Hot Best Seller

Tamil: A Biography

Availability: Ready to download

Spoken by eighty million people in South Asia and a diaspora that stretches across the globe, Tamil is one of the great world languages, and one of the few ancient languages that survives as a mother tongue for so many speakers. David Shulman presents a comprehensive cultural history of Tamil language, literature, and civilization emphasizing how Tamil speakers and poets h Spoken by eighty million people in South Asia and a diaspora that stretches across the globe, Tamil is one of the great world languages, and one of the few ancient languages that survives as a mother tongue for so many speakers. David Shulman presents a comprehensive cultural history of Tamil language, literature, and civilization emphasizing how Tamil speakers and poets have understood the unique features of their language over its long history. Impetuous, musical, whimsical, in constant flux, Tamil is a living entity, and this is its biography. Two stories animate Shulman s narrative. The first concerns the evolution of Tamil s distinctive modes of speaking, thinking, and singing. The second describes Tamil s major expressive themes, the stunning poems of love and war known as Sangam poetry, and Tamil s influence as a shaping force within Hinduism. Shulman tracks Tamil from its earliest traces at the end of the first millennium BCE through the classical period, 850 to 1200 CE, when Tamil-speaking rulers held sway over southern India, and into late-medieval and modern times, including the deeply contentious politics that overshadow Tamil today. Tamil is more than a language, Shulman says. It is a body of knowledge, much of it intrinsic to an ancient culture and sensibility. Tamil can mean both knowing how to love in the manner of classical love poetry and being a civilized person. It is thus a kind of grammar, not merely of the language in its spoken and written forms but of the creative potential of its speakers.


Compare

Spoken by eighty million people in South Asia and a diaspora that stretches across the globe, Tamil is one of the great world languages, and one of the few ancient languages that survives as a mother tongue for so many speakers. David Shulman presents a comprehensive cultural history of Tamil language, literature, and civilization emphasizing how Tamil speakers and poets h Spoken by eighty million people in South Asia and a diaspora that stretches across the globe, Tamil is one of the great world languages, and one of the few ancient languages that survives as a mother tongue for so many speakers. David Shulman presents a comprehensive cultural history of Tamil language, literature, and civilization emphasizing how Tamil speakers and poets have understood the unique features of their language over its long history. Impetuous, musical, whimsical, in constant flux, Tamil is a living entity, and this is its biography. Two stories animate Shulman s narrative. The first concerns the evolution of Tamil s distinctive modes of speaking, thinking, and singing. The second describes Tamil s major expressive themes, the stunning poems of love and war known as Sangam poetry, and Tamil s influence as a shaping force within Hinduism. Shulman tracks Tamil from its earliest traces at the end of the first millennium BCE through the classical period, 850 to 1200 CE, when Tamil-speaking rulers held sway over southern India, and into late-medieval and modern times, including the deeply contentious politics that overshadow Tamil today. Tamil is more than a language, Shulman says. It is a body of knowledge, much of it intrinsic to an ancient culture and sensibility. Tamil can mean both knowing how to love in the manner of classical love poetry and being a civilized person. It is thus a kind of grammar, not merely of the language in its spoken and written forms but of the creative potential of its speakers.

30 review for Tamil: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve Donoghue

    A movingly passionate (and more than a little geeky) study of both Tamil's nature a language and Tamil's long history of literary works. As an introduction to a totally alien-yet-alluring new world, it gives most science fiction some serious competition! My fuller review: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/boo... A movingly passionate (and more than a little geeky) study of both Tamil's nature a language and Tamil's long history of literary works. As an introduction to a totally alien-yet-alluring new world, it gives most science fiction some serious competition! My fuller review: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/boo...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sundar

    David Shulman has written this comprehensive book on Tamil rich in facts. He displays a deep appreciation for nuanced aspects of Tamil grammar and literature, far exceeding levels a non-native speaker can be expected to achieve. However there are a few issues with this book. There's a subtle bias, sort of an overreaction due to the author's eagerness to counter modern era purist movements and assumptions. Because of that, among other things, the author seems to use non-native Sanskrit grammatica David Shulman has written this comprehensive book on Tamil rich in facts. He displays a deep appreciation for nuanced aspects of Tamil grammar and literature, far exceeding levels a non-native speaker can be expected to achieve. However there are a few issues with this book. There's a subtle bias, sort of an overreaction due to the author's eagerness to counter modern era purist movements and assumptions. Because of that, among other things, the author seems to use non-native Sanskrit grammatical terminology almost always in parenthesis, but occasionally as the main term, giving scope for misleading interpretation. He also shows a slight frustration at what he perceives as a negative fallout of rediscovery of the classical works causing modern literature to languish. There's probably some truth to that, but he has overlooked a major domain where modern literature thrived, theatre and cinema. His over-reliance on Iraiyanar Agapporul and the myths in it is an issue too. Despite the two issues, Shulman has brought out a well balanced set of facts for which I'd recommend this book. I've cited this book several times since I finished reading it. One other note on style is that it's quite ornate and laboured for the tastes of some readers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shekar Raghavan

