New book highlights efforts to promote use of Tamil in Singapore

A few years after the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League founded Umar Pulavar Tamil School in 1946, its members - including then secretary A.N. Maideen - went door to door collecting donations to support the school.

One donor, a kacang puteh seller, pledged his entire day's sales of $2.75 to the school.

"All of us in the committee were deeply moved by his love for Tamil and his (generosity) to promote the learning of the Tamil language," said Mr Maideen.

This anecdote is one of many included in a new publication by the Tamil Language Council (TLC) to commemorate its 20th anniversary.

Launched on Sept 5, the book titled Our Journey (2000 - 2020): Love Tamil, Speak Tamil documents efforts to promote the use of the language in Singapore.

Published in Tamil and English, it includes passages on the work of pioneers such as Mr Thamizhavel G. Sarangapani, founder of Tamil Murasu newspaper and champion of the Tamil language in Singapore, and Mr V.T. Arasu, the first chairman of the TLC.

In his foreword, Minister for Transport S. Iswaran noted that the task of ensuring the language is preserved and continues to flourish is never-ending.

"The Tamil language and community in Singapore have come very far. To sustain its continued relevance and vibrancy in Singapore, we must imbue our young with a lifelong interest in our mother tongue, for they are the future guardians of our language," he wrote in his foreword.

Mr Iswaran, who was the guest of honour at the book's launch, said at the launch: "The work of the TLC is not just about what we are doing for the Tamil community in terms of promotion of the language, but it is also about how it contributes to the larger national effort in engendering our multiracialism."

TLC chairman S. Manogaran said: "The support of donors and grants enabled capacity-building programmes that benefited especially the young in their language appreciation journey."

Amid concerns about the declining interest and proficiency in Tamil, a Tamil Language Review Committee was formed in 1998 to review the teaching and learning of the language in schools.

The committee found that more Tamil families were using English at home instead of Tamil, and students found it hard to learn Tamil due to little exposure and use of the language.

As a result, TLC was set up in 2000, and has since promoted awareness and greater use of the Tamil language in Singapore.

Mr Manogaran said he hoped more young people would take on the mantle of promoting Tamil in the community, particularly among students in schools and universities.

• Copies of the book will be available at all public libraries. The link to a digital version of the book is available on the TLC's website at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2021, with the headline 'New book highlights efforts to promote use of Tamil in Singapore'. Subscribe