Draft transliteration scheme on the Web

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Tue Jun 16 02:42:59 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-06-15 05:12:27 EDT, bhk at HD1.VSNL.NET.IN writes:

<< An aditional reason in favour of z-subdot is how early Skt borrowings are
 represented in Tamil, e.g. u.sa: u.zai, se:.sa- :ce:.zam. Phonetically a
 voiced counterpart of IndoA .s is not far off the mark of PDr or Ta. .z. I
 published a longish paper on the developments of PD *.z as early as 1958
 (Indian Linguistics, Turner Jubilee Volume). PD *.z becomes .l, .d, .r, r,
 in most lgs.Toda also has .s and s(wedge-supra)beside the above. Being a
 frictionless continuant, it leads to y and 0 also. The amjor advantage is to
 match it with other retrofexes and .z eminently suits this. l-macr-b is ill
 suited and is not used by scholars like like zvelebil. Bh.K. >>

P. S. Subrahmanyam in his Dravidian Comparative Phonology (1983), p. 422-423
says the following.

"Different symbols are used for its transcription by different authors: r_dia-
b is used by Burrow and Emeneau (DED(S) and other works), z_dot-b by Ramaswami
Aiyar (1938) and Krishnamurti (1958b and subsequent works only in writing the
reconstructed forms), l by Narasimhia,  l_macr-b by Tamil lexicon, P. S.
Subrahmanya Sastri, L. V. Ramaswami Aiyar and Krishnamurti (1961), l_dia-b by
A.C. Sekhar and G. S. Gai and r_dot-b by Zvelebil and Pfeiffer. As remarked by
Emeneau (loc.cit,) it is futile to argue which symbol is correct. l_macr-b is
used in the present work mainly because of convenience in typing and printing.
As pointed out by Burrow (1968b) Krishnamurti's practice of writing z_dot-b
for this sound in the reconstructed forms in order to distinguish it from the
corresponding sound in Tamil-Malayalam and KannaDa (this reason was stated by
Krishnamurti) has little justification since there is no evidence that the
concerned proto-sound is phonetically different from the corresponding sound
in Tamil-Malayalam."

Contrary to what Krishnamurti says, Kamil Zvelebil in his writings on Tamil
literature uses l_macr-b (eg. The Smile of Murugan, 1973, E. J. Brill,  Tamil
Traditions on Subrahmanya-Murugan, 1991, Institute of Asian Studies) V. S.
Rajam's A Reference Grammar of Classical Tamil Poetry, 1992, American
Philosophical Society also uses l_macr-b.

The Tamil Lexicon's l_macr-b was adopted in 1936.  Ramaswami Aiyar used z_dot-
b in 1938. Thus in terms of their history they are virtually identical. But
l_macr-b is being used more widely than z_dot-b til today.

If one goes to any library with South Asian collection, the number of books
dealing with Dravidian linguistics using z_dot-b will be relatively few. The
number of books dealing with different Indological fields such as literature,
religion, archeology, history, etc. using Tamil materials using l_macr-b will
be considerably more.  Examples are John Carman and Vasudha Narayanan's Tamil
Veda , 1984, University of Chicago Press, Asko Parpola's Deciphering the Indus
Script, 1994, Cambridge University Press, Rajeshwari Ghose's The Lord of Arur:
The Tyagaraja Cult in Tamilnadu, 1996, Motilal Banarasidass.

Vidyanath Rao wrote:
>For those who know Tamil/Malayalam, the actual symbol makes little
>difference; humans can get used to almost anything. I no longer
>blanch when I see z for "s.  But for others,
>z-underdot may be too confusing:

I agree with this in general with one minor exception. As Rao said, many
ordinary Tamils would identify 'zh' used in commonly-encountered words
correctly. However I have heard them when they come across a word which they
have not encountered ordinarily, and they mispronounce it so badly any lover
of Tamil would cringe. I expect the same will happen with z_dot-b also. But as
Emeneau stated, it is futile to argue which is the "correct" one. My criterion
would be to choose one which causes the least number of people to change their

One note about Tamil borrowing of Sanskrit words with "S". While there are a
few cases where IA "S" is replaced by Tamil l_macr-b, most of the time "S" is
replaced by "T"  as in meSa > mETam, veSa > vETam, etc.

Right now when diacritic marks are not used in writing, the word "Tamil_macr-
b" is written just without the macron  as "Tamil" and there is not much of a
difference between the two. But, if one were to follow the suggestion of
z_dot-b, are we going to end up with two different ways "Tamiz" and "Tamil"?
If the goal is to bring uniformity, this will actually work against it. It is
going to cause more confusion.

S. Palaniappan

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