Brahmin Tamil (Tamil: பிராமண தமிழ்) is the name for the Sanskritized version of Tamil traditionally spoken by Tamil Brahmins. The dialect, largely, uses Classical Tamil and a large variety of Sanskrit words. According to linguist V. Balasubramaniam, Brahmin Tamil dialect is closest to the Central Tamil dialect, particularly, the variant used by Vellalars and Mudaliyars.
The dialect took its present form during the reign of the Vijayanagar Empire. During the heyday of Brahmin domination in the early 1900s, Brahmin Tamil was used as the lingua-franca for inter-caste communication. The principal characters in the Tamil movies of the period (1930s and 1940s) also spoke the Brahmin dialect. However, with the rise of the Pure Tamil Movement and the entry of Dravidian ideologues into Tamil cinema in the 1950s, Brahmin Tamil was gradually displaced from public spheres. Today, Brahmin Tamil is only used in films and television soaps centred on the Brahmin society. Brahmin Tamil, has however, continued to flourish among the expatriate community.
The first systematic study of Brahmin Tamil was undertaken by Jules Bloch in 1910. However, the most detailed study was conducted by A. K. Ramanujan and William Bright in the 1960s. More recent researches on Brahmin Tamil and other socio-dialects have been conducted by Kamil Zvelebil.
There are many forms of Brahmin Tamil spoken. While the Tamil spoken by Brahmins vary from place to place influenced by the regional dialect of Tamil used, Brahmin Tamil, in general, is less influenced by regional dialects than the dialects used by other Tamil communities. The two main regional variations are Thanjavur and Palakkad sub-dialects.
The differences between Thanjavur and Palakkad sub-dialects are:
- In the words ending in m and n preceded by a vowel, the vowel is nasalised but the nasal stops themselves are not pronounced except when followed by a word beginning with a vowel in the Thanjavur style. In the Palakkad style the nasal stops in these cases are always pronounced.
- The accent, style and vocabulary of Tamil used by Tamil Brahmins from Palakkad is greatly influenced by Malayalam apart from Sanskrit while the sub-dialects used in Tamil Nadu borrow only from Sanskrit.
The Iyengars, particularly those outside the Tamil region, have a dialect retaining many archaic words from old religious texts like naalaayira dhivya prabandham. For a detailed mapping of words and spoken dialects and standard Tamil, see Wiki reference Iyengar Tamil.
Differences with standard Tamil
Brahmin Tamil varies slightly from the standard Tamil. It retains minor adaptations of classical Tamil (Centamil) words which are no longer in common usage, like ām, the Brahmin Tamil word for "house" which is derived from the old Tamil word Agam while it also incorporates Sanskrit corruptions as the Brahmin Tamil word for water thūtham which is a corruption of the Sanskrit theertham. While non-Brahmin Tamils generally tend to use Sanskrit derivatives in their Prakrit form, Brahmins tend to use Sanskrit words in their original. According to Bright and Ramanujan (1964),
It is the Brahmin dialect which has innovated by introducing the loan words. Brahmin Tamil frequently preserves non-native phonology, which non-Brahmin Tamil assimilates to native pattern
|Brahmin Tamil||Standard Tamil||English||Notes|
|Avāl, Avā||Avargal||they||Probably derived from 'Avarhal' where the r & h are silent. Alternatively derived from the Telugu word Vālu meaning "person"|
|Ivāl, Ivā||Ivargal||these people|
|Ām/"aathu"||Veedu||house||Derived from Old Tamil Agam (with the g pronounced more like silent 'h' -- 'a(h)am') |
|Thūtham, Jalam||Taṇṇīr||water||Thūtham is largely used in the Thanjavur sub-dialect and is derived from the Sanskrit Tīrtham. Iyengars, however, use the Sanskrit original.|
|Sittha||Konjam||some||Probably derived from Tamil Sattru meaning "a little."|
|Manni||Anni||elder brother's wife|
|Athimbēr||Athai kozhunan||paternal aunt's husband|
|Kshēmam/"sowkiyam"||Nalam||goodness (esp. with regard to health)||Derived from Sanskrit|
|Ṉōkku||Unakku||For you||Developed from Unakku|
|Ṉēkku||Enakku||For me||Developed from Enakku|
|Vāṅgō||Vāruṅgal (Literary), Vāṅga (Spoken)||Come|
|Āmutaiyān"/"aathukar"||Vītukkāran||Husband||Derived from Agam-udayān (house-holder)|
The Ramanujan-Bright hypothesis which examined Brahmin Tamil in detail concluded -
In general, the Brahmin dialect seems to show great innovation on the more conscious levels of linguistic change – those of borrowing and semantic extension—while the non-Brahmin dialect shows greater innovation in less conscious type of change—those involving phonemic and morphological replacements
Bright attributes these changes to the comparatively high literacy rate of the Brahmin community.
A possible hypothesis is that literacy, most common among Brahmins has acted as a brake on change in their dialects-that the ‘frozen’ phonology and grammar of the literary language have served to retard change in Brahmin speech
There are also a few nicknames and sobriquets used in Brahmin Tamil alone.
|Ammānji||Name for mother's brother's child (a cousin)||Used to denote a dear child|
|Pillaiyāndān||Pillai and Āndavan|
Structure and pronunciation
As in standard spoken Tamil, the temporal verbal participles (as in -ccē/-sē from 'samayam' (time)) in Brahmin Tamil, have been borrowed from relative participle constructions on the model varaccē < varuxiṟa samayam ('while coming') and pōxasē < pōxiṟa samayam ('while going'). Brahmin Tamil also uses the retroflex approximant |ɻ| used in Old Tamil, but no longer in use in most non-Brahmin dialects.
Though mainly used by Tamil Brahmins, the Brahmin dialect is also used occasionally, and to a lesser extent, by other forward caste Tamils such as Vellalars and Mudaliyars. Until the rise of the Self Respect movement, the usage of Brahmin Tamil was favoured by the Vellalars and Mudaliyars of Tanjore and South Arcot districts. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Brahmin Tamil variant spoken in Madras city was considered to be standard spoken Tamil. However, since the 1950s and the gradual elimination of Sanskrit loan words from the spoken tongue, Brahmin Tamil has fallen into disuse and has been replaced by the Central and Madurai Tamil dialects, by all communities, excluding most Brahmins, as the preferred spoken dialects for day-to-day use.
In ancient times, Brahmin Tamil was used only by Smartha Brahmins, the Vaishnavite Iyengars having a unique dialect of their own, called the Sri Vaishnava Manipravalam which interested linguistics for its peculiar grammatical forms and vocabulary. However, due to the development of a homogenized Brahmin identity during the medieval period, Vaishnavite Brahmins in the Tamil country have largely assimilated Brahmin Tamil with their own dialect, retaining several words of the Vaishnava Manipravalam in their vocabulary. The Hebbar and Mandyam Iyengars who reside outside the Tamil country, however, continue to use Iyengar Tamil as their mother tongue. So do Ashtagrama Iyers and Mysore Vadama Iyers whose Tamil dialects while largely uses Brahmin Tamil has some Kannada influence. In contrast to peninsular India, the Brahmin dialect was never used by the Tamil Brahmins of Sri Lanka.
The difference between the Smartha and Sri Vaishnava variants are currently limited to vocabulary, particularly to words related to ritual and familial ties, alone.
|Smartha Brahmin Variant||Sri Vaishnava Variant||English meaning|
|Chithappa||Chithiya||Father's younger brother (colloquial)|
|Wikibooks has more on the topic of: Brahmin Tamil|
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