Tamil script: what is the traditional use of _aytam_

Heike Boedeker boedeker at NETCOLOGNE.DE
Sat Aug 19 12:55:29 UTC 2000

Dear B. Philip,

>I wonder what was the traditional use of _aytam_ in Tamil script?  It seems
>from what I've gleaned that it indicated some kinde of aspiration, perhaps
>was a kind of visarga?

It indeed, e.g. in Beythan's classical grammar (§ 20), has been compared to 
the visarga insofar it denotes a postvocalic voiceless laryngeal or velar 
fricative — i.e. in reading pronunciation: Zvelebil in his Comparative 
Dravidian Phonology, 1970, p. 161f, tends to reconstruct it as a glottal 
stop, McAlpin in Proto-Elamo-Dravidian, 1981, p. 26, as an unspecified 
laryngeal *H (maybe like, if I remember correctly, there is a variation of 
h ~ ' in Brahui).

But then Beythan also makes clear that (a) it always is preconsonantal, (b) 
always final to a[n otherwise] short initial syllable (hence also its use 
for metric reasons, e.g. atu ~ ahtu "it", which links compensatory to 
expressive "lengthening"), (c) rather rare as far as concerns primary 
occurences (e.g. ehku "steel", kahcu "a weight [1/4 of a palam]") and often 
with doublets lacking it, (d) secondarily occuring as a combinatory variant 
of l and L (note that Beythan's reference to §25 rather should read §24).

All the best,


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