Long vowels in Tamil (Re: CSX)

kichenas at math.umn.edu kichenas at math.umn.edu
Sat Feb 25 22:37:35 UTC 1995

Regarding the question of transliteration of Tamil raised by
Dominik W., the distinction between short and long e and o
is essential, and a macron is generally used for long letters
in print. For reference, here is the complete Tamil alphabet
as I would type it on a computer, with indications on 
systems used in scholarly publications:

Vowels: a A i ii u U e E ai o O au
        k  c  T t  p R
        ng n~ N n' m n
        y r l v zh L
Aytam: .h (or h, q)


  1) ii is better than I because I looks like `el' on some terminals.
  2) n' is the dental n, but is less frequent than n
  3) e, o, R, n, zh, L and the Aytam do not exist in Sanskrit
(making allowance for the Vedic L of course---I am not discussing
any possible connection between these letters here;
the phonetic rules for its appearance and combinations 
in one or the other language can be found in grammars).
  4) It is common to use in PRINT an underlined n for what we
called n, leaving n for the dental. Similarly, r_ is found 
instead of R. Some people use only r's and l's for zh, L,...
with appropriate diacritical marks,
and I have seen R denoted by a t_ (sic); the latter can be confusing
on occasion. 
The French system is usually convenient (see the PIFI monographs). Of course,
dots under cerebrals are probably universally accepted. Same remark for
n (overdot) =ng, n (tilde) =palatal n. The Aytam is often
written as an h with a diacritical mark, and seldom by q to
avoid confusion with semitic languages.
  5) In popular transliterations, it is common to see t/T rendered
as th/t, although there is no aspirate in the alphabet.
  6) Provision should be made for the characters borrowed from 
the Grantha script (which used to be the standard Sanskrit alphabet
in Tamil land). Most common are a ligature for S'rii, and the characters
for s, s', sh, h, plus a ligature for ksha.
  7) If printing in Tamil is desired, it would be nice to develop
a font which prints the Tamil numerals and abbreviations, 
since these are ubiquitous in scholarly publications.
The sign for the abbreviated Om (found at the beginning of every
text) would be nice too. 
  8) Some Tamil word processing systems (which can interface 
nicely with TeX) use other systems.

At any rate, if all scholarly systems for Roman transliteration
of Tamil must be used, one needs to have access to letters with
(a) a macron; (b) a line, one or two dots under it; (c) a dot
over it at least (plus the British pound sign and a c+cedilla
for some systems). Very old editions used to substitute the 
circumflex for the macron, as is well-known, but this seems rare

                                Satyanad Kichenassamy
                                School of Mathematics
                                University of Minnesota
                                kichenas at math.umn.edu

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