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Department of Lexicography

Headquarters of the Pongal-2000 Project

An Unabridged Tamil - Tamil - English Dictionary(in 20 Volumes)

Editorial Director: Dr. G. John Samuel

Consultant Editors and Head Editors
Dr. K. Balasubramaniam
Dr. P.R. Subramaniam
Dr. P. Thiagarajan
Dr. A.A. Manavalan


Systems Editors for Quotationsand Language Notes

Jija Shelley
K. Selladurai
Dr. C. Sivathanu
R. Ruskin Lavy
Dr. M. Sadasivam
Dr. E.S. Muthusamy
M. Mathialagan

Assistant Editors

Dr. R. Jeyaraman
Dr. A. James
Dr. S. Thiagamani
Mr. M. Murugesan

Clerical Assistants

K. Kolappan
E. Basker

An Unabridged Tamil-Tamil-English Dictionary(in 20 Volumes)

The Institute of Asian Studies, a non-governmental, voluntary, academic centre for interdisciplinary and cross-cultural studies of the Asian languages and literatures, has been engaged in the preparation of reference works such as encyclopaedias and dictionaries, and in the protection and preservation of the cultural and literary materials of yesteryear such as palm-leaf manuscripts, and forms of folk creativity. In tune with the reality of the day when English has been gaining acceptance as a medium of international communication, our materials are all in English, or have English as a target language as in the case of dictionaries and works of translation.

The Department of Lexicography

Language, the medium of literature as well as the history of ideas, is a vibrant, living phenomenon. It is subject to constant growth, change and decay which characterize all forms of life. When a langauge ceases to change, such as Latin did, we call it a dead language. Most of our languages, however, are in a state of flux going in harmony with the dynamicness and evolution of their resepective users.

As such, an institution of serious academic standing and pursuits needs to have a department of linguistic studies and lexicography, and the Institute of Asian Studies has risen to the occasion. Besides, dictionaries, both bilingual and multi-lingual, are among the basic reference materials in the pursuit of cross-cultural studies.

With these ends in view, the Institute has established a permanent Department of Lexicography, which at present is engaged in the compilation of:

  1. A Multi-lingual Kannada-English-Tamil-Japanese Dictionary
  2. A Dictionary of Tamil Literary Technical Terms
  3. An Unabridged Tamil-Tamil-English Dictionary
  4. A Multi -Volume English-English-Tamil Dictionary

The Need for an Unabridged Tamil-Tamil-English Dictionary

Tamil occupies a unique position among the languages of the world insofar as it is both a classical and a modern tongue embodying in itself the characteristics of classicism and the marks of a language of perennial growth and development, a fact which places on us an obligation to have a word-book which fully subscribes to, and informs of this historicism and contemporaneousness. And the requirements of lexicography continue to change as new words and new senses for old words cry for inclusion. Several areas like punctuation, definitional terminology, spelling, etc., call for modernization. It is possible to go in for more precise specification of parts of speech, homonym numbers and sense numbers. In the cross-reference system, certain improvements seem desirable. The organization of senses within entries in many existing works seems to need further improvement. In particular:

  1. The second half of the present century has brought about significant changes in the Tamil language, in the lexical corpus as well as the semantic orientation. Specialization in different fields of human expression and experience, the impact of the western intellectual climate through the English language, the electronic and the print media, and the globalization of trade, industry and commerce have necessitated and brought in several thousands of words to modern Tamil which need to be identified and described.
  2. Numerous scientific and technical terms need to be included, and whose definitions brought into line with present-day knowledge.
  3. Many of the existing definitions of general vocabulary need to be reworked taking account of recent social and technological changes.
  4. The coverage of Tamil outside Tamil Nadu, particularly Sri Lanka, needs to be expanded.
  5. Many current words warrant illustrations by latest quotations.
  6. A diachronic sense in the treatment of signification seems a must for a dictionary of this kind.
  7. The semantic complexity of several words needs to be resolved through more illustrations.
  8. There is a crying need to adapt the Tamil language to the requirements of the new scientific and technological era.

Clearly, dictionary-making cannot be a one-time affair. That very little has been done during these sixty years in this direction since the publication of the Tamil Lexicon by the University of Madras betrays an impoverished vision on our part. We are thus left sixty years behind many of the other langauges of this country, standing crippled as we do in relation to the use of mother tongue for scientific expression and research.

