Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 4 : 8 August 2004

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.


In Association with


  • We are in need of support to meet expenses relating to some new and essential software, formatting of articles and books, maintaining and running the journal through hosting, correrspondences, etc. If you wish to support this voluntary effort, please send your contributions to
    M. S. Thirumalai
    6820 Auto Club Road Suite C
    MN 55438, USA
    Also please use the AMAZON link to buy your books. Even the smallest contribution will go a long way in supporting this journal. Thank you. Thirumalai, Editor.




  • E-mail your articles and book-length reports to, or send your floppy disk (preferably in Microsoft Word) by regular mail to:
    M. S. Thirumalai
    6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C.,
    Bloomington, MN 55438 USA.
  • Contributors from South Asia may send their articles to
    B. Mallikarjun,
    Central Institute of Indian Languages,
    Mysore 570006, India
    or e-mail to
  • Your articles and booklength reports should be written following the MLA, LSA, or IJDL Stylesheet.
  • The Editorial Board has the right to accept, reject, or suggest modifications to the articles submitted for publication, and to make suitable stylistic adjustments. High quality, academic integrity, ethics and morals are expected from the authors and discussants.

Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

Vasanth Sriram

1. Introduction to Hebbar Tamil           

The Hebbar Iyengar community is comprised of a group of Sri Vaishnava Brahmins primarily located in Karnataka. While there is very little literature found on the community’s dialect and history, the community is well-known in their region of India.  While many linguistic studies have looked at Tamil Nadu-based dialects of Tamil, in this paper, I offer linguists not familiar with Hebbar Tamil a glimpse on how the dialect is structured and how it is different than the standard dialect.  There are floating hypotheses among the community members regarding the origin of the Hebbars, though one thing that definitely strikes a linguist is their dialect.  The humorous story is that while many Kannada speakers acknowledge that Hebbar Tamil speakers speak Tamil, many Tamil speakers from Tamil Nadu would proclaim that Hebbar Tamil sounds like Kannada and virtually unintelligible.  This paradox has raised many questions for me, encouraging me to explore the linguistics of this very unusual dialect.  In my first paper, I bring attention to aspects of the dialect’s verb morphology, and the differences between Standard Tamil.

2. Verb Morphology

2. 1. Language Type

Tamil, as an agglutinative language, adds suffix upon suffix to the verb stem to add to the semantics of the verb.  These suffixes many times are very complex, making it difficult to identify the verb stem.  According to Schiffman (1999), “the simplest form of the verb is called the stem, and…is identical to the simple imperative in almost all cases.”  Hebbar Tamil seems to also follow this rule as shown through these examples, which compare the roots of the Standard Tamil (ST) words and the roots of Hebbar Tamil words.  The standard Tamil examples are from Schiffman (1999).

ST Roots Hebbar
2SG Imperatives
va: ‘come’ va:- va: ‘come’  va:-
okka:ru ‘sit’ okka:r-   ukko:   ukko:-

Identifying the stem is the most important step in verb morphological analysis in an agglutinative language, after which the other suffixes can be identified.

2. 2. Negation

The negation suffix in Standard Tamil is “-a:de:-,” and seems to be the same in all cases and all examples.  In Hebbar Tamil, however, there are two suffixes for negation.  Hebbar Tamil maintains the “-a:de:-” suffix in all cases except imperatives.  In the second person imperatives, both singular and plural, the suffix is “-va:NDa,” which is also a word of its own, meaning “no.”  However, after the suffix “-va:NDa,” no other suffix can be added except the plural suffix  “-Ngo:,” which would be used in this case for a second person plural imperative.  A comparison of negations in Standard Tamil (Schiffman 1999) and Hebbar Tamil, abbreviated as HT, is shown below:

            ST:                   var-a:de:                       ‘you (singular) don’t come’

            HT:                  var-va:NDa                  ‘you (singular) don’t come’

            ST:                   var-a:de:Nga                ‘you (plural) don’t come’

            HT:                  var-va:ND-iNgo:          ‘you (plural) don’t come’

            ST:                   po:h-a:de: irukkro:m      ‘we will stay without going’

            HT:                  po:g-a:de: ikkro:           ‘we will stay without going’

Notice that in the last pair of sentences, the negation suffix is the same in both dialects, whereas in the first two sets, the suffixes are different since the sentences are second person imperatives.

2.      3. Tense Markers

Tamil has two general classes of verbs: strong verbs and weak verbs (Schiffman 1999).  The difference between these two classes is not relevant for the topics in this paper, and it suffices to say that the different classes have slightly different tense markers.  Standard Tamil has the following tense markers for the two classes of verbs, not including the suffixes (i.e., person, number, etc.) to complete the word.  Note the following examples (the first stem means ‘lift’ and the second stem means ‘take out’).

