Sunday, July 27, 2008

One more character for Tamil

Most Indian scripts, as we know, are derived from Brahmi. This is true of the Tamil script also, but in its case, it somehow seems as if one person sat down and customised the alphabet to suit the Dravidian language, before making it public:
  • There are no characters for aspirates.
  • A single character is used for both voiced and unvoiced sounds. E.g., the character க represents the guttural sounds 'ka' and 'ga' (and also 'ha'). The character ச is used for the sounds 'ca', 'ja' and 'za' (and sometimes 'Sa').
To represent certain sounds from other languages unequivocally, it borrowed a few characters from Grantha, the script used for Sanskrit in Tamilnadu. ஜ for ja, ஷ for Sa, ஸ for sa, ஹ for ha. These additions mostly sufficed, even for Arabic/Persian loan-words and Muslim names.

But not anymore. A large fraction of the current generation of Tamil-speakers bear names that are Hindi-like. Venkatesh (veGkaTez) where the traditional version would have been Venkatesan. Shankar as opposed to the traditional Sankaran. Satish or Akash, which were never prevalent in the previous generations. And there is no Tamil character which can unambiguously represent the za sound.

As of now, we make do using ஷ (Sa) which is not the same sound at all. I feel time is ripe for Tamil to make space for one more character from Grantha () to represent za. (In fact, this character is already present in Tamil in the symbol for zrI.)

However, given the anti-Sanskrit leanings of Tamil scholars, I am not sure if this will happen.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sri Santhanam

From today's Hindu:
On one occasion, while introducing Maharajapuram Santhanam to the audience at a felicitation function at the Music Academy, [Semmangudi] said: “He is my guru’s son. When he was a little boy, I would toss him up in the air and play with him, but now [sizing him up with his eyes], I can’t quite manage that.” [Link]
A related observation from the Music Season of 1990:
Still the person who attracts most crowds is Maharajapuram Santhanam and the present theory in Madras is that this attraction is purely gravitational. [Ramesh Mahadevan]