Virama based model - a note (was: Malayalam digit zero - an error)

From: N. Ganesan (
Date: Thu Apr 28 2005 - 21:16:28 CST

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    Virama based model - a note (was: Malayalam digit zero - an error)

    Malayalam digit zero glyph (U+0D66) in Unicode is incorrect. So, a
    proposal was submitted to the UTC on the need to correct Malayalam
    digit zero (U+0D66), and to add Malaylam numerics for 10 at U+0D70,
    100 at U+0D71 and 1000 at U+0D72 in parallel with Tamil numerics
    (document number: L2/05-087).

    Zero glyph (0) was introduced into Malayalam around mid-19th century,
    some decades earlier it was done in Tamil.
    Further evidence was gathered on the zero (0) glyph as used
    in Malayalam books:
    (i) L. J. Frohnmeyer, A progressive grammar of the
    Malayalam language, 1913: Second edition, Madras.
    Page 289, Table III shows all numerals, see the many examples of
    zero glyph (0).
    (ii) H. Gundert, A grammar of the Malayalam language,
    1991 reprint (Original edition, last quarter of the 19th
    century). Malayalam numerals are given on pages 41
    and 42. See the many examples of zero glyph (0).
    (iii) C. Faulmann, Das buch der scrift, (1880: Wien),
    2000 reprint. See zero (0) in Malayalam digit 10 (p. 143).
    All these references for Malayalam zero (0) glyph are shown at:

    The current zero glyph at U+0D66 which is incorrect
    was perhaps introduced in Unicode based on data from
    the book, A. Nakanishi, Writing systems of teh world, 1980. Nakanishi
    knows no Dravidian language nor any Dravidian script in depth and the
    main aim of his book is to be an amateurish tourist guide to find
    hotel names and so on. Unicode has the dotted circles for letters
    probably from Nakanishi. Tamil has removed the dotted circle in
    aaytham (visarga) letter, and added zero glyph (0) even tho' Nakanishi
    states them as such. Hopefully Nakanishi's zero glyph (U+0D66) will be
    gone soonand in its place, 0 is used as seen in Malayalam books

    This leads us to mention an important point about Virama (=viraama)
    based models of Indian and even South East Asian languages. Nakanishi
    states general principles of Indian
    lelletring system on p. 48
    [Begin Quote]
    Devanagari script uses the basic system used for all
    the Indian scripts described in this chapter.
    (3) Each consonant includes an inherent a-vowel.
    (5) Conjunct consonants are used; when two or more
    consonants are combined with no intervening vowel,
    they are written as one letter.
    [End Quote]

    Quite simply, A. Nakanishi is wrong in stating the rules (3)
    and (5) as far as Tamil script is formulated.
    Tamil grammar, chief amidst Darvidian languages and,
    one of the two classical languages
    of India the other being Sanskrit, clearly
    defines in Tolkaappiyam (its Ur-text dates to
    pre-centuries BCE) a diacritic letter, puLLi (U+0BCD)
    to generate "pure" consonant. Even Nakanishi does
    not mention pulli by name, but mentions its
    importance in Tamil script. Because pulli is
    so well defined, Tamil never had to develop
    conjunct consonants. So, automatically, thanks
    to pulli, Tamil does opposite of Nakanishi's rule (5).
    Btw, archaeologically, puLLi in Tamil is well
    attested from second century onwards.
    Because of absence of conjunct letters,
    Tamil script was used first among Indic scripts
    whenever a new technology appeared on the scene.
    Examples are 1) printing 2) typewriters
    3) bilingual emails in 8-bit encodings like TSCII.
    OCR is way easier for the lucid Tamil script compared to
    any other Indic script.

    The contrast of conjunct consonants is seen
    clearly when you compare Tamil script
    with Devanagari or Tamil grantham script.
    The scripts for Indo-Aryan languages never
    have a clear concept of puLLi/viraama as an orthographic
    device. As a result Hindi native speakers confuse and cut off -a sounds
    in Sanskrit words even at places there is
    no virama existing etc.,

    The use of the virAma in Sanskrit to refer to a written ligature
    marking subtraction
    of vowel 'a' from the consonant sign is very late, and not to be found in
    the texts of Sanskrit grammarians. In those works, the term virAma does
    exist, but it marks the end of an utterance cf. virAmo 'vasAnam (Panini 1.4.
    110), or a pause. Its immediate reference is phonetic (cessation of the
    phonetic process of utterance), and not orthographic.
    The phonetic reference of virama is seen in character names
    U+0964 and U+0965, viz, puurNa viraama and diirgha viraama.
    So, viraama is really to stop pronouncing, say at the end of
    a statement or verse.

    On the other hand, Tamils devised puLLi orthographically
    to do a job - to "kill" inherent -a in the so called "consonants"
    in other Indic languages. Nakanishi rule (3) is invalid for Tamil!
    So, will write a small proposal to include data on puLLi in Tamil,
    its definition in ancient Tamil grammars and epigraphs,
    and its use in making Tamil script lot simpler and lucid
    in the info on Indic script characteristics in Devanagari section, Ch.
    9 of the Unicode standard.

    Naga Ganesan
    Houston, Texas
    281-648-8636 (H)

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