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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ചേന നന നാനാരേ

For my previous post, I got a comment that asked about rules for pronouncing ന.
Now, I don't really know of any rules so I thought why not try to derive some. Looking at some some of the words that have ന or ന്‍, I came up with the heuristics:

  • When it begins a word, ന is pronounced Na. e.g. നിലാവ്, നുള്ളി, നൃപന്‍, നെടുകേ
  • When it occurs as a simple letter (i.e. a non-compund letter), it is pronounced na. e.g. കനല്‍, കനി, മനുഷ്യന്‍, അങ്ങനെ,
  • When it occurs as the chillu (ന്‍) it is always pronounced n

These heuristics seem to work even for complex cases like നാനാനനന്‍ (Naanaananan - ബ്രഹ്മാവ്‌).

The heuristics for complex letters don't seem as simple. Let us look at some examples:

  • തിന്നുക is nnu, തിന്നു is NNu
  • പന്ന is nna, പന്നി is NNi
  • നിമ്നം is na, നഗ്നം is Na

So, there doesn't seem to be a rule.

I am tempted to say that words of Sanskrit origin use na whereas Na is used only in words of Tamil origin. But this also doesn't explain the Tamil words with pronunciation of na.


goofy said...

Thanks. I assume that you're using "Na" for the alveolar and "na" for the dental. Tamil used to make a distinction between these two sounds as well, so it would make sense that Tamil-derived words would use both.

Vinod said...

That is right. "Na" is alveolar and "na" is dental.

Yes, Tamil uses both sounds.

One thing I wasn't sure about is why in Sanskrit the anunasikam is mixed. What I mean is this:

Based on Raja Ravivarma's theory, there used to be a full set of consonants between ട and ത. This set started with "_റ" which is the single sound of റ്റ. Now if you try to say "ട ഠ ഡ ഢ ണ" starting with "_റ" you will get sounds like "_റ", "_റ്ഹ", "__റ", "___റ്ഹ", "ന" na. The second and fourth have become റ്റ in mordern mallu. The fourth sound is similar to the "റ" in "എന്റെ". The ത series gives the dental ന.

Now in Sanskrit, the ത series goes with the alveolar ന. Any idea why this came to be so?

goofy said...

I thought that spoken Tamil did not make a distinction between the alveolar and dental sounds (altho the distinction is still made in writing).

Malayalam is not fully supported on my computer (Mac OS X) so I can't be sure I'm seeing all your characters properly. Hypothesizing a full set of alveolar consonants seems to make sense, and I see that the wikipedia page on Proto-Dravidian has this theory.

I'm not sure what you're asking about Sanskrit. Sanskrit has no alveolar consonants, altho there are Devanagari letters that can be used for the alvelolar consonants: ऩ and ऱ.

Vinod said...

Okay, I was too eager to type.

1. When I said Tamil has both sounds, I should have said Tamil has both letters.

2. I didn't use any special font. I typed the letters with the underscores to distinguish them from regular letters; on second thoughts I should have mentioned it.

3. I always thought that the na in Sanskrit was alveolar. Or is it a combination of the two? (May be I have been mispronouncing it all this while.)

goofy said...

Everything I've read says that Sanskrit न is dental - the whole row from त to न is dental. It's certainly dental in Hindi. But since there is no dental-alveolar distinction in Sanskrit you could argue that you can pronounce it either way and it doesn't matter. The distinction between dental and alveolar is unique to Dravidian (in the subcontinent. There are other language families that have this distinction, for instance in Australia).

☮ Kaippally കൈപ്പള്ളി ☢ said...

I would like to invite you to join this small community of Malayalam lexicographers.


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