Cover: Tamil: A Biography, from Harvard University PressCover: Tamil in HARDCOVER

Tamil

A Biography

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HARDCOVER

$35.00 • £25.95 • €31.50

ISBN 9780674059924

Publication: September 2016

Trade

416 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Belknap Press

World

This love letter to Tamil, in the guise of a ‘biography,’ by one of the world’s foremost indologists, is both welcome and long overdue. David Shulman is an able and enthusiastic biographer. He treats his language as a living, breathing organism, devoting considerable attention to its sounds and rhythms, and to its rich poetic tradition… Shulman judiciously combines critical scholarship such as we find it in the West with a sustained account of a 1,500-year-old indigenous tradition of grammar and commentary… [Tamil] deserves a wide readership: it breathes fresh life into the study of one of the world’s most enduring languages.—Balaji Ravichandran, The Times Literary Supplement

Tamil is spoken today by approximately 80 million people… To attempt to give a comprehensive vision of the language within the compass of a brief book intended for nonspecialists might seem an impossible task. Yet Tamil: A Biography succeeds at this remarkably well… The book traces a chronological sequence from the prehistory of the language up to modern times. Shulman draws together a wealth of contemporary scholarship, but the perspective that commands the book is uniquely his, as is the authorial voice. Gently humorous, frequently lyrical, and wearing great learning very lightly, the book’s prose admirably summons up what it might be like to listen to a series of lectures by a gifted teacher.—Whitney Cox, The New York Review of Books

The poet Bharathidasan declared that Tamil was born with the sun, the moon, the sky, the stars and the seas. Few would dare to attempt the biography of such a language. But when the world’s foremost Tamil scholar gives it his best shot one cannot but take notice. David Shulman does not disappoint; he dazzles us with his labor of love… Tamil: A Biography is both synthesis and interpretation, a must-read for anyone interested in the world’s great languages and literatures.—A. R. Venkatachalapathy, The Hindu

From the insider’s perspective, Shulman really scores while concluding that Tamil is more than a language, it is a body of knowledge—much of it intrinsic to an ancient culture and sensibility. It is a kind of grammar, not merely of the language in its spoken and written forms, but the creative potential of its speakers.—M. D. Muthukumaraswamy, The Times of India

David Shulman, in his Tamil: A Biography, [writes] with élan, with unaffected erudition and an infectious charm that leaves the reader breathless and, at times, puzzled at how endearing the evolution of a language could turn out to be. There is no doubt that Shulman, the foremost Indologist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is uniquely qualified to do this job given a lifetime of scholarship on south Indian literature and culture. His love for his subject comes alive on every page of the book, and yet this is not a stormy, tortured relationship; instead there is refinement and nuance, things not often seen in language discourse in India… Tamil: A Biography is a hugely rewarding book, and one that with repeated reading provides more food for thought.—Veena Muthuraman, Quartz India

[A] playful and supple ‘biography’ of Tamil language and poetics.—Thomas Meaney, London Review of Books

David Shulman’s book, Tamil: A Biography, is a tour de force. It is a must-read for all Indians, not just Tamils. The author takes us on a grand journey, starting from the ancient era of Irayanar Akapporul (which he cleverly calls “Grammar of Stolen Love”) through the golden Sangam age, the Bhakti era and the modern age starting with the rediscovery of Sangam literature in the late 19th century. It is filled with delightful vignettes about sages, poets, scholars and even Gods that many Tamil children hear of growing up. Almost every poem in the book strikes an emotional chord.—Banuchandar Nagarajan, Swarajya

David Shulman has raised an impressive monument to Tamil, written with erudition and wit. This ‘biography’ deals with much more than language—literature, culture, geography, history, all combine in praise of beauty and love.—Tzvetan Todorov, National Center for Scientific Research, Paris

Shulman’s Tamil: A Biography is a towering achievement in the field of cultural history and philology that is a compelling evolution of one of the oldest languages in the world from antiquity to modernity… Passionately and yet objectively written, the book is as much annals of the language as it is a thoroughly researched panegyric to it… You do not have to be Tamil to appreciate the significance of this book. In fact, it appears intended for anyone with an interest in the cultural history of the language… Shulman takes great pains to ensure that no reader is alienated by the context. Constant cross-references to other cultures are made, whether to the Hebrew Bible, Homeric poetry, Mozart’s music, Greek, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, illuminating the development of the language through comparative philology. Tamil is situated in a global network of languages… Sublime and riveting, Tamil: A Biography proves that good linguistic and intellectual history can be written without resorting to either esotericism or jargonism.—Kumuthan Maderya, PopMatters

Shulman is a priceless advocate of the language and its many masterpieces.—Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

[Shulman] offers a comprehensive examination of the history and culture of Tamil, a language spoken by more than 80 million people.—B. Tavakolian, Choice

David Shulman’s Tamil is akin to a delightful and elevating musical composition. Spanning centuries and capturing minute details, this book reveals the inner energy of Tamil. Tamil is lucky to have such an erudite ‘biographer’ to tell its story.—S. Ramakrishnan, Editor, Cre-A: Dictionary of Contemporary Tamil

David Shulman has raised an impressive monument to Tamil, written with erudition and wit. This ‘biography’ deals with much more than language—literature, culture, geography, history, all combine in praise of beauty and love.—Tzvetan Todorov, National Center for Scientific Research, Paris