LINGUIST List 16.718

Thu Mar 10 2005

FYI: Writing Systems: Marathi Roman Script

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        1.    Madhukar N. Gogate, Writing Systems: Marathi Roman Script

Message 1: Writing Systems: Marathi Roman Script

Date: 10-Mar-2005
From: Madhukar N. Gogate <>
Subject: Writing Systems: Marathi Roman Script

Madhukar N Gogate (Pune, India), Moderator, initiated a discussion
considering use of Roman script and Devanagari script for the Marathi
language. The discussion ran from 1 Feb 2005 to 28 Feb 2005, and can be
viewed at the URL below, see M11-M12- E03-E04 in website:

All messages are available to members as archives. Main
points of discussion are noted here.

For more information, email
Comments invited.

1. Marathi uses Devanagari (DN) script. It has many merits. It should
prosper. Emails in DN are possible but often there are font problems.
Roman script is linear and easy for typing and word-indexing. English
language has global importance. In future, there will be huge
development of electronic things, using the Roman script (lipi). DN-
based products may not be viable. So take optional Roman lipi for

2. Language and script are separate entities. Kids, blind persons and
illiterates speak a language though unable to read. Some languages
are multi-script. We use Marathi, but also use English when needed.
Similarly, use Roman when needed.

3. Roman script has only 26 symbols, which are not sufficient to
denote various Marathi sounds. There are 4 methods to tackle the
deficiency (- 1 -) Use digraphs, that is 2-letter combinations such as
aa, ae. Strictly speaking aa is not a + a, and ae is not a + e. But
imagine they are single symbols (- 2 -) Use apo = apostrophe mark.
Example - (dagad') = stone. (d, d') have slightly varying sounds. (d)
has sound of th-they in English. (d' ) has sound of d-dog in English (-
3 -) Roman script is a twin script. English treats smalls and capitals
with equal phonetic values. But Marathi may carry different values.
Examples -- a (u-up English) A (rAjA = king) d (d in dagad') D (d' in
dagad'). But intermittent capitals within words are eyesores. (- 4 -)
Give up symbols of defunct sounds. Example - (r'sh'i) may be
written as (rushi) or (rishi).

4. Generally, words should be spelled as per standard Marathi
symbols. English words such as police, icecream may be easily
respelled in Marathi as polis, aaiskrim. But people may object to
respelled names for reasons of documents and sentiment. Respelling
of technical words may hurt for science. Such words and names may
be started with capitals for cautioning. Example -- Sodium Chloride.
Its sound (sod'iyam kloraaid') may be explained. Similarly, use
capitals for starting all words in English quotations and when one is
not sure. Example -- respell as (pepar) or write (Paper).

5. Usual practice of a capital at start and a dot at end of a sentence,
deserves review. First word (with capital) of a sentence would give a
wrong signal that it is technical. There may be some unrespelled
words, with capitals, at various locations in a paragraph. A single dot
is not visible. A triple dot (...) will easily denote the end of a
sentence. Leave a blank space after it, before starting the next
sentence. Use single dots after initials of names. Sentence-ending (!
and ?) need two extra dots.

6. A change in script gives an opportunity to drop some anomalies.
For example, when English words are expressed in DN, we drop the
second ( l ) in (sell) and the silent (h) in (honest). We may change DN
forms (sarakaara, uchcha, r'sh'i, madhye, duh'kha) to Roman words
(sarkaar, utcha, rushi, madhe, dukkha). We may omit DN duality ( i -
ee, u - V oo) but take new duality (ch - ch', j - j') We may take (aa) or
(a') = (a - arm) to distinguish from (a) = (both a - american). We
may take (sat + tya = sattya = truth) (pun'+ n'ya = pun'n'ya =spiritual
merit) to distinguish from (ty - tyaag ) (n'y - pun'yaat = In Pune).
Few anomalies might persist. DN word ghara (=home) is usually
uttered as ghar, but in some recitals as ghara (Example -- he
vishvachi maaj' he ghara). Roman word would be ghar (with
optional sound ghara).

7. People will accept Roman script if it is made reasonably phonetic, if
it has only an optional status, and if it can be adopted without making
any changes in English-typing machines available with people. All
machines may not be latest models. Also, all people are not scholars.
The script should be easy. Words teraa (= 13) tel (= oil) have rhasva-
dirgha pronunciation of (e) but its symbol is common in DN. Similarly,
it may be ok to cancel the duality of (i-ee), (u-oo) in Roman. Names
Hindi, Marathi are shown in DN with dirgha (ee) at end, but we accept
rhasva ending (i) in English.

8. Above points were partly discussed. Also following -- People use
(a) for both (a, aa) in Marathi names. (aa) unduly makes Roman
words long and tedious. Make no change. But (a, aa) are needed for
phonetic clarity. Use of (a') for (aa) might help. Symbol (u') may
be reserved for (su'lfu'r) etc. A suggestion was about using (w)
in place of (v). Not ruled out, but (w) is not popular due to squeezed
shape (in manual typewriters, equal space to every symbol), its
complex symbol name, and to avoid clash of dev (= God) with English
word (dew). A suggestion was about using the stroke \ (like a
maatraa symbol in DN) and so on. It does not ensure the (a-z) link of
Marathi to the great electronic and information world. (a-z) is already
used for phone books. Spellings should also work vertically in
puzzles. A suggestion was about using diacritical marks such as a
horizontal bar above (a) to denote (aa). It was used in few scholarly
Sanskrit books. It is good but not practical, since it is absent in most
PCs and machines. Marathi has some diphthongs = vowel after
vowel. Thus -- aai = mother. Some training is required to read (aai) as
(aa + i ) and not as (a + ai).

9. Marathi M12 pdf (with few English hints) in:

gives demo of 8 Marathi proverbs. (triple dot, aa, apo, i = ee, u = oo
used. No name, no capital). Marathi does not have sounds of (a-cat)
(aw-law) except for few English words. Show them as (ae) (ao). Any
proposal of optional Roman lipi for Marathi will progress for emails,
websites etc if symbol sound relations are standardized. At present, people use
arbitrary Roman symbols for emails. Efforts are needed to propagate a practical
standard, using Marathi language, for Marathi people. This note in
English may help others too. A script should look nice. Irregular
English spellings can affect Marathi in the Roman arena. Respell
them, or take them with the capital symbol "guards".

This article neat 2 page 40 kB attachment is available on request

Linguistic Field(s): Writing Systems

Subject Language(s): Marathi (MRT)
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