Saree, Kachra and Rathore

This is a more of research paper for a blog post. I literally had to reside below a bodhi tree for a month to gain this knowledge. You better read it and like it. 🙂

If you recall a post I had Previously written, I had adequately addressed a few of my north Indian friends’ quintessential questions. It was “Why does Karnataka has a flag of its own, while other states don’t“. This is the second one in that series “Why do South-Indians add a letter h to ‘t‘ sound, such as Jayalalitha as against a proper Jayalalita“. Okay, let us get to it.

South-Indians consider four ‘t’ sounds a set of mutually exclusive and distinctive representations in their native languages. For this very reason, when written in a foreign script, such as English, they will get four different spellings.

  1. t for voiceless retroflex,
  2. tt for voiced retroflex,
  3. th for voiceless dental,
  4. and finally, tth or tthh for voiced dental.

North Indians, however, chose to manage it with two even though Devanagari still has the same combinations.

  1. t for both voiceless retroflex and dental
  2. th for both voiced retroflex and dental.

For example, the English spelling of an Atal and Atul for a north Indian will change to Atal and Athul for a south Indian.

Now, who is correct? The answer is neither, nor maybe both.

Please be aware that this cannot be a spelling bee. Indian native languages are exceptionally and perfectly capable of representing all their native sounds in their preferred scripts. The trouble comes only when one needs to write them in a foreign language such as English. In English, however, we simply do not have a one-to-one mapping for all the sounds of Indian origin. Why should they? Understandably this is by design.

If it is of any consolation, the vice versa is true as well. For instance, we can never write the word ‘acid’ in any Indian languages, convincingly. It can be either ‘A-sid’ or ‘aasid’, and that is the best you can get. Hence the verdict is, the argument itself is wrong. Unless we are talking about Unicode or international phonetic symbols as foreign languages of consideration, both representations should and are correct. Stop arguing now.

Now that we have settled that debate let me pose a counter-question on a related topic. Why do all North Indians write few words such as Saree, Rathore and Kachra with two different representations or even pronounce differently? You must be familiar with Saadi, Rathod and Kachda.

Most of the time, it is pronounced as a Sadi and written Saree? This is very annoying for a non-native.

Disclosure. I am not a native Hindi speaker; I did not even have proper formal education on Hindi. I studied Hindi as my fourth language, but my Hindi teacher was in a great hurry and skipped a topic or few, such as alphabet! Obviously, she could not answer may of such questions we had. Why such a level of imperfections

  1. Why does Hindi omit (or swallow) the final vowel, e.g., Kannad for Kannada?
  2. Why does turtle have strange spelling ending with a vowel KachuAA instead of Kachuva?
  3. Why does translation for Yesterday and Tomorrow has the same word leaving it to its verb to decide the fate?
  4. And the most crucial question is, why on earth Hindi does not end a word with a consonant and must be a vowel? I mean, Hindi’s mother Sanskrit does the proper ending of each word. E.g., In Hindi Jal and Jala written the same. At the same time, Sanskrit differentiates even with the same script of Devanagari.

What surprised me the most is my friends with proper education on Hindi could not explain this deviation of Hindi from her mother, (Samskrutam) Sanskrit.

In my quest for knowledge, I had asked many many of my friends on these discrepancies. I quizzed them precisely on the r spelling for d sound. Most of them dint have a clue but a few attempted explaining it to me. Apparently, the language Hindi has a sound/letter that falls somewhere between an ‘r‘ and a ‘d‘. Unfortunately, this consonant does not sit in a scientifically classified and tabulated alphabet of Indian languages. So, it has to be foreign.

It’s called Nuqta. Let me quote Manisha Kulshreshtha, and Ramkumar Mathur on what they wrote in Dialect Accent Features for Establishing Speaker Identity. A few sounds, borrowed from the other languages like Persian and Arabic, are written with a dot (Bindu or nuktā). Many people who speak Hindi as a second language, especially those who come from rural backgrounds and do not speak conventional Hindi (also called Khariboli), or speak in one of its dialects, pronounce these sounds as their nearest equivalents.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of a dot (period). You can bring this confusing sound by merely putting a period, below or on the side, wherever you find some space. It should be done for one and the only purpose – to represent a foreign sound, especially with loan words. By definition, anything and everything can be covered here, including click sound of African languages. Nuqta was introduced in Devanagari to accommodate pronunciation India’s invaders bought in.

