Tamil: categories of letters


Senior Member

I started Tamil yesterday (learning intensively) and have come across something most confusing to me.

What I don't understand is this: you seem to have three categories of letters: uyir yelteker (எழுத்து?), mei yelteker and Girantha yelteker.

I think I understand the categories of letter meant here – examples are usually very clear – but please could you show me how to write the names of these three categories in Tamil, and also please could you tell me how exactly to pronounce them? I can't seem to hear the pronunciation of the எழுத்துword very clearly and have trouble making out the vowels.

Best wishes, and many thanks,

  • kaverison

    Tamil, English - US
    uyir ezhuthu = உயிர் எழுத்து = vowels in other languages. uyir = life. These give life to other alphabets, the consonants to make sounds.

    அ ஆ இ ஈ உ ஊ எ ஏ ஐ ஒ ஓ ஔ ஃ

    mei ezhuthu = மெய் எழுத்து = consonants. mei = body; like the body without life is not alive (!), mei letters don't live by themselves.

    க் ங் ச் ஞ் ட் ண் த் ந் ப் ம் ய் ர் ல் வ் ழ் ள் ற் ன்
    k ng ca gn t "rn" th n p m y r l v zh
    (r like American R) (like American R) "rl"
    (like in Girl) R "ln"

    (like Spanish R) (like kiln, l silent)

    There is a category, uyir mei ezhuthu = uyir + mei - the whole body - that has all the combinations of sounds to make words.

    Grantha ezhuthu is altogether different - not originally part of the Tamil alphabet/language system; these are letters (scripts) to represent foreign sounds - particularly Sanskrit. These are not part of the Tamil language itself, but script augmentation for foreign sounds, like katakana in Japanese.

    ஷ ஸ ஜ ஹ

    sha sa ja ha

    Note: In Tamil, a consonant could represent various sounds depending on context. k could represent k, G, h sounds. c = ch, s, j sounds depending on context/position. The new Grantha letters added to the script, made these sounds explicit. This was introduced during the days of heavy influence of Sanskrit on the southern languages. Tamil purists reject these letters in Tamil language.
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