Strong Verbs Weak Verbs
Stem Present Past Future Present Past Future
eDu- eDukkr- eDutt- eDupp- - - -
va:ngu- - - - va:ngur- va:ngun- va:nguv-

What is interesting to note is that in Hebbar Tamil, the simple future and the simple present tense construction are exactly the same.  Look at the following examples, which are of the same meaning as the ST words above:

Strong Verbs Weak Verbs
Stem Present Past Future Present Past Future
aDu- aDukkr- aDutt- aDukkr- - - -
va:ngu- - - - va:ngr- va:ngn- va:ngr-

In Hebbar Tamil, the difference between the simple present tense and the simple future tense depends solely on the context.  All verbs seem to show this merging between the present tense and the future tense.  However, many times to indicate present actions, a present progressive construction is used.  This will be discussed later in this paper.

Another interesting point to make regarding tense constructions in Hebbar Tamil is the use of the simple past or the past with the completive aspect to indicate actions that will happen within moments.  The completive aspect marker is “viDu” in ST (Schiffman 1999), while the corresponding affix in HT is “uDu,” with the respective allomorphs “viTTu” and “uTTu” in the past tense for the two dialects.  These markers are originally from another verb, which in ST’s case has a root “viDu,” meaning ‘leave’ (Schiffman 1999).  The corresponding verb in HT is “uDu.”  Let’s assume that a child is upstairs and the mom is calling him to come down.  When she calls him, his response usually has one of three verb forms:

(1)        HT:      var nimshu[1] var-e:

one minute come-1SG

“One minute, I will come.”

(Note that this is an example of the simple present and simple future having the same construction. This construction can either stay in its nominative case, or can be constructed as “var nimshuth-ley” (one minute-in) meaning ‘in one minute.’  Both are equally acceptable, and many speakers don’t bother changing the noun construction, and thus, maintain the noun in the nominative case.  There are other occurrences of this type in Hebbar Tamil.)

(2)        HT:      var nimshu va-ndh-e:

one minute come-PAST-1SG

“One minute, I came.”

(3)        HT:      var nimshu va-ndh-ooT-e:

one minute come-PAST-COMPLET-1SG

“One minute, I came already.”

Though the second and third sentences seem rather odd to speakers of other languages, they can be used to indicate future in HT though their literal meanings are past tense.  (Note: this construction can also be used to represent the past, but once again, this is based on context.)  .  Their use in the future probably involves a slight shift in the time reference frame to convey the meaning of “before you know, I will come (and the action will have become a past action).”  This is the explanation that seems most plausible; the frame of reference is being removed so that the speaker emphasizes that the action, which will happen shortly, will happen so soon that it will be in the past within a short time.

2.      4.  Verb Agreement

Though Tamil is in essence an agglutinative language, it also has traces of inflection, specifically in the suffixes that are used for agreement.  Many are portmanteau, in that they provide more than one semantic meaning.  In most cases, one suffix provides information regarding both the person and number.  Information regarding gender seems only to be present in the third person singular construction.  The other suffixes do not provide information about gender.  The following is a comparison of the suffixes in ST (Pillai 1992; Schiffman 1999) and in HT.

Standard Tamil Suffixes to Indicate Person, Number, and Gender

                                                Singular                      Plural (and Honorific)

1st Person                                -e:n                              -o:m

2nd Person                               -a:y                              -i:rkaL or -i:nga

3rd Person                                                                   -a:rkaL or -a:nga

            Masculine                     -a:n

            Feminine                       -a:L

            Neuter                          -atu                              -a:

In the table above, and elsewhere, the capital L represents the sub-laminal retroflex [ ñ ].  Hebbar Tamil has two laterals: the alveolar [ l ] and the retroflex [ ñ ].  Standard Tamil has both of these, as well as a third sound, which can be considered a retracted / l / or a type of / r /, sometimes described as grooved palatal lateral, a feature shared by Tamil and Malayalam.  However, the actual phonetics is not relevant at the moment, but what is necessary to note is that this sound is often transliterated in English as “zh.”

