A proposal to simplify the Tamil script

new vistas:The iTamil project aims to make the Tamil script easy to learn, print and display, among other things —Photo: Special Arrangement  

A team of engineers is attempting to re-imagine the script of one of the oldest-surviving classical languages in the world.

iTamil, a project of city-based Karky Research Foundation, is an attempt to reform Tamil scripts to enhance ‘simplicity, learnability, displayability, scalability and computability’ of the language, according to the research paper the team has submitted to an upcoming international conference.

Popular lyricist Madhan Karky and his team members — Sudarsanan Nesamony from Australia and Tamil Selvi from Chennai — are looking to simplify the 216 consonant-vowel ( uyir-meyyezhuththu ) combinations of Tamil using improvised symbols to denote the consonant markers.

Two irregularities

The paper approaches the revision of Tamil script by addressing two key aspects: the basic consonant-vowel shapes are mostly irregular, and the number of additional shapes required for the consonant-vowel combinations are quite complex.

“iTamil will strip away these irregularities and provide a harmonised and normalised framework,” the paper notes.

The proposed schema indicates a script that can fit in easily on a smartphone keyboard.

The Tamil script has gone through revisions in the past, most importantly, every time there was a shift in the manner in which it was written: that is from the time when it was written by hand, to when it was written using a stylus to when the printing press came into fashion.

The paper notes the major script revisions effected by the Italian Jesuit priest Constantine Joseph Beschi (Veeramamunivar) in the 18{+t}{+h}century, when printing technology was brought to South India.

The more recent revision was effected by E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar) who revised part of the Tamil letters in tune with easy typesetting in the printing press.

“Such script reforms are common and often in tune with the times we live in. The Chinese government undertook a major revision to come up with a simplified Chinese script that has led to more people learning it and using it as a business language,” he says.

There are also some larger and not-so-obvious benefits of a more simplified script.

A hypothetical environmental impact of full-scale implementation of a script like iTamil could mean saving up to 30,000 trees a year, in lieu of the average number of Tamil books that are being printed every year. (The calculation was based on a formula available

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 12:33:20 AM |

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