By Biswamay Ray, M.D.
Oak Brook, IL: I congratulate Ajay Ghosh for a nicely written article — 2,000 attend historic Tamil Convention in Connecticut — published in India Tribune dated July 17. However, his statement that Tamil language “is nearly two million years old” was thought-provoking.
The history of humans and language is intertwined. The modern human species or Homo sapiens emerged about 150 thousand to 200 thousand years ago.
Therefore, no language spoken by the modern humans could be more than 200 thousand years old.
When exactly the humans began to speak is highly controversial. The so-called “Big Bang” theory in language suggests the humans began to speak about 50 thousand to 60 thousand years ago.
However, more recent findings suggest we began to speak a language — may be 100 thousand years ago.
The gene FOXP2, which is credited for our ability to use language, could be traced back to about 100 thousand years.
Moreover, anatomically and physiologically speaking we also have a highly developed vocal tract (which took hundreds of thousands of years during the evolutionary process), compared to other humans such as our closest cousin the Neanderthals (they became extinct about 30 thousand years ago — one of the reasons given — their poorly developed vocal tract and relative inability to communicate well).
The first language now has evolved into about 6000 languages throughout the world. Dravidian language is no doubt one of the ancient languages. Out of 25 or so languages of Dravidian origin, the Tamil language is most probably the oldest, at least in its written form dating back to 3rd century B.C. In conclusion, I echo what Ghosh said — Tamil language has a “rich cultural heritage and classical literature.”
Tamil is spoken not only in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India, but also in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malayasia.
We should be all proud of our Indian heritage.