Could you explain the Tamil language

Checking the contrastive hypothesis using the spelling and syntax errors of Tamil migrants

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Contrastive hypothesis

3. Tamil: writing and language
3.1. Tamil alphabet
3.2. Phonology in Tamil
3.3. Syntax in Tamil
3.3.1. Word order: subject-object-verb
3.3.2. Matching subject and predicate
3.3.3. The subject does not have to be in the nominative
3.3.4. Absence of the copula
3.3.5. Compound sentences
3.3.6. Articles and post positions

4. Expected interference errors
4.1. Interference error due to the Tamil alphabet
4.2. Interference errors due to the phonological differences
4.3. Interference errors due to the syntactic differences

5. Research design
5.1. Selection of German-language lecturers and texts
5.2. Overview of the people
5.3. Question
5.4. Analysis of the texts
5.4.1. Person 1: Reka
5.4.2. Person2: Laila
5.4.3. Person 3: Meena
5.4.4. Person 4: Sinthu
5.5. Error list

6. Evaluation
6.1. Interference error due to the Tamil alphabet
6.2. Interference errors due to the phonological differences
6.3. Interference errors due to the syntactic differences

7. Problems that affect the veracity of the results

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography

10. Appendix: Error documentation

1 Introduction

School success and school failure in connection with a migration background are central issues of our time. For many people with a migrant background, learning and mastering the German language seems to be a “main cause of poor school success1.

But the question arises as to why many migrants find it difficult to learn the German language. In language communication, too little attention has been paid to the fact that different languages ​​can have different character and sound contrasts. In addition to the phonological differences, there can also be contrasts in morphology, syntax, lexicons and semantics.

It is precisely these language contrasts that are to be examined in this paper using the examples "German" and "Tamil". The aim is to find out which spelling and syntax errors people with a Tamil migration background who learn German as a second language make and why they make them. In the first part of the thesis the contrastive hypothesis, which tries to explain the errors from the structures and rules of the mother tongue, is dealt with. Then the Tamil language is briefly introduced, in particular the Tamil alphabet, Tamil phonology and Tamil syntax. Since a comprehensive description would go beyond the scope of the housework, the morphology, semantics and lexicons of Tamil are omitted. The structure of the German orthography and its regulations are also not explicitly discussed.

Following the language part, a list of possible interference errors that the learners could make based on their native speaker background is first drawn up. This is followed by a research section in which short texts by people with a Sri Lankan-Tamil migration background are examined for spelling and syntax errors. This is followed by an error list and an evaluation. As the penultimate point, problems that affect the validity of the results are addressed. The work ends with a conclusion.1

2. Contrastive hypothesis

Over time, various hypotheses have been made in linguistic research about the process of acquiring a second language.2 The best known and relevant for this work is the contrastive hypothesis.

Two essential elements characterize the contrastive hypothesis, namely the psychological assumption and the linguistic analysis, which is directly dependent on the first.3

According to the psychological assumption, there is a systematic influence that looks like the structural features of the mother tongue are transferred to the second language. One then speaks of a transfer.4

It is now possible that both the mother tongue and the second language have identical structures. In such a case one speaks of a positive transfer. If the structures differ, however, there is a negative transfer or an interference. The errors resulting from the negative transfer are called interference errors.5

In order to find out the linguistic structural differences between the first and second language which, according to the contrastive hypothesis, are responsible for interference errors, both languages ​​are analyzed.6

According to the definition, it can now be stated that in the case of identical features and rules in the first and second language, the learning of the second language is much easier and with fewer errors than with different features and rules.7

This means that in addition to the spelling mistakes made by German students, foreign learners can also make spelling mistakes due to their mother tongue. These problems are the result of, on the one hand, the differences in the sound structure between your mother tongue and German and, on the other hand, the differences in the writing. But also the sound contrasts and single sounds not known in the basic language can lead to serious spelling errors.8

In the following, the contrastive hypothesis will be tested with regard to the languages ​​Tamil as mother tongue and German as second language. First of all, the Tamil script and the Tamil language will be discussed.