This is brilliant stuff; I have full clarity now. Absolutely useless! But still brilliant!

This raises more questions than answers. Why on earth would you consider sadi/saree is a foreign loaned word? Have you seen anyone in central Asia or the middle east wearing it? The Saree, its style, its etymology – they all have origins in India. It existed even before Hindi was even born, let’s not even talk about loans.

Photo by Nivedita Singh on

The answer is very straightforward. This is the side effect of a hangover by Turkik and Persian speaking empires ruling us. We could not even decide if a piece of clothing we wore for a millennium, was foreign or Indian. Finally, we settled, and we decided its foreign. Well done there.

Let me know your thoughts, do write your opinion on the comments section.

The Spelling Bee, Asian linguist Kings and Mendeleev table – Part2

(In continuation from my previous post)

Story of the Thai script is quite the opposite of that of Korean. The only similarity is It was also created by a Thai King (Rama Khamhaeng the Great ขุนรามคำแหงมหาราช). I really can’t provide you with an explanation on why any royalty gets into the business of creating the scripts.  I can’t pronounce his other names – so let me stick to Rama.

King Rama borrowed and derived Thai writing script from the cultural headquarters of Thailand from that time – India. It started off well and gotten into a lot of “expansion” as it was allowed to evolve to all radial directions and dimensions. Eventually, all hell broke loose, and now spellings for single sound can vary based on tone, context, position and maybe even mood of the speaker. For example, there are at least 8 ways you can write t (ฏ, ต, ฐ,ฒ, ถ, ท, ธ, ฑ) Take your pick. I am not even beginning to explain how difficult it is to learn.

VERDICT: Thai seems to make the best fit for Spelling Bee and maybe even for an enigma machine. !!

Finally, let’s come to India. India has a ‘table’ in its place for of alphabet system, and this feature is typical for most Indic languages. By Definition of ‘Table’, It’s literally a two-dimensional array of consonants arranged scientifically. No other way of writing will be a criminal misunderstanding of the reason behind. Unfortunately, a lot of native speakers do not why. Indians designed the 2D table of consonants based on the human mouth

  1. Rows represent how tongue, Lips and dental participation in sound.
  2. Columns represent if they are Voiced or not, aspirated or not and finally nasal! That’s it.
Did the Sanskrit alphabet influence Mendeleev’s periodic table?

It’s a shame that the science behind this arrangement is advertised enough.

Finally, let’s talk about the Mendeleev table. We all know Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, a Russian physicist who had taken up a task to organize all basic elements of earth (or universe) in a precise scientific order. He eventually sequenced them in a tabular format based on atomic numbers/weight.

A beautiful bathtub curtain also attributed to him 🙂

While designing the table, Mendeleev had to leave a few cells blank as those elements were not invented by then. He had to give provisional names for those, and he chose Sanskrit number pre-fixes. They were precisely Eka, dvi and tri. Some of the elements he predicted were:  eka-boron, Eka-aluminium, eka-silicon, dvi-manganese and dvi-lanthanum and so on. This nomenclature system is well documented in academic circles. Still, I am guessing this is the first time you hear about.

Also, just there is an argument that Mendeleev was inspired by 2D alphabet design for Periodic table design. Just like an alphabet table; a few specific columns in the Mendeleev table have particular properties. E.g. Metal, or inert gases and so on. There is a detailed piece on it in Scientific American. Please go through. I am not vouching for this, but it’s hard to dismiss this.

