Tamil belongs to the southern branch of the Dravidian languages, a family of around 26 languages native to the Indian subcontinent. It is also classified as being part of a Tamil language family, which alongside Tamil proper, also includes the languages of about 35 ethno-linguistic groups such as the Irula, andYerukula languages (see SIL Ethnologue).
The closest major relative of Tamil is Malayalam. Until about the 9th century, Malayalam was a dialect of Tamil. Although many of the differences between Tamil and Malayalam demonstrate a pre-historic split of the western dialect, the process of separation into a distinct language, Malayalam was not completed until sometime in the 13th or 14th century.