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Harvard teacher encourages people to learn Tamil

Jonathan Ripley has been teaching Tamil language at Harvard since 2012 across beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Image-Harvard University

In 2004, Tamil achieved the status of being the classical language of India after fulfilling all three criteria of having an ancient origin, having an independent tradition, and possessing a considerable body of ancient literature.

The language is being offered as a class at Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. instructed by Professor Jonathan Ripley who has been teaching at the establishment since 2012. Harvard offers classes across beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Ripley says the beginner classes have 5-10 students with fewer students in the intermediate and advanced levels. “I would like to see our enrolment numbers increase because Tamil is such a rich and wonderful language worthy of our time and attention,” Ripley said in an interview with the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, a research institute at Harvard.

The professor’s first brush with the language was when he took a summer program at the University of Wisconsin. He then lived and taught in Tamil Nadu, India for two years, as part of a fellowship, and continued to learn the language during his stay. Ripley kept up with the language at the University of Chicago after he returned to the U.S. His message to the ones interested in taking a course is as follows:

“Tamil is an underappreciated treasure and learning opportunities are few and far between, so I encourage people to take advantage of this rare learning opportunity at Harvard while they can. Studying Tamil provides students access to a treasure trove of literature that spans millennia and a view into a region of South Asia with a fascinating socio-political and linguistic history.

Considered one of the oldest languages in the world, Tamil’s reach has continued to grow, and more than 300,000 Tamil Americans are living in the States. To keep up with the demand, the presence of Tamil language schools in the U.S. is growing, and some schools in California, Texas, and Virginia offer high school credits for Tamil studies. Sought-after institutes like UC Berkeley, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Columbia Univ., Chicago Univ., and Univ. of Texas (Austin) have programs in Tamil studies, and instruction is provided in language and culture for undergrads.