planning is essentially an organized human intervention in language development
to influence the nature and pace of the development. One fundamental aspect of
development is enrichment of the language. The crucial role played by the planner
at the policy making stage is to identify which of the sources of feeding for
enrichment will be open and which will be closed for the codifier. Both are important
since, as Ray (1961 :228) points out, "the value of a language depends not
only on its closure but also on its opening", the value being defined as
the communicative ability of the language. Purism in language then may be defined
in terms of the opening and closure of sources for enrichment.
(1974 : 12) gives a typology of potential sources, which is reproduced below:
1. Contemporary dialects
(a) Closely related language (s)
(a) Related language (s)
(b) Unrelated language (s)
III Ex nihilo
International is defined as those items which "the native speakers feel to
be not identified with any specific language", though they are identified
as non-native. To make this definition operational, it may be interpreted to refer
to items shared by many languages by diffusions. Ex nihilo is creation of words
anew out of sounds and not roots and suffixes, but this is extremely rare and
restricted. There may be onomatopic words like click and acronyms like jeep
in English and ooci 'free of cost' in Tamil. This will be ignored in the rest
of the paper. The relatedness or otherwise of the non-native language is relavant
since the related language may be treated differently for opening as its phonological
and derivational patterns will be similar or identical to the native language.
Such words, though linguistically non-native, may be considered to be native attitudinally
by the speakers. An example is the word aviyal 'a kind of curry', which is accepted
in Tamil from Malayalam, whose components avi 'boil' and -al 'nominal suffix'
are found in Tamil also and the derivational process of putting them together
to produce a concrete noun is also common in Tamil.
Purism is the opening of the native sources and closure of the non-native sources
for the enrichment of the language. Though the native sources are open in general,
the dialectal and literary sources are often treated differently as in the case
of Tamil discussed later. The opening and closure can be seen as applied to materials
and to models. Models are the derivational, compounding and syntactic patterns.
Opening to both non-native materials and models leads to extensive loans: opening
to non-native materials and models leads to extensive loans; opening to non-native
material but closure to non-native models lead to selective loans (i.e. to words
without derivatives) and loan blends ; opening to non-native models but closure
to non-native materials lead to loan translations; closure to both non-native
materials and models would lead to only native forms and their combinations, but
it seldom happens.
Though theoretically all area of language from phonology and alphabet to syntax
and semantics are open for intervention, vocabulary and alphabet, appear to be
more prone for it and the efforts of intervention seem to have been successful
in these two areas.
The factors which lead to purism may be, theoretically, internal or external to
the language. Trubetzkoy (1936, quoted in Wexler op cit : 15 ; see the footnote
therein for further references to internal factors) has remarked that "it
is necessary to distinguish between internal and external conditions in the struggle
foreign words. Very often the phonological structure of a language requires restraint
in the use of international foreign words". Wexler (op cit) comments that
"structure does not influence the likely-hood of speakers accepting or rejecting
non-native enrichment, but at best seems to determine only the manner by which
foreign material can be integrated in a language. More important than any structural
consideration is the attitude of speakers toward native and non-native elements
we find (1) languages which do, in fact, digest large quantities of loan words
from other languages whose structures differ widely from their own; (2) languages
which at different times, either borrow or exclude material from co territorial
languages of similar structure ; and, finally, (3) languages with potential non-native
source of enrichment".* Though this is true, the purist may use structural
incompatibility as an argument to support his case for purism.
The attitude of speakers is determined by socio-cultural, political and historical
factors which are external to the language. There are certain conditions some
or all of which must be present for the puristic regulations to emerge in any
language : their presence in varying degrees and combinations determines the extent
of purism also. They are listed below and will be discussed later with reference
to the purism movement in Tamil.
At least a section of the community must be literate in that language. It
presupposes that the language must be written. There is no known case of puristic
regulations in a language which is only spoken. A corollary to this is that purism
is directed primarily towards the written language, or at least, it is likely
to achieve a greater degree of success in the written language.
Puristic regulations are more likely to appear when the language is at the
verge of assuming new forms and functions.
*Ferguson (1917) also stress the social psychological aspect in the contest of
letical development. "On the issue of the source of new vocabulary and the
methods of word creation, one important point seems to be that a technical vocabulary
can be equally effective whether it comes from the languages own process of word
formation or from extensive borrowing from another language
followed almost exclusively the parts of the internal creation, whereas Japanese
used extensive borrowing from English as well. This issue is important for social
psychological research in finding the factors involved in the attitudes adopted".