Hebbar Tamil Suffixes to Indicate Person, Number, and Gender

                                                Singular                      Plural (and Honorific)

1st Person                                -e:                                -o:

2nd Person                               -a:                                -i:ngo

3rd Person                                                                   -a:

            Masculine                     -o:

            Feminine                       -a:

            Neuter                          -«                              -ni:nge:

In Hebbar Tamil, the endings seem to be simplified in the phonetic forms when compared to the ST suffixes, and there seems to be some overlap between the suffixes.  However, what is interesting to note is that this is true only for declarative statements.  Once we get into interrogatives and possessives where other suffixes are added, then we see that there are two surface forms.  The underlying forms seem to be closer to the ST suffixes, whereas the surface forms in declarative statements are as listed above.  This phonological aspect of Hebbar Tamil will be discussed in another paper.  For now, it is interesting to note that these phonetic forms when used in declarative statements are very simplified.

An interesting note to make when discussing agreement is that in Tamil, verb aspects are many times verbs themselves, have been derived from verbs, or are closely related to particular common verbs.  In these cases, the aspect verbs are the verbs that are marked for person, number, and gender, while the main verb is converted into its participle (Schiffman 1999). Note that constructing the participle varies based on different types of verbs.

2.      5.  Verb Aspects / Aspectual Verbs

Schiffman (1999) points out, as stated above, that Tamil uses aspect through what are called “aspectual verbs.”  These are added to the main verb to alter the semantics in several ways.  Shiffman (1999) further explains that these aspectual verbs are related to common lexical verbs, and have been incorporated to represent aspect over time and through metaphorical extension.  Moreover, aspects are not necessary in Tamil, and are considered optional (Shiffman 1999).  Thus, if there is an aspect, such as completion, then we know the action is completed.  A lack of such an aspect, however, does not negate the fact that the action may have been completed; it is just not overtly expressed and hence, to some degree, is open to interpretation.  These aspects are also many times portmanteau because they can inherently have a tense associated with their different forms, according to how the verb to which they are related alters in the various time frames.  In discussing aspect, we consider major aspect markers in Standard Tamil, and identifying their counterparts in Hebbar Tamil.  As this correlation between the two dialects has not been studied in much detail, if at all, identification of these aspects provides better tools to gloss Hebbar Tamil.  Moreover, a characterization of these differences better enables speakers to translate between and understand the dialects.

Completive Aspect

The completive aspect in Standard Tamil is “(v)iDu,” where the “v” may or may not be present (Schiffman 1999).  This marker indicates an action that has a definite ending point.  “viDu,” “uDu” in HT, as discussed much earlier in this paper, is also a verb, meaning “leave.”  The following are some ST sentences (Schiffman 1999), and their correlates in HT.  The Hebbar Tamil completive aspect is “uDu.” 

(1)        ST:       avan po:-yTT-a:n

                        he goPARTIC-COMPLET[3]-3SG

            HT:      avuâ po:-yTT-o:

                        he goPARTIC-COMPLET-3SG

                        “He went away (for sure); He died.”

Note that though the marker contains a voiced consonant, the voicing can change when the marker surfaces in sentence constructions, perhaps due to the variations the verb from which these aspects are derived has.  Usually, a geminate consonant cluster is voiceless, but this can also vary.  Though there may be differences in voicing, the meaning is ultimately the same.

(2)        ST:       na:n vand-id-r-e:n

                        I comePARTIC-COMPLET-PRES-1SG

            HT:      na:n vand-u:d-r-e:

                        I comePARTIC-COMPLET-PRES-1SG

                        “I am definitely coming; I will definitely come.”

Future Utility Aspect

Tamil has an aspect which has a meaning similar to the concept of “storing to use at a time of necessity.”  In Standard Tamil, this aspect is “vayyi,” whose related common verb, which is also “vayyi,” has the meaning of “putting for safekeeping” (Schiffman 1999).  One surface form of the ST aspect “vayyi” is “-vekk-,” which is close to the standard future utility aspect “vekki” in Hebbar Tamil, since the word “vayyi” does not exist in HT.  Perhaps we can conclude that this aspect has caused a backformation of the verb “vekki,” in Hebbar Tamil, which is the equivalent of “vayyi” in ST.  The following sentences show the use of this aspect (Shiffman 1999).

(3)        ST:       na:n na:y-e kaTTi-vekk-alle

                        I dog-ACC bindPARTIC-FUT UTIL-NEG

                        “I did not tie up the dog.”

            HT:      yen-ukk sa:pa:d paN-vekk-i

                        me-DAT food doPARTIC-FUT UTIL-2SGIMPER

                        “Make (and keep) food for me.”

As with other cases, “vekki” (or “vayyi” in ST) can be present in its various tense forms: “vepp-” in the future, “vechch-” in the past, and “vekkr-” in the present in ST.  The analogous constructions in Hebbar Tamil are: “vekki:r-,” “vechch-,” and once again, “vekki:r-”; note once again that the future and the present tense constructions are the same.

