Arte da Lingua Malabar is a grammar of the Tamil spoken in the sixteenth century by the Parava pearl fisher community on the east coast of South India between Kanyakumari and Rameswaram. Fr. Henrique Henriques, S.J., a Portuguese Jesuit missionary to South India, was the first diligent student of Tamil from Europe. He wrote this grammar in Portuguese around 1549 CE for the benefit of his colleagues engaged in learning the local language for spreading their religious beliefs. Consequently, Arte da Lingua Malabar reflects the first linguistic contact between India and the West.
This grammar is unique in many aspects. It is not based on traditional Indian grammars; rather, it uses Latin grammatical categories to describe sixteenth-century Tamil. The effort to describe a language (Tamil) in terms of an unrelated language (Portuguese) has resulted in several inaccuracies in transliteration and scribing. Yet, Arte da Lingua Malabar is the best evidence for showing how sixteenth-century Tamil was heard and written by a sixteenth-century Portuguese. This English translation by Jeanne Hein and V. S. Rajam also includes analysis of the grammar and a description of the political context in which it was written.
About the Author
Jeanne Hein is an independent scholar at the Center for Independent Study in New Haven.
V. S. Rajam is an independent scholar living in Mountain View, California.