The social order is undergoing change with power relations redefined.
The language is threatened of its independent identity (Wexler op cit 315).
This is intimately tied up with the identity of its speakers as an independent
community, since language is a powerful symbol of identity. It presupposes that
the linguistic community must live in the same political unit of or in proximity
to a dominant community. As a corollary, the puristic activities are likely to
be accompanied by linguistic, phi logical and even myth building activities to
established the independent status of the language.
A prerequisite to the above is that speakers have pride in their language and
culture. In order to boost up the pride and build up confidence and ability
for independent existence and development, support is sought from history and
legend and from contemporary sources, preferably from those outside the community,
which can be interpreted as objective. This will be easier if the language has
a literary history of its own.
Purism is a response to the cultural, social and psychological forces mentioned
above as a phenomenon, it is not aberrational or pathological. Its universal nature
is asserted in the claim by Bulaxovxkyj (quoted in Fexler op cit : 3) that "one
of the characteristic tendencies in the development of the literary language is
purism, a tendency through which almost all civilized languages have passed."
Haugen (1966 : 53) admits that language planning may work for purification. With
specific reference to the purism movement in Tamil, Meenakshisundaram has observed
that it was not a negative movement against Sanskrit nor was it communal, but
was a positive movement to reform the language. Nevertheless, its extent may be
said to have reached pathological proportion (Ramanujan mss). When the communicability
of the language is lost, since the language ceases to be alive at the point.
brief excursion into the history of the Tamil language from the point of view
of purism will help to put the Pure Tamil Movement of this century in historical
perspective. In the record period of the history of the Tamil language, the first
foreign language which came into contact with it in a influential and sustaining
was Sanskrit (followed by Prakrit). The contact was through migration and was
therefore lasting. The contact was through migration and was therefore lasting.
The contact was the language or languages of the Yavanas (Romans and Greeks),
on the other hand, which was due to trade, was brief and intermittent. Sanskrit
came also as a language
religion, philosophy and logic of which grammar was a part because of the kind
of people who migrated. The level ot intellectualization (in an extended sense
from that of Gravin 1973) of the Sanskrit and Prakrit, because of their was role
as preceptors, sought and obtained higher status in the society. Tamil reacted
to this potential threat by employing a defense mechanism and building up self-pride.
It may be note that Tamil was, unlike Telugu and Kannada, not only a written language
but also a literary language when Sanskrit came into contact with it. This may
explain the different ways these language reacted fo Sanskrit.
Tolkappiyam, the earliest grammar of Tamil before Christ, rules (Sutras 397, 401,
402) that the Sanskrit words' may be used in verse, but only those which have
letters common to Tamil and then sanctions that the words with letters special
to Sanskrit are not prohibited if those letters are changed.² This rules
has been followed in Tamil poetry for more than 1600 years wirhout single exception
upto the 15th century when Arunagirinathar used a few Sanskrit words in partially
unassimilated form (Sanjeevi 1975). Thus Tamil was partially closed to Sanskrit
material, and, since it was not closed to its models, Sanskrit words were translated
into Tamil. Even proper names were translated as dharmaputra was translated as
A*avoo?maka?in Purannanuuru (366) (Ilakkuvanar 190-680), Sadakarani as Nu??uvar
Ka??ar in Cilappatikaaram. New words were also created in preference to translation.
Sanskrit was always referred to as vat?amo?i 'the northern language' and Brahmin
as paarppaa?'seer' or ma?aiyoo? 'the man of Vedas'. Note that in the last word
Veda is reffered to as ma?ai 'the hidden or prohibited (book)'. An example of
personal name is vaaliyoon 'the white one' to refer fo Balaram (Ilakkuvanar op
cit). It must be mentioned that, in spite of the closure to Sanskrit, language
of Sanskrit received traditional appreciation through the ages upto this century.
To build up pride in Tamil, Tamil and Sanskrit were shown as equal ; as Sanskrit
was vat?amoli 'the northern language', Tamil was te?moli ' the southern language'.²a
Tamil was claimed to be as divine as Sanskrit. Tirugnanasambandar (7th century
AD), one of the Saivite hymnologists who came after the Kalabras who patronized
Prakrit, sang that the God had created Sanskrit and Tamil. Another port said that
both were two eyes of the God. The Vaishnavite commentators of Alwars' hymns of
the Pallava period (6th to 9th century) considered them as sacred as the Vedas.
Any number of attributes like sweet, green, fertile, virgin etc. were used to
Tamil to assert its sweetness, liveliness, vitality, purity and other qualities.
