Malayalam language panel moots reverting to old script

Thiruvananthapuram: An expert committee on language guidelines has recommended reverting partially to the old Malayalam script.

The recommendation was made to bring in a uniform structure to Malayalam orthography. The panel has suggested to avoid, as much as possible, the diatric moon sign (chandrakala/ചന്ദ്രക്കല) for joining ligatures.

Additionally, the committee also suggested employing the same orthography for both writing and printing, besides including the Malayalam alphabet in textbooks.

The Malayalam orthography was last revised in 1971, when it was decided to have different versions – the old one for writing and the new script in typography. The current committee has recommended a uniform script structure for several words currently in use.

It has also recommended a common othrography for the media and textbooks. The chief minister-chaired official Language Commission will make a final call on the recommendations.

Changes in ligatures

The committee’s recommendation for reverting to the old script structure is majorly on two sub-symbols and ligatures.

• ഉ, ഊ: The committee has mooted using [ു], [ൂ] for adding the ഉ and ഊ sounds.

• The panel felt that while using ഉ and ഊ with various ligatures, they lose uniformity.

• Ligatures: According to the 1971 script revision, letters except the 26 ligatures could be combined using the diatric moon sign. The ligatures in the 1971 list are still written separately in writing and print. Hence, the present committee suggested to opt for ligatures instead of writing the words separately, unless it is inevitable.

When the stress is on the phoneme, it should not be written separately, but as a single glyph (Example: ക്ക, ച്ച ). However, ligatures could be split if they are formed by two phonemes. The ligature formed by the combination of ‘ന’ and ‘റ’ should be written:

Regarding ‘റ്റ’, it could be split as ‘ററ’, if it comes beneath another grapheme. (Example: സ്റ്റ ) .

• അം, […അ: ] : In the Malayalam alphabet provided in textbooks, അം and […അ: ]should be explained as anuswaaram (the nasal sound ‘m’) and visargam (post-vocalic sound), respectively, in parenthesis.

• ള: The letter ‘ള’ was not included as a sub-symbol (example: ക്ല ) by the 1971 committee that revised the Malayalam orthography. The new panel has recommended its inclusion.

Same keyboard, revised fonts

Malayalam had about 500 scripts before the 1971 committee revised the orthography. The panel simplified the orthography, bringing down the scripts to 90. The new recommendations, if implemented, will further cut it down to 65.

However, computed fonts should be revised to support the recommended orthography, though the typing structure will remain the same. The committee pointed out that several existing fonts use the old Malayalam orthography.

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