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The Tolkāppiyam (தொல்காப்பியம் in Tamil) is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language. Written in the form of poems(or short hymns), around 200 BC by Tolkāppiyar, is said to be the world's oldest surviving grammar for any language.

All the words, poems and literature that came in Tamil language after that followed the grammar as explained by Tolkāppiyam. The name Tolkāppiyam can be split as Tolkāppiyam = Tonmai + kāppiyam. Tonmai means archeologically old and Kappiam is a literature master piece or epic.

Over the centuries, many books came interpreting and clarifying Tolkāppiyam. Some of which where the ones written by "Ilampooranar", "Deivachilaiyaaar", "Natchinaarciniyar" etc. They were called as "Urai-asiriyargal"or equivalently explanatory commentators.These commentators explained Tolkāppiyam in their own view and expressed their opinions on the subjects dealt by Tolkāppiyam, in their own times. Many grammar works came in Tamil after Tolkāppiyam, based on that.However,One that is most popular and used in place of Tolkāppiyam now is "Nannūl" written by "Pavananti Munivar".

The Tolkāppiyam classifies the Tamil language into "senthamil" and "kotunthamil". The former refers to the classical Tamil used exclusively in literary works and the latter refers to the colloquial Tamil, spoken by the people. The book is based on the analysis of both spoken and written Tamil.

Excerpt from the Tolkāppiyam showing the style of narration

Scientific treatment to Natural Language Grammar

The classification of the alphabet into consonants and vowels by splitting the conso-vowels was a scientific breakthrough. Grammatising this phenomenon was also an achievement of that time. The Tolkāppiyam starts by defining the alphabet for optimal writing, grammatises the use of words and syntaxes and moves into higher modes of language analysis. The style and structure of narration of these rules is similar to that of the Backus-Naur form, which was formalised only as recently as 1963. The Tolkāppiyam formulated thirty characters and three diacritic like symbols for Tamil. The 12 vowels combine with the 18 consonants bringing the total tally of characters to <math>247 (12 +18 + (12 x 18) + 1 = 247)</math>. The alphabet has evolved since then. For a detailed treatment of the alphabet see Tamil alphabet. Though the alphabet has evolved largely, the language as such has remained mostly intact earning the sobriquet, kannith thamil, which can mean ever-young Tamil or "virgin Tamil".


The Tolkāppiyam is organised into the following three chapters each of which is sub divided into 9 sections.

1. Ezhuththathikaaram

2. Sollathikaaram

3. PoruLathikaaram


Ezhuththathikaaram is further subdivided into the following 9 sections.

1. Nuul Marabu

2. Mozhi Marabu

3. PiRappiyal

4. PuNaRiyal

5. Thokai Marabu

6. Urubiyal

7. Uyir Mayangial

8. PuLLi Mayangial

9. KutriyalukarappunaRiyal

Nuul Marabu

This section enumerates the characters of the language, organises them into consonants, vowels and diacritic symbols. The vowels are sub classified into short and long vowels based on duration of pronunciation. Similarly, the consonants are sub classified into three categories based on the stress.

Mozhi Marabu

This section defines rules which specify where in a word can a letter not occur and which letter can not come after a particular letter.

It also describes elision, which is the reduction in the duration of sound of a phoneme when preceded by or followed by certain other sounds. The rules are well-defined and unambiguous. They are categorised into 5 classes based on the phoneme which undergoes elision.

  1. Kutriyalukaram - the (lip unrounded) vowel sound u
  2. Kutriyalikaram - the vowel sound i(as the vowel in 'lip')
  3. Aiykaarakkurukkam - the diphthong ai
  4. Oukaarakkurukkam - the diphthong au
  5. Aaythakkurukkam - the special character (aaytham)


Excerpt from the Tolkāppiyam on articulatory phonetics

This is a section on articulatory phonetics. It talks about pronunciation methods of the phonemes at the level of diaphragm, larynx, jaws, tongue position, teeth, lips and nose.

Also, the visual representation of the letters is explained.


This section talks about the changes to words due to the following word i.e. it specifies rules that govern the transformations on the last phonem of a word (nilaimozhi iiRu) because of the first phonem of the following word (varumozhi muthal) when used in a sentence.

Thokai Marabu



Template:Stubsection This section talks about the word modifiers that are added at the end of nouns and pronouns when they are used as an object as opposed to when they are used as subjects.

Uyir Mayangial


PuLLi Mayangial





Sollathikaaram deals with words and parts of speech. It classifies Tamil words into four categories -

1. iyar chol - Words in common usage

2. thiri chol - Words used in Tamil literature

3. vata chol - Words borrowed from Sanskrit

4. thisai chol - Words borrowed from Other Languages

There are certain rules to be adhered to in borrowing words from Sanskrit. The borrowed words need to strictly conform to the Tamil phonetic system and be written in the Tamil script.

The chapter Sollathikaaram is sub divided into the following 9 sections.

1. KiLaviyaakkam

2. VEtRumaiyiyal

3. VEtrumaimayangial

4. ViLimaRabu

5. Peyariyal

6. Vinaiyiyal

7. Idaiyiyal

8. Uriyiyal

9. Echchaviyal


KiLaviyaakkam literally translates to word formation. This section deals with gender, number, person etc.





This section deals with nouns.


This section deals with verbs.



This literally translates to the nature or science of qualifiers and deals with adjectives and adverbs.



The Tolkāppiyam is possibly the only book on grammar that describes a grammar for life. PoruLathikaaram gives the classification of land types, and seasons and defines modes of life for each of the combinations of land types and seasons for different kinds of people. This chapter is subdivided into the following 9 sections. 1. AkaththiNaiyiyal 2. PuRaththiNaiyiyal 3. KaLaviyal 4. KaRpiyal 5. PoruLiyal 6. Meyppaattiyal 7. Uvamayiyal 8. SeyyuLiyal 9. Marabiyal


This section defines the modes of personal life i.e. life of couples.


This section defines the modes of one's public life.






The name Uvamayiyal literally translates to the nature or science of metaphors.


This interesting section deals with a grammar for classical Tamil Poetry based on principles of prosody.


External links

This article incorporates text from Wikipedia, and is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.
For the original article please see the "external links" section.