Tolkappiyam chapter 1–3

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Organs of Articulation Illu01 head neck.jpg
Organs of Articulation

Articulations [1] of Tamil-phonemes are discussed here based on Tolkappiyam.


Propelling air in mouth makes sound if articulated. The least part of human language is phoneme. It varies in languages. Generally some points in the mouth and nose help to propel phoneme.

use me to read Tamil Tamil to Roman script.jpg
use me to read Tamil

Tamil phonemes are thirty. They are 12 vowels and 18 consonants. [2] Tolkappiyam, the earliest Tamil classical work defines scientifically the positions and functions of the speech organs, which produce phonemes. [3]

Speech organs and their functions

Raising wind starts from diaphragm. On the way it touches 8 vocal organs. Head the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx are the three places where they touch. Teeth, lip, tongue, nose and palate are the five places where they play before producing voice. According to modern science the larynx or voice box is the anchor of vocal folds. It impedes the airflow from the lungs to create vocal folds. A periodic cycle in speech organs produces phonemes. [4]

Vowels in Tamil [5]

Consonants in Tamil [6]

Dependant phonemes in Tamil [7]

Conclusion [8]


  1. Pir’appiyal
  2. Some particular phonemes among them articulate in reduced unit of sound. They are called 'secondary' or 'depending' phonemes in English Saarbu-ezuththu in Tamil.
  3. Tolkappiyam, section 1, chapter 3, all in 21 verses.
  4. Verse 1.
  5. verses 2-6 respectively
  6. verse 7 to 18 in order
  7. verse 19
  8. verses 20 and 21

Related Research Articles

In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract, except for the h, which is pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Examples are and [b], pronounced with the lips; and [d], pronounced with the front of the tongue; and [g], pronounced with the back of the tongue;, pronounced throughout the vocal tract;, [v], and, pronounced by forcing air through a narrow channel (fricatives); and and, which have air flowing through the nose (nasals). Contrasting with consonants are vowels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Manner of articulation</span> Configuration and interaction of the articulators when making a speech sound

In articulatory phonetics, the manner of articulation is the configuration and interaction of the articulators when making a speech sound. One parameter of manner is stricture, that is, how closely the speech organs approach one another. Others include those involved in the r-like sounds, and the sibilancy of fricatives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phonetics</span> Study of the sounds of human language

Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of sign languages, the equivalent aspects of sign. Linguists who specialize in studying the physical properties of speech are phoneticians. The field of phonetics is traditionally divided into three sub-disciplines based on the research questions involved such as how humans plan and execute movements to produce speech, how various movements affect the properties of the resulting sound, or how humans convert sound waves to linguistic information. Traditionally, the minimal linguistic unit of phonetics is the phone—a speech sound in a language which differs from the phonological unit of phoneme; the phoneme is an abstract categorization of phones, and it is also defined as the smallest unit that discerns meaning between sounds in any given language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Place of articulation</span> Place in the mouth consonants are articulated

In articulatory phonetics, the place of articulation of a consonant is a location along the vocal tract where its production occurs. It is a point where a constriction is made between an active and a passive articulator. Active articulators are organs capable of voluntary movement which create the constriction, while passive articulators are so called because they are normally fixed and are the parts with which an active articulator makes contact. Along with the manner of articulation and phonation, the place of articulation gives the consonant its distinctive sound.

A vowel is a syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant. Vowels vary in quality, in loudness and also in quantity (length). They are usually voiced and are closely involved in prosodic variation such as tone, intonation and stress.

Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth.

Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. The two common labial articulations are bilabials, articulated using both lips, and labiodentals, articulated with the lower lip against the upper teeth, both of which are present in English. A third labial articulation is dentolabials, articulated with the upper lip against the lower teeth, normally only found in pathological speech. Generally precluded are linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue contacts the posterior side of the upper lip, making them coronals, though sometimes, they behave as labial consonants.

Coronals are consonants articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue. Among places of articulation, only the coronal consonants can be divided into as many articulation types: apical, laminal, domed, or subapical as well as different postalveolar articulations : palato-alveolar, alveolo-palatal and retroflex. Only the front of the tongue (coronal) has such dexterity among the major places of articulation, allowing such variety of distinctions. Coronals have another dimension, grooved, to make sibilants in combination with the orientations above.

