Beginners’ Tamil: a taster course
Beginners’ Tamil: a taster course

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2 Tamil script

The current Tamil script consists of 12 vowels (Table 1), 18 consonants (Table 2) and one special character, the āytam. The vowels and consonants combine to form 216 compound characters (see Section 2.1 for examples), giving a total of 247 characters. There are also Grantha letters originating from the 4th century, which are used with Sanskrit words, usually in religious contexts.

All consonants have an inherent vowel a, as with other Indic scripts. This inherent vowel is removed by adding a tittle called a pulli, to the consonantal sign. For example,   is ṉa (with the inherent a) and ன் is ṉ (without a vowel).

The direction of writing is from left to right, in horizontal lines. The alphabet was originally written on palm fronds. As a result, the letters are made up mainly of curved strokes which would not have ripped the fronds.

Table 1 The 12 Tamil vowels

a e
aa ee
i ai
ii o
u oo
uu au

Table 2 The 18 Tamil consonants, with the Grantha letters

க்

k

[k], [ɡ], [x], [ɣ], [ɦ]

ங்

[ŋ]

ச்

c

[t͡ɕ], [d͡ʑ], [s], [ɕ]

ஞ்

ñ

[ɲ]

ட்

[ʈ], [ɖ], [ɽ]

ண்

[ɳ]

த்

t

[t̪], [d̪], [ð]

ந்

n

[n̪]

ப்

p

[p], [b], [β]

ம்

m

[m]

ய்

y

[j]

ர்

r

[ɾ]

ல்

l

[l]

வ்

v

[ʋ]

ழ்

[ɻ]

ள்

[ɭ]

ற்

[r], [t], [d]

ன்

[n]

Grantha letters

ja

sha

sa

ha

க்ஷ

kṣha

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