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Conference of Dravidian Linguists, Punjabi University,
Patiala, June 14-16, 2011

(earlier in the middle ages and now in the context of UNICODE)

Editor, Tamil Etymological Dictionary, Chennai

The Tamils have always realized the imperative need to conserve their alphabet. Even Thirukkural
indicates that the letters and numerals are our two eyes.
z} { } z
z}  t
2. Letters, otherwise called phonemes, (together with their written forms i.e. the script form) constitute
the life of any language. All the major language of the world have their letters arranged in particular order
according to their genius.
3. unique among the languages of the world, Tamil alone has, since millennia ago perfected its phonemic
order scientifically classifying it into vowels, consonants and vowel consonants.
The present Tamil alphabet also seems to have reached its mature form more than 2500 years ago.
Perceptive scholars like Maraimalaiyadigal and G. Devaneya Pavanar were of the view that the other Indic
languages (including North Indian Indo- European languages) seems to have adopted from Tamil, this
ideal system of arrangement of phonemes, with minor modifications for including voiced forms, aspirates
4. The extreme antiquity of the present Tamil alphabet system and its script is attested by the Tamil
inscriptions on ancient pot shreds, burial urns, artifacts, ornaments, brief records on rock caves etc.,
dating from as early as 700 B.C. Of course, there is also the literary evidence of Tholkappiam, the earliest
extant Tamil grammar, dated by most competent scholars to the period 800-500 B.C. As Dr. Xavier S.
Thaninayakam perceptively observed, (Nature in Ancient Tamil Poetry) there should have been
centuries of development of Tamil languages before the classical period of Tholkappiam and the sangam
5. Scholars generally agree that Indo European speakers (Aryans in common parlance) entered India
about 1500 B.C. Pargiter, Przluki, Sir John Marshall, Father Heras, S.K. Chatterji, Kunhan Raja, A.L. Basham,
D.D. Kosambi, Stanley Wolpert/ and I. Mahadevan see Dravidian Influence in the Rig Veda itself. Burrow,
Emeneau and others have identified Dravidian elements in the vocabulary and even in some grammatical
and syntactical features also of the hymns of Rig Veda.
6. The Dravidian provenance of the Indus civilization (mature period 3000 BC-1900 BC) its languages and
script is now generally accepted though as yet there is as yet no accepted decipherment of the 3000 plus
Indus seal inscriptions. Asko Parpola, Mahadevan, Szalek, Madhivanam and Poornachandra Jeeva are
among the important scholars working in this field.
Some scholars including Devaneyan and Madhivanan are of the view that the present Tamil script might
have evolved ultimately from the Indus script.
7. The present dogma is that Brahmi is the mother of all Indian scripts i) the Devanagri and related script
derived from northern Brahmi and (ii) The Tamil and related scripts from southern Brahmi. This is based
on the fallacy that originally the Tamils had no script and they adopted the Asokan Brahmi script with
modifications in 3
century BC . This dogma has now become untenable after recent findings of Rajan and
others in Tamil Nadu (Puliman-Kombai etc.,) Bridget and Ramond Allchim and Deraniagala in Srilanka that
many Pottery etc., inscriptions and Nadukal (herostone) inscriptions are datable to as early as 700 B.C.
Eminent and those of scholars like T.N. Subramaniam in the 1930s and T.V. Gopalaiyar(in (1986) have
rebutted this dogma and argued that the Asokan Brahmi should have evolved from the earlier script of
Tamil itself. The eminent chief epigraphist of india Sampath is of the view that the correct nomenclature
of the early Tamil inscriptions should be Damuli j and not Tamil Brahmi.
8. The vedic Aryans did not have any script for their language and this is generally agreed. The Prakrits
seem to have adopted the Brahmi script and later Sanskrit also did so. T.N. Subramanian and T.V.
Gopalaiyar support the view that Prakrit and then Sanskrit seem to have adopted the Damuli script and
that when doing so, they amplified and formed new forms for the voiced and aspirated forms for hard
consonants etc.,
9. Till the 3
century AD Prakrit and Sanskrit influence seems to have been minimal in the Tamil land. The
influence began with the intrusion of Jainism and Buddism into South India and Tamil nadu from 300 BC
and of Brahmanism one or two centuries later. In due course their influence (direct and indirect
innocuous and motivated) increased in Tamil Nadu in all spheres like religion, society and polity. What is
more potent than language and script to subvert nation? We know that the walsh of the celtic people was
destroyed by the English; and that the Irish narrowly escaped a similar fate. And Sindhi a Dravidian
language lost its original character by enforced adoption of Arabic script which resulted in massive
induction of Arabic and Persian words. In Tamil Nadu the Northern Prakrit / Sanskrit people were not able
to make any headway in subverting the Tamil language till they managed from the 6
century AD onwards
to thrust on the Tamils the so called Grandha (or Pallava Grantha) script/ an ersatz script created by
injection into the Tamil script of the forms for non Tamil phonemes like voiced and aspirated letters. Later
this facilitated the evolution of the Manipravala style in which floods of Sanskrit words were strung
together in Tamil syntax. In Chera country after 10
century such Manipravala become the norm and this
led the evolution of Malayalam. C.P. Brown pointed out that it of the introduction in Telugu of characters
for hard consonant varga letters which allowed the flooding of Telugu with Sanskrit vocabulary. Tamil
might have followed the same course but for the Tamil renaissance which commenced in Tamil Nadu from
1800 onwards due to the contributions of Caldwell, Pope etc and host of other scholars inspired by them.
Like Maraimalaiyadigal, Deveneya Pavanar. Ilakkuvanar and Perunchithiranar, to mention only a few.
10. The recent attempt Sanskrit enthusiasts (in the context of the settlements by the Govt. of India the
character domains of various Indian languages in the context of the UNICODE.
to i) Include in Tamil UNICODE the Grantha letters for voiced and aspirated hard consonants, etc/or.,
ii) Include in the Grantha Unicode of the unique Tamil Letters
, , , , (e, o, K,R,V)
constitute a sinister move in our days to target Tamil also in the manner the other Dravidian languages
were targeted successfully earlier than 18
century and facilitate intrusion of massive loads of non Tamil
words. The danger is even greater now because in the context of the present relentless onslaught of
English as a global language (killer languages of multinational corporations it is called) tens of thousands
of English words will swamp the Tamil vocabulary making it into Pidgin Thamingilam or Tamilish, within a
decade or two.
11. Fortunately there was strong mass opposition among Tamils to i) above and the Tamil Nadu Govt.
wisely decided to protest to Central Govt. and make it drop the move following the advice given on
12.2.2011 by a high level committee though (ii) above seems innocuous it is also equally dangerous since it
may encourage snide attempts to use the UNICODE Grantha script so enlarged to replace the present
Tamil script lock stock and barrel though the Tamil will never allow such attempts to succeed.
12. Before I conclude I would like to point out also that under article 29(1) of the constitution of India such
moves at any level to subvert the present script of Tamil will be unconstitutional, as violative of the
Fundamental Right of the Tamil people.

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