Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 3 March 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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    M. S. Thirumalai
    6820 Auto Club Road #320
    Bloomington, MN 55438 USA.
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    B. Mallikarjun,
    Central Institute of Indian Languages,
    Mysore 570006, India
    or e-mail to
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  • The Editorial Board has the right to accept, reject, or suggest modifications to the articles submitted for publication, and to make suitable stylistic adjustments. High quality, academic integrity, ethics and morals are expected from the authors and discussants.

Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


Madhukar N. Gogate

  1. Major languages in India are grouped here scriptwise. (1) Hindi and Marathi (2) Tamil and Malayalam (3) Kannada and Telugu (4) Gujarati (5) Punjabi (6) Urdu, Sindhi and Kashmiri (7) Oriya and (8) Benagli and Assamese.
  2. A few minor differences exist. For example, the Devanagari script of Hindi is somewhat different from the Devanagari of Marathi. Sanskrit is studied mainly in Devanagari, but other scripts too are used for that purpose.
  3. In addition, India uses Roman script for English language. Roman script means two sets of symbols, small (abc… xyz) and capital (ABC… XYZ). In old printing technology, they were called lower case and upper case symbols.
  4. A question arises whether it is possible to use a single script for national unity and convenience. The idea looks attractive and sensible, but every script has certain features that distinguish one language from another and serve the users in specific ways. Thousands of books, newspapers, signboards, documents, maps, etc., are published in using specific scripts. Millions of people are habituated and sentimentally attached to their scripts. Schools and dictionaries are geared to them. So it is not practical to give up existing scripts.
  5. However, there are opportunities to use an optional Roman lipi (script) for various Indian languages, when special needs arise. This script may be, to a great extent, common for all languages, but there could be a few individual variations. Even European languages use the Roman script in differing ways. For example, symbols (sh, sch, ch, x) denote same sound, respectively in English, German, French, and Portuguese. Authorities in every language should determine appropriate symbol-sound relations. Unfortunately, many people who can influence public opinion are not interested in the proposal, and so symbol-sound relations are not uniform across languages.
  6. Western scholars had developed certain Roman symbols, with special diacritical marks, to write Sanskrit and other languages of India. Such special symbols are not available in everyday printing machines. Moreover, scholars used to transliterate the texts in the original script. As a result, the transliteration carries phonetic inconsistencies existing in original scripts. Take for instance, the Hindi word sarkaar 'Government.' With exact transliteration, it will be written sarakaara, with a silent a after each r. Here it is assumed that a sounds as both a in the word (American) and as aa like a in car. Actually, symbol a with a horizontal bar (diacritical mark) above it, was used by scholars in place of aa.
  7. A change in script is a golden opportunity to remove some inconsistencies in the original script. It is however, left to the scholars to decide whether to go for transliteration or for some simplification. This author recommends some simplification.
  8. Roman symbols are 26 in number, and hence inadequate to follow the principle -- unique symbol for unique sound. One may use a mix of small and capital symbols. For instance, some scholars use a in the word American and A for car. But intermittent capitals look jarring to the eye. Secondly, it would be preferable to reserve capitals for starting words that do not conform to the rules of Romanization. These capital letters give a signal that the particular words have not been recast. This is specially useful for names. For example, the name Mary will not be written as Meri. That would affect all certificates, documents, passports, phone book entries and so on.
  9. Since only lower case letters (abc…xyz) would be used, it is imperative to use some digraphs such as (aa), as discussed above. One may also use the apostrophe mark, as a suffix to be added to a symbol, to indicate some phonetic variation. For example, in the word Hindi, the symbol d is used with phonetic value of th in the English word they. Here d is a dental consonant, while d' with an apostrophe mark will stand for a retroflex-like consonant, like d in the English word dog. Since lower case letters are used, a triple dot may be used to show distinctly the end a sentence.
  10. Variations may occur from language to language, whether to use an apostrophe for dental consonants or retroflex consonants, whether digraphs to be used or not. People are habituated for decades to certain ways of spelling their names. For the same sound, spellings (Vasant, Shri) look good to a Hindi speaker. Spellings (Vasanth, Sri) look good to a Tamil speaker. None should be faulted.
  11. There was a time when there was only a single printing press and a single compositor in a town of 100,000 people. That person took care of all the oddities in the scripts. Now with the spread of literacy and English, and the use of computers, hundreds in the same town function as compositors. They find the linear Roman script very handy for typing and word indexing. It is true that there are varieties of software to print texts in various Indian scripts. But often such software is not readily available. Moreover, for e-mails, Roman script is very useful. On-line question-answer debates are possible and it is very difficult to provide consistent Indian script fonts to all participants.
  12. Roman script is also useful to teach Indian languages to the second and third generation children of Indian families settled outside India. These children are often unable to read any text in Indian scripts. Since Indians settled abroad are an asset to the development and security of the Indian nation, their interest in Indian languages and culture should be ensured, if necessary using the Roman script.
  13. In any case, Roman script (English) telephone directories and vehicle number plates should be used throughout India for national convenience and unity. Technology has given tools to make them in various scripts. But we humans are not computers. We get fumbled to see queer scripts. Already a North Indian feels like a foreigner when he sees name boards in unfamiliar scripts while visiting South India. Multilingual countries like Canada and Switzerland use Roman script and are not split by scripts. Scripts have the potential to alienate people who are not familiar with these "strange" scripts. Some wisdom should be shown in not overstretching the script loyalty.

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Madhukar N. Gogate
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