h after t and d in S. Indian transliterations

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at GMX.LI
Sat Jun 17 13:40:26 UTC 2000

Am 16 Jun 2000, um 10:22 schrieb Allen W Thrasher:

> I notice that South Indian publications when using Anglicisations or
> informal Romanizations of Sanskrit terms often add h after d dental
> and possibly t dental.  Why is this?  Could it be that since English t
> and d are alveolar rather than really dental and so are in between
> Indic dentals and retroflexes, the h brings the tongue forward against
> the teeth and so to the Dravidian speaker represents a dental better,
> whereas an English dental would sound closer to a retroflex?

Most probably this is because the English alveolar sounds more
retroflex than dental to the Indian ear (it is also one of the main
features that creates an 'English accent' when an Anglosaxon
speaks a continental European language). Typically, English words
containing 't' and 'd' are always transliterated in Kannada script
(and in Tamil, and in Urdu and Bengali and Gujarati and perhaps
everywhere else in South Asia too) as though they are retroflexes.
On the other hand, the two English fricatives which are both written
'th' are bewildering but sound dental.

The difference between aspirated and unaspirated dental 'd' and 't'
in Kannada is considered to be of little phonemic importance, if of
any at all, unlike in north Indian languages. Though one ought to
distinguish them in careful pronunciation, many speakers do not do
so (cf. a parallel situation in Europe with voiced and unvoiced 'z'
and 's' in Dutch): particularly the less educated do this; in the case
mentioned by Chandan Narayan, it probably is due to Tamil
influence, since in Tamil aspiration plays no role. The retroflex-
dental difference is far more important, and so the confusion that
'th' may stand for an aspirated consonant is considered the lesser

Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
Institut fuer Indologie und Tamilistik
Universitaet zu Koeln
E-mail zydenbos at gmx.li

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