There is another academic and cultural imperative behind the need for compiling a comprehensive, updated dictionary for the Tamil langauge. We often voice our concern over the relative dearth of vocabulary in Tamil by which to express and convey our scientific thoughts and ideas. Many a time we feel crippled for words when it comes to thinking on and communicating our experience of science and technology. In the academic circles there is a growing feeling that we do not have advanced texts in our mother tongue that are expressive of the new and the current developments in the varied fields such as medicine, agriculture, and so on. At the level of advanced research and technological applications, the absence of appropriate terminology in our mother tongue is even more acutely felt.

Again, in this fast-shrinking world where the interdependence of nations and peoples has been a rule rather than an exception, translation both technical and literary has emerged as a central academic industry. Ours has become an age of translation, when, it is rightly said, nothing moves without translation. Classics which are worthy of inclusion in world literature are being translated from one language into another. Great works of literature that transcend geographical and cultural barriers and that which other languages need for emulation and enrichment, such as Aristotle's Poetics, Panini's Grammar, and Tolkappiyar's Tolkappiyam, can be profitably translated into other languages. The great mass of modern scientific information embodied in English and some of the other western languages must be brought into our languages. All these are not only matters of interaction and interfertilization, but we need them in order to keep us abreast of the latest intellectual climate, and to equip the younger generation of our land scientifically in tune with the advanced peoples.

Obviously, such of these requirements hinge upon translation, which in turn, cannot move without well-prepared, uptodate and comprehensive bilingual dictionaries. So compiling a bilingual dictionary for Tamil that is truly modern in spirit and content, that is in tune with the science of lexicography, is a compelling need of the hour, and it requires an institutional framework with a dedicated, interactive and close-knit team of lexicographers, linguists, literary scholars, and specialists belonging to the various disciplines of science and humanities.

Again, compiling a dictionary of this kind is necessarily a continuous process with an editorial team ever on the search for the emergence of new terms and new shades of meaning that reflect the changed modes of living and the changed intellectual climate.

These are the principal aspects which the Dictionary Project Team of this Institute hopes to address in their efforts so that it is a modern and accurate register of the vocabulary of Tamil.

The team is endeavouring to secure the widest possible coverage of both the established word stock of Tamil and of the rapidly expanding vocabularies of the arts, sciences, trades and professions. In the first, we will be guided by factors of usage and sound historical judgement reinforced by the consensus of the authorities we shall consult in the course of preparation; in the second, the choice of entries has been determined by a conscientious and extensive review of the appropriate sources in every technical field, rather than by any sense of adventurism.

Unique features of the Dictionary

While conforming to the latest principles and practice of lexicography, this dictionary seeks to be informed by the following features, so as to present as complete a picture as is possible of the lexical corpus in Tamil at this moment of time. While doing so, we go beyond the general lexicographic perspective and attempt to address to the specialized needs of post-gradute students, researchers, and others in advanced scholarly pursuits:

  1. Terms of poetics, prosody and rhetoric in Tamil have been treated completely with X8 illustrations from literature, for which purpose all extant sources of Tamil grammar and poetics, and commentaries of classical texts have been checked individually, compared with each other for the formulation of new concepts, and reformulation or modification of the existing ones.
  2. A complete and exhaustive treatment of the terms defining the Akam and the Pur\am conventions, their mutal, karu & uri, and tin|ai and tur\ai divisions including those treated in Akapporul Vilakkam and Purapporul Venpa Malai - marks this dictionary. As a prelude to the above efforts, this Institute has been working on a Dictionary of Literary Technical Terms in Tamil along these lines.
  3. The quoted examples, as has been hinted at elsewhere, inform the semantic change and development of words through seven well-marked phases in the history of Tamil literature. This is being done with a view to deciding on the consistency and stability of the given word and its shades of meaning. It is this treatment by which we are enabled to decide on the appropriacy and correctness of labels such as obsolete, archaic, rare, etc., where they are used.
  4. Published works of folk literature have been examined in the collection of word corpus for this dictionary, as well as in the interpretation of their meanings.
  5. The current storage and retrieval systems have been fully exploited in this dictionary. Appropriate software is being developed for the validation of senses as well as for data capture.
  6. The synonym section, another special feature of this dictionary, may gives a foretaste of the variety and richness of the language, besides contributing to the resourcefulness of the language user.
  7. All possible idioms and phrases pertaining to the given headword have been listed at the end of the entry along with their equivalents in English.
  8. The large number of compound words which have had the status of autonomous lexical units, and which remian unrepresented in the 7-volume Tamil Lexicon have been treated in this Dictionary.
  9. Words in pairs which run into several hundreds and which are an integral part of the lexical heritage of the Tamil language find an exhaustive treatment in this dictionary.
  10. All dialectal words, both regional and social, which have entered into the written word have been treated here.
  11. Inscriptional materials have been examined in the collection of word-corpus.
  12. Pictorial illustrations have been provided for terms on tools and implements, and for terms representing cultural uniqueness and antiquity.