Through the native speakers of Sanskrit or Prakrit were perhaps negligible in
Tamil Nadu, it continued to enjoy royal patronage and respectability among the
learned. It was perhaps a second language for the learned. Its continued presence
and prestige for centuries increased the number of its loans in Tamil. The spoken
language became slowly more open to Sanskrit and Prakrit. This is noticed in the
inscriptions whose language is influenced by the spoken Tamil. Unlike in the inscriptions.
(Meenakshisundaram 1965, Panneerselvam 1968). In the learned variety of the spoken
language there were perhaps more such words with less assimilation.
The flood-gates of Sanskrit were opened wide after the twelth century during the
Vijayanagar period in Tamil Nadu in scholastic writings by a section of the learned
class. This is the period when the impact of Sanskrit on the form and content
of Tamil literature was at its peak. Translations from Sanskrit were abundant.
Sanskrit scholarship and the custodians of the Sanskritic values were highly rewarded
by the court rewarded by the court. The rules were not native speakers of Tamil.
Telugu and Kannada speakers whose language had been greatly influenced by Sanskrit
migrated to Tamilnadu. It is interesting to note that the section scholars who
freely used Sanskrit words were Vaishnavites and Jains given the fact that Saivism
had come by this time to be known as the Tamil religion.³ These scholars
used, primarily in their commentaries, a style called ma?ipravala-mixture of gems
and corals-which in its extreme had all Sanskrit and Tamil suffixes and syntax.
This made the Tamil script inadequate as it happened with Malayalam and the grantha
script was used. The Sanskrit words were written in their original form using
grantha letters, wherever Tamil had no corresponding letters. The impact is seen
in the literary works of this period also in the use of a large number of Sanskrit
and Prakrit words, but they largely followed the sanction of Tolkappiyar mentioned
above by using them in assimilated forms.
But this time, scholastic pursuits had become more or less the monopoly of the
Brahmins and scholarship included the knowledge of Sanskrit. Upto the first quarter
of this century by the large the Brahmin were the intellectuals of the society,
I those patronized by the high caste non-Brahmin Saivite mutts were not counted.
When the intellectual horizon widened in the nineteenth century, as a result of
the arrival of the British and other Europeans and the new experiences, activities
and institutions were to be expressed in the native
the learned class, mostly the Brahmins, who had access and a positive attitude
to Sanskrit, began to look to it for new words. Thus the new words created in
Tamil in the nineteenth century were mostly from Sanskrit, except the Perso-Arabic
words which the administration continued to use after the Moghals. The multilingual
nature of the Madras Presidency as a political unit may also have favoured borrowing
from common source like Sanskrit.
social conditions :
the above historical background, the movement for purism in Tamil may now be approached.
It is called ta?i-t tamil iyakkam 'Independent Tamil or Only Tamil movement' and
is translated into English as Pure Tamil Movement. A social movement may be define,
according to Heberle (1951 : 459), as a specific kind of concerned action group
which last longer and are more integrated than mobs but less organized than political
parties." Advocacy for Pure Tamil was such a movement. Advocacy for certain
practices and beliefs may be said to gain the status of a movement when they are
institutionalised and allegiance is demanded to allegiance is demanded to these
values. Maraimali Adigal (1876-1950), who was a Professor of Tamil editor of saivite
journals, institutionalised, by starting the Pure Tamil Movement, the resentment
against the influx of Sanskrit words and the expression of that resentment in
replacing Sanskritic personal names with Tamil translation, which was prevalent
among Tamil scholars before him. To give only two examples, C. V. Damodaran Pillai
(1832-1901) editor of many Tamil works from palm leaves, lamented that Tamil was
defaced with the pox marks of Sanskrit; V. K. Suryanarayan Sastri (1870-1903),
Professor of Tamil at Madras Christain College, described how Sanskrit had mauled
Tamil in his History of Tamil Language and he Tamilised his name to Paridimal
Kalaignar (Muthukumarasami 1975 : 72-30.
The latter half of the nineteenth
century offered the conditions listed above which are conducive to puristic regulations.
In this period Tamil literary works were available at lesser cost for more people
thanks to the printing press, (Hurdock 1865, quoted in Venkataswami 1962 : 114).
Though the printing press came to India in the sixteenth century itself, Indians
were permitted to print only in 1835. After this, many old literary works in Tamil,
which were about to be lost due to neglect and natural causes, came to light.
