Translation:Tolkappiyam/Phoneme, traditional classifications

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Tolkāppiyam  (4th century BCE)  by Tolkappiyar, translated from Tamil by Sengai Podhuvan and  Wikisource
Phoneme, traditional classifications
Section 1, Chapter 1
Verbatim translation
use me to read Tamil

Phoneme tradition

(total, names, written form, sound-duration, assimilation, etc. of the Tamil phonemes)

33 verses



  • Phonemes are thirty from [a] to [n] excluding depending three, says the learned. -1-
  • Shortened [i], shortened [u] and a softening phoneme [aaytham] having three dots in script are also accepted as secondary depending phonemes. -2-

Units of sound[edit]

  • Among them, the five, [a], [i], [u], [e] and [o] are said ‘short phonemes’ articulating one unit of sound. -3-
  • The seven, [aa], [ii], [uu], [ee], [ai], [oo’] and [au] are said ‘long phonemes’ articulating two units of sound. -4-
  • No phoneme articulate three units of sound. -5-
  • If need be, respective short vowel is added in writings to lengthen the phoneme’s sound. -6-
  • The duration of a wink of eyes in normal sight is one unit of sound (maaththirai) in articulation. -7-
  • Vowels are twelve ending with [au]: [a], [aa], [i], [ii], [u], [uu], [e], [ee], [ai], [o], [oo’] and [au] -8-
  • Consonants are eighteen ending with [n]: [k], [ng], [s], [nj], [t], [n’], [th], [n”], [p], [m], [y], [r], [l], [v], [z or l”], [l’], [r’] and [n]. =9-
  • Blending vowel-consonant articulates with its corresponding vowel’s unit of sound. -10-
  • Consonant articulates with half unit of sound. -11-
  • The three secondary phonemes articulate as the consonants (with half unit of sound) -12-
  • The consonant [m] reduces more in its unit of sound in occasion (clustering upon [n] in poems). -13-


  • There it has a dot in its middle in writing. (Consonant has a dot on its top. This is an additional dot.) -14-
  • Consonants are written with a dot on its top. -15-
  • Letter [e’] and [o] are also written with a dot as above. -16-
  • In writing dots go off in [a] blending vowel-consonants and vowel-consonants blending with other vowels are written with some other modifications. -17-


  • In articulation vowel sound follows the consonant. -18-
  • [k], [sa], [t], [th], [p] and [r’] are called ‘hard consonants’. -19-
  • [ng], [nj], [n’], [n”], [m] and [n] are called ‘soft consonants’. -20-
  • [y], [r], [l], [v], [z] or [l”] and [l’] are called ‘medial consonants’ -21-
  • Each six-fold family assimilates twinning within the family in articulation. -22-


  • Ending-consonants [t], [r’], [l] and [l’] of the preceding word or morph assimilate with the beginning-consonants [k], [s] and [p] of the succeeding of those kind. -23-
  • Among them the preceding-consonants [l] and [l’] assimilate with the succeeding-consonants [y] and [v] as above. -24-
  • Consonants [ng], [nj], [n’], [n”], [m] and [n] assimilate with their own. -25-
  • Among them [n’] and [n] accept assimilation with the seven consonants succeeding on: [k], [s], [nj], [p], [m], [y] and [v]. -26-
  • Words ending with [nj], [n”], [m] and [v] assimilate with the words beginning with [y]. -27-
  • Words ending with [m] assimilate with the words beginning with [v]. -28-
  • Words ending with [y], [r] and [l”] assimilate with all the phonemes having eligibility to become initial phoneme in words along with one more [ng] (initiating in a morph ‘nganam’) -29-
  • All the consonants twins in assimilation excepting the two: [r] and [l”] -30-

Phonemes of morpheme[edit]

  • All the three, [a], [i] and [u] are called demonstratives in the sense of meaning. -31-
  • All the three, [aa], [ee] and [oo] are called interrogatives in the sense of meaning. -32-

Units of sound in music[edit]

  • Lengthening of sound of the vowel and consonant beyond the phonetic measures (unit of sound) are witnessed in the hymns of musician (say ANTHANAR) , that is not spoken here. -33-