Tamil, the oldest living language



Tamil is the oldest living language. This means that the Tamil language spoken by the people is the same as was the Tamil spoken two or three thousand years ago. This is true only partially  as Tamil people cannot understand the literature of sangam period (1 BC to 1 AD) without some assistance by way of meaning for words which are no longer in usage. However, fortunately, many of the words which are not in use in the present Tamil is in use in sister languages like Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu(particularly Malayalam).. For example, words- nouns like Wellam(water), sevi(ear), oon(meal) vurakkam(sleep) and verbs like (kazhinge), iiy(give), perugu(increase), nagu(smile) –are in current use in these languages. Media should play a major role in popularizing and using these and also the words which are not in use in any of the Dravidian languages.

 Government should also encourage usage of  old literary Tamil words which are not currently used in Tamil language by instituting awards for those writers and media who bring  such words in current usage.

 Of course, the people should stop mixing foreign words in their Tamil conversation.

Tamil will be truly the oldest living language only when the words do not disappear and are not replaced with new words with the passage of time. There is however no bar for adding new words.


Tamilnadu, Tamil language and India


Tamilnadu, like the other southern states of India, has been witnessing a slower growth in population than the rest of India. The result is that Tamilnadu’s population according to 2001 census accounts for only 6.04% of the country’s, down from 8.34% in 1951 census.

The number of Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) seats are based on the population of the state. Accordingly 46 seats were allotted to Madras (former name of Tamilnadu) state for the first Lok Sabha (1952-57). Subsequently, due to slower growth rate of population the number of seats allotted to Tamilnadu came down from 46 to 42, 41, 40 and finally to 39 which is 7.18% of the total number of seats in Lok Sabha. By now it would have come down to 32, but for an amendment to the constitution in 1976 to freeze the number of seats on the basis of 1971 census. But the period for which the seats were frozen is being extended and sooner or later, the demand for lifting the freeze, by an amendment of the constitution would come. Tamilnadu would finally get only around 6% of the total, which is 32. This may keep on decreasing as the time passes.

Till recently, Tamilnadu used to be treated as a major state and its views used to carry weight in the central government. If the population of the state and the number of MPs from the state is reduced, will Tamilnadu be continued to be counted as a major state?

Tamil is the 5th important language in India, in terms of the number of speakers. However, the share of Tamil speakers in the total population has come down from 6.88% in 1971 to 5.91% in 2001. It appears that the declining trend may continue particularly because of low population growth in Tamilnadu and the Tamil people’s preference to mix foreign words in their language. The 2001 census shows that the population growth in Tamilnadu was second lowest at 11% against national average of 21%. Despite its classical status, people around the world may not continue to regard Tamil as the “world’s oldest living language.”

Study of Languages in India


Children in India are made to spend a lot of time learning languages. A child in the state of Andhra Pradesh learns three or four languages – the mother tongue Telugu, English, Hindi and sometimes Sanskrit. A child in the US, UK, Japan, Germany, France, Russia and China learns only one or at most two languages. To that extent, the child in these countries has more time to learn other subjects like science, mathematics, history, geography and geology. This child also has time to think and analyze.

The argument in Andhra Pradesh is that children should learn their mother tongue, Telugu. There is no dispute about this.  There is also a case for learning English because it is an international language and higher scientific and technical knowledge could be obtained only through English language. Not only advanced countries like Germany and Japan, but also the less developed countries in Europe and countries like Malaysia have only mother tongues as medium of instruction, not only at school level but also at the university level.

As regards Hindi, the argument is that people seek employment in Hindi speaking areas in India and hence they should learn the language. This argument is not tenable. Out of 100 students hardly 1 or 2 go outside the state to Hindi speaking states. For their sake, the remaining 98% of children need not be made to learn Hindi. Their time for learning more of science and mathematics need not be robbed. Again 1 or 2% of the people may go for jobs to neighboring states like Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Orissa and Maharashtra. Does this mean that every student should in addition to the other subjects, learn Tamil, Kannada, Oriya and Marathi? Thousands of Hindi speaking people come and work in Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, and Karnataka. Do they learn Telugu, Tamil and Kannada at school?  No. If a Hindi speaking person can work in non-Hindi speaking state without learning the language of that state in school, why not a Telugu or Tamil speaking person work in non-Telugu or non-Tamil  speaking state without learning the language of that state in school?

Regarding Sanskrit, some may argue that it has rich literature. But most of the Sanskrit literature has already been translated into Telugu and children can read the translated works. If any one has special interest he or she can learn, but for that, others need not be taxed. Tamil also has equally rich literature. It does not mean that every child in India should learn Tamil language at primary stage.

It is clear that burdening school children with several languages has deprived the nation of outstanding scientists and technocrats. Learning several languages, not only takes away the time from other subjects but also makes the students lose focus and concentration. It is important to correct this trend.