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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 27, 2008

The Ausbau issue in the Dravidian languages: the case of Tamil and the problem of purism

  • Harold F. Schiffman
From the journal


Tamil is a Dravidian language that began to try to develop itself, i.e., undergo Ausbau, when the perception developed that there was a threat from other languages to its very existence. In this study I claim that Tamil linguistic culture's Ausbau project has had limited success, principally because of an excessive concern with and devotion to purism. That is, rather than apply a number of different strategies for vocabulary (i.e., “word-formation”) development that are available to all languages, such as abbreviation, blending, borrowing, and nativization, Tamil linguistic culture has opted primarily for the strategy of loan translation, using “native” (or what are thought to be “pure” native) roots, or neologizing ex nihilo, making up new terms but using only what are thought to be “pure” native resources. This study thus looks back in the history of the language to a number of moments when Tamil (and the other Dravidian languages) were confronted with linguistic “threats” of various sorts, i.e., the influx of loan words from Sanskrit, and later pressures from both English during the British colonial period, and from Hindi, after independence. In the end, the fact that higher education has always been in English in India, and continues to resist any switch to other languages, has severely hampered the development of scientific and technological registers in any South Asian language, including Tamil.

Published Online: 2008-05-27
Published in Print: 2008-May

© 2008 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin

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