ahome.gif (2842 bytes)

atkual.gif (3174 bytes)

atamil.gif (2974 bytes)

ahotlinks.gif (3361 bytes)

ahumor.gif (2910 bytes)


        In tracing the history of Tamil, the studies of foreigners of this language form an important source. For one thing, the pronunciation of Tamil words as heard by them, naturally according to the Phonemic peculiarities of respective languages, is an important piece of information from which one can arrive at the Phonetic value of Tamil letters in their course of history.  Foe another, the foreigners were familiar more with the colloquial language, for a study of which we have not many other sources of knowledge.


            " The consonants of Tamil are very seldom the English Consonants" and hence Pope has cautioned the learners of Tamil that "the pupil must use very great pains in accustoming himself to pronounce each consonants accurately by stopping it at the right place, lips, palate, throat or base of the brain. Unless this be done, the Tamil letter is not produced , but merely something analogous to it. This will require at first some exaggeration , but will tone down in a little while". This complexity of the Tamil consonants, as far as the English speakers are concerned has led him to give the articulatory descriptions of most of these sounds whereas for vowels he does not seem to be faced with the same difficulties. Besides giving the articulatory descriptions he has grouped some of the consonants on the basis of Phonetic similarity. For example, rr, t, and tt are called as 'three t sounds', r, r and l as 'three r sounds' etc. and the position of articulation of these groups are explained in detail.


            "K is guttural, C is palatal, t is lingual, t is dental and p is labial". This is as far as the position of the articulation of these sounds. The manner is described in some detail.

            "k, t and p are pronounced sharp or hard [i] in the beginning of a word [ii] when they have the mute mark, and [iii] when they are doubled; but  soft or first in all other cases. These letters are therefore [surd or] hard at the beginning of a word, and when doubled; but [sonant or] soft when they occur singly, in the middle of a word". 

             K: " The sound of k in the middle of words is very soft, like the final g in some German words". "makan 'son' is [magan] as in German Tag". Caldwell also mentions this pronunciation as follows : "g, the sonant of  k is pronounced in a peculiarly soft manner. Its sound resembles that of an Irish gh, and is more commonly used to express the h of other languages". Ss, both the statements may be interpreted as referring to the value of velar voiced fricative which is also the modern pronunciation. Since this is not referred to by earlier grammarians we can assume that this pronunciation developed only during 19th century

 C: Even though c has been called as “palatal” the plint of articulation has been clearly specified as “as nearly  as possible as a dental” and “platal [almost a dental]  these refer to the gingival position in modern terminology. 

        Sibilants: but in common use c=c”, in this connection, Caldwell's   statement is most clear: “Tamil rejects the Sanskrit sibilants s,s and s.  the consonant which is adopts instead is ch which is pronounced in Tamil in a manner some what similar to the soft aspirated s of Siva or as a very soft sh which as little sibilating or aspiration as possible, in fact, it may be regarded as a palatal, “not as sibilant” he has stated again that c when single is pronounced as “soft, weak sibilant”, with a sound midway between s, sh and ch” these statements properly refer to c as a gingival affricate with stop quality being predominant.

        Both pope and Caldwell refer to the pronunciation of, palatal voiceless affricate initially in the so called vulgar speech and medially when geminated in the speech of all people. Further, only Pope has correctly out that  it has got the value of j  when  it is preceded by n : ancu [anju]  fear thou ‘five’.

                t : the place of articulation is the lower edge of the upper teeth th in this.

               t : single in the middle of a word, is sounded like th in this  [dis] not like th in thin  [thetain] and not like d which is a very common mistake”  so the phonetic value of t in the intervocalic position will be voiced dental fricative. Pope makes further distinctions “th is flat as in the English there[dthetad]   never sharp as thin”. Deniel Jones makes no such distinction   between – and – for the English. However, it can be explained that ‘flat’ is indication of the tongue and ‘sharpo’ the tip of the tongue as the articulator. It is also worth nothing that Tolke: ppiyar has pointed out that t is to be pronounced by flattening of the tip of the tongue.

        Caldwell has clearly specified that “t between two vowels is pronounced not as d, but with the sound of the soft English th in that  [dxt]it is only. When it is combined with the nasal that the sonant of t is pronounced in  Tamil as d’.

