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Profound misconceptions

I have not entered this discussion about whether Tamil can, will or must
change, because I believe it is probably useless.  George's explanations
are well-meant, and I agree with him, but have found it of no avail to
argue with Tamils about these matters.  

Tamil culture embues Tamil speakers with a conception of language that is
at variance with what the science of linguistics would discover
empirically.  Linguists would say that all languages change, and Tamil has
(and will continue to) changed, but for Tamils, the idea is that if the
written form of the language is kept in a certain form, then no change has

All Tamil speakers that I know, without exception, speak a spoken
colloquial dialect of Tamil at home with family, friends, indeed in *all*
interpersonal communication.  These dialects have changed radically from
the written form, yet when this is brought to people's attention, they
deny that the spoken language exists, or if they admit it, they deny the
need to represent ("write") this language in any way.  To do so would
legitimize the notion that Tamil has changed. 

Tamil ideas about this business are not amenable to rational discussion.
People with training in the sciences, medicine, physics, etc., who
otherwise depend on empirical methods to determine what goes on in the
physical world become irrational (I can think of no other word for it)
when the same standards are demanded for spoken languages.  

Therefore, I do not attempt to persuade literate Tamilians that
linguistics has an empirical method that applies to Tamil as well as to
other languages. To many if not most Tamils, this evokes totally
irrational discussions, such as the ones we have been having on this
network.  I make my living as a linguist, I write grammars and linguistic
descriptions (I have even written a grammar of Spoken (!) Tamil) but I do
not expect most literate Tamils to treat this subject dispassionately, the
way they would their study of chemical compounds. The phenomenon of
devotion to pure language is an interesting phenomenon in itself, and I
have also, perforce, written about it.  But there is no solution to this
business in my opinion, because we are not on the same wavelength, as
George Hart has pointed out.  

I can see what will happen with Unicode if all this continues:  we will
not have a unicode, we will have n unicodes:  one without Grantha, one
without OLRN's, one with this, one with that.  Each faction can sleep
soundly at night, content that *it's* unicode is free of whatever
irrationalities are present in the other.  

I'm keeping a record of these discussions, and when we're all through (if
we're ever through) I can write an article about the "discourse" of
determining the Tamil unicode(s). It will be published, if at all, in a
journal of sociolinguistics.    

H. Schiffman

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