Tamil is the oldest of the Dravidian languages. Along with Chinese, Greek, Sanskrit and others, it is one of the world's classical languages. Tamil literature spans 4000 years. This language was the first to develop a distinct prose form of writing among the classical languages of the world. Tamil is the only language among the old languages that has a history of 2000 or more years of existence. With slight variation in scripts and usage, the language still thrives. The literatures written in 200 BC are still learnt and used in normal speeches. The Tamil Thirukkural is second only to the Bible in number of published translations. Over the course of the language's development, many words from other languages have been absorbed. For instance, Tamil spoken in Tamil Nadu has a significant number of words from Sanskrit, English, Dutch, French and Urdu.
The letter 'ழ' of 'தமிழ்' (Tamil) is pronounced like a retroflex 'r', and is often transliterated as "zh".
Local usages of Tamil vary. There are differences in its usage not only among countries but even within Tamil Nadu, a region of India where Tamil is the predominantly spoken language.
Tamil is one of the recognized languages for official correspondence in four countries viz, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. In both Canada and Myanmar, the Tamil speaking population is about one million. There are about 80 million Tamil speakers worldwide.
Tamil is a Dravidian language, like most south Indian languages. Other Dravidian languages include Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu.
Tamil's origins are independent of Sanskrit (which is from the Indo-European language family and the ancestor of many Indian languages), but it has been flexible in allowing other languages to blend in seamlessly giving the non-speaker a sense of ease while trying to learn the language. This is one of the specialties of the language since it does not modify the structural integrity of the language. The oldest Tamil text Tolkaappiyam is a grammar of Tamil.
Quite significantly for its age, Tamil seems to have undergone minimal changes and adaptations over the years. Classical Tamil is quite comprehensible to speakers of the modern language. The ancient Tamil book Tirukkural is an example. The verses from the book are often taught to young students of the language at the primary level, and they pick up the lines in the ancient dialect with little difficulty.
Tamil literature is literature in the Tamil language which most prominently includes the contributions of the historic Tamil country or Tamizhagam, a large part of which constitutes the modern state of Tamil Nadu in India. Because of the antiquity of the Tamil language, Tamil literature has a rich tradition spanning more than 5000 years and is particularly famous for its poetic tradition as well as for its epics, philosophical works and secular flavour.
The works of the Sangam period, known as Sangam literature, at the turn of the first millennium are the most ancient and considered very important. The word Sangam refers to an academy. Tolkaappiyam, Akananaru and Purananaru are important works from this period.
In the post-Sangam period, there were many notable works. Silapadhigaaram by Ilangovadigal tells the tale of Kannagi, Kovalan and Maadhavi. Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar consists of 1330 couplets which discuss about various aspects of life and is widely known even today. Aathichoodi, a collection of single-line sayings was written by Auvaiyaar, a young poetess who became prematurely old according to folklore. The first word in each saying is based on alphabetical order. Kambaramayanam was a version of the Ramayana by the poet Kamban (Kambar). Periya puranaam , Divya Prabhandham ,Thiruppavai, Thiruvempaavai and Dhevaaram were written in the Bhakti cult. Manimegalai, Seevaga sindhamani, Valayaapathi, Kundalakesi are other important works.
In the modern period, the works of poet Subramanya Bharathy, (better known as Bharathiar) who was also a great freedom fighter, are particularly stimulating in their progressive themes- emancipation of women, freedom, etc.,
As far as modern fiction is concerned, Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram was the first novel in Tamil.
In the early twentieth century, Kalki Krishnamurthy is one of the most renowned and respected writers. Sivagamiyin Sabhadham and Ponniyin Selvan constitute some of his greatest works, both based on historical themes.