occurrences in intervocalic position (Re: Tamil la-La-Za-ra (Re: Vedic l

Jean-Luc Chevillard jean-luc.chevillard at UNIV-PARIS-DIDEROT.FR
Fri Aug 22 08:16:15 EDT 2008

Dear Peter Scharf,

upon re-reading my message,
I have realized that I had not in fact answered your question
about the various "l" (see the list below) being or not being 

(N.B. I call them "la", "La" [ḷa], "Za" [ḻa], "ra", rather than "l", "L" 
[ḷ], "Z" [ḻ], "r"
because this is how Tamil grammarians talk ..)

All of them belong to the list of the 18 Tamil consonants.
They are NOT vowels.

la and La can occur singly in intervocalic position, and can also be 
doubled. See Examples:

(N.B.  I mention only one of the possible meanings, for the terms given 
as examples;
I just want to show that these are real examples ...)

alar "rumour"

allar "they-are-not" (negative copula)

aLantu (aḷantu) "having measured"

aLLal (aḷḷal) "mud, mire"

la and La can also occur before a stop, as in:

alkul "1. side; 2. waist; 3. pudendum muliebre"

koLvAm (koḷvām) "we shall take"

Za and ra can occur singly in intervocalic position, BUT cannot be doubled.

aZal [aḻal] "to cry"

aritu "is-difficult-NEUTER"

Za and ra can also occur as first component of  various clusters
(but there is a metrical constraint on what precedes the cluster:
see TE49 and TE50)

vAZtal [vāḻtal] "to live"

vAZkkai [vāḻkkai] "life"

vArntu [vārntu] "being in a row"

vArpu [vārpu] "being full"

I hope this helps


-- Jean-Luc Chevillard (Paris)


Jean-Luc Chevillard a écrit :
> Peter M. Scharf a écrit :
>> [....] One I'm a bit uncertain about it the so-called Vedic l, 
>> sometimes called Marathi l, which occurs intervocalically in Rgvedic 
>> dialect for retroflex d. I'm unsure whether this is an approximant 
>> (like l) or a flap like .d (that is the Devanagari d with a dot below 
>> as in Modern Hindi la.dakaa). Gujarati also has intervocalic flap 
>> developing from .d. These flaps are not l's bur r's. The question is, 
>> "Is (or was) the Vedic l a retroflex flap or a retroflex lateral 
>> approximant?
>> [...]
>> One bit of evidence that might settle the question concerns whether 
>> there are cases in Indic of the retroflex lateral approximant 
>> occurring particularly in the intervocalic environment. Is the Tamil 
>> retroflex l exclusively or particularly intervocalic?

In the case of (Classical) Tamil,
there is a group of 4 items to be considered:

la (ல): transcribed "la" in Tamil Lexicon and popularly called "small 
la" (ciṉṉa la) {cin_n_a la}

La (ள): transcribed "ḷa" {l.a} in Tamil Lexicon) and popularly called 
"big la" [periya la]

Za (ழ): transcribed "ḻa" {l_a} in Tamil Lexicon (BUT a popular way of 
writing it in newspapers is "zh") [[This sound is considered by some as 
unique to Tamil]]

ra (ர): transcribed "ra" in Tamil Lexicon and popularly called "small 
ra" (in order to distinguish it from ṟa {r_a} (ற, popularly called "big ra")

The Tolkāppiyam, which is the earliest extant Tamil grammar
describes these four items in two sūtra-s: TE95 and TE96

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