Tamil (தமிழ்) is the native language of the Tamil ethnic group, and has official status in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Tamil Nadu state in India. In 2004, it was the first language to be declared one of India’s six Classical Languages, before even Sanskrit.
Tamil is written using the Tamil script, which is one of many scripts derived from the ancient Brahmi system. It is categorized as an abugida, meaning that unlike alphabets such as Greek or Latin, is not written with complete vowels. The 18 consonants of Tamil are written in full, and vowels are represented with the use of diacritics which modify the consonant letter. Compared to other Brahmic scripts, ligatures which combine consonants into one symbol are used rarely in Tamil. Also, certain distinctions between consonants are not represented in Tamil writing, though they are usually clear in other Brahmic scripts which have a larger inventory of consonant characters.
The earliest confirmed examples of Tamil writing date back to the 3rd century BCE. These early inscriptions used a slightly adapted form of the Brahmi script, called Tamil-Brahmi. However, this script fell out of use and was replaced by, or developed into, other Brahmic scripts like Grantha, Pallava and Vatteluttu. Over time, a new system was created on the basis of these, and became the modern Tamil script. As is the case with a number of Brahmic scripts of southern India and elsewhere, rounded shapes developed as a result of writing on palm leaves, which tend to tear if written on with straight lines.
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