Retroflex sounds

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Thu Jun 25 01:36:37 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-06-23 19:29:06 EDT, thompson at JLC.NET writes:

<< I will
 repeat my earlier appeal to the list: "Could someone explain to me why a
 proto-Dravidian language with such a three-fold distinction COULD NOT HAVE
INFLUENCED early IA in such a way as to induce a dental-retroflex
distinction?" >>

I do not have access to Hock's paper. But from what I see in Tamil, the
reinterpretation of alveolar as dental or retroflex should be easily
understandable. Consider the following. (R here represents alveolar t)

oTTikkiraTTi < oRRaikkiraTTi
oTTUkkEL < oRRukkEL
tITTu < tIRRu
kazaTTu < kazaRRu

ottai < oRRai
kazattu < kazaRRu
pattu < paRRu
tottu < toRRu

I also have questions about Vidyanath's position that one does not confuse the
phonemes in one's primary language. Is there any sociolinguistic evidence for
this position? How do most Malayalis pronounce certain original Tamil sounds
correctly while many Tamils do not? If they were part of the same language
community at one time, at some point in time some people must have started to
confuse different phonemes.

In a lighter vein, just compare the Tamil enunciation of the famous actors
Sivaji Ganesan and his son Prabhu. Sivaji Ganesan is well known for his
enunciation but Prabhu's confusion between retroflex and alveolars (n2 vs N)
is very noticeable. How does one account for this within the same family?
According to a film industry source, Prabhu attributed his bad pronunciation
of Tamil to his studying in a convent school. In fact, in recent years, the
pronunciation of Tamil by public performers like actors, public speakers, and
debaters (of the paTTimanRam kind) has become so horrible that the linguistic
change seems to have accelerated a lot.

S. Palaniappan

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