An English Dictionary of the Tamil Verb Second Edition

Item Name: An English Dictionary of the Tamil Verb Second Edition
Author(s): Harold Schiffman, Vasu Renganathan
LDC Catalog No.: LDC2009L01
ISBN: 1-58563-507-3
ISLRN: 140-507-539-817-7
Release Date: April 16, 2009
Member Year(s): 2009
DCMI Type(s): Text, Sound
Data Source(s): varied
Application(s): sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, linguistic analysis, instruction
Language(s): Tamil, English
Language ID(s): tam, eng
License(s): LDC User Agreement for Non-Members
Online Documentation: LDC2009L01 Documents
Licensing Instructions: Subscription & Standard Members, and Non-Members
Citation: Schiffman, Harold, and Vasu Renganathan. An English Dictionary of the Tamil Verb Second Edition LDC2009L01. DVD. Philadelphia: Linguistic Data Consortium, 2009.


An English Dictionary of the Tamil Verb represents over twenty-five years of work led by Harold F. Schiffman, Professor, emeritus, of Dravidian Linguistics and Culture at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of South Asia Studies. It contains translations for 6597 English verbs and defines 9716 Tamil verbs. This release presents the dictionary in two formats: Adobe PDF and XML. The PDF format displays the dictionary in a human readable form. The XML version is a purely electronic form which, while readable by humans, is intended mainly for application development and the creation of searchable electronic databases. In the electronic XML version each entry contains the following: the English entry or head word; the Tamil equivalent (in Tamil script and transliteration); the verb class and transitivity specification; the spoken Tamil pronunciation (audio files in mp3 format); the English definition(s); additional Tamil entries (if applicable); example sentences or phrases in Literary Tamil, Spoken Tamil (with a corresponding audio file in .mp3 format) and an English translation; and Tamil synonyms or near-synonyms, where appropriate. Some foods referenced in the example sentences are illustrated in html files that include detailed description of each dish. It is expected that the dictionary will be useful for Tamil learners, scholars and others interested in the Tamil language.

What's New in the Second Edition?

  • Errors in the Tamil text and the roman transliteration have been corrected.
  • Audio files have been updated and corrected and missing files have been added.
  • A brand new search and browse application that can access the audio has been included in this edition. This application can be accessed from the tools directory.
  • The XML structure has been modified to normalize the presentation of synonyms.

The Tamil Verb

Tamil is an official language of India, Singapore and Sri Lanka and has roughly 66 million native speakers worldwide. Most Tamil speakers live in the Tamil Nadu State and northeastern Sri Lanka, but the extended diaspora includes Malaysia, Mauritius and Singapore. Tamil is also a Classical Language of India. A member of the Dravidian language family, it boasts a rich literary tradition stretching back over 2200 years.

Tamil is a diglossic language, meaning that it consists of at least two distinct forms. Spoken Tamil (ST) refers to the numerous vernacular dialects, and Literary Tamil (LT) refers to the form of the language used in print and most broadcast news media. The dialects of Spoken Tamil fall along regional divisions and along caste lines; there is no widely adopted standard for ST, although one seems to be emerging. Educated Tamil speakers, on the other hand, generally use LT with little variation in written communication. It appears, however, that a common dialect of ST may be emerging as a result of a growing broadcast media and increased rates of higher education. That dialect resembles the upper caste (non-Brahman) dialects spoken in the urban centers of Tamil Nadu and borrows verbs from LT. The spoken examples in An English Dictionary of the Tamil Verb reflect this emerging common dialect.

