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Re: Transliteration scheme.

On the subject of transliteration schemes, I have long been frustrated by
the almost total lack of standardization for Tamil, and by the dogged
loyalty people have to their own scheme, no matter how flawed it may be.  

The recommendation I would make for any scheme would be that it be
*simple* and since Tamil does not have more basic letters than those found
in the roman alphabet (I mean consonants and vowels) I would hope we would
not use things like "nt" or "th" or whatever combinations people have used
int he past.  A simple scheme might be to put a dot *before* one of the
so-called "retroflex" letters, i.e. the t in the Tamil word for 'eight'
would be [e.t.tu] (or any other diacritic we might want).  This would mean
that we could get away from use of double letters for the dental [t] in
the word for  `ten' and just write [pattu].  The word for silk would then
be [pa.t.tu] etc.

For years in this country we used T for the sound in  ``eight', i.e. eTTu,
but I know this bothers some people.  (It's all a matter of taste; I don't
happen to like capital letters for long vowels; I use double aa for long a
instead, etc.)  When I started using computers for Tamil in 1973, we were
still using a keyboard that had no upper/lowercase distinction, and punch
cards.  So we couldn't even distinguish  'ten' and 'silk' that way, so we
used *numerals* for the special letters.  We used 2 for   `reNDu cuu9i
na', 3 for  `muuNu cuu9i na' and so on; 6 was the special [r] in the Tamil
word for 6, 7 was the sound in the Tamil word for 7, etc.  (the last sound
in the name of the language, i.e. Tamil would be tami7.)

I know this bothers many people, and I don't expect anybody to accept it.
But it is, with one exception, a one-to-one equivalence of the Tamil
system, and it makes for a vry simple and elegant transliteration.  (The
one exception is ng for the sound that precedes [ka], e.g.  `you' is

I am not pleading for this system; but I do plead for a simple one,
without a lot of digraphs (nh, lh, nt, etc.)

The one thing I am passionate about, however, is how to transliterate the
final sound of the word Tamil.  I have campaigned for years against the
use of lh, l with underbar, z, zh, and all such things.  The Tamil sound
is a retroflex frictionless continuant, and should be classified with
r-sounds, as Tolkaappiyanaar does classify it.  We use the 7 in our
computer transliteration, but when we do this in roman we use what 
Burrow and Emeneau did in the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary:  r with
"diaresis" (two dots under it).  This can't be rendered easily with the
computer, but if we were to use [pa.t.tu] for  `silk' then we could use
[ee.ru] for 7, or some such thing.  (I don't care about the diacritic,
just be consistent.  It could be [pa*t*tu] and [ee*ru] for all I care,
except that (as Muttu pointed out I think) it requires a shift key.  

Hal Schiffman


Harold F. Schiffman				           Academic Director
Henry R. Luce Professor of Language Learning		Penn Language Center
Dept. of South Asia Regional Studies		   4th Floor, Lauder-Fischer
820 Williams Hall, Box 6305					    Box 6330
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