- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (September 26, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674059921
- ISBN-13: 978-0674059924
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Tamil: A Biography
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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)
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)
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)
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)
[A] playful and supple ‘biography’ of Tamil language and poetics. (Thomas Meaney London Review of Books)
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 New York Review of Books)
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 Times of India)
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)
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)
About the Author
David Shulman is Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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"If one adds to this particularly thick set of modal devices the omnipresent aspectual morphology of the Tamil verb - that is, the use of verbal chains, or so-called auxiliary verbs, to define the action as either fully completed or as continuing in one of several possible patterns, in all three tenses - the result is a supple, systemic expressivity beautifully suited to specifying what happens in the sentence (in particular the nature and meaning of an action either as enacted in external space or as transpiring, or undergoing interpretation, somewhere in the mind)."
The deed seems particularly black considering the cheery and light-hearted opening promise of the author to format his book in the nature of a 'kutcheri'. Shulman must be the only performer of carnatic music whose audience is sorely tempted to desert him right at the opening alapana in favour of crisp vadas in the canteen.
For the moment, the book rests where it gives least offence, the bright orange jacket eyesore hidden from public view. Looks like one would have to be extremely nimble, and avoiding such jabberwocky, consider oneself lucky if one can plod through as much as a fifth of the book.
It is not an easy book, perhaps even demanding for a few but the time spent reading the book would be well spent indeed