The Tamil Nadu (is that correct) Government, late in the evening on June 10, released a gazette notification of a decision taken on April 1. It proposes a set of English spelling changes – for 1,018 places in the State no less – based on Tamil phonetics.
For the sake of brevity, my commentary focuses on the 96 places names within Chennai city that are proposed to be changed. The Government’s release has two columns – one the list of new names as proposed by the District Collectors and the other as suggested by experts who have been consulted. The two reveal lack of agreement in most names, as is to be expected when phonetics in one language are expressed in another. Take for instance Nandambakkam – why is it Nandhambaakkam in column ‘a’ while it is Nandambaakkam in column ‘b’? On the other hand, Adambakkam is Aadambaakkam is column ‘a’ while it is Aadhambaakkam in column ‘b’! The options for the two places completely contradict the naming logic when the pronunciations are the same in Tamil. Was the addition of an ‘h’ meant to indicate a soft ‘d’? If so, why is it there for one and not the other? And let us also add here that the correct suffix in both cases ought to have been Pakkam and not Bakkam as there is no such word in Tamil. Similarly, it is surprising that Tamil scholars have recommended Erukkencheri be changed to Erukkankjeri – jeri is not a word, while Cheri is. In old Tamil it did not mean a slum – we interpreted it that way.
The report does not take into account the fact that some names were not Tamil to start with. Saidapet was once Sayyad Shah Pet – a completely Urdu name. Now, to make it Saithappettai is just not logical. Nobody pronounces it that way. It is always Saidapettai with the d being soft and that is not the same as ‘th’ when it appears in the middle of a word. Similarly, Mayilaappoor happens to be a portmanteau of a Tamil and a Sanskrit word – Mayil and Puri. Since in this case we have the tevaram as a reference, why not simply change the name to Mayilai? It is much shorter and easier on the tongue as well. This will also be in line with the usage of Thiruvanmiyoor (why is it not Thiruvaanmiyoor?) and the change of that awful Triplicane to the Divya Prabandham-based Thiruvallikeni.
Lastly, we come to Chintadripet. When we know it was Chinna Tari Pettai historically, why not rename it as such? The two options given – Chintadaripettai and Chinthadharipettai – are both meaningless. In the light of the spelling variants mentioned above, it is also worth the Government’s while to ponder over whether it is necessary to change well-established place name spellings such as Ambattur to Ambathoor or worse, Ambaththoor. Ur or oor are both pronounced the same way unless it is by a person who knows no Tamil, in which case chances are the rest of the word will be mangled as well. Just take a test on how many non-Tamils pronounce Chennai or Madras correctly and you will know. And all this wallowing in a plethora of o’s th’s and aa’s – how many are going to get it correctly? How practical are these spellings?
The whole exercise comes under the head of splitting hairs. Or was it recommended by a numerologist to get COVID to go away? The number 1,018 is enough of an indicator to show that there may be some superstition in all of this. But looking at it from another point of view – signboard painters and printers can now get busy, as also those who make changes to websites. It could well be a way of kickstarting the economy in the time of this COVID crisis and taking us into that USD 5 trillion bracket that we have been dreaming about.
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Awakened at last!
Have always been writing :Tamizh =தமிழ்.
The current ruling party claims its heritage in another. That party took pride in Tamil, and displayed expertise in the language and its use. That party also had about equal pride in debunking religious superstition. What a disgrace to that heritage.
Very nice post, Sir. Congratulations for the title as ‘ThamizhNaadu ‘
The idiots in the Administration haven’t understood that Proper Nouns, Place names can be pronounced differently by different people and even after the changes made by them, that will continue to happen.
The accent plays a great part in that. Even within Tamilnadu, people from different provinces say things very differently in Tamizh.
For eg, Maruthai la Kuruthai vaanginen (I bought a horse in Madurai).
The TV anchors nowadays kolai senjing Tamizh so much, no one knows what is the correct way to say things.
This is just an empty, vain exercise, to divert attention from Covid scare.
First of all, it must be ensured that the Thamizh names themselves are correct, before we find the English equivalents.
Many names have long historical links. Over a period of time, they have been completely mutilated by the ‘hurried’ pronunciation tendencies of the Citizen in general. The fact is that, the average Thamizhan, despite his extreme love for his language, is unable to express it through clear and confident articulation.
It is said that Thiruvanmiyur has historical links with Rama, Sita and Valmiki. Some say that the original name was *Thiru-Valmiki-Oor*
So why not make it
Thiruvalmikiyoor ? Or even retain the hyphens to enable the (non-thamizh) visitors to learn to pronounce it correctly. Unlike the Thamizhs whose love for their language is not very evident in their pronunciation, the average foreign visitor is quite keen on pronouncing names correctly.
It is therefore necessary to first get the Thamizh original historical names correct, before proceeding to derive the English phonetic equivalents. While the former requires a historian / sociologist who is also an expert in the Thamizh language, the latter requires in addition, an expert knowledge of English and its phonetics.
Just because the Thamizh language lacks symbols for certain sounds, we CANNOT CHANGE A PROPER NOUN which may be the name of some person or place. For eg Thiruvanandhapuram. While there is no ‘द’ in Thamizh, we may use ‘த’ in the Thamizh version, but we must take care to use ‘dha’ in the English version instead of ‘tha’. We must translate the non-thamizh directly into English rather than through Thamizh. In fact TN should actually expand to THAMIZH NADU – introducing to English, through ‘zh’ , a sound not available in that language.
The English language already has a lot of phonetic tools to use, such as ‘ā’ to represent the long ‘a’. The ugly ‘aa’ can be handed over to the numerologists.
This renaming exercise is a golden opportunity to get the original Thamizh names correct, true to their historic origin.
For e.g. why not retain Syed Shah Pettai. The English version is already there before us. In Thamizh we will have to be content with ‘த’ till we add some letter for’द’.
Man first spoke, before he learnt to write. So it is important to represent the words as they were spoken by the natives. In the 21st Century the objective is to simplify, not complicate.
Whatever may be the reason for this exercise, neither history nor common sense, should become the casualty.
English is not a phonetic language and that’s why we have cough, rough, dough all pronounced differently when they have a common spelling. We have so many issues to worry about other than how we write ‘Aadhambaakkam’ in English. It would help if the administrators themselves took some care to speak proper ‘Tamizh’.
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