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Deccan Herald » Edit Page » Detailed Story
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
Get the ‘zha’ right
By A N Suryanarayanan
Most Tamil or Malayalam names will be tongue twisters for newsreaders.
 

Most Tamils who are not from one particular community find it very difficult to pronounce the letter “zh” and “zha” which is only found in Tamil and Malayalam. But all Malayalis pronounce it easily! Namma Kannadigas have found an easier way: just have “la” for “zha”, which is easier, as in “Bale Hannu”.But it becomes a tongue twister in Tamil or should I say Tamizh! It is Vazhaippazham! Malayalis simply say pazham for it, as if there are no other fruits!

The joke goes that once a Tamizh teacher asked for a student’s father to meet him. When the father came, the teacher told him that his son was unable to pronounce “zha” and was always saying “ya” and that the father should keep correcting him at home. The father replied: Adhu Vayakka Payakkamunga, (for Adhu Vazhakka pazhakkamunga, meaning it was a force of habit)! Even today you hear most of the newsreaders and even 'great' Tamil leaders pronouncing "ya" or "la" for "zha".

Every self-respecting Tamilian (Tanmaanamulla Tamizhan ) takes offence when our accented 24/7 English newsreaders can’t pronounce “Cuddalore”, “Annadurai”, “Villupuram”, “Alappuzha”, “Mullapperiyar” etc! His argument is: if they can be trained to pronounce: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ottavio Quattrocchi, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Norman Swartzkoff and the like, why not “simple” Tamizh or “simble” Malayali names like the ones above?


I saw a cartoon in a paper once. The pageboy in a restaurant announces: “Call for Mr Brzezinski” and on being asked, goes on to spell out each letter of the first name. Another guest says “Initials please” and when the page says “Zbignew” and spells out each letter again, the guest says: “My name is Santhanagopalakrishnan; the call is not for me!”

I was an instructor in Staff College, Wellington and we normally have about 35 to 40 officers from “friendly foreign countries”, who come as students every year. While none of them faltered in spelling and pronouncing (after being taught) names like Adakkegodalubetta, Narasimhanaickenpalaiyam, Periyanaickenpalaiyam etc, our Indian friends can’t say or write them in full but go on to abbreviate as: “AG Betta” , “NN Palaiyam” or “PN Palaiyam”. I never could correct them, just as I cannot correct the Tamil newsreaders who can't even pronounce “zha” or even confuse the Tamil “lla” with “la” or “nna” with “na”!

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