Re: Malayalam Zero - an error

From: N. Ganesan (
Date: Thu Apr 07 2005 - 11:28:05 CST

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    Ken Whistler wrote:

    >[paragraphs of speculation about how
    >to "fix" the problem omitted]

    >Note also that a native speaker of
    >Malayalam has been sitting on the UTC
    >for many years now, and such an obvious
    >"error" in the standard for his script
    >is unlikely to have escaped his notice.

    Not really. Let me give a scholastic world
    example in recent months. The Indus valley
    era, a bronze age civilization that flourished
    4000 years ago, has left short inscriptions
    (some 5000 of them) over a wide area (some
    10,000 square miles). Many attempts to read them
    as Dravidian, Sanskrit, Munda even Easter Island
    "script". But the current theory is that
    they were illiterates, and these inscriptions
    don't encode "speech" or "abugidas".
    (I read A. Leca's comments about Rgveda's
    age, Indus civ. etc., Will come to all that
    little later. with brief messages, URLs.
    For starters, see Steve's
    On Rgveda's date, see Michael Witzel's summary.
    Incidentally, you will find my name mentioned there.

    Are you talking about my friend Umamaheswaran?
    Well his mothertongue is Tamil whose forefathers
    left for Kerala few centuries ago. Since
    they don't teach Malayalam numerals (an that
    too zero is a recent addition in both Tamil
    and Malayalam) in Keralan schools, may be Uma
    did not pay enough attention to them (esp. zero).

    >Note also that a number of years' worth of review by
    >Indian script experts organized by the Government of India
    >have requested all kinds of changes and additions to the
    >Indian script encodings for the Unicode Standard, but this
    >particular item has not been among them.

    We will ask for the correct representation of
    Zero glyph in the Malayalam code chart,
    not the incorrect one that represents 1/2.
    Unlike humanities major guys, computer pros
    know the importance and uniqueness of zero.
    It cannot be incorrectly represented, and
    if done it is a major problem. Note that
    only Malayalam zero shape in Indic codecharts
    of Unicode is out of sync, and a correction need to
    be made.

    >Note also that normal usage for digits in modern Malayalam
    >text is ASCII 0..9, and not the traditional script digits.

    Yes, That's one reason why most Malayalam natives might not know
    what a Malayalam numeral is. Take the case of
    Tamil Visarga Sign encoded in Unicode. It is
    correctly named as Visarga (will come to that
    soon). But people not familiar with Tamil linguistic
    and philological research may say something
    in emails. But books in academic libraries
    inform that Visarga, as done in Unicode, is
    indeed Tamil aaytham. Even aaytham or aayitham,
    comes from aa'srita (Sanskrit word for a particular
    class of Visarga).

    >There may be some contention amongst Malayalam users in Kerala as to
    >what the proper form for a digit zero using traditional
    >Malayalam script digit forms should be -- perhaps influenced
    >by digit zero forms in neighboring Dravidian scripts as well.

    Yes, Malayalam zero is in accordance with zeros in all
    other Indian zeros. Unicode incorrectly gives
    a glyph that is not zero as zero. This needs to
    be modified.

    Malayalam unicode so far is minor. In the future, it
    will take off. The digit zero correction has to be done.
    Then automatically over time, the correct zero glyph
    will be shown in webpages like:

    Hope this helps.

    N. Ganesan

    PS: The nonexistence of zero among Dravidian
    peoples (eg., Tamil or Malayalam) gives
    some deep implications, along with Steve's paper.
    Will write about them later in Indology
    lists. Here OT.

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