The Spelling Bee, Asian linguist Kings and Mendeleev table – Part1

Once again, it’s one of those “a bit of that, a dash of that” kind of posts. I am covering The spelling bee, Asian linguist Kings and Mendeleev table in this. Do not worry, It’s my job to combine three seemingly mutually exclusive topics. I am quite impressed myself writing it, there is quite a good possibility that you might like as well. 😊

Okay, Let’s start with the Spelling Bee. I argue that Spelling Bee is an entirely pointless undertaking and It, unfortunately, chooses to celebrate the wrong attribute of the Language – the imperfection. Think about this, the fundamental premise of this competition is based on the weakness of the Language, not strength. Try disputing this: You cannot never hold such a contest for a language when it has ‘only one way to write a sound and only one way to pronounce a letter’. Let’s say Korean, Mandarin of many of Indian languages.

I mean no offence to 1st generation Indo-American parents who (obviously) forced their second-generation Indo-American kids to memorize thousands of words. In fact, despite the overwhelming stereotype, we Indian have naturally and particularly disadvantaged to even compete. Its called knowledge of mother tongue. Yet, Indian’s go on to win the contests. Probably, the only way 2nd generation Indo-American are winning it is by unlearning how their mother tongue works. For them, Language is memorization rather than analytical.

Another thing I have observed is the contest treats for loan words badly – predominantly Asian. Let me provide a real example for you from Scripps National contest, “abinaya” and “apparently” that was correct Spelling. Really? How do then know? Who signed it off? A north Indian will swallow an ‘a’ and spell it as abinay. A south Indian will add an ‘h’ and spell it abhinaya. A Bengali might even spell it Obinaya, and he is obviously correct.

During my first ever test on English (obviously When I was a little kid) I spelt these: ‘Skool’ for school and ‘siti’ for the city. In my defence, I was learning my third Language chronologically, and the previous two had some sort of pattern in writing system – English didn’t. Just an off-topic trivia, Few of the boys managed to spell-like me and girls spelt it correctly. I am no expert on gender studies, but does this indicate Boys attend Language as an analytical problem rather than memorization problem?

Let’s inspect some languages for its fitment for a contest like a Spelling bee.

Spanish: jalapeño is pronounced as /ˌhæləˈpeɪnjoʊ/. And I rest my case.

French: The most famous French phrase in pre liberalized India was “bourgeois capitalism”. Socialism transfused newspapers started and ended their editorial with these phrases. It is apparently pronounced /ˈbʊə(r)ʒwɑː/that’s it. Its two sounds making a word!

Mandarin, however, has an entirely different approach to writing. Each word has its own symbol and vice versa. It’s incredibly unambiguous as long as you can memorize thousands of them. No scope for a spelling Bee, you either know a symbol, or you don’t.

Now comes my new favourite, Korean (Hangeul or Han’gŭ 한글 ) Language is widely regarded as one of the most straightforward scripts (Chosŏn 조선글 muntcha writing system) to learn and one of the most scientific as well. Writing in Korean is as simple as the recipe of an ice cube. You take an unambiguous consonant (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ), add an unambiguous vowel (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ). You have an unmistakable sound, then you literally put it in a block!. Apparently, it wasn’t always like this. Fed up of illiteracy of his subjects, the king “Sejong the Great” (세종대왕) created the most straightforward script of all.

One of the most beautiful features of this script is strokes of the Symbols/letters. Some of them are caricatured versions of human mouth when that sound is actually pronounced. HOW COOL IS THAT!

The Case for Hangul as the World’s Easiest Writing System – Photo from Double consonants are not listed.

Continued as Part 2 here

Can non-Indians win spelling bee?

Can non-Indians win spelling bee? Beats me too, How can Indians learn million languages of their own and learn English additionally to an extent of winning spelling bee? Apparently they do, with “yemm..wo..wo and then yenn”.

If you look at other side of this, Spelling bee cannot be conducted in any Indian languages. Only English (I think) have this privilege.  None of them have this “disability” of “not spelling what is pronounced” and “not pronouncing what is written”. In other words, almost all Indian languages (with has script e.g Hindi), any word can be pronounced only one way and written too, no ambiguity. I heard rest of the Asian languages are designed this way too, Arabic, Chinese etc.

Anyways, enjoy this Young Turks video on latest spelling bee.

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