Classical vs. Modern, Tamil

Maureen Fadem fademm at CASTLE.BEAVER.EDU
Fri Jan 15 12:14:04 EST 1999

i was surprised too, to be reading postings on this list which insist that
tamil is not a classical language. please, i do not say this as a scholar,
i am only a graduate student in english lit and i am focusing my studies
on indian-english-medium fiction; but just to offer another perspective,
please refer to A.K.Ramanujan's tamil translations, _The Interior
Landscape_, this is from oxford india paperbacks, 1967; isbn:
0-19-563501-9.  while i am aware that much has gone on in the world of
indological studies since the publication date of this book, still, it is
clear that at least ramanujan regarded Tamil to be a classical language
himself.  a wonderful book, in the afterword, he comments:

"Tamil is one of the two classical languages of India, is the only
language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a
classical past." (97)  [i am assuming the other to be sanskrit]
"Early classical Tamil is not intelligible to a modern Tamillian without
special study." (98)

selections therein are from 'Kuruntokai,' one of the eight anthologies of
classical Tamil ascribed to the first three centuries CE. (11)  ramanujan
provides there translator's notes, translations, a somewhat indepth
afterword, very informative, and indices of poets, speakers and first
lines. this is a poetic tradition that until chancing upon this book, i
had no familiarity with whatsoever. since then, i have seen that *finding*
tamil translations is a challenging task indeed.

an aside...
[for those interested in tamil literature in general, there is also, _The
Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry_, edited by ramanujan and Vinay
Dharwadker, with several translations by both of them. there are
approximately ten tamil translations included, most of which were
translated by ramanujan himself [of special note, see _Wind, 9_ by
Subramania Bharati, (page 113, a gem! :-) and Atmanam's _Next Page_
(pg. 127); additionally, there are numerous other selections from the
dravidian family of languages.  oxford india paperbacks, 1994, isbn:
0-19-563917-0.  one of the things that most appeals to me about the book
is that ramanujan and dharwadker seemed to be giving space and voice to
the poetry of almost all of the 18 recognized languages, in fact 14
of them, altho ramanujan does admit in the introduction that 'those we
know well' received more space than the others; understandable since
they are the primary translators.]

maureen fadem.

"You know as much English as I do. Please look up a dictionary. Why are
French, Spanish, Italian not called Classsical languges? But Latin is.
Classical Greek and Modern Greek are different languages. Only the
Greek is a Classical language, just like Classical Arabic.   Such
distinction is not maintenable in the case of Tamil. For all written and
formal spoken purposes (for modern communication and in media) it is the
literary Tamil that is used because of diglossia. Arabic also has
but when we refer to Arabic in the Indian context, we mean only the
Classical Arabic."

Maureen Ellen Fadem
fademm at

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