Southern pronunciations ? (Re: INDOLOGY FAQ

Gary Tubb tubb at UCHICAGO.EDU
Mon Feb 15 17:28:28 UTC 2010

This is exactly the sort of thing I was wondering about when I brought 
up the matter of the pronunciation of Varanasi.  The data from Kannada 
is very interesting, as is the contrast with Malayalam..

Velcheru Narayana Rao informs me that "in Telugu speech it is 
vaaranaasi.  (The third syllable long, and also the last vowel short.)"

So it does appear that, unlike the words "Mahabharata" and "Ramayana," 
for "Varanasi" there are strong, though regional, traditions supporting 
a second pronunciation.


Gary Tubb, Professor and Chair
Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
The University of Chicago

Jean-Luc Chevillard wrote:
> Dear Herman,
> Dear Professor Bhattacharya,
> I wonder whether it is a precise characterization
> (from a descriptive linguistics point of view)
> to use the words "mispronounced" and "misspelled".
> In my edition of Kittel,
> supposed to be an AES reprint of the 1894 edition,
> both spellings are mentionned on the page 1392 :
> "ವಾರಣಾಸಿ" [vāraṇāsi] is explained as being the same as "ವಾರಾಣಸಿ" [vārāṇasi]
> but some textual reference is given.
> "ವಾರಾಣಸಿ" [vārāṇasi] appears slightly lower on the page
> and has a longer entry, also containing textual references.
> The strategy seen in Kittel seems to be the contrary
> of the strategy seen in the Madras Tamil Lexicon,
> where வாரணாசி [vāraṇāci] is the main entry.
> (and there is a secondary entry வாரணசி [vāranaci]
> Additionally,
> unless I am mistaken
> (which can very well happen, because I know almost nothing about 
> Kannada and rely on electronic transcoding tools),
> A google search for those two forms shows that:
> "ವಾರಣಾಸಿ" [vāraṇāsi] occurs approximately  677 000 times on the internet
> "ವಾರಾಣಸಿ" [vārāṇasi] occurs approximately  132 000 times on the internet
> The "incorrect" form seems to be 5 times more frequent than the 
> "correct" form.
> I am convinced that this means something,
> at least concerning the speakers of some Modern Indian languages
> because 677 000 "incorrect" forms cannot simply be ignored
> (or wiped away from the realm of "linguistic facts").
> They have a massive presence in the linguistic abilities of their users
> (I am alluding here to what I understand to be the topic of Morris 
> Halle's 1985 article
> "Speculations about the Representation of Words in Memory")
> Malayalam seems to have quite a different "habitus":
> We find, with Google, as of today (15th february 2010):
> 3 690 occurrences of വാരണാസി [vāraṇāsi]
> 646 000 occurrences of വാരാണസി [vārāṇasi]
> This is quite different from the figures for Kannada!!
> What about other Indian modern languages?
> -- Jean-Luc Chevillard
> (CNRS, Université Paris-Diderot,
> UMR7597: "Laboratoire d'Histoire des Théories Linguistiques")
> Le 2/15/2010 3:31 PM, Herman Tull a écrit :
>> But, at least we can say it is a good thing that these words 
>> (mispronounced and misspelled as they are) have come into the general 
>> lexicon.
>> By the way, I must admit to having more than once ordered a Paanini 
>> when I should have been asking for a Paniini; confusing a grammarian 
>> with a grilled turkey sandwich.  I guess this goes both ways!   (In 
>> fact, as a a result of my misadventures in pronunciation, I am now 
>> utterly terrified by having to order one of these sandwiches.)  But, 
>> then, I also once asked for "bed bugs" rather than "curds" in my 
>> terribly broken Telegu.
>> Herman Tull
>> --------------------------------------------------
>> From: "Dipak Bhattacharya" <dbhattacharya2004 at YAHOO.CO.IN>
>> Sent: Monday, February 15, 2010 7:56 AM
>> To: <INDOLOGY at>
>> Subject: Re: Southern pronunciations ? (Re: INDOLOGY FAQ
>>> 15 02 10
>>> Kittel’s transliteration gives vāranāsi but the Kannaḍ word is 
>>> written ವಾರಾಣಸಿ that is vārāṇasi. Could the given transliteration be 
>>> a printing error?
>>> To the wrong pronunciations add Himalaya for Himālaya and Panini for 
>>> Pāṇini. But It is no use counting them, they are a legion.
>>> Best for all
>>> DB
>>> --- On Mon, 15/2/10, Jean-Luc Chevillard 
>>> <jean-luc.chevillard at UNIV-PARIS-DIDEROT.FR> wrote:
>>> From: Jean-Luc Chevillard <jean-luc.chevillard at UNIV-PARIS-DIDEROT.FR>
>>> Subject: Southern pronunciations ? (Re: INDOLOGY FAQ
>>> To: INDOLOGY at
>>> Date: Monday, 15 February, 2010, 4:59 PM
>>> As a post-scriptum to my first remark,
>>> I want to addd that I have just had a look at Kittel's 
>>> Kannada-English dictionary
>>> it contains on page 1392
>>> an entry "vâraṇâsi"
>>> and the authority given is "Bp. 54, 65; 58, 34; My."
>>> The list abbreviations gives
>>> Bp. = "Basava purāṇa. Bibliotheca Carnâtaka, Mangalore, 1850"
>>> If as early as the 6th century, which is a date often given for the 
>>> Tamil /Maṇimēkalai /, we find the spelling vāraṇāci,
>>> and if that spelling has remained the norm in Tamil
>>> [See: 
>>> <>] 
>>> there must be a reason.
>>> It would be interesting to have additional data for other indian 
>>> languages
>>> -- Jean-Luc Chevillard (CNRS, Paris)
>>> Le 2/15/2010 10:43 AM, Jean-Luc Chevillard a écrit :
>>>> I would be interested in having comments
>>>> on the Tamil form: வாரணாசி [vāraṇāci].
>>>> See the Tamil Lexicon (p. 3610)
>>>> வாரணாசி vāraṇāci, n. < Vāraṇasī. Benares, situate between the 
>>>> rivers Varaṇā and Asī; காசி. வாரணாசியோர் மறையோம்பாளன் (மணி. 13, 3).
>>>> See also another entry (p.3609), which gives a different spelling.
>>>> வாரணசி vāraṇaci, n. < vāraṇasī. See வாரணாசி. (யாழ். அக.)
>>>> The authority quoted by the Tamil Lexicon for the spelling vāraṇāci 
>>>> is the Maṇimēkalai
>>>> and comes from the chapter that tells the story of ஆபுததிரன்.
>>>> -- Jean-Luc Chevillard (Paris)
>>>> Le 2/15/2010 6:42 AM, Gary Tubb a écrit :
>>>>> I am tempted to add, in the section on mispronunciations, an entry 
>>>>> on "vaaraaNasii" (as the name of the city), with a note to the 
>>>>> effect that, for the same reasons as given for "mahaabhaarata" and 
>>>>> "raamaayaNa," the third syllable in this name is the least 
>>>>> appropriate place to apply a stress accent.  But I have been 
>>>>> struck over the years by the frequency with which many people I 
>>>>> respect as experts on Banaras habitually lengthen and stress the 
>>>>> vowel in the third syllable---so much so that I wonder whether 
>>>>> they might be following some local tradition unknown to me, 
>>>>> despite the official spelling of the name.  Are they?  Is there 
>>>>> any good reason to make the third "a" vowel in "Varanasi" long?
>>>>> ---
>>>>> Gary Tubb, Professor and Chair
>>>>> Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
>>>>> The University of Chicago
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