Social Scientist. v 7, no. 82 (May 1979) p. 23.

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The Tamil Purist Movement: a Re-Evaluation

THE PURIST movement in Tamil has, hitherto, been largely the concern of literary scholars and linguists. But as a phenomenon it is equally important to the social scientist who is engaged in studying nationalism and the problems of modernisation. The Tamil purist movement brings into focus the underlying social and political forces that seized upon genuine linguistic problems and diverted them into ethnic and chauvinistic channels. The Tamil purist movement shows in bold relief the class positions of its proponents who were pro-British and came from an essentially high caste Hindu background. These and other facts emerge from an analysis of the genesis of the Tamil purist movement and its evolution.

The place and role of Tamil language in the modern politics and social conflicts of South India (and one may add Sri Lanka) have been abundantly described in a number of monographs during the last two decades.1 Besides the specific studies on South India, certain general works dealing with the Indian sub-continent as a whole or other regions of India in particular, have made passing references and observations that have helped focus attention on the subject.2 One aspect of the language movement in Tamil that has not received the scrutiny it deserves is the tanittamil,

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