Tamil Font

Transliteration Scheme
Histroy of Tamil Font
 

Type Syllabic Alphabetic
Family Brahmi
Location South Asia
Time 8th century CE to Present


The Tamil script evolved from the Grantha script of the Southern Indian group of scripts. It is currently used to write the Tamil language in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as well as in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, the Tamil language is one of the oldest recorded languages in southern India. The earliest texts, written in a southern variant of Brahmi, date from just before the 1st century CE. Later, the Grantha script was employed to write the Tamil language until the 8th century CE when a distinctive script evolve to exclusively write the language. The system has changed little since. The following is the basic Tamil script. Unlike other South Asian scripts, Tamil does not have signs for voiceless aspirated (such as /kh/), voiced (/g/), and voiced aspirated stops (/gh/), which explains the relatively small number of signs in the Tamil script compared to other South Asian scripts. To write some of these sounds, some signs have multiple sound values: stands for both /ka/ and /ga/, for both /ca/ and /sa/, for /ta/, /da/, and /ða/, for /pa/ and /ba/, and so on. Sometimes these phonetic alterations are conditioned by the sound's position in the word (such as is /pa/ at the beginning of word or after a voiceless consonant, and /ba/ between vowels or after /m/), while other times they are somewhat random (such as can be both /ca/ and /sa/ at the beginning of a word). This confusion is due to phonological changes not reflected in the script, and to loanwords from Sanskrit and nearby languages. Borrowings from Sanskrit also added some special letters to Tamil. The last row of six letters are called Grantha letters and have been used to write Sanskrit loanwords. Nowadays they are used to write words with English origin as well. Similar to other South Asian scripts, a Tamil letter carries the inherent vowel of /a/. To change this vowel to another, extra strokes or signs are placed around the letter, as indicated by the following chart. Even the absence of the vowel is indicated by a dot written, called virama, above the letter. While the diacritics for nearly all the vowels are relatively identical, the diacritics for /u/ and /u:/ vary between letters, as illustrated in the following example: Another interesting feature of the Tamil script is how consonant clusters are written. In other South Asian scripts, letters are joined together to form a single sign, which often does not resemble the original letters. Tamil, on the other hand, each consonant in the cluster (except the last one) is represented by the corresponding letter plus the virama on top. Related links: · Tamil transliteration and pronunciation

Brahmi

Quick Facts


Type Syllabic Alphabetic
Family Brahmi
Location South Asia
Time 5th century BCE to 4th century CE


The Brahmi script is one of the most important writing systems in the world by virtue of its time depth and influence. It represents the earliest post-Indus corpus of texts, and some of the earliest historical inscriptions found in India. Most importantly, it is the ancestor to hundreds of scripts found in South, Southeast, and East Asia. This elegant script appeared in India most certainly by the 5th century BCE, but the fact that it had many local variants even in the early texts suggests that its origin lies further back in time. There are several theories on to the origin of the Brahmi script. The first theory is that Brahmi has a West Semitic origin. For instance, the symbol for a resembles Semitic letter 'alif. Similarly, dha, tha, la, and ra all appear quite close to their Semitic counterparts. Another theory, from a slightly different school of thought, proposes a Southern Semitic origin. Finally, the third theory holds that the Brahmi script came from Indus Valley Script. However, at least in my personal opinion, the lack of any textual evidence between the end of the Harappan period at around 1900 BC and the first Brahmi and Kharoshthi inscriptions at roughly 500 BC makes the Indus origin of Brahmi highly unlikely. Yet on the other hand, the way Brahmi, and its relative Kharosthi, works is quite different from Semitic scripts, and may point to either a stimulus-diffusion or even indigenous origin. The situation is complex and confusing, and more research should be conducted to either prove or disprove any of the theories. Brahmi is a "syllabic alphabet", meaning that each sign can be either a simple consonant or a syllable with the consonant and the inherent vowel /a/. Other syllabic alphabets outside of South Asia include Old Persian and Meroïtic. However, unlike these two system, Brahmi (and all subsequent Brahmi-derived scripts) indicates the same consonant with a different vowel by drawing extra strokes, called matras, attached to the character. Ligatures are used to indicate consonant clusters. The following chart is the basic Brahmi script. There are many variations to the basic letter form, but I have simplified it here so that the most canonical shape is presented. And an example of strokes added to indicate different vowels following the consonants /k/ and /l/. The Brahmi script was the ancestor of all South Asian writing systems. In addition, many East and Southeast Asian scripts, such as Burmese, Thai, Tibetan, and even Japanese to a very small extent (vowel order), were also ultimately derived from the Brahmi script. Thus the Brahmi script was the Indian equivalent of the Greek script that gave arise to a host of different systems. You can take a look at the evolution of Indian scripts, or the evolution of Southeast Asian scripts. Both of these pages are located at the very impressive site Languages and Scripts of India. You can also take a look at Asoka's edict at Girnar, inscribed in the Brahmi script. Related links: · Languages and Scripts of India · Eden's Page: Scripts of all of Asia.