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தொடக்கப் பக்கம் (Home) Vowels  Alphabet chart  How to write Tamil letters?  Exercises for Tamil Alphabet

      Tamil Consonants

      Consonants are produced by touching the tongue to a location on the upper portion of the mouth. For example, the sound k is produced with the back part of tongue touching the velum, the upper back part of the oral cavity. 'Pure' consonants (that is, the consonant in isolation; more precisely, the symbol denoting the common point of articulation among all consonant-vowel combinations) in Tamil are written with a dot on the top of the symbol, as in க் (k), ச் (ch, s), etc. When vowels are added to such pure consonants to form syllables, this dot is removed and a secondary symbol representing the vowel is included. However, there are no separate secondary symbols for certain consonant-vowel combinations. For example, to mark the vowel அ (a) coming after a consonant, the dot is simply removed from the pure consonants as in க (ka), ச (ca)and so on.

      There are eighteen consonants in Tamil: five stops, six nasals, two laterals, three r sounds and two glides. Besides these original Tamil letters, there are also six Grantha letters, which have been added to the Tamil alphabet at a later point of time in the history of Tamil written language to accomodate the sounds of words borrowed from Sanskrit.

      Stop sounds

      Stop sounds are so called because they are produced with an abrupt release of tongue from a firm closure at some part of the mouth. For exampe, the stop sound த் (IPA dental???) which is called dental stop (as in there) is produced by pressing the front portion of the tongue firmly on the dental portion of the mouth and releasing it abruptly. The following table distinguishes the five stop consonants and their names based on how they are produced in various articulatory locations.

      LetterPronunciation  
      க்
      k as in book, talk  velar stop
      ச்
      c (optionally 's' in word initial position) as in coach, beach palatal stop
      ட்
      T as in coat, goat aleveolar retroflex stop
      த்
      t as in width (in initial position), bathe, there (between vowels)  dental stop
      ப்
      p as in cup, soup  bilabial stop

      Nasal sounds

      Nasal sounds are produced similar to how stop sounds are produced, but with an exception of air being released through nose instead of mouth. There are six nasals in Tamil and each of them is produced at the same place where the corresponding stop consonants are produced. In a number of words in Tamil these nasals and their corresponding stop sounds form a cluster.

      LetterPronunciation  
      ங்
      ŋ (ng) as in strong, ping  velar nasal
       
      ஞ்
      ñ (nj) as in mañana palatal nasal
      ண்
      ɳ (N) as in open, then  retroflex nasal
      ந்
      n (n) as in nation, nose   dental nasal
      ன்
      n (n) as in nuke, new  alveolar nasal
      ம்
      m (m) as in mate, moon   bilabial nasal

      Lateral sounds

      When the tip of the tougue is touching the pre-alveolar portion of the mouth, the air is released through the sides of the toungue to make the lateral sounds ல் (l as in lean, later) and ள் (L as in mole, goal). The former is called alveolar lateral and the latter is called retroflex lateral. When producing the retroflex lateral (L), the tip of the toungue curves back a little and makes a contact on the alveolar region of the mouth.

      Fricatives - R sounds

      R sounds are otherwise called fricatives, which are produced by making a friction with the tongue and the upper portion of the palate. There are three R sounds in Tamil. They include a flapped r (ர் as in right, wrong) and a trilled R (ற் as in bore, trill). For many Tamil speakers, the distinction between a flapped r and a trilled r is no longer made in pronunciation (though, of course, it is relevant in the written language). In addition to these fricatives, there is a retroflex frictionless continuent ழ் (as in America; though note that Tamil does not have the lip rounding present in 'America'). The flapped r is produced by a tap on the alveolar part of the mouth with the tip of the tongue; the trilled r on the ohter hand is produced with a vibration of the tip of the tongue on the alveolar region of the mouth; and the retroflex frictionless continuent sound (ழ்) is produced by sliding the tongue from the middle of the mouth through the upper palate.

      Letter Pronunciation  
      ர்
      r as in right, wrong (flapped)
      ற்
      r as in bore, trill (trilled)
      ழ்
      zh as in America (see above)

      Glides

      There are two glide sounds in Tamil namely y (ய் as in yoke and your) and v (வ் as in vote, where). ய் is called palatal glide and is produced with the middle part of the tongue sliding gently over the middle portion of the palate; and வ் is called labio dental glide, which is produced with the lower lip sliding over the upper portion of the teeth.

      Grantha letters

      During the medieval period Sanskrit was written in Southern India using a special set of characters called Grantha letters. The Grantha letters were mainly used to write the rules and conducts of temple rituals and rites, which are latter called Agamas. However, after Tamil developed its own script during the 1st century A.D., it retained some of the Grantha letters to represent some of the special Sanskrit sounds in Tamil. There was a period during the Pallava reign between 1st and 6th century A.D. both the Tamil script and the Grantha script must have co-existed. The Grantha script is current only in the Agamic literatures which are readable only by the Temple priests. Following six Grantha letters are used to accomodate the Sanskrit words in Tamil. Thus, any word with these letters in Tamil are, presumably, borrowed and are not indigenous.

      LetterPronunciation  
      ஜ்
      j as in journal, journey (palatal)
      ஷ்
      sh as in shine, sheet (palatal)
      ஸ்
      s as in send, bose
      ஹ்
      h as in house, hotel (glottal fricative)
      க்ஷ்
      ksh as in conjunction, function
      ஸ்ரீ
      srii as in Shri  
       

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