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[WMASTERS] Tamil language and glyph codes standardization
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[Caution: it is a long article.]
Tamil language had been guided by and actively
nurtured by many thoughtful individuals. In Tamil
they are called thamiz cAnROr (°Áâ¢ òşéÑ).
They were from very ancient times (more than
3000 years) exposed to many different languages and
customs. These tamil cAnROr had a subtle understanding
of breath and the art of speech. In their wisdom they
chose to avoid some sounds and some sequences of sounds.
If we find that this system can be improved, we should
by all means implement the imrpovement
and we as inheritors have the duty to
continue the honourable tradition. The key word here is
improve. If I add a silly appendage to a Ferrari I can't
call it an improvement to Ferrari. Tamils have identified
the basic set of sounds that need representation in Tamil
by an alphabet and they called it 'ezuththu' (à´³) and
the 'sound' or phoneme of such ezuththu(à´³) is called
'Othai' (°). Othai is ezuththoli (à´°Ó).
Tamils also recognized that they employ many
other sounds but, wisely decided that they need not be
represented by an ezuththu. Tamils called these by
'muRku (Ãí), vaNduRai (×¯¨é), vILai (Ùã)'etc.
One might have noticed that when people
try to draw the attention of a baby (İ¹°)
they make certain'naavoli'(µ×Ó). Such clicking sounds
are also used when calling a bull or cow and so on..
These unrepresented sounds are called in tamil generically as
'ezuththilaa oli' (à´±Ò Ó).
Not every sound employed by Tamils is needed to be represented,
according to Tamils and in their wisdom. To say that
'Oh Jivu Jivu is used in tamil'
or 'Oh I've heard people say 'ushshsh' when trying to silence
others' and so 'j' and 'sh' ARE there in Tamil and they ARE Tamil
is to completely misrepresent tamil. Even modern linguists will
agree, I hope, that not all phonems are given separate
representation. If modern lignuist differ, let them. Let them
criticize tamil based on their understanding.
Tamil cAnROr were quite
aware of the many other sounds. They did not think, rightly so
in my opinion, every sound need to be represented. There are other
reasons of subtleties of breath, natural economy, euphony and
harmony (Ó¿º) and so on. It is possible others don't share
These ezuththilaa oli and ezuththoli (°) both
have deep spiritual sense and connotation.
I believe it will do good to tamils ( especailly educated ones)
to relfect a bit on the language and what guided our heritage.
When Saint Appar sings 'ª¨Ø´°Ö ÌÏ×Ñ ¥°şÌ, ¥Ø´°Ö
ÌÏ×Ñ ¥°şÌ..', we hear him today (even an unlettered
tamil will hear him). Bear in mind that Saint Appar lived 1200
Why there is resistance to grantha letters ?
[my views are listed at the end of this section]
First, people have to understand that there are grantha letters
for G, B etc. and they *ARE* used in some circles. The grantha
letter Ja (ó) has gained more currency than the other such
voiced stops. Secondly it has to be realistically understood
that there are groups who believe (TODAY) that Sanskrit
is *the* language and all four
varga versions have to be adopted by tamil like Kannada, Telugu
and Malayalam ( and of course north indian languages have these
as well). Systematically a village near the borders of three
of the southern states had been 'conquered' and sanskrit is being
practised there as spoken language. [ a full page description in
the weekly edition of Hindu appeared some 15 years ago]. More can
be said about the 'plans' of certain groups of people to
systematically weaken and "destroy" tamil ( basically make it
a subset of sanskrit). This is not some silly conspiracy theory
or out of some 'psychological' defficiency. Tamils need not worry
if at least 30% of them are educated and have an awareness of
their heritage and politics of those who are opposed to tamil
and tamils' way of life. There is an additional risk now due
to the role played by religious fundamentalists and
their politics in very many ways. Many innocent tamils are
falling prey to their designs ..
The plan of these sanskritists is to introuduce little by little
the grantha letters and popularize the words involving grantha
letters. Make them indispensable. Then the the grantha letters
will get adopted.
The introduction of grantha letters ( voiced stops like J)
will inject needless confusions and give room for driving the
wedge. How ? It is hihgly likely that some 'very intelligent'
individual will "innocently" ask why can't we write 'panju' as
(º¤ó) and argue that this way there will be 'less confusion' to
our young learners. The same kind of problem when we have a
character for G etc. Along the way another individual will
make fun of the tamils for not distinguishing the 'sh' used
in 'shanker' and the 'sh' used in usha since 'our' tamil
has only one sh (õ).
Then our 'broad-minded' tamils will set up a new committee
and adopt a new symbol and 'rectify' this serious 'short-coming'
of *tamil*. Sorry, it should have been improving our
Those who oppose 'grantha' letters have concerns such
as the above. I share these concerns to some extent and
in my assessment they are genuine concerns for people who
care about our language, culture and heritage. However, I
accept and use a few grantha letters and some modified
letters as judiciously as possible. I will not write
'×ò °Áâ ºõÇÖ °ò Åºõ´°ò'etc.
What can we do for arriving at a standard for the the glyph codes
that is compatible with Unicode 2.0 and ISCII ? Should we or
should we not include grantha and which granthas are to be included
if we choose to. What will be the reaction of Tamils of
Tamil Nadu, Tamil Eelam, Malysia, Singapore ?
My thoughts are as follows:
[A] Let us define a basic set of glyphs for Tamil (without granthas)
in contiguous slots and call it the standard primary
'tamil space' set and then
define an extended set of glyph codes needed for non-tamil
characters and put them in the 'non-tamil space'.
Additonally leave a few slots for future expansion.
Examples of glyph codes for Tamil space:
12 uyir (
1 aytham (Ë°Å)
18 mey (ÀË)
18 'akaram ERiya mey (ÌÅ êÆ ÀË)
6 diacritical markers for 'aa, i, ii, e, E, ai)
2 for tamil di and dii
36 ukaram Ukaaram ERiya meykaL (
Ì Ì ÀËè)
10 tamil numerals including 0. (if we want to claim
*full* compatibility with Unicode, then we may have to
reserve 3 more spaces for 10,100,1000.
For the extended set that includes the non-tamil glyphs,
the standard-setting committee may recommend a less rigid
assignment. But by convention vendors
might have to evolve a common standard. For example
the Version 1.4 of Kalyan has a selected set of
non-tamil glyphs. I had already aired my views.
Thanks for reading this far.
ò½¥ò Ö× anbudan selvaa October 6, 1997
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