Tamil /ˈtæmɪl/ (தமிழ், tamiḻ, [t̪ɐmɨɻ]) is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of South India and North-east Sri Lanka. It has official status in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Tamil is also a national language of Sri Lanka and an official language of Singapore. It is legalized as one of the languages of medium of education in Malaysia along with English, Malay and Mandarin. It is also chiefly spoken in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands as one of the secondary languages. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and was the first Indian language to be declared a classical language by the Government of India in 2004. Tamil is also spoken by significant minorities in Malaysia, Mauritius, Canada, South Africa, Fiji, Germany, Philippines, United States, Netherlands, Mauritius, Indonesia, and Réunion as well as emigrant communities around the world.
Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past" and having "one of the richest literature in the world". Tamil literature has existed for over 2000 years. The earliest epigraphic records found on rock edicts and hero stones date from around the 5th century BC. The earliest period of Tamil literature, Sangam literature, is dated from ca. 300 BC – AD 300. Tamil language inscriptions written c. 1st century BC and 2nd century AD have been discovered in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The two earliest manuscripts from India, to be acknowledged and registered by UNESCO Memory of the World register in 1997 and 2005 were in Tamil. More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions (about 55,000) found by the Archaeological Survey of India are in the Tamil language. It has the oldest extant literature amongst other Dravidian languages. The variety and quality of classical Tamil literature has led to its being described as "one of the great classical traditions and literature of the world".