Perfect Aspect

The perfect aspect in Standard Tamil is the same as the copular verb “iru.”  In Hebbar Tamil, this affix has been truncated to “i.”  This aspect in Tamil has a connotation that the action is still relevant to current actions (Schiffman 1999).  Here are some examples portraying the use of this affix (Schiffman 1999).

(4)        ST:       na:n vand-iru-kkr-e:n

                        I comePARTIC-PERF-PRES-1SG

            HT:      na:n vand-i-kkr-e:n

                        I comePARTIC-PERF-PRES-1SG

                        “I have come (and I’m still here).”

(5)        ST:       na:n vand-iru-nd-e:n

                        I comePARTIC-PERF-PAST-1SG

            HT:      na:n vand-i-nd-e:n

                        I comePARTIC-PERF-PAST-1SG

                        “I had come.”                                           

Finality Aspect

Finality is indicated by the Standard Tamil aspect “a:hu”—the Hebbar equivalent being “a:(gu)”—which are respectively associated with the ST verb “a:hu” and HT verb “a:gu,” both meaning “become.”  The most common usage is in the past tense construction “a:chchu,” which is the same for both dialects (Schiffman 1999).  Consider the following examples (Schiffman 1999):

(6)        ST:       sa:ppiTT-a:chch-a:


            HT:      sa:uTT-a:chch-a:


                        “Have [you, he, etc…] eaten?”

Change of State Aspect

The verb associated with the change of state aspect is “po:,” meaning “go.”  The aspect is also “po:” in both Standard Tamil and Hebbar Tamil.  This aspect also has an inherent concept of completion associated with it, and most commonly is used in an unfavorable context (Schiffman 91).

(7)        ST:       avan settu po:-n-a:n

                        he diePARTIC go-PAST-3SG

            HT:      avuâ: chatt-po:-n-o:

                        he diePARTIC go-PAST-3SG

                        “He died.”

Two other aspects that are important to discuss are the benefactive aspects in Tamil.  These will be discussed as a separate heading due to their complexity.

2.      6. Benefaction

Tamil has a self-benefactive aspect as well as an alter-benefactive aspect.  The self-benefactive aspect is what is termed as reflexive in other languages. 

The Aspect “ko:” in Standard Tamil; “kyo:” in Hebbar Tamil

The aspect marker which conveys the self-benefactive meaning is “ko:” in Standard Tamil.  This aspect is supposedly derived from the verb, “koL-,” and is very rarely used on its own, but nonetheless conveys a meaning of “hold” or “contain.”  Due to the rarity of this lexical verb, there does not seem to be a Hebbar Tamil counterpart to the verb, though the counterpart to the aspect marker is “kyo:.”  The verb “koL-” in ST has the following present, past, and future forms: koLr-, kiTT-, kov- (Schiffman 1999).  Because the aspect can occur in all three tenses, and all three tenses are also present in HT, we conclude that the corresponding aspect markers in Hebbar Tamil are: kyo:r-, kiND-, and kyo:r- (note once again the merging of the present and future constructions).  In addition to indicating self-benefaction, this aspect marker also has a variety of other subtle semantic implications.  The aspect can indicate an overlap of events, completion, and conscious intent.  Observe the following examples and their translations to understand the true complexity of this aspect marker (Schiffman 1999).

(1)        ST:       kuma:r ve:le te:Di-k-kitTT-a:n

                        Kumar job searchPARTIC-EPENTH-SELFBENEF(PAST)-3SG

            HT:      kuma:r ka:ryu te:D-kiND-o:

                        Kumar job searchPARTIC-SELFBENEF(PAST)-3SG

                        “Kumar searched for a job (for himself) and found one.”

As seen from this example, the sentences imply that there was a completion of the action, and that that action was indeed intended.  To see how this aspect is involved in an overlap of actions, observe the following examples (Schiffman 1999).

(2)        ST:       na:n sa:ppiTTu-kiTT-e: va-nd-e:n

                        I eatPARTIC-PROG-EMPH come-PAST-1SG

            HT:      na:n sa:uTT-kiNDe: va-nd-e:

                        I eatPARTIC-PROG-EMPH come-PAST-1SG

                        “I was eating while I came.”

From this example, we can see that the aspect “kiTTu” in ST and “kiNDu” in HT can also be used to indicate the progressive notion equivalent to “-ing” in English. 

