Tamil (தமிழ்)

Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken mainly in southern India and Sri Lanka, and also in Malaysia, the UK, South Africa, Canada, the USA, Singapore, France, Mauritius, and many other countries.

According to the 2001 Indian census, there were 60.8 million speakers of Tamil in India. [source]. According to 2012 censuses, there were just over 3 million Tamils in Sri Lanka, and 1.8 million Tamils in Malaysia. There are also Tamil populations of more than 100,000 in the UK, South Africa, Canada, the USA, Singapore, France and Réunion [source]. The total number of Tamil speakers is about 67.5 million.

Tamil at a glance

  • Native name: தமிழ் (tamiḻ) [ˈtæmɪl]
  • Language family: Dravidian, Southern
  • Number of speakers: c. 67.5 million
  • Spoken in: India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, UK, South Africa, Canada, USA, Singapore, France, Mauritius
  • First written: 500 BC
  • Writing system: Tamil script
  • Status: official language in India, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Recognised minority language in Malaysia, Mauritius and South Africa

In India Tamil is spoken mainly in the state of Tamil Nadu, and the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry. There are also significant numbers of Tamil speakers in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Tamil is used as a language of education in Malaysia and Singapore.

Written Tamil

The earliest known inscriptions in Tamil date back to about 500 BC. Tamil literature started to apper in 300 BC, and the language used until the 700 AD is known as Old Tamil. From 700-1600 AD the language is known as Middle Tamil, and since 1600 the language has been known as Modern Tamil.

Tamil was originally written with a version of the Brahmi script known as Tamil Brahmi. By the 5th century AD this script had become more rounded and developed into the Vaṭṭeḻuttu script. In the 6th century during the Pallava dynasty (275-897 AD), a new script for Tamil, known as the Chola-Pallava script, was devised. It also used some letters from Vaṭṭeḻuttu in Sanskrit loanwords. By the 8th century, the Chola-Pallava script was used instead of Vaṭṭeḻuttu in the northern part of the Tamil-speaking area, although Vaṭṭeḻuttu continued to be used in the south until the 11th century. During the next few centuries the modern Tamil script evolved from the Chola-Pallava script.

During the 19th century the Tamil script was simplified to make it easier to typeset. Further simplifications in the 20th century included the regularisation of vowel markers.

The Tamil alphabet is well suited to writing literary Tamil, centamiḻ (செந்தமிழ்). However it is ill-suited to writing colloquial Tamil, koṭuntamiḻ (கொடுந்தமிழ்). During the 19th century, attempts were made to create a written version of the colloquial spoken language. Nowadays the colloquial written language appears mainly in school books and in passages of dialogue in fiction.

Tamil is also written with a version of the Arabic script known as Arwi by Tamil-speaking muslims.

Notable features

Tamil alphabet

Non-standard consonant-vowel combinations

Non-standard consonant-vowel combinations


Some consonants have different pronunciations depending on their position in a word, or the letters next to them.


Tamil numerals

The numerals rarely appear in modern Tamil texts. Instead, 'Arabic' numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) are used.

Other symbols

Other Tamil symbols

Download script charts for Tamil (Excel)

Sample text in Tamil

மனிதப் பிறவியினர் சகலரும் சுதந்திரமாகவே பிறக்கின்றனர்; அவர்கள் மதிப்பிலும் உரிமைகளிலும் சமமானவர்கள். அவர்கள் நியாயத்தையும் மனசாட்சியையும் இயற்பண்பாகப் பெற்றவர்கள். அவர்கள் ஒருவருடனொருவர் சகோதர உணர்வுப் பாங்கில் நடந்துகொள்ளல் வேண்டும்.


Maṉitap piṛaviyiṉar čakalarum čutantiramākavē piṛakkiṉṛaṉar; avarkaḷ matippilum urimaikaḷilum čamamāṉavarkaḷ. Avarkaḷ niyāyattaiyum maṉačāṭčiyaiyum iyaṛpaṇpākap peṛṛavarkaḷ. Avarkaḷ oruvaruṭaṉoruvar čakōtara uṇarvup pāṅkil naṭantukoḷḷal vēṇṭum.

Hear recording of this text by Muralikrishnan Ramasamy


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Sample video in Tamil

Information about Tamil | Arwi Arabic script for Tamil | Phrases | Numbers | Tower of Babel | Language learning materials


Tamil Translation

Information about the Tamil language, literature and people

Online Tamil lessons

Online Tamil dictionaries

Sinhala and Tamil word and letter puzzles

Free Tamil fonts

Online Tamil radio

Association for Tamil Computing

PDF Text - an online Unicode word processor for Tamil and English

Tamil names

Tamil songs

Tamil translation

Dravidian languages

Badaga, Brahui, Dhundari, Gondi, Irula, Jatapu, Kannada, Kodava, Kolam, Konda, Koya, Kurukh, Malayalam, Malto, Mukha Dora, Ravula, Sankethi, Savara, Sunuwar, Suriyani Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Toda, Tulu, Yerukula

Languages written with the Tamil alphabet

Irula, Tamil, Toda

Abugidas / Syllabic alphabets

Ahom, Aima, Badagu, Badlit, Balinese, Balti-A, Balti-B, Batak, Baybayin, Bengali, Bhaiksuki, Bhujimol, Bilang-bilang, Bima, Blackfoot, Brahmi, Buhid, Burmese, Carrier, Chakma, Cham, Cree, Dehong Dai, Devanagari, Dham Lipi, Dhankari / Sirmauri, Ditema, Dives Akuru, Dogra, Ethiopic, Evēla Akuru, Fraser, Gond, Goykanadi, Grantha, Gujarati, Gunjala Gondi, Gupta, Gurmukhi, Halbi Lipi, Hanifi, Hanuno'o, Ibalnan, Inuktitut, Jaunsari Takri, Javanese, Kaithi, Kadamba, Kamarupi, Kannada, Kawi, Kerinci, Kharosthi, Khema, Khe Prih, Khmer, Khojki, Khudabadi, Kirat Rai, Kōchi, Kulitan, Kurukh Banna, Lampung, Lanna, Lao, Lepcha, Limbu, Lontara/Makasar, Lota Ende, Magar Akkha, Mahajani, Malayalam, Manpuri, Meroïtic, Masarm Gondi, Modi, Mon, Mongolian Horizontal Square Script, Multani, Nandinagari, Newa, Ojibwe, Odia, Pahawh Hmong, Pallava, Phags-pa, Purva Licchavi, Qiang / Rma, Ranjana, Rejang (Kaganga), Sasak, Savara, Satera Jontal, Shan, Sharda, Siddham, Sinhala, Sorang Sompeng, Sourashtra, Soyombo, Sukhothai, Sundanese, Syloti Nagri, Tagbanwa, Takri, Tamil, Tanchangya (Ka-Pat), Tani, Thaana, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Tigalari, Tikamuli, Tocharian, Tolong Siki, Vatteluttu, Warang Citi

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