3. Tamil: writing and language

Regarding the history of the Tamil language, it can be said that the Tamil script has its origin in the Brahmi scripts. It was derived from the Grantha and Pallava scripts around the 4th century and is therefore a Dravidian language. The oldest known and preserved grammar of Tamil is the Tolkappiam, which was written by Tolkappiyanar around 1500 years ago. Tamil is still a very living language as it is spoken by over 65 million people worldwide. Nowadays it is mainly spoken in India (Tamil Nadu), Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore.9

3.1. Tamil alphabet

Figure not included in this excerpt10

The Tamil alphabet, like the German alphabet, is made up of vowels and consonants, among other things. In contrast to German, which has five vowel letters, Tamil has twelve vowel characters. Two of these are diphthongs.11 Each vowel is represented twice, depending on the length, i.e. a long vowel, e.g. << ^ b> [a:], and a short vowel, e.g. <^> [?].12

Furthermore, there are eighteen consonant signs and a hermaphrodite sound, the aytam (?), Which is an intermediate form between vowel and consonant. A few characters from the Grantha alphabet can be added to this.13

The Tamil script is not, like German, a pure alphabet script, but an alphabet and syllabary script. The syllable signs are created by combining a consonant with a vowel.14 The signs are thus in the form of consonant vowels, i.e. the sound of the consonant is followed by the vowel sound, for example ka, kaa, ki, kii, ku, kuu, ke, kee, kai, ko, koo, kau. The consonant sign with the dot above represents a vowelless sound, for example [k]. Due to the fact that the Tamil script is a syllabary, the consonant vowel is only counted as a grapheme. In total there are 247 characters in Tamil.15 A special feature is that there are no capital letters in Tamil, which means that there are no uppercase and lowercase letters as in German.16

3.2. Phonology in Tamil

Differences between Tamil and German can be seen not only in the graph, but also in the phoneme. In the further course of this work, the phonological characteristics of Tamil will be discussed. Here the German phonetic system is compared.

The sounds in Tamil can be categorized into vowels and consonants. The latter can be divided into three further subclasses, namely “hard sounds” (k, c, t, t, p, r), “soft sounds” (n, n, n, n, m, n) and “medium” Lute "(y, r, 1, v, 1,1). A special feature is that a hard consonant cannot appear at the end of a word.17

The following table with the phonematic information on Tamil refers to Beythan 1943 and Arden 1969.18

Figure not included in this excerpt

By comparing the vowel signs in German and Tamil, it becomes clear that the length of the vowels in Tamil is represented by a long vowel and not, as in German, by doubling or by the stretching -h. It is also worth mentioning that there are no umlauts in Tamil as there are in German.

There is also a vowel harmony in Tamil. This means that, for example, o, e and e become narrower when an i-sound follows and more open when an a-sound follows. Furthermore, all retroflex sounds [illustration not included in this reading sample] have a darkening effect on the preceding i and e sounds.19 The consequence of this is that most characters vary in their sound depending on their position in the word.

In the field of consonants, there are no special graphemes that could represent the voiced plosives [g], [d], [b] and the [h] in German.20 In contrast to German, there is also the fact that some graphemes in Tamil can represent several letters and letter combinations, such as the "s", which can stand for s / -ß / ss / sch / ch / z / tz.

Attention should also be paid to the fact that some sounds have multiple letters, for example [l], [n], [t] and [r]. They differ in that some can only be used in the initial, internal or final form. On the other hand, some letters can represent several different sounds.

In summary, one can say that in Tamil there are 23 vowel sounds, four secondary diphthons, 32 consonant sounds and one hybrid sound. This results in a total of 60 phonemic sounds, which are represented by 12 vowels, 18 consonants and a hermaphrodite sound.21 And since some phonetic signs can also vary depending on their position in the word, one can assume a much larger number of phonemes than the 60 phonemes mentioned here. It is noticeable that Tamil has a larger number of phonemes than German, which has a total of 50 phonemes, which are represented by five vowels, three diphthongs, three umlauts and 18 consonants and some consonant combinations such as affricates.

3.3. Syntax in Tamil

Since the research part does not examine dictations or the like, but rather smaller texts, the syntax of Tamil is briefly discussed here in order to explain syntactic errors according to the contrastive hypothesis. Since it would otherwise go beyond the scope of the housework, only very distinctive features of the Tamil syntax are addressed here, which form a strong contrast to German.

3.3.1. Word order: subject-object-verb

One of the most important syntactic differences between German and Tamil is that in Tamil there is no subject-verb-object word order, as is often found in German, but a subject-object verb position. 24


Figure not included in this excerpt

The children are playing soccer.

