The earliest known Tamil inscriptions date back to at least 500 BC. The Tamil alphabet is thought to have evolved from the Brahmi script, though some scholars believe that its origins go back to the Indus script. The alphabet is well suited to writing literary Tamil, centamil. However it is ill-suited to writing colloquial Tamil, koduntamil. During the 19th century, attempts were made to create a written version of the colloquial spoken language. Nowadays the colloquial written language appears mainly in school books and in passages of dialogue in fiction.
The current Tamil script consists of 12 vowels, 18 consonants and one special character, the aytam. The vowels and consonants combine to form 216 compound characters, giving a total of 247 characters (12 + 18 + 1 + (12 x 18)). All consonants have an inherent vowel a, as with other Indic scripts. This inherent vowel is removed by adding a tittle called a puḷḷi, to the consonantal sign.
Type of writing system: syllabic alphabet
Direction of writing: left to right in horizontal lines
When they appear in the beginning of a syllable, vowels are written as independent letters.
Some of the non-standard consonant-vowel combinations are not used in official documents.
The alphabet was originally written on palm leaves.
As a result, the letters are made up mainly of curved strokes which didn't rip the leaves.
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