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The language

Tamil is a Dravidian language predominantly spoken by the Tamil people in Tamil Nadu, India and northern Sri Lanka. It is also widely spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, where it is an official language, and by emigrant Tamil communities across the world. Tamil is one of the longest- surviving classical languages in the world; it was the first Indian language to be recognised as a classical language by the Government of India in 2004.

The dialects

There are two variants of Tamil: Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Tamil. Indian Tamil is predominantly spoken by the Tamil people in Tamil Nadu, India, and by Tamil speakers who have settled in Malaysia and Singapore. Sri Lankan Tamil is predominantly spoken by the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and by smaller emigrant communities around the world. There are a number of dialects within these two groups. In addition to these geographical differences, a high variety of Tamil is used for writing and in public settings while the low variety is used for everyday communication, films and some modern fiction.

The script

The Tamil script has 12 vowels and 18 consonants.


When translating from Tamil into English, the word count tends to increase by around 25-30%.

Tamil culture

Most Tamils live in India but there are also a significant number of Tamils living in Sri Lanka. Tamils are predominantly Hindu, although some are Muslim or Christian. The most important regional festival is Pongal, which marks the end of the rice harvest in January. Offerings of newly harvested rice boiled in milk are made to the sun god, Surya. On the third day of celebrations, cattle are decorated and bullfights take place. Other important festivals include Diwali and Tamil New Year, which occurs in mid-April. Famous Tamil foods include idli, savoury cakes often eaten for breakfast, dosa, a thin pancake made from a fermented batter, and sambal, a spicy condiment made primarily of chilli peppers. A traditional outfit for men is a shirt with a dhoti, a garment which is wrapped around the waist, whereas women dress in a saree, an embroidered garment draped across the body and over the shoulder, or salwar kameez, a loose tunic with trousers.