Tamil has an important place in understanding South Asia,being simultaneously a modern language spoken chiefly in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore,and a classical language boasting a continuous history of writing of about 2,500 years with inscriptional, literary and commentarial texts. As the oldest documented member of the Dravidian family of languages,Tamil is a prime source for studying the contributions of the Dravidian languages and cultures to the literary and cultural mosaic of the region.
Tamil is also a language whose speakers migrated in large numbers to distant places during the colonial period. It has significant populations in the plantations of Sri Lanka, in Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, Caribbean islands, South Africa, and Reunion. After the outbreak of Sri Lanka’s civil war in the 1980s, Tamil-speaking Sri Lankans migrated to many different countries around the world, including Canada, France, UK, Germany, and Switzerland, so that today Tamil can be called a truly global language. The Tamil communities in modern South-East Asian countries and trade and cultural contacts in the medieval period with the countries in the Indo-China region, particularly Java and Cambodia, suggest the relevance of Tamil in the study of South-East Asia.
The Tamil program at the University of Chicago has a long history of teaching and research with distinguished scholars like A. K. Ramanujan (1929–1993), Norman Cutler (1949–2002) and James Lindholm. It ranks today among the most comprehensive and varied Tamil programs outside of India, offering instruction in Spoken and Written Modern Tamil as well as Classical (Ancient and Medieval) Tamil. In addition to First-, Second-, and combined Third/Fourth-Year Tamil courses (with readings for advanced courses tailored towards student needs), we offer content courses and individual reading classes for advanced students on various aspects of Tamil literary culture, history and Tamil cinema. The University of Chicago is also one of the few places in the world where Tamil can be studied in conjunction with the other Dravidian languages Malayalam and Telugu.
The rich Tamil resources in the Regenstein Library as well as a number of South-India specialists in other departments than SALC make the University of Chicago a prime location for students of Tamil. Moreover, since its inception the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations has welcomed distinguished visiting scholars of Tamil, literary authors, musicians and film directors. Every year, various events at the University of Chicago that are centered around Tamil language and culture provide students with occasions to practice and learn about Tamil outside the classroom.
Tamil students at Chicago have consistently been successful in securing Critical Language Scholarships (CLS), FLAG grants, and Boren and NSEP fellowships, as well as gaining admission to the American Institute of Indian Studies and other summer and year-long language programs to study Tamil in India.
Recent Tamil-related events at the University of Chicago
- The 1st Norman Cutler Conference on South Asian Literature
- Fourth International Workshop on Classical Tamil Poetics
- Creative Presents: Global Tamil Literature Today (A Conference in Honor of James Lindholm)
- Not By Our Tears – A Verse Play by Cheran
- The Films of Leena Manimekalai
Four levels of Tamil are offered every year
- First-Year Tamil (TBA)
- Second-Year Tamil (TBA)
- Third/Fourth-Year Tamil (TBA)
In scheduling first- and second-year classes, every effort is made to make sure that students are not excluded because of scheduling conflicts. Third and fourth year classes are generally by arrangement, based on the mutual convenience of instructor and students.
What if I have a potential schedule conflict?
I’d like to audit/sit-in on a Tamil class. Is that possible?
No. SALC does not permit auditors in any of the department’s language classes. Please consider registering for the class. You won’t regret it!
I already have some background in written/spoken Tamil. Which class should I take?
Please contact for a Tamil placement exam.