Tamil prose, which was restricted to commentaries in the early period, was used
for new purposes in the nineteenth century. Christian missionaries printed pamphlets
in prose on religious themes for wider circulation. British
administrators, who were required to learn the native language, demanded grammars
and books in prose for their learning. Summaries of Puranas in verse were written
in prose by scholars like Arumuga Navalar (1823-79) to propagate Hinduism against
the inroad of Christianity. Education was extended to all classes and it included
non-literary subjects like history, geography and natural science and text books
were written in these subjects for children. Magazines were published to disseminate
primarily religious message and the first one, a monthly called Tamil Pattirikkai
'Tamil magazine' was started in 1831. Codification work was taken up in the form
of encyclopedia, catalogues and dictionaries. Anecdotal biographies of literary
authors and legends were collected in books like Vinoota racamancari (1891) by
Veerasami Chettiar and Apitaana Cintamani. Cataloguing of the manuscripts collected
by British administrator John Murdock catalogued the printed Tamil books in 1865
(Venkataswari 1862). Dictionaries were prepared by the missionaries like Febricius
in1779, J. P. Rottler in 1830 and M. Winslow in 1862 (German, French and American
respectively) and they brought all the Sanskrit word in Tamil conspicuously in
one book.4 These first effort as the extension of the domains of use of Tamil
brought to the foreground the need to determine the nature of Tamil, and further
extension in the century made such determination even more necessary.
first half of this century was a period of non-Brahmin or Dravidian movement (for
details see Hardgrave 1965, Irschick 1969, seinivas 1966 : ch 3 for a summarized
restatement), which was basically to change the power relation5 between the Brahmins,
who were numerically very small but were dominant in Education, administartion6
and also in the Independence Movement and the high caste non-Brahmins who were
numerically large and were powerful in agriculture trade and small industries.
The latter wielded power in rural centers and in traditional secular institutions
and the former in urban centers and in the modern institutions. The Brahmins were
traditionally open to Sanskrit not only due to their scholastics occupations but
also for the role of Sanskrit words and sankritised phonology of their Tamil as
a distinguish social marker (Bright and Ramanujam 1964). Though the high caste
non-Brahmins had accepted these linguistic features in their speech in the process
of their Sanskritisation (in the sense of Seinivas op cit : ch 1), in the power
struggle with the Brahmins, symbols of identity and of allegiance were to be distinguished.
To assert their distinctiveness the non-Brahmins chose to close to Sanskrit. It
noted that, with a few exceptions, the advocates of purism were high caste non-Brahmins
; and the leaders of the non-Brahmin political movement, though themselves not
practicing purism fully (perhaps they could not because of the nature of their
academic background and their need for contact with the masses), gave support
to the purism movement
The threat to the independence of Tamil language and literature was present for
quite sometime. There were native scholars who believed that Tamil was dependant
on and only minimally different from Sanskrit in language and literature. It was
explicity asserted in the rhetorical question of Swaminatha Desikar, the author
of the grammatical work Illakkana-kkottu, in the seventeenth century itself. He
asked ; Can this be an independent language which has only five letters (different
from Sanskrit?? He also asked : Though the Tamil works are indeed large in number,
is there a single work in pure Tamil?7 The philologists of the early nineteenth
century believed that Tamil along with other Dravidian language, was an off shoot
of Sanskrit, primarily because of the early nineteenth century believed that Tamil
along with other Dravidian languages, was on off shoot of Sanskrit, primarily
because of the large amount of Sanskrit words in them and their alphabets (including
Tamil when the grantha script was used) resembling the alphabet of Sanskrit. The
Tamil scholars were aware that the Tamil spoken in one of the three ancient kingdoms
of Tamil, the Chera Kingdom in the West Coast, broke away from its linguistic
past and became a different language, Malayalam, (from the fourteen century) by
free absorption of Sanskrit words (Iiakkuvanar op cit :106) and derivational and
compounding processes, and by adopting a new script which came as a grantha script8
. Tamil faced a new threat by English, which came as a language of power and modernity
and had a superior level of intellectualization. Politically, the Independence
Movement gained momentum that India would be free. The Tamils realized that in
the new political set up with participatory government they would be in a minority.
The Independence Movement had emphasized the oneness of the entire population
of the country and the Tamils felt the need to assert their distinctiveness for
self-preservation as a group. Language is a pervasive and conspicuous symbol to
exploit to achieve it.
Ample evidence came in from various source from the nineteenth century to assert
the distinctiveness and independence of Tamil language, literature and culture.
