Tamil is one of the twenty-six Dravidian languages indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It is ranked among the world’s oldest classical languages. Numerous linguists including Bhadriraju Krishnamurti claim that Tamil originated from the Proto-Dravidian that was used in the places near the lower river Godavari basin in Peninsula India during the 3rd millennium BCE. Legend has it that the Hindu God Lord Shiva created the language while Sage Agastya and Murugan (Tamil God) brought it to the people.
Countries Where Tamil Is Spoken
India has two main language families: Dravidian which is spoken by over 24% of the population and Indo-Aryan (used by 74% of the residents). Tamil is spoken in various Indian states but has official status in the following places in India:
The official languages of Tamil Nadu are Tamil and English. Tamil was the first dialect to be recognized as a classical language in the country by the government. According to the 2001 census, Tamil was used as the first language by over 90% of the residents of Tamil Nadu. Other dialects used in the state include Malayalam, Urdu, Kannada, and Telugu.
The Cession Treaty of 1956 stipulated that French should be the official language of Puducherry and that it should remain so until the elected official decided otherwise. The Union Territories Act of 1963 made Malayalam, Marathi, Telugu, and Tamil the official languages of Puducherry. French didn’t lose its status even after Puducherry adopted the Official Language Act of Pondicherry of 1965. The Official Language Act of Pondicherry stipulated that Tamil shall be used for all official purposes in the territory.
Sri Lanka is home to diverse ethnicities, languages, and cultures with a considerable percentage of the minorities being the Tamil speakers. The Tamils make up over 11.2% of the country’s population. The Tamils from India were brought as laborers to Sri Lanka by the British and over half of them were repatriated after Sri Lanka gained their independence in 1948. Even though their constitution defines English as a linking dialect which is commonly used for commercial, scientific and educational purposes, the official languages of Sri Lanka are Tamil and Sinhalese.
The four official languages of Singapore are English, Tamil, Mandarin Chinese, and Malay. English is the government and business language. Various public institutions conduct most of their functions in English, but their official documents are drafted in Tamil, Malay or Chinese. Over 4% of the population can converse in Tamil, and this includes about 100,000 native Tamil speakers. Tamil is the most widely used Indian dialect in the country. Individuals of Tamil ancestry in Singapore make up about 58% of the Indian Singaporeans. Over 39% of the Indian Singaporeans converse in Tamil daily.
Other Places Where Tamil Is Spoken
Tamil is also spoken by the descendants of Tamil immigrants who are living in various parts of the world including South America, Caribbean, North America, Europe, Mauritius, and Malaysia. The Sri Lankan Moors are also Tamil native speakers. Tamil is used in school in Malaysia together with Mandarin, Malay, and English.