The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulatory phoneticians explain how humans produce speech sounds via the interaction of different physiological structures. Generally, articulatory phonetics is concerned with the transformation of aerodynamic energy into acoustic energy. Aerodynamic energy refers to the airflow through the vocal tract. Its potential form is air pressure; its kinetic form is the actual dynamic airflow. Acoustic energy is variation in the air pressure that can be represented as sound waves, which are then perceived by the human auditory system as sound.

Sibilants are fricative consonants of higher amplitude and pitch, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the teeth. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words sip, zip, ship, and genre. The symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet used to denote the sibilant sounds in these words are, respectively,. Sibilants have a characteristically intense sound, which accounts for their paralinguistic use in getting one's attention.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Voiced labial–palatal approximant</span> Consonantal sound represented by ⟨ɥ⟩ in IPA

The voiced labial–palatalapproximant is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. It has two constrictions in the vocal tract: with the tongue on the palate, and rounded at the lips. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ɥ, a rotated lowercase letter ⟨h⟩, or occasionally , which indicates with a different kind of rounding.

In phonetics, the airstream mechanism is the method by which airflow is created in the vocal tract. Along with phonation and articulation, it is one of three main components of speech production. The airstream mechanism is mandatory for most sound production and constitutes the first part of this process, which is called initiation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alveolo-palatal consonant</span> Type of consonant

In phonetics, alveolo-palatal consonants, sometimes synonymous with pre-palatal consonants, are intermediate in articulation between the coronal and dorsal consonants, or which have simultaneous alveolar and palatal articulation. In the official IPA chart, alveolo-palatals would appear between the retroflex and palatal consonants but for "lack of space". Ladefoged and Maddieson characterize the alveolo-palatals as palatalized postalveolars (palato-alveolars), articulated with the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge and the body of the tongue raised toward the palate, whereas Esling describes them as advanced palatals (pre-palatals), the furthest front of the dorsal consonants, articulated with the body of the tongue approaching the alveolar ridge. These descriptions are essentially equivalent, since the contact includes both the blade and body of the tongue. They are front enough that the fricatives and affricates are sibilants, the only sibilants among the dorsal consonants.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Laminal consonant</span> Phone (speech sound)

A laminal consonant is a phone produced by obstructing the air passage with the blade of the tongue, the flat top front surface just behind the tip of the tongue in contact with upper lip, teeth, alveolar ridge, to possibly, as far back as the prepalatal arch, although in the last contact may involve parts behind the blade as well. It is distinct from an apical consonant, produced by creating an obstruction with the tongue apex only. Sometimes laminal is used exclusively for an articulation that involves only the blade of the tongue with the tip being lowered and apicolaminal for an articulation that involves both the blade of the tongue and the raised tongue tip. The distinction applies only to coronal consonants, which use the front of the tongue.

In linguistics, a distinctive feature is the most basic unit of phonological structure that distinguishes one sound from another within a language. For example, the feature [voice] distinguishes the two bilabial plosives: [p] and [b]. There are many different ways of defining and arranging features into feature systems: some deal with only one language while others are developed to apply to all languages.

Laryngeal consonants are consonants with their primary articulation in the larynx. The laryngeal consonants comprise the pharyngeal consonants, the glottal consonants, and for some languages uvular consonants.

In some schools of phonetics, sounds are distinguished as grave or acute. This is primarily a perceptual classification, based on whether the sounds are perceived as sharp, high intensity, or as dull, low intensity. However, it can also be defined acoustically or in terms of the articulations involved.

Tolkāppiyam chapter 1-2 refers to the first two chapter of part 1 of the Tolkāppiyam, the earliest available work in the Tamil language.

The quantal theory of speech is a phonetic answer to one of the fundamental questions of phonology, specifically: if each language community is free to arbitrarily select a system of phonemes or segments, then why are the phoneme inventories of different languages so similar? For example, almost all languages have the stop consonants /p/, /t/, /k/, and almost all have the vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/. Other phonemes differ considerably among languages, but not nearly as much as they would if each language were free to choose arbitrarily.


  1. Tolkappiyam (Tamil original with the commentary of Iḷampūraṇar, தொல்காப்பியம் இளம்பூரணர் உரை)
  2. Tholkappiyam (in English) S. Ilakkuvanar, Kural Neri Publishing House, Madurai – 6, year 1963
  3. Tolkappiyam in English, by Dr. V. Murugan, Project Director Dr. G. John Samuel, Institute of Asian Studies, Chennai, India, 2000.