Linguistic Survey of India - Tamil Nadu


The Linguistic Survey of India (LSI) is an ongoing project of the Government of India that aims to document and study how languages have changed in the country over the years. It considers shifts in society, administrative regions and the reorganisation of states based on linguistic identity. This project has been undertaken by the Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India. 

Part of this project is the Linguistic Survey of India – Tamil Nadu which studies twelve languages spoken in Tamil Nadu. The survey was carried out between December 2021 and January 2022. 

The survey works on the census framework according to which ‘language’ and ‘mother tongue’ are ‘co-terminus’ or mean the same. The volume lists Tamil as the official language of the state and Badaga, Chettibhasha, Irula/Iruliga, Kathodi, Kota, Maliyad, Pania, Toda, Solaga, Urali and Saurashtra/Saurashtri as the mother tongues. The selection of these languages is based on regional importance, number of speakers and the locations where the survey was conducted. 

The present-day LSI is an extension of the survey first proposed by George Abraham Grierson, an Irish linguist who documented Indian languages during the pre-Independence era. This project ‘supplements and complements’ Grierson’s work conducted back when the state was known as Madras Presidency and covered a considerable portion of southern India. 

The document is divided into four main chapters: Introduction (Chapter 1); Dravidian Family (Chapter 2); Indo Aryan Family (Chapter 3); and Comparative Lexicon (Chapter 4). The first chapter introduces the state, its linguistic history and composition, the administrative system, the geography, rural-urban breakup, district wise population, and status of multilingualism. The second chapter contains linguistic descriptions of the languages and mother tongues from the Dravidian Family. The mother tongue from the Indo-Aryan family is discussed in the third chapter whereas the fourth presents a comparative lexicon of 500 lexical terms in all the languages.


  1. As per Census 2011, Tamil is spoken by 55 million people in the state. A Dravidian language, it is also the official language of Tamil Nadu. One of the 22 scheduled languages, it was the first to be considered as a classical language of India in the Constitution. The Tamil Language Learning Act, 2006 made it a compulsory subject in schools within the state till Class 10.

  2. The initial Tamil script is believed to have evolved from the Brahmi script. However, the modern script emerged from one created in the Pallava dynasty during the 4th century. The report also notes that there exists a large gap between spoken and written Tamil.

  3. Badaga is the first of the mother languages discussed. In Census 1891, around 30,656 people were recorded speaking it. Census 2011 records around 132,102 Badaga speakers concentrated mostly in the Nilgiris followed by Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Erode districts.

  4. Chettibhasha, another mother tongue, is spoken mostly in western Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The language shares strong linguistic affinities with other Dravidian languages like Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. The language has been classified as a sub-dialect of Tamil.

  5. The Irula language is spoken by the Irula tribe residing in areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is written in the Tamil script. As per Census 2011, 11,870 people reported Irula/Iruliga as being their mother tongue – 8,306 were in Tamil Nadu and 3,562 in Kerala.

  6. The Kathodi language of the Kathodi or Katkari was classified under Marathi in the 1961 census. It doesn’t have a separate script and uses the Bangaore script of the Khatri language. The predominant languages of instruction and communication in local schools are Khatri and Tamil. As a result, the phoneme change patterns and lexical rules of Kathodi have strong Dravidian influences despite being an Indo-aryan language.

  7. The mother tongue Kota falls under the southern Dravidian language family. As per the report, Census 2011 does not specify the number of the speakers for this language. The 1961 census recorded 862 speakers – 467 men and 395 women. Kota is largely limited to homes and intra-tribe communications; it is not used as a medium of instruction in academic institutions.

  8. The data for the mother tongue Maliyad was collected from Vellore district. The speakers primarily use the language for domestic communications.

  9. Categorized under Malayalam in Census 1961, Paniya is a south Dravidian language spoken by the Paniyars or Paniyans. The word ‘pani’ meaning work is the root term of Paniya indicating the community’s history as workers and labourers. In Census 1961, 5,221 Indians reported that Paniya was their mother tongue. Most of the speakers lived in the then states of Madras (5,139) and Kerala (82).

  10. The mother tongue of the Soliga ethnic group, Solaga, is the next language surveyed. It belongs to the south Dravidian language family and is related to Kannada and Tamil. Data collected from Erode district indicated that the younger generation in the community does not speak Solaga and instead favours Kannada.

  11. The Toda language spoken by the Todas of the Nilgiri district shares vocabulary and other features with the Kota language. It splits off from the south Dravidian family due its several syntactic and morphological rules that cannot be found in other languages of the family. Census 2011 does not mention total Toda speakers since they number under 10,000. However, the 1961 census recorded 755 speakers in Tamil Nadu and five in Maharashtra.

  12. The mother tongue Urali is a language of the highlands of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and as per the 1891 Madras census, is spoken by the Urali tribe of agricultural workers. Also a part of the Dravidian language family, it was classified under Kannada in Census 1961. People from the Urali community speak Tamil and Kannada in addition to Urali. As per Census 2011, the native speakers of this language number 12,986.

  13. Saurashtra or Saurashtri is a mother tongue under Gujarati in the Indo-aryan language variety. In Tamil Nadu it is spoken by the Saurashtrian community who migrated from Gujarat and settled in the Madurai district. The report states that there had once been an attempt to create a script for the language but people mostly use the Devanagari or Tamil scripts these days.


    Focus and Factoids by Ishita Banerjee.


Language Division, Office of Registrar General, Government of India


Language Division, Office of Registrar General, Government of India


13 Jul, 2023