Is Tamil going to be extinct? From what I have seen, the younger generation in the diaspora is speaking less Tamil. Is this just my personal observation or is this actually an issue? Is the use of Tamil declining? Are there fewer people speaking Tamil? Should we be concerned? Should we be worried?
To get us started, let’s look at a few facts related to the Tamil language. A large number of the Tamil population is from India, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. In Sri Lanka and Singapore, Tamil is an official language. Within India, Tamil is the official language of Tamil Nadu. And although the official language of Malaysia is Malay, Tamil is offered as one of the three languages taught in school.
The Tamil diaspora is spread throughout the world in every corner. Tamil is known as one of the oldest languages to exist pre-1st century BC, which is when Tolkappiyam, one of the world’s oldest works on grammar, was written. It is part of the Dravidian language family and based on physical evidence of old Tamil inscriptions.
I was born in the 90s. Most Sri Lankan Tamils started migrating from Sri Lanka in the 1980s and 1990s due to the war. This was when Tamil was heavily spoken and taught to children, though I have been observing over the years that the use of Tamil is slowly decreasing.
Let us take Tamil movies for example. The use of English is a lot higher than 10 years ago, and yes it is understandable that people are learning English through movies and that is great. Yet how many of us are really encouraging the use of Tamil and promoting it? If anything, people are becoming embarrassed of speaking Tamil. I have seen in so many movies where there are scenes which girls laugh at boys for speaking Tamil and not English. It is portrayed as if speaking Tamil is a disgusting act.
In 2008, the film ‘Vaazhthugal’ starring Madhavan was released. This movie was noted among many for the sole reason that it did not feature English words – the dialogue was purely in Tamil. As great as it is for such a film to be made, should this be something amazing or something that should be more regular?
How many of you out there think that Sanskrit is the most important language of India, and that it is older than Tamil? I used to think that until I decided to do some research and learned that Sanskrit is derived from Tamil, and that Tamil being derived from Sanskrit was a myth that was sustained over centuries.
While growing up, I was raised by my grandparents. The rule in their house was that no English was to be used. If we spoke English, we would get a little hit. While some may disagree with punishing children by hitting them, in my opinion it’s that type of strict upbringing which makes me value Tamil so much now.
My grandparents taught me about Tamil culture, Tamil history, the Sri Lankan civil war and the struggles that Tamil people faced. This teaching and upbringing did not only make me aware of Tamil, but it made me have a lot of respect for it. Nearly all of my year 11 and year 12 high school English assignments related to Tamil history, culture and the civil war.
I believe that the younger generation needs to learn about Tamil history, Tamil culture and the independence struggle in order for them to continue to keep Tamil in existence and so that one of the oldest languages do not go extinct. As much as Tamil will be around in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, how many of us foreign raised children will continue to prioritize it? How many of us will try to learn it? How many of us will place value on it and teach the future generations?
I believe that parents should take it upon them to teach their kids Tamil. Sending them to Tamil school once a week alone does not help. They have to make education fun for their kids, and they have to make sure to speak Tamil at home.
Some parents may worry that if their kids speak Tamil at home, as they grow up they will not learn English and struggle in school. This is not true. I started kindergarten at age four not knowing any English. I picked up English within a year and am now fluent in both Tamil and English and have a love for the Tamil language. Rather than only letting your kids only watch Tamil movies, why not tell them stories? Why not read to them? Why not make them watch history videos about the Tamil language?
While growing up, my Appa would read me stories from “Akbar and Pirbal”. While this was something I looked forward to every night, due to the enjoyment of being around my Appa, it also taught me more Tamil and even taught me moral values which I still apply till today.
I fear that the Tamil language is going to be extinct soon. I see so many of today’s kids and youth not speaking it or learning it. I witness so many people feeling embarrassed to speak Tamil.
It’s the little things that matter and play a role in order to mould the younger generation.By being able to teach our kids about our history and culture and language we not only preserve our history and language but we also enrich our kids and teach them great values.
So I do urge us as the older generations to teach the younger generations. I urge the younger generations to actively learn Tamil, read about it, ask about it, do whatever it takes in order to make sure that our mother tongue, one of the oldest languages in the world, does not go extinct.