3.3.2. Agreement of subject and predicate

Another aspect is that in Tamil the verb is congruent with the subject in number and gender. But there is one exception, namely the subject in the plural of the neuter. The predicate appears in the singular.22

Figure not included in this excerpt

3.3.3. The subject does not have to be in the nominative

Furthermore, the subject does not have to be in the nominative. For example, it can also appear in the dative or accussative form.23

Figure not included in this excerpt

3.3.4. Absence of the copula

Another point is that in Tamil it is possible to leave out the copula, as in Latin.24


Figure not included in this excerpt

Ithu ennudaiyathu athu unnudaiyathu. That mean yours.

This is mine and this is yours.

3.3.5. Compound sentences

Another point of contrast to German is the fact that there are no conjunctions in Tamil. Here the condition is not expressed by a conjunction, but by the verb ending. In earlier times, Tamil also had no punctuation. Nowadays, however, western punctuation marks have become established.25


Figure not included in this excerpt

Ni kuuppiddaal naan varuuveen. you call me come.

If you call / invite me, I'll come.

3.3.6 Articles and post positions

It is also worth noting that there are no specific articles in Tamil. For the indefinite articles “ein” and “ein” in German, there is only one “oru” (one) as a counterpart. This is used for all genders. Furthermore, there are no prepositions in Tamil like in German, but postpositions. These can also be attached to the word, as a word ending.

Figure not included in this excerpt

4. Expected interference errors

Now that the theoretical construct of the Tamil language has been compared, reference should now be made to the contrastive hypothesis. According to the contrastive hypothesis, one can assume that the following interference errors can occur among German learners, which can be explained from Tamil due to the graphematic, phonological and syntactic differences to German:

4.1 Interference errors due to the Tamil alphabet

1st hypothesis: lack of length and shortening markings or incorrect marking

a. A for aa or ah (Sal-Saal, sa-sah)
b. E for ee or eh (coffee-coffee, re-deer)
c. I for -ie, ieh or ih (zihn-pull, Vi-cattle, in-him)
d. O for oo or oh (Mos-Moos, Ro-Roh)
e. U for uh (original clock)
f. Omission of the stretch -h
G. Doubling of consonants is missing: m / n / l / t / ... ^ mm / nn / 11 / tt
H. Incorrect marking in advanced learners

2nd hypothesis: omission of vowels

It is conceivable that vowels are left out in the word due to the syllable symbols in Tamil. For example, one could see spellings like kisses for cash register.

3rd hypothesis: lower case for upper case

Since there are no capital letters in Tamil, it can be assumed that Tamil German learners will experience interference errors such as the lower case of nouns, place names and proper names, formal polite salutations and the start of sentences. For advanced learners, upper case may also be used for lower case.


1 Thomé, Günther (1987): Spelling mistakes by Turkish and German students. Heidelberg: Groos. P. 7.

2 Thomé 1987, p. 8.

3 Ibid., P. 11.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., P. 11f.

6 Ibid., P. 12f.

7 Beythan, Hermann (1943): Practical grammar of the Tamil language in transcription. Leipzig: Harrossowitz. P. 8f.

8 Beythan 1943, p. 10.

9 Ibid., Pp. 5, 7, 11, 18; Tamil writing. In: Florian Coulmas: The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford 1996. p. 490; language.asp? code = tam

10 Beythan 1943, p. 13f.

11 Beythan 1943, p. 11.

12 Graphemes in angle brackets <>, sounds in square brackets [].

13 Beythan 1943, p. 11.

14 For the exact formation of the individual syllables, see Beythan 1943, p. 14ff. or Arden, A. H. (1969): A Progressive Grammar of the Tamil Language. Emphasis. Madras: Christian Literature Society. Pp. 53-59.

15 Beythan 1943, pp. 11, 16.

16 Arden 1969, p. 33.

17 Beythan 1943, p. 29f.

18 Ibid., P. 19.

19 Beythan 1943, p. 181ff.

20 Ibid., P. 179.

21 Beythan 1943, p. 177.

22 Ibid., Pp. 52, 177.

23 Arden 1969, p. 33f.

24 Beythan 1943, p. 177.

25 Ibid., P. 179.

End of the reading sample from 45 pages