Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tamil from Tranquebar

I was talking about early use of the printing press in India recently and how Tamil, recently recognized as a classical language, was the first script of India to be used in print. Here is Genesis published in Tranquebar in 1723. "The translation was probably commissioned by the Danish State Church." Wikipedia

"This New Testament in Tamil was the first to be printed in any of the languages of India. It was translated by Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719) and the text was revised with the help of Johann Ernst Gründler (1677-1720). .... By the summer of 1714, the Gospels had been completed but the large typeface that had been used meant that the supply of suitable printing paper was running low. A new, smaller typeface was cast and the complete New Testament, which was dedicated to Frederick IV, was issued in 1715." From "The Missionary Bible"

While Tamil was printed by the Danish as early as 1715, I have read elsewhere that the Portuguese Jesuits had a printing press for Tamil as early as 1578.

"TAMIL types had been used to print Doctrina Christam in Coolegio do Saluador at Cochin in 1578. Some years earlier in Lisbon, a Cartilha, or Christian Catichism, had been translitereated and printed in 1554. Those are known facts." Early Madras-Printed Tamil Books

Further discussion is found here.

"Though the Jesuits began to set up printing presses in several parts of Portuguese held India, trying their hands, with varying degrees of success, on the Kannada and Devanagari scripts, they did not succeed in establishing the idea of printing firmly on the subcontinent and toward the middle of 17th century all their efforts came to an end. Fifty years later in 1711, Bartholomaus Zieganbalg persuaded the society for promoting Christian knowledge in London to send a further Portuguese printing press to India and soon afterwards he was able to obtain a set of ' Malabari ' letters from Germany. From then on printing seems to have progressed steadily in India."

"European Missionaries and the Study of Dravidian Languages " (Notes on some books and manuscripts held in British Museum) Albertine Gaur, Assistant Keeper, Department of Oriental Printed Books andManuscripts, British Museum, London, UK. N.B. This webpage is published by the Tamil Heritage Foundation.

I find it interesting to note that in 1723 there were no word divisions in the printed Tamil text. It would be interesting to find out who introduced that convention to Indic scripts. Thai is still written without word divisions.

Caveat: I have recently used Wikipedia as a source of images in the public domain and as examples of multilingual electronic text. However, any discussion of writing systems in Wikipedia is so sprinkled with imprecision (to put it politely) that I would never recommend it as an academic reference.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

About Wikipedia, why not fix the errors yourself? Or if you don't want an account at wikipedia, make a huge post about specific failings and I and other wikipedia-addicts can fix them for you.

Btw, liked the way you test that anonymous commenters are people, even if it does prevent comments from blind people. Do you know if blogger is planning to start using OpenID? (

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might blog about the wiki issue.

Re: commenting, the word verification is part of blogger - I don't know much about it (I don't know what OpenID is either)except that if it is not turned on the comment section will fill with spam in minutes. You make a very good point about the blind and word verification - I wonder what alternative could be used. Voice verification? Why not?


4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy now :)


Ps I just found out what it looks like when I edit a comment. Hmm.

6:03 PM  

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