A Word Index of Old Tamil Cankam Literature

by Norman Cutler
Citation
Title:
A Word Index of Old Tamil Cankam Literature
Author:
Norman Cutler
Year: 
1994
Publication: 
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Volume: 
114
Issue: 
2
Start Page: 
309
End Page: 
310
Publisher: 
Language: 
English
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Abstract:

Reviewed work(s): A Reference Grammar of Classical Tamil Poetry: 150 B. C.-Pre-Fifth/Sixth Century A. D. by V. S. RajamA Word Index of Old Tamil Caṅkam Literature by Thomas Lehmann; Thomas Malten  By Thomas Lehmann and Thomas Malten. Beitrage zur Sudasienforschung, Bd. 147. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1992. Pp. xi 425. It has frequently been pointed out that among India's many living languages, Tamil has the longest continuous literary history, a history approximately two millennia in duration. This is not to imply, however, that the Tamil language as it is employed in speech and writing today and the language of the earliest Tamil poems are identical. To the contrary, the language of classical Tamil poetry is sufficiently foreign to most native Tamil speakers that the poems are frequently published accompanied by "translations" into a more familiar and accessible idiom. From the vantage point of the modern-day native speaker of Tamil, the foreignness of classical Tamil poetry encompasses aspects of both grammar and lexicon, and it is precisely these two dimensions of the language of the classical Tamil poems that have been addressed in two recently published reference works. Both take as their point of departure the same field of data, 2,381 poems of varying length attributed to 473 poets and collected in "eight anthologies" (etuttokai) and a ninth anthology consisting of "ten [long] songs" (pattuppattu). Most of the poems included in this corpus were probably composed between the first century and the third century C.E., though some may have been composed as late as the fifth century  Thomas Lehmann and Thomas Malten have compiled an index of all words occurring in the corpus of classical Tamil poetry. The entries appear in Tamil script and are listed according to Tamil alphabetical order. The index identifies each occurrence of a word in the poetic corpus, without giving definitions, by poem and line number. The pages are clearly printed in double columns and are easy to read. This is certainly a useful reference tool for anyone wishing to locate the occurrence(s) of one or more words in the classical Tamil corpus, for whatever reason. But it should be mentioned that this is not the first index of its kind. As Lehmann and Malten themselves point out in their introduction, an index of words occurring in the eight anthologies, ten songs, as well as other early Tamil texts was published between 1967 and 1970 by the French Institute of Indology in Pondicherry. However, Lehmann and Malten, unlike the French Institute scholars, explicitly delineate and presumably are more rigorous in the application of criteria for identifying words for inclusion in their index, thus providing a rationale for what at first blush appears to be a replication of a portion of the French Institute's earlier work. Lehmann's and Malten's index is a useful if relatively modest contribution to the field of classical Tamil studies; V. S. Rajam's reference grammar, on the other hand, is truly a landmark. The volume under review is the first of four projected volumes which collectively will chart the evolution of the language of Tamil literary texts up to the sixteenth century C.E. Rajam has chosen this end point for her project because the sixteenth century marks the arrival of Europeans in the Tamil country. In the larger scheme of Rajam's project the present volume serves a dual function: it is intended as a baseline for subsequent volumes that will trace changes in the Tamil language over time, while at the same time it provides a description of the language of classical Tamil poetry treated synchronically as a composite whole. The organizational plan of Rajam's grammar is complex, and this can be attributed in part to two interrelated factors. First, as Rajam is careful to remind her reader, the subject of her study is the language of poetic texts, and consequently issues of grammatical and prosodic analysis cannot be categorically divorced from one another. Secondly, because Tamil possesses an indigenous grammatical tradition with origins that are roughly contemporaneous with the classical poems themselves, Rajam was confronted with the challenge of weighing the relative merits of using indigenous and/or imported categories as a vehicle for illuminating the language of the poems. The approach Rajam adopts, if not uncompromising in methodological rigor, is pragmatic, and appropriately so. By and large, Rajam's presentation of the grammar of classical Tamil employs categories and terminology that would be familiar to anyone who has studied language in an environment influenced by the modem discipline of linguistics. But there are instances where the balance is weighted more toward indigenous categories, especially when the discussion is explicitly focussed on issues of prosody and poetics. In a certain sense the data of Lehmann's and Malten's index and of Rajam's grammar are complementary: in the former these are the words that appear in classical Tamil poems, whereas in -the latter these are what Rajam calls the "grammatical concepts" embodied in the language of the poems. The greater part of the grammar consists of chapters devoted to discussions of particular grammatical concepts accompanied by copious illustrative textual citations that are provided both in the original Tamil and in translation. Corresponding phrases in the original and in the translation are highlighted in boldface type. Rajam anticipates two ways in which her grammar might be used. First, a reader may be interested in acquiring a broad familiarity with the language of the classical Tamil poems. Such a reader is invited to read the grammar from beginning to end, concentrating primarily on general explanations of grammatical concepts and skimming through the many illustrative examples. The grammar is also intended as a reference tool for those who are interested in reading classical Tamil poetry but who do not have a flawless command of all grammatical forms that occur in the poems and their applications. Such readers need to be able to locate an explanation of a form even when they do not know what grammatical concept it exemplifies. This is, of course, a problem for users of virtually all reference grammars, and it is a problem that defies entirely satisfactory solution. Rajam has addressed this problem as best she can by providing an appendix consisting of an alphabetically arranged list of suffixes, case markers, and postpositions that refers the reader to the chapter(s) where a discussion of the form in question and its application(s) can be found. Since a very large proportion of the grammatical concepts discussed in the grammar take the form of suffixation to a variety of stem formations, this strategy proves quite effective, though it does not capture all of the grammatical concepts that the reader of classical Tamil poetry may expect to encounter. It also presupposes that the reader who confronts an unfamiliar form in the course of reading a poem is able to analyze accurately that form into stem and suffix. Though the appendix may not be flawless as a mechanism to enable a reader of classical Tamil poetry to locate an explanation of an unfamiliar grammatical form, it is difficult to imagine what more Rajam could have done to aid such a reader. Rajam's analytical discussion of the various grammatical concepts that define the structure of classical Tamil poetry culminates in her analysis of three poems (ch. 62, pp. 941-1003). While the grammarian in quest of the structural logic of a language inevitably is forced to isolate particular grammatical concepts and analyze them individually, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that such concepts rarely if ever exist in isolation when language is employed as a medium of communication and expression. Rajam's analysis of three classical poems, the final chapter of this grammar, returns the reader to the starting point of this project, the poems of classical Tamil. In this chapter--a tour de force--Rajam provides a demonstration of how the various grammatical concepts discussed in the preceding chapters may be orchestrated in the service of poems of great power and beauty. This culminating chapter also enables the reader to appreciate the ancient Tamils' understanding of "grammar" (ilakkiywn) as a continuum in which phonology, morphology, syntax, metrics, and poetics (the Tamil categories are similar but slightly different) form an integrated whole. A Reference Grammar of Classical Tamil fills a hiatus that has long been keenly felt by students of classical Tamil poetry, especially students trained in a Western academic environment. The community of Tamil scholars and other readers of these marvelous poems will be forever grateful to Rajam for taking on this challenging, one might justifiably say monumental project, and for carrying it out so successfully. This reviewer, for one, eagerly awaits this volume's successors. COPYRIGHT 1994 American Oriental Society

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