Robert Caldwell (1814-1891), an Irish missionary, published his monumental Comaparative
Grammar of the Dravidian languages in 1856, which convincingly proved that Tamil
was genetically unrelated to Sanskrit and belonged to an
Independent family, which he called Dravidian, along with others like Telugu,
Kannada, Malayalam, etc., The Archæological Survey extended to south India
in 1874 accentuated the discovery of inscriptions, ancient sites, shreds and coins
and the publications of the findings in the Indian Antiquary (1872) South Indian
Inscriptions (1890) and Epigraphica Indica (1892) brought to wider knowledge the
antiquity an dthe unique features of Tamil polity and culture and their contribution
to the rest of India (Venkataswami 1962).
As mentioned before, a large number of manuscripts of Tamil literary works of
the past were discovered and printed in the last and the present centuries. They
gave not only concrete but also showed that farther one goes in the past lesser
is the influence of Sanskrit. They brought to light the Sangam literature of the
pre-Christian era, which was the best and most original of all. That this fine
literature we least influenced by Sanskrit9
In language, literary form and
content meant to the Tamils that Tamil could not only stand on its own but could
reach heights when divorced from Sanskrit (Asher 1972, Schiffman 1973 : 132).
The Tamils became aware of the injunction of Tolkappiyar, their earliest and greatest
grammarian, on the use of Sanskrit words mentioned earlier. They realized that,
following this guideline, Tamil had withstand the onslaught of Sanskrit on its
phonology, which underwent very little change in the written variety in more than
2000 years. (Asher op cit, Schiffman op cit). It became clear that language development
could be regulated and could be effective.
Reinforcement for the belief in the vitality of Tamil came from the recent sources
also. Winslow, a missionary, stated in the preface to his comprehensive Tamil-English
Dictionary of High and Low Tamil (1862) that "it is evident that there was
an early literature in Tamil independent of Sanskrit :
may write in pure Tamil, as in English we may in pure saxon. In fact, the nearer
we approach (old) Tamil the less we need Sanskrit
. It is certain
that Tamil could do without Sanskrit much better than English without (Latin).10
He admonished that "its prose style is yet in a forming state and will well
repay the labour of accurate scholars in moulding it properly." Before him
Caldwell11 (1913 : 454) had observed that "Tamil, however, most highly cultivated
ab intra of all Dravidian idioms, can dispense with its Sanskrit altogether, if
need be, and not only stand alone, but flourished without its aid
with it rises to a purer and most refined style" To demonstrate that it was
possible, Pamban Kumaragurubara Swamigal wrote a prabhanda, Ceenth centamil, in
pure Tamil without using a single Sanskrit word,
in his other works he used Sanskrit words (Muthukumarasami op cit).
After the basic fact about the independence and vitality of Tamil was established,
more philological, literary and historical research about the past was undertaken
in the past and present centuries by the native scholars with rewarding results.
They wanted to spread the message not only among the Tamils but also bring it
home to the non-Tamils and published them in English in a series of books bearing
cities like The Tamils 1800 years Ago, (by V. Kanakasabai Pillai in 1904), Tamil
India (by G. Devaneyan in 1966) etc. When there were references in the old literature
or grammar which were contrary to the beliefs about Tamil culture, and language,
they are reinterpreted or condemned as interpolations. Along with the research
myths were also created. It was easy to identify Dravidian with Tamil because
of the literary antiquity and preeminence of Tamil. Tamil was praised to be the
mother of Dravidian languages as Sanskrit was of Indo-Aryan languages. (P. Sundaram
Pillai (1855-1897) in the introductory verse to his play Madonnan?iiyam). It was
even claimed that Tamil was "not only6 the earliest but laso the primary
classical language of the world" and that "there is no major language
in the world, perhaps, that is not enriched or influenced by Tamil in some way
or other". (Devaneyan op cit : 124, 52). Myths and legends about the Tamil
language and culture like the ability of the Tamil verse (Nanti-k kalampakam of
the ninth century) to burn were retold elaborately. New symbols were created and
Tamil came to have a Veda in Tirukku*a* (roughly 3rd century A. D.)12 By all thee
pride in Tamil was built up.
The conditions described above sparked the pure Tamil Movement13. The intensity
of this Movement may be attributed to the intensity of these socio-cultural factors.