    Either Shulman, or his editors would seem to have specially exerted themselves towards making the book as incomprehensible to the lay reader as only a professor with assured tenure could. I refer to the learned professor's observations on such perfectly innocuous and mundane Tamil sentences such as " I may have peeked out" and "I may have thought". Consider this sentence that occurs on page 11- "If one adds to this particularly thick set of modal devices the omnipresent aspectual morphology of th Either Shulman, or his editors would seem to have specially exerted themselves towards making the book as incomprehensible to the lay reader as only a professor with assured tenure could. I refer to the learned professor's observations on such perfectly innocuous and mundane Tamil sentences such as " I may have peeked out" and "I may have thought". Consider this sentence that occurs on page 11- "If one adds to this particularly thick set of modal devices the omnipresent aspectual morphology of the Tamil verb - that is, the use of verbal chains, or so-called auxiliary verbs, to define the action as either fully completed or as continuing in one of several possible patterns, in all three tenses - the result is a supple, systemic expressivity beautifully suited to specifying what happens in the sentence (in particular the nature and meaning of an action either as enacted in external space or as transpiring, or undergoing interpretation, somewhere in the mind)." The deed seems particularly black considering the cheery and light-hearted opening promise of the author to format his book in the nature of a music concert, a 'kutcheri'. Shulman must be the only performer of carnatic music whose audience is sorely tempted to desert him right at the opening alapana in favour of crisp vadas in the canteen. For the moment, the book rests where it gives least offence, the bright orange jacket eyesore hidden from public view. Looks like one would have to be extremely nimble, and avoiding such jabberwocky, consider oneself lucky if one can plod through as much as a fifth of the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alex Linschoten

    Come for the linguistics, stay for the poems. What a wonderful book! Shulman is clearly at the top of his game, wise and knowledgeable without being a show-off of all that he knows (and he knows a lot). The book takes us through the history of Tamil as a language, using examples from poetry and prose. Shulman is a great raconteur, mixing stories with analysis with nudges to keep the narrative flowing. For a non-specialist, I found this pretty dense to follow along, but really I don't see how he c Come for the linguistics, stay for the poems. What a wonderful book! Shulman is clearly at the top of his game, wise and knowledgeable without being a show-off of all that he knows (and he knows a lot). The book takes us through the history of Tamil as a language, using examples from poetry and prose. Shulman is a great raconteur, mixing stories with analysis with nudges to keep the narrative flowing. For a non-specialist, I found this pretty dense to follow along, but really I don't see how he could have done it any other way. Highly recommended as an introduction to something you're unlikely to come across otherwise, and as a gateway to a huge literary tradition.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nandha Kishore

    It is by no means easy to chronicle the history of a two thousand year old language which is rich and so full of life. David Shulman manages that task considerably well providing a detailed account of the history and the evolution of the language. My biggest problem with Shulman's narrative was that he assumes far too much to be already known to the reader. He expects the reader to be familiar with specific concepts in linguistics. The book keeps alternating between arcane and lucid. The first h It is by no means easy to chronicle the history of a two thousand year old language which is rich and so full of life. David Shulman manages that task considerably well providing a detailed account of the history and the evolution of the language. My biggest problem with Shulman's narrative was that he assumes far too much to be already known to the reader. He expects the reader to be familiar with specific concepts in linguistics. The book keeps alternating between arcane and lucid. The first hundred pages of the book turned out to be a difficult read for me. I wasn't much familiar with phonemes or lexemes or the Sangam poetry that it dealt with. The book moves to easier territory with Thiruvalluvar and Kamban and the latter day poets, but still, it felt like Shulman could have eased down the narrative in areas that concern linguistics, even in the latter part of the book where he explains Manipravala and Lila-Tilakam. I enjoyed Shulman's take on Valluvar specifically and how he is underrated as a love poet. Shulman analyzes specific aspects of poets and movements like Kambar and his idea of truth incredibly well. Oh, and have to give it to Shulman, he is a connoisseur. His choices of poems for examples are brilliant. I especially enjoyed his choice for Irayanar Agaporul. And I could see his anecdotes were very well researched. I would say this is one of those books that you would want to refer back to again and again to enjoy specific portions.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sylvian Patrick

