Unicode discussion

Malayalam/Representation of Vowellessness

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Multiple ways to represent vowellessness Edit

Malayalam script is an abugida with vowel (/a/)inherent in all consonants. The generic way to represent vowellessness of a consonant, is to use Visible virama(/candrakkala/) following the consonant. Example: ക് (/k/). However, following consonants have another standalone form called Chillu, to represent vowellessness together with a stop or nasal occlusion. Apart from the following consonants no other consonant has Chillu form.

Chillu Form ക്‍ ണ്‍ ന്‍ o (/anuswara/) Chillu-ya ല്‍ ള്‍ ള്‍ ര്‍ ര്‍

Along with the above mentioned properties, visible virama and Chillus have following interesting and relevant properties.

Visible Virama Edit

Depending on the word context, a visible Virama assumes following functions:

To represent the vowel ɨ (IPA) Edit

Visible Virama is used to represent closed central unrounded vowel(ɨ) which is called /samvruthokaaram/. Examples:

Example Word Type Pronunciation Meaning
അവന് With Visible Virama /ava/ for him
അവന്‍ With Chillu form /avan/ he

To represent vowel removal Edit

In many <C1, Visible Virama, C2> contexts, visible virama would represent that consonant C1 is forming a conjunct with consonant C2. Simillarly, in many <C1, Visible Virama> contexts, it acts as a inherent (/a/) vowel remover. Here it represents phonetic function of vowel remover and graphical function of joiner.

Example: ബ്ദം = ബ്‌ദം. Both meaning sound and pronounced /shabdam/.

To represent vowel removal and non-joining Edit

In many <C1, Visible Virama, C2> contexts, visible virama would represent the component word boundary in a composite word. This is the graphical function of boundary seperator(non-joiner) and the phonetic function of removing default vowel from previous consonant.

Example Word Type Pronunciation Meaning
ദേശ്‌രാഗം With Visible Virama /de:sh'ra:gam/ raaga desh
ദേശ്രാഗം With sign of ര(/ra/) /de:shrra:gam/ meaningless(illegible)

Chillu Edit

Chillu represents vowellessness together with a stop or nasal occlusion. The meaning of some words that use chillu change when the stop is removed by using consonant sign instead of the Chillu.

Pronunciation Meaning
With Chillu ന്‍‌യവനിക /van'yavanika/ big curtain
Without Chillu ന്യവനിക /vanyavanika/ wild forest

However in some other words, meaning does not change between chillu and non-chillu forms. This is comparable to 'color' and 'colour'.

Pronunciation Meaning
With Chillu ന്‍‌മ /nanma/ goodness
Without Chillu ന്മ /nanma/ goodness

Chillu ര്‍ has some special properties described in following sections:

Native user behavior on Chillu ര്‍ Edit

Native users always pronounce ര്‍ as RRA_dead; not as RA_dead. Also, they understand Malayalam as a phonetic script. Hence they assume the base letter of ര്‍ as RRA. Because of that, whenever they need to put RRA_dead in writing, they the Chillu ര്‍.

Multiple base letters‍for Chillu ര്‍ Edit

Chillu ര്‍ represents the base character RA(ര) in many Malayalam words as seen in the following examples:

Combining Words (/...rr + a.../) അവര്‍ + അല്ല മലര്‍ + അല്ല
Resulting combination (/...ra.../) അവല്ല മലല്ല

Simillarly, Chillu ര്‍ represents RRA(റ) in some others words:

Combining Words (/...rr + a.../) ഞായര്‍ + അല്ല ചാവേര്‍ + അല്ല പയര്‍ + അല്ല
Resulting combination (/...rra.../) ഞായല്ല ചാവേല്ല പയല്ല

While above words are of Dravidian origin, lots of words with Chillu ര്‍ are of Arabic or Urdu origin:

Combining Words (/...rr + a.../) കരാര്‍ + അല്ല ഖദര്‍ + അല്ല
Resulting combination (/...rra.../) കരാല്ല ഖദല്ല

Below are the corresponding scans from a dictionary:


ചാവേര്‍ in dictionary by C.Madhavan Pillai


ഞായര്‍ in dictionary by C.Madhavan Pillai


ഖദര്‍ in dictionary by C.Madhavan Pillai

This indicates that both RA(ര) and RRA(റ) have the same chillu, that is, ര്‍. Number of words that has chillu ര്‍ from RA(ര) is more than those from RRA(റ). However, the number of words with chillu ര്‍ from റ is significant.

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