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Deccan Herald » Spectrum » Detailed Story
Coorg-Cox alphabet: A bone of contention
The Coorg-Cox alphabet has been developed to match the history and cultural background of the area in which Coorg language was spoken, discovers P T Bopanna.

Dr Gregg M Cox, a German linguist, has developed a new script for Kodava tak (Coorg dialect) known as the “Coorg-Cox Alphabet.” However, the script developed by Dr Cox may not make much of an impact because of the widespread use of the Kannada script.

In the absence of an own script, Kannada script is being used for writing in Kodava tak. Kodava tak, a Dravidian dialect is being spoken by a prominent section of the population living in Kodagu (Coorg) district of Karnataka.

Still in its infancy

Though Kodava tak literature is in its infancy, it has made fast strides in the recent years because of the generous contribution by philanthropists for bringing out books in Kodava tak. A serious study of Kodava tak began late in the 19th century with some European scholars undertaking a study of the language.

Dr Koravanda Appayya can be considered as a pioneer in developing a Kodava script with 50 characters, besides developing numerical symbols. Another well-known writer in both English and Kannda Dr I M Muthanna, had designed a 26-letter alphabet.

Dr Cox steps in

Dr Cox, who visited Kodagu a number of times in the past to work on the script, has made a vehement argument for developing a script for Kodava tak, instead of depending on Kannada. Says Dr Cox, in a compact disc, sent to this writer from Germany: “A language without an alphabet is like a family without a name. To use the alphabet of another language is like taking the name of your neighbour. Your true identity is forgotten or diluted in its use. With time, the original name may be lost forever, as is the case with many languages. Only those languages which have been able to express themselves in their own written form, have gained official recognition. The situation with the Kodava tak, is similar. Without a written alphabet of its own, Kodava tak may meet with the same fate as many other languages before it.”

The making of the alphabet

The Coorgi-Cox alphabet is not based on any other existing alphabet, it is customised to meet the needs and requirements of the spoken Coorg language. Dr Cox says great care was taken in selecting a character-form which would be easy to learn, use and write. In addition to these aspects, he said the alphabet had to match the cultural background of the area in which Coorg language was spoken. According to Dr Cox, the ‘word compilation’ phase began in February 2003 after a visit to Coorg. It would take another seven months of regional study before the first character design was initiated. In September, the same year, another visit to Coorg was made and several individual letters were designed and studied. It was at this point that a vowel based form was initially tested, and accepted as a working alternative to a full selection of letter based vowels.

In February 2004, on another visit to Coorg, a base of 26 consonants and 5 vowels were completed. To make things a bit more easier, vowel markings based on the five vowel sounds were incorporated for the consonants. The concept for a fully functioning Kodava tak alphabet was taking shape. With the vowel consonant marking concept, the new alphabet gained a unique feature of being able to be written in either a long or short form. To ensure that this concept functioned properly, several words, sentences and place names were translated into the new alphabet. Once this proved positive, several other studies were made in order to test the structural function within the Coorg language. Following this field study, slight changes were made to the phonetic transcription including several changes to letter forms, allowing more ease in hand writing. After the changes, the alphabet was again tested and evaluated. The evaluation proved positive, and the alphabet entered the computer design phase. Subsequently, Dr Cox said a standard computer based font system was selected to allow global compatibility. A computer expert was hired along with a graphic designer to add life to the new alphabet. The design was ready for print testing by the first week of February 2005, exactly two years after the first visit to Coorg.

Ready for use

With the new font prepared and the alphabet ready to be launched, a small instruction manual and accompanying compact disk were made which contains all of the material listed in the manual and the Coorgi-Cox font. The font itself, can be installed in any computer by using the same method of installation as any other working font.

Each letter represents a single sound and there are no capital letters. Punctuation follows the same basic rules as found in the English language.

Vowels: The vowels in the CoorgiCox alphabet are formed by using five simple markings: By combining the vowels, consonants and diphthong marker, any word in Kodava tak or incorporated foreign words can be transliterated into the Coorgi-Cox alphabet. One point to remember, foreign words have to be sounded out and then transcribed. A perfect example is the name “Cox.” The “C” has to be translated by using “k” and “x” should be translated by using a combination of “k” and “s.”

Debating point

Creating sentences in the Coorgi-Cox alphabet is as easy as creating individual words. Dr S S Yadurajan, Research Assistant, at the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, favours the existing use of Kannada script for Kodava tak, instead of adopting the Coorgri-Cox developed by the German linguist.

Dr Yadurajan says: “Firstly, Kodava tak is a Dravidian language and is very close to Kannada. Besides, the Kodava tak shares several proto-Dravidian features which are absent in Kannada. This makes the language unique. ” Referring to the point made by Dr Cox that one should not depend on other languages and should have one’s own language, Dr Yadurajan wonders why the same argument does not hold good for Roman Script, which the author ultimately wants to thrust on the Kodavas.

The Kodava Writers’ Association discussed the issues arising out of the script developed by the German linguist some time ago at an emergency meeting and decided against the need for the new script. Referring to the script developed by the German, Kokkalera Kuttappa, a Kodava activist, says: “It is interesting and surprising how a German could develop a script for the Kodavas. I feel we should use Kannada script as in the past as it would be very difficult to learn the new script and popularise it. I don’t think we need to protest against the new script developed by the German, as there may not be many who would be interested to learn this script.” Another Kodava, Kishore Cariappa remarks: “When our neighbouring Tulu and Konkani folks are sticking to Kannada, why should we change?

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