    Tamil by David Shulman is a brilliant book that traces the life of the language. The moment he starts with why he considers Tamil as a life form instead of a language, you will be hooked on to the book. He tries to pin a date of origin and doesn’t shy away from comparing and contrasting with Sanskrit. He elaborately dwells into the legends surrounding the origins and development of Tamil grammar. He also discusses the impact of various kingdoms, castes and temples on the growth of the language. Tamil by David Shulman is a brilliant book that traces the life of the language. The moment he starts with why he considers Tamil as a life form instead of a language, you will be hooked on to the book. He tries to pin a date of origin and doesn’t shy away from comparing and contrasting with Sanskrit. He elaborately dwells into the legends surrounding the origins and development of Tamil grammar. He also discusses the impact of various kingdoms, castes and temples on the growth of the language. The way it was structured is profound - he talks about the different speaking modes of the language, and on the other hand, he eloquently illuminates the beauty of ‘Akam’ and ‘Puram’ poetry. The vast list of references (20% of the book on Kindle) is a treasure trove and shows the effort gone into the writing.It was a difficult read due to the use of accent notations for Tamil names written in English. I expected him to discuss the Dravidian movement and Tamil nationalism in detail, but he hasn’t. The book is one of the definitive, unbiased pieces of writing on Tamil and celebrates the beauty of the language.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    An excellent history of the Tamil language from one of its foremost students; written in an easy style without foregoing scholarly rigor. Worth it!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Revanth Ukkalam

    Shulman attributes to the language of Tamil, an obsession with in-ness (and a love for the flow of life and power) and thence pours life into the language itself. So the book is told as a biography not a history. To resonate with a musicality of that language - and language in general - the book also runs like a Karnatic Katcheri: beginning with an aalapana and ending with a Ragamalika. The book is an account of primarily the language and literature, politics and other aspects of culture act to Shulman attributes to the language of Tamil, an obsession with in-ness (and a love for the flow of life and power) and thence pours life into the language itself. So the book is told as a biography not a history. To resonate with a musicality of that language - and language in general - the book also runs like a Karnatic Katcheri: beginning with an aalapana and ending with a Ragamalika. The book is an account of primarily the language and literature, politics and other aspects of culture act to give fillip to the first two. Very early on questions about origins of the language and the apparent distance between 'Aryan' and 'Dravidian' languages are discussed. A closely aligned debate is that around the relation that this ancient language has with the other: Sanskrit. This is a thread that runs long, thick, and consistently in Shulman's work. He takes a dispassionate approach in saying this political and controversial story - that is filled with amusing anecdotes, linguistics and philology, etymology. Ideas are important in this book but so are great men, Tamir-Muni: Agastya, Ilango Adigal, Valluvar, the Bhakti saints, the trinity of Karnatic Music, and Periyar. This has a very crucial place in language studies in India. Although the melody of the book can better be experienced by those who are fluent with the language, this is still a book for all.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karthick

    A must read for any Tamil who wants to know about the long, complex and beautiful life of his/her language - no Tamil could have written it better. For others who seek to know about about the Tamil language, civilization and the people, this should be the first book you pick up. The book flows like music.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tamizhmarai

    The opening chapters, the blurb and popular reviews of the books fail to mention a key aspect about this book: that the text is not aimed at a lay audience. In fact, all of my preliminary research before buying this book seemed to suggest the opposite. I bought this book to learn more about Tamil, its history, literature and other linguistic aspects. While the book does open with a couple of excellent chapters on Tamil syntax (left-branching vs. right-branching), its poetry (akam vs. puram) and The opening chapters, the blurb and popular reviews of the books fail to mention a key aspect about this book: that the text is not aimed at a lay audience. In fact, all of my preliminary research before buying this book seemed to suggest the opposite. I bought this book to learn more about Tamil, its history, literature and other linguistic aspects. While the book does open with a couple of excellent chapters on Tamil syntax (left-branching vs. right-branching), its poetry (akam vs. puram) and its mythic history and role in Tamil life, it soon ends up becoming a lectern for the author from which to declaim to his fellow-scholars. The lucid, engaging writing style of the first few chapters soon vanish and is instead replaced with an altogether dense technical style that would leave most lay-readers clueless as to what the author is on about. Here is a sample sentence: "And like the Sanskrit original, the Tamil mantric idiom, incorporating a hypersemantics moving into trans-semantics, is fully grammiaticalized, with rules and metarules that can be inferred from usage." Got that? That said, I very much enjoyed the snippets of Tamil poetry that the author included with little commentaries on their beauty. It is a shame most of the other discussion just went right over my head.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dhanya Jothimani

