Monday, June 13, 2005

Tamil Tolkappiyam

Since I have written about the encoding of the Tamil writing system in Unicode and Michael Kaplan has written a detailed response I should clarify my position ( if I have one ... I am an onlooker and occasional client). I do not wish to particpate in any appeal or attempt to re-encode Tamil. I have used Tamil on the internet and have passed on Tamil Unicode software and the link to the Tamil Interface pack for Windows to a few friends. Its great!

I particularly appreciated this from Michael's post.

Look at it another way -- it is much harder to
implement Thai and Lao with their 'visual' encoding
scheme, especially when it comes to operations like
collation. A logical ordering would have been much
easier for everyone to write implementations.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda -- honestly the fewer
innovations in this space, the easier it is to see
implementations appear!

And I know whereof I speak here. I have seen the
impact on a native speaker of a language to see that
language supported on Windows. If you tell that user
that they must wait for a year or five or even ten
years, then the impact is precisely the opposite.
Sometimes it can be devastating.

I am interested in how a script appears as a glyph rather than how it is encoded. When I originally worked with a 12 year old so that he could learn to keyboard in Tamil Unicode and install the Tamil support for his family, he refused to touch the keyboard with any reordering software. However, there are now many suitable options to keyboard Tamil. I still prefer the syllabic editor since I am more of a visual speller in any language. And my young Tamil friend happily uses it - no problem. There are several other popular options.

However, the discussion presented by N. Ganesan on the Unicode list (May 7, 2005) was intriguing.

But in Tamil script "consonant with inherent 'a' plus puLLi"
is a primary unit. Tamil defines pure consonants so
explicitly in 2000 year old grammars, with puLLi and the
consonant with inherent 'a' (as far as Tamil is concerned)
is just one of an abugida series, so gets identical weight as
others in the series. We need to document that evidence on
puLLi as an orthographic device earliest attestation in
India from Tamil material in the Unicode documents also. ...

In Tolkappiyam தொல்காப்பியம், a 2000 year old grammar, one can read these details about the Tamil script.

we find enumerated both the aspects of form and matter,
not only the poetic form but also the phonological and
morphological form.
(1) The alphabetical sounds or phonemes (Eluttu);
(2) their duration (Mattirai);
(3) their knitting together into syllables (Acai) ;
(4) the various permutations and com­binations of these
syllables as feet (cir) ;
(5) the varied integrations of these feet into lines (ati);

The purpose of my musings in abecedaria is to consider how a script or writing system has been historically represented and organized in its concrete glyph form by its users, not how it should be encoded. That is, what are the primary visual shapes and structures of a script.

I find it of interest historically that of the 24 Indic scripts represented only Tamil is shown as an alphabet in Isaac Taylor and only Tamil is shown as a syllabary in Diderot. I was reading about this when I noticed Mr. Ganesan's post. It just seemed too interesting not to pass on. This is a place to collect who said what and when, not how the encoding should work. Sorry if I implied otherwise.


Anonymous Michael Kaplan said...

No worries, believe me. I was actually responding to the folks who are assiduously working to try to change reality as we know it. :-)

12:23 AM  
Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

I was participating in a little exercise at Language Hat and realized that Tamil performed well in the browser an many other scripts did not.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

It has been pointed out to me that the fact that the full Tamil syllabary is shown in Diderot is purely a presentation issue. This makes sense but one of the things I am looking at is how scripts are represented and if that in some way influences how people perceive the script.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous sivaji said...


one way of presenting tamil scripts is by using the quillpad tool..
you can visit
this will help you in posting pecefully

12:28 AM  
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10:09 PM  

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