Scope of the Dictionary

This dictionary, intended to be comprehensive and unabridged, will comprise a complete corpus of words in Tamil, which include:

  1. The common vocabulary of the language, including those used in countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, etc., where the Tamils are a dominant section;
  2. Terms pertaining to the different disciplines of humanities;
  3. The core vocabulary pertaining to various disciplines of science and technology;
  4. Philosophical and religious terms;
  5. Words of non-native origin, including loan words, and translational equivalents;
  6. Terms of grammar, prosody and poetics;
  7. Colloquial expressions and dialectal words that have entered into the written word;
  8. Informal, slang and vulgar terms;
  9. Obsolete, archaic and rare expressions;
  10. Names of personages of history, arts, religion, myth and literature, as also those of poets, grammarians and other men of letters, the central criterion for inclusion being their bearing on the literary and the socio-cultural history of Tamilnadu;
  11. Names of places of historical, literary and religious significance;
  12. Names of principal rivers, mountains, etc;
  13. Titles of works of literature, grammar, prosody and poetics;
  14. Flora and fauna;
  15. Onomatopoeic terms; and
  16. Idioms and phrases.

The order of elements in an entry

All entries, including abbreviations, derivatives and compounds, are arranged in the alphabetical order of their headwords. This order takes account of each letter in turn through the full entry, even if the entry consists of several words.

The general order in the arrangement of an entry is:

  1. Headword
  2. Transliteration (contrastive pairs will have broad phonemic transcription)
  3. Word class (or part of speech) label (in both Tamil and English)
  4. Grammar code (verb class, number, etc. in English)
  5. Variant linguistic forms (introduced by 'also' printed in boldface types to indicate that they have separate entries in their respective places
  6. Origin of the word
  7. Status (style, register, etc.) label
  8. Meaning/meanings in Tamil, each followed by quotations/illustrative expressions with details of the authorities cited
  9. Equivalents in English of the Tamil meanings
  10. Derived words with word-class labels shown without definitions
  11. Compound forms (without special meanings)
  12. Compound forms (with special meanings) printed in bold types to indicate that they have separate entries in their respective places
  13. Idiomatic expressions
  14. Cross-references
  15. Synonyms
  16. Pictorial illustrations

All these sixteen elements need not go into the structure of every entry. One element or more may be absent under a headword depending upon the linguistic and the semantic complexion as well as the potential of the given word.

These elements may be described as under:

  1. Headword (set in bold face types)The following categories of words have been taken as headwords in this dictionary:

Uncompounded individual words, which include

  • Nouns in their root forms(e.g.) Ui, DX
  • Verbs in their root formsThe root/base form of the verb is in the imperative mood (e.g. Nn) Its core inflected forms-infinitive (NnV), verbal participle (NnO), optative (NnL) # follow the headword in parenthesis. For those verbs in modern Tamil whose imperative forms are not in use now, the verbal participle-auxiliary combination is used, e.g. NjOl#T.For verbs in the intransitive form, its transitive form is indicated, and vice versa. The defective verbs (e.g Y-dIm, R*Um) are illustrated in terms of current usage.
  • Adjectives
  • Adverbs
  • Derivatives acquiring new or specialized meanings:
  • Variant linguistic forms
  • Homographs - words that have the same spelling, but that may belong to a different word class (noun, adjective, verb, etc.) or that may be completely different in meaning. Each homograph is superscribed with Arabic numerals, e.g)DkO1 v DkO2 nDkO3 partDlx1 nDlx2 v
  • Lexicalized inflected forms
  • Particles/case markers, etc

Compound forms include:

  • Forms contracted owing to the omission of case-endings, particles, etc.
  • Forms fused into new units
  • Forms that have acquired new or specialized meanings
  • Onomatopoeic terms
  • Proper names, such as:
    • Historical, mythical, literary and religious personages
    • Poets and other artists
    • Titles of works of art
    • Places of religious, literary and mythical interest


  • The transliteration used in this dictionary is that of the Tamil Lexicon of the University of Madras.
  • Foreign words have been included in their Tamilized form and pronunciation TYm pa$vam (bha$vam)Td pakti (bhakti)CWe- hearing
  • Such sounds as _, ', ^, etc. in non-Tamil words are not fully Tamilized.
  • While the compounded forms are shown as single words, their elements are marked off with hyphes in transliteration in order to indicate their compostion.
  • Word class (or part of speech) labelEvery headword in this dictionary has been given a special sign in both Tamil and English to show its word class (or part of speech).


