 8.)
,, e ,, ember.
,, a ,, ache. (Para. 8.)
,, the word eye.
,, o in police.
,, o ,, opium. (Para. 8.)
,, ou in police.

10. There are no Tamil vowels which have the exact sounds of the English a in pan or of the English o in hot. Great care must be taken not to give these sounds to and . One of the most common and ruinous faults in an Englishman's pronunciation is to pronounce like a in pan. Hence it is better from the first to associate with the sound of u in up, although it might be equally well represented by final a in China. When transliterating, it is better to represent by ă.


11. In order to explain the Tamil consonants, at first a few only of them will be given which present no difficulties in pronunciation, and with them the general system of Tamil writing and reading will be illustrated. The remainder of the consonants will then be given, some of which present special difficulties in pronunciation.

12. As a consonant cannot be sounded without the help of a vowel, it is necessary to introduce the sound of a vowel, in order to pronounce the consonants in any alphabet. Thus, in English, the sounds of the vowels e and a respectively are introduced to pronounce the consonants b and k, as be, ka. In pronouncing the consonants in the Tamil alphabet, the sound of the vowel is uniformly introduced. It is not written, but understood: hence the vowel is considered as inherent in each of the eighteen Tamil consonant forms. Thus, for instance, the six Tamil consonants , , , , , , are pronounced , , , , , . (Para. 10.) These six consonants must be thoroughly learnt, before proceeding farther.

13. When it is required to denote the entire absence of any vowel sound, or, in other words, to denote that the consonant is mute, a dot is placed over the conso¬ nant. Thus the English word up would be written in Tamil letters «jyu', and the English words pun, rum, run, would be written um, <ji£>, jsst. When it is necessary to name a mute consonant, the vowel $) is sounded before it. Thus when speaking of the mute consonants u, ir, ei>, eisr, they are called $u, $)ii, $>&>, Learn the following Tamil words, mrrb a tree, u&&Lh a side, bread, <oT&sr my, a-m thy.

14. The following is a most important rule to remember. When Tamil consonants are doubled, they are pronounced much more strongly and distinctly than in English. Com¬ pare the pronunciation of the English word upper with that of the Tamil word =gyuuih bread.

15. When a word begins with <st or gj, these vowels usually take a sound of y. Thus <oTesresr What ? and 67ear Why? are usually pronounced yenna and y6n. Initial and ff also sometimes take the y sound. Thus mercy, is often pronounoed yirakkam instead of irakkam.

16. In Tamil there are no capital letters. The vowels given in para. 9 are called the initial forms of the vowels, because they can only be used to begin a word. In all other positions the vowel takes a different form called the secondary Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/19 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/20 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/21 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/22 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/23 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/24 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/25 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/26 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/27 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/28 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/29 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/30 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/31 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/32 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/33 Page:Arden - A Progressive Grammar of Common Tamil.djvu/34 85. All the Tamil words given in this chapter ought to be entered in a pocket-book, and carefully committed to memory. In learning a living language, it is most important to store the mind with a good vocabulary.