Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Read in Tamil - The Easier Way?

Scripts are basically symbols or characters used to convey a message in written format. What you are reading now is in the English language. But it is written using the Roman Script. The Roman Script is also known as the Latin Script.


The Tamil language is not written in the Roman Script. It is written in the Vatteluttu Script. The letters are rounded. Vatteluttu Script contains syllabic letters unlike the alphabetic letters of the Roman Script.

The Roman Script contains only 26 letters. 5 vowels and 21 consonants. It is alphabetic, so there is no separate letters for syllables.

Vatteluttu Script used for Tamil contains 12 vowels and 18 consonants. Since it is a syllabic script, each syllable will have a letter to represent it. Which means, it has 12 + 18 + (12 X 18) = 246 letters plus a special letter called Aytam, a total of 247 letters.

This does not include the 5 loan Sanskrit consonants. If those were to be included. the total number of letters will be higher.

The evolution of the script used for Tamil language
If you want to read in Tamil language, you have to first learn the Vatteluttu Script. Without learning this script, you will not be able to read anything published in Tamil. Imagine trying to read my blog post without knowing the Roman Script.

Which means, to know Tamil, you will need to learn the over 200 letters of the script. Memorize it, identify it, know how to use it else forget about reading a simple sentence in Tamil.

Many youngsters today do not know how to read Tamil passages. Even I was lost at one point of time as I am not from Tamil school. I actually learned the Vatteluttu Script on my own, without a teacher.

I told myself that there should be an easier way to learn Tamil. Not many will afford to spend time to learn the Vatteluttu script. That is when I stumbled upon a project by the International Organization for Standardization or more commonly known as ISO.

The team at ISO came up with a format known as ISO 15919. This format can be used to write the various languages of India using one script. Which means, you can use it for Malayalam, Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu and even Tamil. A country like India with a population of over 1 billion and dozens of languages will surely find it very helpful to use a common script.

One writing script for all!

The ISO 15919 format uses only 35 letters as it is alphabetic

Such format can be used along the native script on every signboard. It also has other benefits.

Firstly, the ISO 15919 format is alphabetic, not syllabic. As such, you no longer need to know over 200 letters for Tamil. With the ISO 15919 format, you only need about 35 letters to write.

The letters are also easier to remember as it is the modified version of the existing Roman Script.

Since it has minimal letters and easy to remember, the learning process is definitely going to be faster. It only took me an hour to memorize the ISO format. Because, I am already familiar with Roman Script since I was a kid. I only had to know the sound produced by the letters.

I then tested my reading skills. It was easier to read Tamil using the ISO format compared with the Vatteluttu Script. There were no errors in the construction of sentence too.

Take a look at the following example:

Vatteluttu Script
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
என் மனம் மிக அலை பாயுதே
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா

நிலை பெயராது சிலை போலவே நின்று
நிலை பெயராது சிலை போலவே நின்று
மிக விநோதமான முரளிதரா
என் மனம் அலை பாயுதே

தெளிந்த நிலவு பட்டப் பகல் போல் எரியுதே
திக்கு நோக்கி என்னிரு புருவம் நெரியுதே
கனிந்த உன் வேணுகானம் காற்றில் வருகுதே
கண்கள் சொருகி ஒரு விதமாய் வருகுதே!

தனித்த மனத்தில் உருக்கி பதத்தை
எனக்கு அளித்து மகிழ்த்த வா
ஒரு தனித்த வனத்தில் அணைத்து எனக்கு
உணர்ச்சி கொடுத்து முகிழ்த்தவா!
கணைகடல் அலையினில் கதிரவன் ஒளியென
இணையிரு கழல் எனக்களித்தவா!
கதறி மனமுருகி நான் அழைக்கவா
இதர மாதருடன் நீ களிக்கவோ
இது தகுமோ? இது முறையோ?
இது தருமம் தானோ?

குழல் ஊதிடும் பொழுது ஆடிடிடும்
குழைகள் போலவே
மனது வேதனை மிகவோடு

அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா
என் மனம் மிக அலை பாயுதே
உன் ஆனந்த மோஹன வேணுகானமதில்
அலை பாயுதே கண்ணா 

Those of you who can write in Tamil, please take a piece of paper and try the ISO 15919 format and test it for yourself if it works.

Tamil is a very beautiful language. It needs to be preserved. Many modern Tamils are able to converse in Tamil but they do not know how to read in Tamil. This is because they did not learn the Vatteluttu Script.

It is good to learn Vatteluttu Script but if there is a easier solution, why not use it?

Publishing Tamil books in the ISO 15919 format will not just increase the number of readers, it will also attract more people to learn Tamil. This includes people of other races who are already familiar with Roman Script.

This is already being done for Mandarin language. A Romanised script called Pinyin is used to teach Mandarin. Making it easier to learn the language. It also adds to the growth of the language itself.

We need to look into changing our ways for the benefit of Tamil language and Tamil people. If adopting the ISO format helps, then we should look into it.

- Comments


  1. We should adopt the Pinyin strategy to promote the language. China and Singapore has done it.

  2. We should support any effort to attract more to learn Tamil. But ISO 15919 format still needed some fine tuning to suit Tamil language, since it's main focus is on Devanagari and Brahmic scripts. The noun for some of the letters still not accurate, for an example "ca" for "ச" and the use of ங், ஞ். The use of Grantha script gradually needed to be disuse and abandon so the Sanskritisation of Tamil will be stopped and the use of pure Tamil will be encouraged over the time. Thanks for the post!

  3. The Tamil language is more complex then explained. I would "try" not to change it - not because I am against it, but the complexity when it comes to the "sound timing" part of the Tamil language . Apart from what OM Tamil mentioned certain "sound changes" when two alphabets come together may also be missed. Learning Tamil will become easier is a more systematic approach is used and we must all encourage it. It was nice reading your post.

  4. The ISO format is not going to change the pronunciation or even the sound timing. It is just a matter of character replacement. Please try it and see it for yourself. It actually works. If it doesn't, kindly show me a sample Tamil sentence so that I know what you mean. Thanks.