So I was talking to my boss the other day and he had a question:
‘Which idiot decided to use the letter Z while writing Tamil names in English?’
‘Its to denote the letter ழ which is unique to the Tamil language’ I replied proudly, curling my tongue as required before uttering the sound of ‘la’ just as my grand mom had taught me the art of pronouncing the letter ‘zha- ழ‘.
But why not just use the letter ‘L‘ rather than ‘Z‘? he reasoned ‘Its much closer to the original than Z‘ he shrugged.
The man had a point.
The Z has been a misfit even in the English language. Except for Zebra, Zip or Zuckerberg, its usage is limited to algebraic formulas in math class.No wonder it was relegated to the last spot in the list of alphabets! So when Z was substituted to take the place of the letter ழ while translation, it was destined to beat the shit out of the Tamil language. Take the examples of Kanimozhi, Azhagiri and Perarivazhan. These three names have been made famous in the national media over the past year for the wrong reasons. Most Tamils should be able to pronounce ழ correctly (though I feel the capabilities of new age Tamils and Chennai’ites in pronouncing ழ is declining drastically!) But the moment you hear a non-Tamil utter these words, all hell breaks loose!
Our news channels today provide the best example of the confusion created by the letter Z in place of ழ. This is what you might hear from a non Tamil:
Today, the supreme court has asked Mrs. Kanimozzeee to appear before it on the 3rd of June. The Union minister Mr Azzaagiri has blamed the congress for all the problems of corruption. Mr. Azaagiri is also expected to meet Mrs. Kanimodi along with Mr. Pazzaa-ni-man-cum and convey their support to her on behalf of the Dravid Munnera Kazzzaaacum.
Naturally, we Tamils aren’t pleased to hear our language being butchered in such fashion on live TV. But I refuse to entirely blame the others for the sorry state of Tamil or any other language when it is in the mercy of a translation medium. I simply feel that by replacing ‘Z‘ with ‘L‘, the Tamil language will suffer much less at the hands of those who want to use it by force and not by will.
Kanimoli, Alagiri and Perarivalan are much more recognizable and user friendly compared to the dreaded Z!
I, just like many other Tamils love to use the ழ wherever necessary. But it would be stupid to expect non Tamils also to pronounce it in the same fashion. I certainly don’t make any attempt to pronounce words properly in Hindi. I think the Z has only helped in scaring away non Tamils from this magical language. Protecting the purity and sanctity of a language is important but to expect another language to also justify and preserve that sanctity is simply naive.
Every language has its own unique characteristics and the above example of translatory abuse will hold true for many such predicaments across languages of the world. Unless we find easier ways of representing our mother tongues to the outside world, they will never want to learn it or respect it. So I kindly submit to the Tamil world to drop the stupid Z. Its the best way to respect the beautiful ழ
(P.S- Thanks Abhijit for the brainwave!)