Introduction II

In addition to being an official language of India, Tamil is spoken in other parts of the world. It is spoken in Sri Lanka and the East Asian states of Singapore and Malaysia. Furthermore, a sizable population speaks Tamil in the Fiji Islands, Mauritius, Trinidad, Madagascar and South Africa.

There are thirty characters in the Tamil ethnographic system. There are twelve vowels and eighteen consonants. The Tamil alphabet is syllabic, in that each letter denotes a syllable. A syllable may be formed by a vowel or by a consonant following a vowel. Separate letters only in the initial word position denotes the vowel sounds. Furthermore, when a vowel occurs after a consonant in the middle or at the end of a word, the vowel and consonant are expressed as one letter. For example, in the case of short vowel that follows a consonant, the symbol for a is not expressed in writing because all consonants, unless designated, have an inherent a. The remaining eleven vowels will as written characters when following a consonant. A consonant without a short vowel a is denoted by a corresponding letter with a dot above. The three dotted sign (Œ) is called aaydam in Tamil and denotes that velar sound /x/ precedes a consonant. This sign is not generally used in the modern Tamil. In addition to the traditional alphabet, there are five sounds borrowed from other languages. These sounds, which have a representation in the Tamil script, are known as Grantha letters. These Grantha letters are used in Tamil predominantly when writing the name of a person or of a place, and the letters also appear in borrowed words.