Passion for Tamil: Language festival seeks to get youth to embrace mother tongue

Tamil Language Council chairman Manogaran Suppiah (third from right) with council members (from left) Azhagiya Pandiyan, Karthikeyan Somasundaram, Narayanan S.N.V. and J. Manickavasagam. PHOTO: TAMIL LANGUAGE COUNCIL

SINGAPORE – Tamil has a special emotional connection for the Tamil-speaking community, one that cannot be replaced by English, said Tamil Language Council (TLC) chairman Manogaran Suppiah on Tuesday.

The increasing use of English – compared with vernacular languages – among Singaporeans is a trend that has prevailed for some time, and is not unique among Tamil speakers, he said.

He observed that this is a natural process, given globalisation and the fact that English is used in many contexts, including schools, workplaces and social media.

English was the language most frequently spoken at home for 48.3 per cent of Singapore’s resident population aged five years and older in 2020, up from 32.3 per cent in 2010, according to the 2020 population census by the Singapore Department of Statistics. The use of English at home was generally more common among the younger population than those who were older.

Within the ethnic Indian community, those who spoke English most frequently at home continued to form the largest group in 2020, at 59.2 per cent, up from 41.6 per cent in 2010. However, most ethnic Indians who spoke English at home also spoke Tamil or other Indian languages. For this group, Indian languages were the second-most frequently spoken language at home.

“The TLC and our partners are very positive. We are aware of the challenges, but are still convinced that we need to do more to make Tamil a living language,” said Mr Manogaran.

The 2023 Tamil Language Festival, organised by TLC and its partners, will run from April 1 to 30. There will be 42 programmes by 43 partners, featuring a variety of literary, oratorical, arts and cultural offerings. A record 67 per cent of the programmes are youth-centric.

The theme of the festival is “Azhagu”, or beauty, and the aim is to get everyone to appreciate the beauty of the language and maximise its use. 

Two new mascots, Anbu and Azhagu, will appear at the launch and selected events to engage the younger generation.

One of the youth-centric programmes is a one-day translation workshop and newsroom tour for tertiary students by Tamil-language newspaper Tamil Murasu.

The public is also invited to submit lyrics for Singapore’s version of Tamil Vazhthu, a song in praise of Tamil. While the original version was written by Indian Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathi, the organisers hope to produce a local version that better reflects the Singapore Tamil community’s passion for the language, and highlight their confidence as Tamil-language users.

The official launch will be held at The Theatre at Mediacorp at 9pm on April 1 and broadcast live on Vasantham and meWatch.

The public can book tickets from 3pm on March 20, on

TLC has organised the festival since 2007. In 2021, it also inaugurated the Tamil Youth Festival – which featured workshops, performances and competitions – as a dedicated initiative to encourage youth in the community to embrace their mother tongue. The youth festival was last held in September 2022, and will be brought back in September 2023.

Since 2017, TLC has also extended additional funding to support and cultivate capacity-building initiatives for youth and students in the Tamil-speaking community. 

Said Mr Manogaran: “Tamil is a common treasure and all of us have a role to play to protect the language. I am confident Tamil will thrive in Singapore.”

Full details about the language festival can be found on and TLC’s social media platforms.

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