The view of Schiffman (op cit : 132) that the concept of ritual purity which was
more intensively practiced in Tamil Nadu could explain "the intensity of
the emotional content of the language issue as it applied to Tamil Nadu, the conservatism
of Tamil a compared with all other languages of India, the success of the purification
movement to remove all foreign and extraneous lexical items from Tamil" cannot
be supported, because linguistic purism has found expression and success in societies
which have no concept of ritual purity. Tamil was also open to Sanskrit for a
certain period of time was mentioned above, when perhaps the practice of pollution
was at the height. Moreover, the Brahmins, who were most
were open to Sanskrit (Maraimalai Adigal 1925 : 33). And, after all, in the ritual
hierarchy Sanskrit would be at the top.
scope and spread of the Movement :
As mentioned earlier, Maraimai Ad?igal formalised the feeling of a need for puristic
regulations. He was born in Nagapattinam in Tanjavur district and ws a Vellala,
a landed high caste in there social hierarchy. He had his early educatioa in a
local Christian school and later learned Tamil literature and Saiva Siddhantha
philosophy from scholars privately. He had a good knowledge of Sanskrit14 and
English15 . He was a gifted orator. He taught Tamil in schools and colleges, edited
journals in Tamil and English to propagate Tamil literature and Saiva Siddhantha
philosophy and in his later life gave lectures around the state. Though he was
all along moderate in the use of Sanskrit words, he took a vow to speak and write
only in pure Tamil in 1916 when he was 4016 and changed his name from Vedachalam
to Maraimalai. He had then resigned for two years from the professorship at the
Madras changed in 1910 the status of Tamil from the compulsory language to optional
language in cottages throwing many Tamil professors out of job. He had also became
an ascetic wearing and he propagated it throiugh his writings and lectures.
The arguments put forward for purism were that indiscriminate use of Sanskrit
and other foreign words has put to disuse nice and common Tamil words (Adigal,
125 : 29), destroys the sweetness, fertility and purity of Tamil, defaces the
beauty and mauls the strength of Tamil, creates the impression that Tamil cannot
function by itself and that the use of pure Tamil words will contribute to the
richness and development of Tamil (Adigal 1919 : 18, 19).
The purism movement met with resistence from Tamil scholars and others. They argued
that the pure Tamil words would be limited and all thoughts could not be expressed
with them along and the example of English was cited to borrow freely for development.
Purism was even criticised as a retrogressive step comparable to a civilized person
becoming a savage (Vaiyapuri Pillai). The creative writer criticised pure Tamil
that it, being a mono-style, was restrictive and did not permit him to be flexible
with the language (Jayakanthan 1972 : 190-92).
The purists did not agree that inclusion of words from Sanskrit and English enriches
Tamil ; on the contrary, they said, it deprived Tamil of its wealth. Quoting Caldwell
and others, they maintained
that there was no paucity of words in Tamil, when one is willing to tap its rich
literary sounds. It was maintained that it was "most unreasonable to bring
in the case of English in an argument that vitally affects Tamil, without talking
into account the conditions under which English developed." The conditions
of the development of English which were different from Tamil were, being late
to attain civilization, the consequent delay for the language to attain stability,
the continuous wave of invasions by different races and the need to depend on
other nations for civilisng and these conditions were responsible for English
to take words from any language. Attempts of purism in English by persons like
Freeman were also cited. (Adigal 1925 : 34-35)
At the popular level, the appeals were to the primordial psyche with questions
like "Can a woman, wanting children, get them by any man?" posed rhetorically
by M. Karunanidhi, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu or "When your
child was lost, would you adopt another man's child or go in search of him?"
posed by G. Devaneyan in a reply to C. Subramaniam, the then Education Minister
of Tamil Nadu, who argued for the continuance of commonly used non-native words,
even though native equivalents for them might be available in old literature.
Nationalistic sentiments were also appealed to by comparing excising foreign words
to boycotting foreign goods.
The scope of the movement was very extensive. It avoided closure to all non-native
elements. Since Sanskrit was the potent source, main attention was on it ; but
the closure was to English, a potential source and other foreign languages s well.
