Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Friday, June 22, 2012

A modest proposal towards modernizing the Tamil writing system

It is June, but May and the theme of language and Talk were not so long ago. Given that, I will post on this here blog a modest proposal that goes towards modernizing the Tamil writing system. This post was occasioned by a comment on a Quizzing forum from earlier today. I have been meaning to talk about this for a while, but never got the chance to do so on my blog or my List.

The point came up on the forum that there is a rule in Tamil against using consonant clusters (like 'Tm'). This was brought up in the context of a controversy around the naming of a road in Tamil Nadu (the 'Mahatma Gandhi Road'). The controversy was around - get this - the use of the word 'mahATma' for a road in Tamil Nadu. The problem apparently is that 'mahATma' is a word that is of Sanskrit origin. Now, Tamil Nadu happens to be a state that is very proud of its language, but at the same time, there is a great deal of politicking on linguistic identity going on out there, especially during election time. All that posturing and politicking over linguistic identity seems utterly pointless, and it is really little more than a cynical ploy on the part of the politicians. However, the threat to Tamil from Hindi seems to be an always popular theme among voters in Tamil Nadu, and this bit of linguistic populism still has popular support. So what is to be done?

I would like to suggest the following : let us modernize the Tamil language to the greatest extent possible. Many of the rules currently governing Tamil come from premodern rules of language. This includes rules from Middle Tamil, et cetera. The solution is simple : copy Hindi. Do whatever Hindi does in terms of the writing system in Tamil as well. This would allow adopting words from Hindi and other Indian languages without change in Tamil. My proposal below includes allowing for aspirated consonants, for consonant clusters, and for better distinguishing of what I like to call the 'soft' consonants (as distinguished from the 'hard' ones.) My proposal would involve the following three simple changes to the Tamil writing system :

1. Consonant clusters: The proposal here is simple : allow for all consonant clusters. Mix and match as you please. Basically, allow the 'sTrI's, the 'zrIs' and the 'sprees'.

2. The soft consonants ('ga' versus 'ka', 'ja' versus 'cha', et cetera): there is a total of 20 consonants (velar, palatal, retroflex, dental and labial) in the primary table in DevanAgari (see table linked here). Tamil could simply use the same set of sounds in its writing system. It does so in any case in practice. It would be relatively simple to introduce a new mark to distinguish the first consonant from the third consonant in each category (velar, palatal, retroflex, dental and labial) (noting that the second and the fourth consonants are aspirated sounds). One could add the horizontal bar on top of the symbol for the third consonant in each category to distinguish that one from the first. This would be a way of acknowledging the role of Sanskrit (and Panini) in the development of this writing system.

3. Aspirated consonants: The proposal here is pretty simple again : allow for aspirated consonants. Aspirated consonants are ones for which you expel a extra bit of puff of air as you pronounce them. (Anyone who knows Hindi can tell you what the aspirated consonants in Hindi are.) I am talking, of course, about the 'kha' consonant (as opposed to the 'ka' consonant), the 'gha' consonant (as opposed to the 'ga' consonant), et cetera. The writing system could easily accomodate this using some symbol to distinguish the aspirated consonants. I would suggest for us to use the 'therefore' symbol (already used in Tamil to distinguish 'fa' from 'pa') following the letter to distinguish aspirated consonants from non-aspirated ones.

Using (2) and (3), you would end up with the same set of consonants as Hindi/Sanskrit. This would make communication using Tamil much, much easier. As regards (1), this requires no changes to the language at all. Even simply allowing all consonant clusters would greatly simplify matters and enable in modernizing the Tamil language. Wikipedia indicates that this process is underway in any case : "Contact with European languages also affected both written and spoken Tamil. Changes in written Tamil include the use of European-style punctuation and the use of consonant clusters that were not permitted in Middle Tamil" but it would be good to take it to a logical/rationalistic conclusion. As I mentioned at the forum, I went through Harold Schiffman's book on Tamil grammar at one point of time. It was an interesting book to read. At the same time, it is not very understandable for the naive user of the Tamil language. This grammar stuff does not have to be complicated. I only wish they modernize the Tamil writing system sooner rather than later.

Note that I have followed the Harvard-Kyoto convention throughout in this post for all italicized words (not that you need to know this to see where I am going with this proposal). Indeed, you could simply use the Harvard-Kyoto system for writing in Tamil and avoid all the problems I mentioned above. Many people use this in any case.

I have ensured that the suggestions in this proposal are as simple as possible to keep things constructive. If you had any comments on this, I would love to hear them. Please feel free to email me at the same email address as before. Enjoy!

Update (July 7th): In order to make things easier for Unicode users, I would like to add that the proposal includes using the Unicode symbol 0955 (which is unmistakably different from any other symbol yet similar to the horizontal bar in Hindi/Sanskrit) as an alternate way to add the horizontal bar for Tamil characters. Furthermore, preferably, the Unicode symbol 0955 ought to be placed on top of the 'therefore' symbol to indicate that this symbol is being used to indicate aspirated consonants. Please see the attached Unicode charts to see what symbols it is that I am referring to in this post. The symbols in question are Unicode characters 0955 and 0B83.