Tamil Tribune

Tamil Nadu Engineering Colleges (India)

Engineering Education in Tamil

K. Pitchai

TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 2010 (ID. 2010-09-01)
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OUTLINE (Textbooks and professors for optional Tamil medium engineering education in Tamil Nadu engineering colleges)

1. Introduction

2. Why English Technical Terms Should not be Mixed with Tamil?

3. Some Practical Suggestions

1. Introduction

I am an engineer. I had my engineering education at a Tamil Nadu engineering college couple of decades ago. I learned engineering through English medium because there was no Tamil medium option available at that time. I had longed for the day when Tamil students would have the option to study engineering in Tamil, in the same way French, German, Japanese and Chinese students study engineering in their own mother tongue.

I saw the dawn of Tamil entering the technological field when Taminadu State Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudi announced earlier this year (2010) that Tamil medium civil and mechanical engineering courses would be available from this year in four Anna Universities and their eleven constituent colleges. As I was reading this news sitting in front of my laptop computer, I clapped my hands and silently thanked Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi for his relentless decade long efforts to finally get Tamil as a medium of engineering education. My congratulations and gratitude go also to Minister Ponmudi and all the officials who worked with him to accomplish this significant milestone in Tamil development into the twenty first century. This shows the world that Tamil is not only a living classical language but is also a language of the present and future that is capable of expressing complex ideas in science and technology.

My upbeat attitude and euphoria was somewhat marred when I learned last month (August 2010) that Tamil engineering books would contain at least some English technical terms. In other words Tamil engineering books would use a "mixture Tamil" (kalappu Tamil) instead of pure Tamil. This puts a dark cloud over the rising sun of "scientific Tamil". Although it was stated that only some well-known English technical terms would be used, I know that once a opening is given, large numbers of English words would be used in Tamil-medium engineering education. Let us not open that door even a little. Read Tamil newspapers, watch Tamil television shows, watch Tamil movies; we see the amount of English words used. Just a few years ago it seemed that every other Tamil movie title was in English. Finally Chief Minister Karunanidhi had to step in to put a stop to it. He had to give crores of Rupees in tax concessions to encourage producers to name their movies in Tamil. (1 crore = 10 million)

Let us not allow that situation to develop in engineering textbooks. We are entering a new era in Tamil development. Let us start it clean. Let us make a clean start. Let us make sure that equivalent Tamil words are used in engineering books one-hundred percent.

I know that all those engaged in this monumental project of introducing Tamil into the engineering field are well meaning Tamil lovers. Some of them might have thought that it is too much for engineering students to learn both Tamil and English technical terms. I understand their concern. I am proposing in this article some practical ways that would satisfy their concerns while at the same time protect the purity of our mother tongue.

2. Why English Technical Terms Should not be Mixed with Tamil?

Tamil is a naturally developed language. It is not derived from other languages. A 1999 article "Anglicization of Internet Tamil" states, "Tholkappiam, written more than 2000 years ago,  says, "all words are based on their meaning" ("ella chollum porul kuriththanavae"). It means that every Tamil word is formed on the basis of its meaning. Let us keep this rich tradition and enrich our language by coining new Tamil words for the technological innovations of the coming century and the coming millennium!"

By mixing English words with Tamil, whether in movies or engineering books, we are degrading Tamil. Whenever something new enters our society, we should coin new Tamil words based on their meaning. Vaanoli (radio), tholai pesi (telephone) and nadai pesi (mobile phone) are some new terms that entered Tamil within the last few decades. We should bring in new words for use in engineering books also. Some of the concepts may be much more complex and difficult but Tamil has the capability to produce new words. It may not be easy to coin new words in engineering but it can be done and it should be done.

If we take the easy route or the lazy route and allow the use of English words in engineering books, enemies of Tamil would pounce on it and say that Tamil language cannot handle modern technological subjects and it is good only for household use and for reading old classic literature. Let us not allow that to happen.

Having discussed why it is important not to mix English words with Tamil in engineering books, here are some suggestions.

3. Some Practical Suggestions


It is of utmost importance that Tamil medium engineering students know English technical terms. Otherwise they would not be able to read engineering books, papers and reports in English. So whenever Tamil technical terms are used in engineering books, the corresponding English terms in Roman script should be included in parenthesis. Then students would be constantly exposed to English terms and mentally absorb them.


If educators think that it is too much of a burden for students to learn both Tamil and English technical terms, I suggest that students be allowed to use either Tamil or English words in examination papers. Those who use English terms must write them in Roman script so that Tamil language is not corrupted as such. They would thus stand out as English words and not masquerade as Tamil words.

Even those students who opt to use English technical terms in their examination papers would be exposed to both English and Tamil terms when they were reading Tamil engineering books.


All technical terms (no exceptions) in engineering books should be in Tamil, with the English terms in Roman script printed next in parenthesis. One may wonder why use Tamil technical terms in textbooks if students are allowed to use English terms in examination papers. Reasons are four-fold.


As stated in Section 3.2, even those students who opt to use English technical terms in their examination papers would be exposed to the equivalent Tamil terms when they were reading Tamil engineering books.


We are preserving the age-old tradition of coining new Tamil words as new things enter our society (see Section 2 for details). Tamil would continue to be a primary classical language that does not borrow words from other languages but coins new words as necessary.


Enemies of Tamil could not say that Tamil is suitable only for household use and reading classical literature but is not a modern language suitable for the technological era.


Properly coined new words would actually make it easier for students to understand and remember engineering concepts. Here is an example from the medical field. Tamil word for cancer is "puttu noi". The very term puttu noi describes what cancer is and how a cancerous cell looks like. This information is not readily available from the English word cancer. Following Chief Minister Karunanidhi's tax concessions to movie industry to encourage Tamil movie titles, a movie originally titled "Robot" changed the title to "Enthiran". The very word enthiran says that it refers to a machine (enthiram) that has human characteristics (the last syllable "an" refers to a man or human in general).


Tamil medium engineering courses are starting in a few months and students need the textbooks. There may not be enough time to coin all the necessary Tamil technical terms. We would have to take some temporary measures. Let us use whatever Tamil terms we have (along with the English terms in parentheses) in the first edition of the textbooks. English terms may be used for the others in this first edition. But PLEASE print the English words in English script (Roman script) so that they would stand out as English terms and not masquerade as Tamil. Also, include a preface or note that it is the intent of the Tamil Nadu State Government to use all Tamil technical terms in Tamil texts and a new edition would be available in two years. Then make a concerted effort to coin all necessary technical terms within a year or two and use them (with English terms in parentheses) in the next edition which should be available within two years.

If the textbooks have already been printed, then print an addendum with all available Tamil technical terms and a clear note that new textbooks with all Tamil technical terms would be available in two years. Such an addendum is important thus committing the universities to using all technical terms in Tamil.


A committee comprising of engineering professional and a few Tamil scholars may be assigned the task of creating Tamil technical terms. Input from students and the engineering community may also be sought. When Microsoft was developing its Windows operating system in Tamil, it created a website, listed a number of English commands and requested the public to suggest Tamil words. It then chose from among those words. Although the number and complexity of Tamil words needed for engineering books is substantial, a similar public input may supplement the committee's work.


1. Anglicization of Internet Tamil (by Inia Pandian), TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 1999.

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