Earlier in the paper, it was stated that in Hebbar Tamil, to distinguish between the present and the future tenses, because they are merged in simple constructions, the progressive aspect is used.  Here is how the distinction may be made:

(3)        HT:      na:n sa:uD-re:

                        I eat-1SG

                        “I eat; I will eat.”

                        na:n sa:uTT-kiND-i-kkr-e:

                        I eatPARTIC-PROG-PERF-PRES-1SG

                        “I am eating.”

The second construction usually refers to the present, though depending on context, it may also mean, “I will be eating” if enough clues are given to indicate a sure future tense.  However, by default, it seems to indicate a present tense meaning.

This observation correlates well with another function of the Standard Tamil aspect “ko:”—to express continuity or progression.  The construction is made in ST by adding “kiTTu” (which is the participial form of “ko:”) with the aspect “iru” (discussed above as a perfect aspect, but can also be used as an aspect to describe a state) to result in a construction “kiTT-iru.”  This then can be combined with the main verb to result in a progressive construction (Schiffman 1999).  The Hebbar Tamil constructions above also follow the same pattern though their construction is “kiND-iru” instead of “kiTT-iru.”

The Aspect “kuDu" in Standard Tamil and Hebbar Tamil

Tamil also has a construction to indicate alter-benefaction.  The verb from which this aspect is derived is the verb “kuDu,” meaning “give.”  This is the same construction in both languages.  Sentence 1 from the discussion above in this section is constructed in Hebbar Tamil with alter-benefaction instead of self-benefaction:

(4)        kuma:r ka:ryu te:D-kuDu-tt-o:

            Kumar job searchPARTIC-give-PAST-3MSING

            “Kumar found a job (for someone).”

2.      7.  Causation

Hebbar Tamil does not have a passive voice and thus, the causation affix can be used to indicate an action which someone may have been forced to do unwilling.  The relevant affix would be “-p-.”  Observe the following constructions:

(1)        HT:      avuâ andh pashiL-ye va:shi-p-ch-o:

                        He that child-ACC study-CAUS-PAST-3MSG

                        “He made that child study.”

(2)        HT:      var(ar)mey kovu varu-p-keer-o:

                        for no reason(REDUPLIC) anger come-CAUS-PRES-3MSG

                        “For no reason, he causes (someone) to be angry.”

                        (Literally: “For no reason, he causes anger to come.”)

2.      8.  Order of Verb Affixes

According to Bybee’s Order of Verb Affixation (Whaley 1997), the general order of affixation in verbs is:

verb stem + voice + aspect + tense + mood + person/number or its inverse.

Hebbar Tamil seems to follow this order closely.  Since voice is always active, this can be removed from the affix order scheme above.  Notice the following sentence:

(1)        HT:      na:-nge: sa:uTT-kiND-i-kk-la:-m-a:

                        1-PL eatPARTIC-PROG-PERF-PRES-SUBJUNCT-1PL-QUEST

                        “Shall we be eating?”

            This sample sentence shows the following ordering of affixes:

                        sa:uTT(verb participle) + kiND(aspect) + i(aspect) + kk(tense) + la:(mood).

3. Conclusion

In Linguistics 401 at Cornell University (Whitman 2003), the ordering of affixes in verbs was discussed: OV languages tend to be Verb-Aux, and hence Verb-Suffix, and vice versa.  Hebbar Tamil is an SOV language, and hence has suffixes instead of prefixes.  Therefore, the order of Bybee’s affixes is to the right of the verb, and not to the left.

Tamil is a very complex language, and has much to offer to typologists.  Hebbar Tamil, though not very well studied, also has its own contribution to the field of linguistics.  The purpose of this paper was to use existing knowledge of Tamil verbs, and apply them to Hebbar Tamil and elucidate the functions and meanings of the Hebbar Tamil verb affixes, and in general, the Hebbar verb construction.  There are many surprising findings in Hebbar Tamil such as the lack of the simple future tense, the use of the past to represent the immediate future, and the simplification of the person, number, and gender inflections.  These, along with an overall characterization of the language’s verbal syntax, can provide linguists with new ideas, as well as confirmations of existing hypotheses.


Whaley, Lindsay J.  Introduction to Typology.  Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1997.

Whitman, John (instructor).  “Linguistics 401: Language Typology.”  Group instruction.  Cornell University.  Spring 2003.

Pillai, N. Nadaraja.  A Syntactic Study of Tamil Verbs.  Mysore, India: Central Institute of Indian Languages, 1992.

Schiffman, Harold F.  A Reference Grammar of Spoken Tamil.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.



Vasanth Sriram
Medical Student
School of Medicine and Dentistry
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY

Send your articles
as an attachment
to your e-mail to