The first volume of this dictionary has the following appendices included in it: (i) A brief history of the Tamil language written in both Tamil and English. In Tamil, it is under the head" ""LXk#Ram R&r'' and in English it is "The Linguistic History of the Tamil Language". The focus of this feature would be both the diachronic and synchonic dimensions of Tamil, which is also informed by the geographical distribution of the language, its variety classes, etc., (ii) There is an Atlas of Tamilnadu featuring physical, social and political dimensions, and(iii) There is a map showing the distribution of the Tamils outside Tamilnadu. (iv) The final volume of this dictionary will have an appendix on the history of Lexicography in Tamil. The system of transliteration being followed in this dictionary is that of the Tamil Lexicon of the University of Madras. Transliteration Table@a FedkjtplAa$Ge$en^knqvBiHaifclprl\CiIIogn~mmsl|DuJo$ht|nytr\Eu$I[auin@orun\Kk\_jxs@yhsxvszks@An Editorial Advisory Committee comprising the following members which meets from time to time monitors the overall execution of the project:

  1. Dr. G. John Samuel (convenor),Director for Research Programmes,Institute of Asian Studies.
  2. Dr. M. Shanmugam Pillai,Head, Dept. of Tamil Studies,Institute of Asian Studies.
  3. Dr. A.A. Manavalan,3/6 MIG Flats,II Avenue, Indira Nagar,Chennai - 600 020.
  4. Dr. K. Balasubramaniam,Prof. of Linguistics,Annamalai University,Annamalai Nagar - 608 002.
  5. Dr. S.V. Shanmugam,194, Mariappan Nagar,Annamalai Nagar - 608 002.
  6. Dr. P.R. Subramaniam,9/4, 24th Street,Thiruvanmiyur,Chennai - 600 041.
  7. Dr. Chitraputra Pillai,Dept. of Compilations,Tamil University,Thanjavur- 613 005.
  8. Mr. C. Subramaniam,Dept. of Tamil Studies,Institute of Asian Studies.
  9. Dr. P. Thiagarajan,Dept. of Tamil Studies,Institute of Asian Studies.
  10. Dr. M. Sadasivam\Editor,Etymological Dictionary Project,Govt. Museum,Chennai - 600 008.
  11. Dr. (an,Reader in English,Presidency College,Chennai-600 005.

Quotations & Language notes

A word on the specimen entries that follow this introduction. The headwords chosen and included here are rather a tentative and minuscule representation of the scope and perspective informing this Dictionary. The selection of words for this sample volume is governed by a two-fold criterion: (i) to hint at the breadth and the comprehensiveness of the corpus of words that go into this Dictionary, and (ii) to illustrate the format and the methodology of the entries. As such, the words treated here are necessarily a heterogeneous collection, each typifying and illustrating a given field, mode or style of discourse.

The historicism and form-history of words has been a seminal focus of attention here, for a language like Tamil, which is a living blend of classicism and modernism, has a very large number of words whose semantic complexities can hardly be resolved without subjecting them to a rigorous treatment on historical principles. At the same time, the need for identifying and recording the 'new' words, most of which are translational equivalents of the conceptual and the linguistic terminology of the West, has not been lost sight of While the former typify the abiding genius of this ancient tongue, the latter sustain and nourish its continuing relevance and adaptivity to the age of science and materialism. Besides, these sample entries reflect two other concerns of this Dictionary. One is the language of the mass media, and the other the spoken word (colloquial, slang etc.). The lexicographer can ill-afford to remain oblivious to both. While the former has significantly contributed to and sustained the 'modernness' of the living, contemporary idiom, the latter is verily the embryo of a language. However, care has been taken to see that only those of the spoken tongue that find represented in the written word such as fictional writing, and newspapers and journals are being treated in this Dictionary

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