Adigal (1925) has criticised those who mix English with Tamil in their speech
that "they speak neither pure Tamil nor pure English." Though the contemporary
dialects were not explicitly closed off, the practice was to draw only from the
literary sources.17 The use of colloquial forms in writing was criticized in the
eighteenth century by Fr.Beschi, an Italian Catholic missionary, who wrote one
grammar for High Tamil translation of the Bible that they had defiled the religion
and Tamil. This was because their translation contained spoken forms and transliteration
of English and Latin words and phrases (and not their translations) (Gnanprakasam
1975)18. In the twentieth century explicit closure to dialects was not perhaps
necessary since the diglossic distribution of styles had been established, though
its application was strict only in phonology to maintain the shape or spelling
of the written word and was slowly relaxing in other areas of grammar. However,
movement did not admit any relaxation. Thus it was open only to the native archaic
source. It was taken to such an extent that sometimes even the native archaic
words which had became deviant from their etymology due to historical change were
restored to their original form. Purism, however, was not closed to non-native
models and translations from Sanskrit and English words and phrases were permitted
and they are in fact in abundance. This was inevitable because purism was not
The target of the movement was primarily the vocabulary. The new letters, sandhi
and affixs which came with the non-native words (the last two only due to Sanskrit
and Prakrit) were also removed as a consequence of the removal of the non-native
vocabulary. But the non-native derivative suffixes with native roots such as the
Sanskrit based-kaaran as in paa?kaaran 'milkman', the Telugu based-a?am as in
ka??a?am 'building' were allowed. The non-native elements in syntax were few like
co-relatives and passives and they went unnoticed. Though no explicit stand was
taken, the purists used a relatively simpler syntax compared to the involved and
winding syntax of the old commentators but not as simple as the syntax of the
present day written Tamil. There was also some sprinkling of old morphological
constructions. These indicate their favourable disposal to the archaic source.
The closure was to all styles of writing from personal letter writing to creative
writing and scientific writing as well as to formal and informal speech. It made
no distinction in the words, whether they were assimilated or not, whether they
were deep rooted or not (both in terms of the length of time they were in and
productivity in having derivations), whether they were filling a need in the language
or not. Thus not just those words for which native words exist but all the non-native
words were prohibited. They were replaced by going to old literary and inscriptional
sources and by coining anew with native roots. This process included the proper
names, personal as well a place names also, though Adigal (1919 : 18-19) has concede
for the use of limited Sanskrit proper names and technical items in unavoidable
circumstances. It also included the use of Tamil numerals as modified on the basis
of the Arabic system by Pandala Ramasami in 1825 to simplify computation (Venkataswami
op cit : 51). There was preference to count the years from the birthdate (fixed
bo Adigal as 31 B. C Thirunavukkarusu 1959 : 773) of Tiruvalluvar instead of following
the Salivahana Saka or Christian era.
The complete closure to all non-native or words led to certain difficulties. With
some words, it was difficult to decide whether they
arguments ensued. Some words like teyvam 'god' amaiccar 'minister' had been used
by authors like Tolkappiyar and Tiruvallur who were examples of Tamil genius and
symbols of pride. There were some others like cankam 'academy', pakuti 'lexical
base', karmam 'one's deed in previous birth' which had attained special meaning
in the literature, creative, grammatical and philosophical. There were a
few others like tiraavi?am 'dravidian,' caivam 'saivism' which were loaded with
value. These could not be called non-native and hence native etymologies were
discovered for them to established their native origin.19 The purism movement
thus spurred lot of etymological research on pre-linguistic lines. A glossry of
pure Tamil words equivalent to the Sanskrit words in vogue was published Neelambigai,
daughter of Agigal to help the Tamil speakers and writers to practice purism.
The first to be receptive and to follow ardently the call for purism were the
Tamil professors and teachers in colleges and schools. It was due perhaps to their
knowledge of Tamil and the fact that perhaps a large number of non-Brahmin intellectuals
were engaged in this profession. Among the active leaders in the propagation of
purism are Somasundara Bharathiyar (1879-1959), lawyers by training and Tamil
Professor (at Annamalai University) by profession and G. Devaneyan (1902-), who
taught Tamil in Salem and at Annamalai University and presently the Chief Editor
of Tamil Etymological Dictionary, which project set by the DMK Government culminates
the etymological research mentioned above. Among the eminent scholars who were
committed to purism are A. Chidambaranathan, Professor of Tamil at Annamalai University
and later the Chief Editor of the monumental English-English-Tamil Dictionary
of the Madras University20, M. Varadarajan (1912-1974) Professorof Tamil at Pachaiyappa's
College, Madras21 then at Madras University and later the Vice Chancellor of Madurai
University and V. Sp Manickkam (1917) Professor of Tamil at Annamalai University
and at present the Vice-Chancellor of Madurai University. Tamil teachers and professors
interpreted and popularised the old Tamil literature through their writings and
public lectures and thus took the puristic variety of Tamil to the people. Many
of the writings and translations of science and others were doing their work only
in English. Thus the non-literary prose also had the impact of purism.