          Pope transcribes the frivative pronunciation with the symbol th, for instance, matam  arroganace’ as [matham] and pa:ti 'half' [pa:thi] these two are intervocal position. But t accruing after y is also transcribed. With the same symbol in one case. Ceytaya:, corrupt form to eyta:rkaf ‘ they did’ as [ceytha:wa] this may mean that even after y, t has got the voiced fricative pronunciation, which is true even today. The fricative pronunciation is a new development 19th century Tamil.

        p :  No further statement has been made about p.

        t :  the position of articulation is described as “tongue curled round as far back as possible" i.e., a retroflex sound. Even though it is not  included under the above rule of convertibility or surds and sonant, his transcription justified its inclusion as has been by Caldwell occurring in the intevocal position on and before stops has been transcribed as d: v:u house’ as [vu:du] and a:tci ‘rule’ as [a:dci] 

        rr : t,  rr  and tt  are called as three t sounds.           

               “rr is produced when the contract is made by ‘tongue to the ridge of the palate’ that is apic alveolar stop. There cannot be any such pronunciation in the colloquial Tamil of the 19th century. Note the one statement that tt or rr Iis interchangeable with cc.

    rr:  r has been grouped with r and l and the three together called as three r  sounds.

   “r  [as nearly a dental as may be]. Bring the tip of the tongue to the insertion of the upper teeth and pronounce a gentle r.

    r : [palatal] : apply the tip of the tongue to the ridge of the palate and pronounce a rough rrr in which a z will mingle”. 

    It is clear that these three sounds differ in points of articulation and in manner of articulation, i.e. r can be called as apicogingival flap, r as apicoalveolar trill and  t as apicodomel trill the fricative coloring also. 

    Since he has himself noted that r and r are often confounded by the common people, the trill pronunciation of r  could not have been colloquial in that period. But he has remarked that in terva:ru, the corrupt form of teriva : tu ‘do not know'  every r  is pronounced with the whirr in the speech is on additional that r  and r have already merged. 

                There is what is called ‘spelling pronunciation’ for rr and nr. Caldwell observed that “rr is pronounced as ttr though written rr”  Pope has mentioned the case euphony. Enra:n [endra:n ] he said”  the d is not euphonic but may be the remnants of older alveolar pronunciation. This homorganic cluster also has become “nn in common talk”.

bullet NASALS

            n, n and n are called a three n Nasal sounds. 

               n [dental] : bring the tip of the tongue to the lower edge of the upper teeth and pronounce s soft n nakam 'nail': vanta:n ‘he came']. 

n [palatal] : apply the tip of the tongue to the ridge of the palate and pronounce a distinct n [manam ‘mind' : palam 'fruit'] 

n [lingual] :  turn the tip of the tongue as far back as you can, and pronounce a strong n [manam 'perfume'; Aran 'beauty, defense']. so, these are apico-dentals, apico-alveolar and apico-domal respectively. The statement that the initial n  in nakam  is not correct because it is alveolar in modern pronunciation. He has also observed that “n  and n are interchanged occasionally” n is equated with ng in long [lon] and hence  it is a valar nasal ; so also, n corresconds with Spanish n  which is a palatal: m is no doubt a bilabial.


          y is called as palatal and v is labial. The distinction between labio-dental and bilabial is not referred to anywhere. However, it has been transcribed with y symbol in most of the places, for instance, avan ‘he’ [aven]; vi:tu ‘house’ [vudu] [P.12] and tavam ‘penance’ [tavam] [P.8] but in one case ceyta:va,  the colloquial form of ceyta:rkal ‘they did’ is transcribed as [ceytha:wa].Is w referring to the bilabial fricative [before a:]? 

               r, as already noted is a gingival flap, l and l are given as two l sounds.

            l [palatal]: tongue to the ridge of the palate, and pronounce a soft l kal ‘a stone’].              

               l [cerebral]  : tongue curled back round as far back as possible [kal 'toddy']  hence they are apico-alveolar and apico-domal lateral  respectively. 

               L, as already pointed out is considered by Pope as apico domal r sound, I, e, “ a rough rrr in which z sound will mingle” it is to be noted Tolke: ppiyar has grouped / worth r. The reference of z  sound mingling with r may refer to the fricative nature. Further, he has noted that "/ is y in madras and / in Tinnevelly and south". hence, It was not a separate phoneme in those places.