Tamil is also an agglutinative language, meaning that it constructs verbs by appending inflections in the form of suffixes onto basic verb-stem morphemes. These inflections primarily denote tense, aspect, voice and mood. As far as voice is concerned, however, though LT may mark a verb as passive on occasion, ST rarely makes this distinction. These suffixes mark whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, that is, they indicate whether the subject is acted on by the verb or whether the subject is the actor. Mood is implied by verb tense, but may also be provided by verbal auxiliaries expressing various degrees of probability, futurity, ability, and their negatives. Tamil also may add suffixes that mark aspectual distinctions, such as whether an action is considered to be perfective ('complete' and/or 'definite') or whether it is ongoing or imperfective ('continuous' or 'durative'), as well as other distinctions. Aspect is a category that is undergoing increasing grammaticalization and is therefore more usual in ST than in LT. As is common with this process, aspectual distinctions are 'speaker-centered', i.e. they provide personal observations (some analysts have referred to this as 'attitude' or 'point of view', which is of course what the word 'aspect' originally means) which describe the speaker's frame of mind concerning the event depicted in the sentence -- whether it is perceived to be beneficial or detrimental, positive or negative, voluntary or involuntary, etc. Aspectual distinctions vary widely among dialects; both because of the variability of the grammaticalization process and for historical reasons, and Tamil speakers can code-switch among different dialects depending on context and audience. In addition, ST and LT treat the grammar of verbs differently. Finding exact equivalents between English and Tamil verbs is very difficult as a result of Tamil's diglossic nature and because of the difficulty of mapping English aspectual distinctions onto Tamil aspectual categories.

An English Dictionary of the Tamil Verb seeks to meet needs not currently addressed by existing English-Tamil dictionaries. The main goal of this dictionary is to get an English-knowing user to a Tamil verb, irrespective of whether he or she begins with an English verb or some other item, such as an adjective; this is because what may be a verb in Tamil may in fact not be a verb in English, and vice versa. Since the number of English entries is limited (slightly less than 10,000) there may not be main entries for certain low-frequency items like 'pounce' but this item does appear as a synonym for 'jump, leap', and some other verbs, so searching for 'pounce' will get the user to a Tamil verb via the synonym field. The main goal is therefore to specifically concentrate on supplying the kinds of information lacking in all previous attempts to capture the equivalencies between English and Tamil. This dictionary addresses the following problem areas:

  • Verb classes: English-Tamil dictionaries, both current and previously extant, do not provide the user with any information about the morphological class of the Tamil verb, nor do they give information as to whether a verb is transitive or intransitive. This kind of information is readily available in Tamil-English dictionaries, but not in English-Tamil dictionaries.
  • Spoken Tamil: No English-Tamil dictionary gives information about the spoken or colloquial pronunciation of Tamil. Nor do they indicate whether a verb found in Literary Tamil is also used in Spoken Tamil. Information about ST is harder to get than Tamil in any other form. No electronic databases exist for ST, and many speakers of Tamil do not consider ST to be worth devoting any attention to. For non-Tamil speakers attempting to learn Tamil, however, ST is necessary for day-to-day functioning in a Tamil environment, and this dictionary is intended to meet their needs, not primarily the needs of native speakers.
  • Example Sentences: Currently extant English-Tamil dictionaries give few if any example sentences that illustrate the morphological and/or syntactic frames in which verbs occur. This is particularly important for ST, since it is morphologically and syntactically more complex than LT, especially in the verb phrase.
  • Modern Usage: Most extant English-Tamil dictionaries are now seriously out of date. Their compilers have often simply replicated the data found in previous dictionaries, with the result that the English represented in them is that of previous centuries. The Tamil forms given are also lacking in modernity, but for other reasons.
  • Syntactic Complexity of the Verb Phrase: Because the Tamil verb is morphologically complex, and the verb phrase therefore syntactically very complex, the authors decided to focus only on the Tamil verb. Tamil nouns are, in contrast, morphologically simple, and the noun phrase is remarkably uncomplicated. Tamil nouns have no gender distinctions (except where there is biological gender), no agreement, and adjectives are not inflected for number or gender. The Tamil Nadu government has spent much time and energy creating lexica and glossaries for various modern usages for Tamil, but these have mainly generated new nominal terminology, not verbs. This is partly because LT cannot borrow verbs easily, i.e. it cannot take a 'foreign' word and add Tamil morphological material to it, such as tense marking and person-number-gender marking, which all Tamil finite verbs must have. ST, on the other hand, has no problem with borrowings or other innovative word-formation devices. Spoken Tamil, however is not deemed worthy of being used in such contexts.
  • Sound Files: Finally, this dictionary, because of its electronic format, contains sound recordings of every Spoken Tamil example sentence, which of course could not be a part of any previous dictionaries printed on paper. Since most readers of LT already possess a familiarity with some form of ST, sound files for verbs in this form are not provided. The spoken verbs in this dictionary are drawn from the emerging common dialect of Tamil.


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