Purism appealed to successive generations of students through the Tamil teachers
and professors. Men like Tiru. V. Kalyanasundaram (1883-1953), who was a Tamil
teacher but later took to journalism and was in the labour movement, took purism
to new areas through
practice of it. On the political plane, the pure Tamil movement received not only
ideological support and propagation from the D. K. and D. M. K. parties22, the
successive splinter parties from the Justice party of the non-Brahmin movement,
their leaders adhered to purism to the extent the need for instant communication
permitted. Heberle's (op.cit) definition of social movement that "a sense
of belonging and of solidarity among members of a group is essential for a social
movement, although empirically it occurs in vaiours degrees" (emphasis mine)
may be noted here.
Allegiance to pure Tamil became a symbol of Tamil solidarity and D.M.K. exploited
this to the maximum from the political angle. Tamil was no longer a mere language,
it became a cult. This symbolic allegiance put the critics of purism on the defensive
and in an apolegetic position. The D.M.K. leaders practiced purism not only in
their public lectures and press, but also took it to the cinema which had come
under their control. Thus purism was brought to the spoken language at formal
level and in mass media. When D.M.K. came to power in 1967, purism gained official
sanction. Tamil scholars known for their puristic commitments were associated
with technical terms committees and textbook production boards as writers, editors
and vetters23. The ministers themselves actively participated in the creation
and introduction of new words of Tamil origin in government and public life.
of Achievement :
One aspect of the purism movement was to excise the Sanskrit words from old books
and republish them. Adigal replaced the Sanskrit words in his own books in their
subsequent editions. But this practice was not widespread and only a very few
modern works were rewritten in this fashion in subsequent editions by the publishers.
One was, to my knowledge, Vedanayagam Pillai's Pirataapa Mutaliyaar Carittiram
(1876) reprinted in 1948 by the Saiva Siddhantha Publishers Society (established
by the son-in-law of Adigal), publishers of mostly scholarly books and the other
was Natesa Sastri's Tiraavi?a puurvakaala-k kataikal? (1836) and Tiraavi?a Mattiyakaala-k
kataika (1886) reprinted in one volume entitled Tiraavi?a Naa??u-k kataikal in
1958 by Prema Prasuram, publishers of popular books. There are three journals
Centamil-c Celvi by saiva Siddhantha Publishing Society, Tamil-p Po"il by
Karanti Tamil Sangam and Tenmo"i by perunchithiranar, which publish in pure
Tamil. The last mentioned has a sister magazine for children to give them reading
materials in pure Tamil and develop a positive attitude about it. But their readership
is limited to Tamil scholars.
aspect of the movement is Tamilisation of the proper names. That this was an ancient
practice was seen above with reference to Pu?anaanuu?u and Cilapatikaaram. It
was done by Kampan Ramayana (Sanjeevi op. cit). It was also done by the foreign
missionary Beschi when he first changed his name into Dairyanatha Swami and then
into Veeramaa Munivar. Due to the pure Tamil Movement, Tamilising the personal
names and place names either by assimilation or replacement became prevalent.24
Thus Krishnan became Kir?u??inan, Balasundaram became Ilavazhagan and Narayanasami
became Nedunchezhian, Tirukoshtiyur became Tirukottiyur, Vedaranyam became tirumaraikkadu
and dalmiyapuram became kallakudi.
success of the purism movement at the lexical level can be easily seen by anyone
who compares the Tamil in 1900 and in 1950. Though no statistical study has been
mad, an impressionistic estimate of A. Chidambaranathan mentioned above is that
the anskrit words in use in Tamil have come down from 50 per cent to 20 per cent
in fifty years quoted in Hardgrave 1965 : 30)25 This is a conservative estimate
when literary writing Tamil at the lexical level and in the spelling. The Sanskrit
words and this is reflected in creative writing also. The movement has distinctly
failed to contain the mixing of English words, phrases and sentences in the informal
speech of the educated, which Adigal deprecated (op. cit).
were two trends, viz., purification and simplification, in the efforts of modernization
of Tamil in this country. Present day written Tamil is coming closer to the colloquial
in sandhi and syntax and to some extent in morphology-a move in the opposite direction
of archaism (Annamalai 1976). It may be said that purification as opening to archaic
sources ( i. e. classification ) has succeeded to a large extent in spelling and
vocabulary ; but simplification has succeeded in sandhi and syntax. In morphology,
the morphological structures are closer to the colloquial with new morphemes and
their combinations, but the phonological shapes of the morphemes, which follow
archaic spelling, are removed from colloquial pronunciation.