    The book discusses the history of Tamil through literary works, poems and poets. It also highlights the early political regimes (Chola, Chera, Pandyas and Pallavas) that shaped the language. Few pages could be overwhelming for non-native speaker and it is easy to get lost with so many (long) names. Being a native speaker but not well versed with Tamil literature, first few pages were difficult for me to follow. The book focuses on "akam" and "puram", majorly discussed through poems. Works of Tir The book discusses the history of Tamil through literary works, poems and poets. It also highlights the early political regimes (Chola, Chera, Pandyas and Pallavas) that shaped the language. Few pages could be overwhelming for non-native speaker and it is easy to get lost with so many (long) names. Being a native speaker but not well versed with Tamil literature, first few pages were difficult for me to follow. The book focuses on "akam" and "puram", majorly discussed through poems. Works of Tiruvalluvar are highly appreciated in Chapter 2. It also describes the influence of Tamil in Sanskrit and vice versa. Since being an academician and an outsider, Shulman has tried to portray the facts in a balanced (non-controversial) way. A great starting point to know about the language. Worth a (slow) read!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Prakash

    I found this difficult to read - a bit too scholarly for the lay person. (Maybe it is meant to be that way) The material seems to require some background in tamil, tamil history and/or language studies . The presentation is also a bit dry and at times sentences are crowded with names of people, places and works - which distracts from the story telling. The transliteration too was quite disturbing - the dots,dashes and spelling protocols often rendered the otherwise familiar names and phrases, un I found this difficult to read - a bit too scholarly for the lay person. (Maybe it is meant to be that way) The material seems to require some background in tamil, tamil history and/or language studies . The presentation is also a bit dry and at times sentences are crowded with names of people, places and works - which distracts from the story telling. The transliteration too was quite disturbing - the dots,dashes and spelling protocols often rendered the otherwise familiar names and phrases, unfamiliar. Nevertheless, it has its parts and should be quite useful as a reference for those with a broad interest in Tamil culture.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sarrvesh

    In Tamil, David Shulman walks us through the evolution of the Tamil language and its literature over the last 2000 years. Some of the latter chapters in the book are quite dense, when he goes into the details of syntax and morphology of tamil literature, but you can skim through it if you are interested only in the broad strokes. I think the book is aimed at a semi-professional audience but it certainly provides the necessary introduction and sets the scene if you want to delve deeper into Tamil In Tamil, David Shulman walks us through the evolution of the Tamil language and its literature over the last 2000 years. Some of the latter chapters in the book are quite dense, when he goes into the details of syntax and morphology of tamil literature, but you can skim through it if you are interested only in the broad strokes. I think the book is aimed at a semi-professional audience but it certainly provides the necessary introduction and sets the scene if you want to delve deeper into Tamil/South Indian history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Niran

    A fascinating and deeply scholarly linguistic, literary and historical journey through Tamil in its many forms. Prof Shulman's love for the Tamil language, and particularly its poetry really comes across. The writing is however very dense and not as accessible as it could be, which detracts a little from what is otherwise an excellent book (possibly so much so that for a lay reader with no background in linguistics I suspect it may at times seem impenetrable).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Premkumar

    Thought that this book will cover the origin and evolution of Tamil language. Chapter 1 started on the right note on some research of the language but soon degenerated in to dry theory. Author discusses about poetry , prose which is really dry. A extremely slow and difficult book to read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shanmugam Ramasamy

    A very difficult book to read. Definitely not for someone trying to look for a quick history of Tamil . The book feels more like a thesis on Tamil and its intricacies and richness .

  17. 4 out of 5

    homoness

    this romp through the shifts and twists of Tamil is beautiful yet at times feels exhausting and overwhelming. written for lovers of the language more than for people just developing an interest, slow reading is advised ;)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dinesh Krithivasan

    This book is quite scholarly and has the look and feel of a PhD dissertation. Not meant for a lay audience at all. Even the brief sections that I found interesting would probably be opaque to non-native speakers. Two stars if I were to rate the book based on my reading experience but will skip rating it since I had the wrong idea about the book going in.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Upasna

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sujan Sundareswaran

  21. 4 out of 5

    Samyukta Govindarajan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Uttam Satapathy

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hiran Venugopalan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mat

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bhargavi

  26. 4 out of 5

    dini

  27. 4 out of 5

    Abishek

  28. 4 out of 5

    Indian

  29. 4 out of 5

    Javits

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenurius Mark Thumma Arokiasamy

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.