Studying Tamil – Mnemonics: “Stop” Sound Consonants in Verse


G’day. There are around 18 basic consonants in written Tamil, with six more “Grantha” letters for Sanskrit loanwords and other sounds borrowed from other languages. Here’re the mnemonics for the five stop-sound consonants in their ‘pure’ forms in the Tamil syllabary. Here I give the letters, the basic sound of each given the closest equivalents in other languages, the Roman letter and numeral shapes the Tamil letter suggests, while the number of syllables follows a 5-7-5-7-7 tanka form, with one line of verse for each letter. Below, I’ll provide the source and my reasoning for each line of verse. I’ll point out that though the mnemonics are meaningful, and so memorable to me, but that they may not be so for others as well, so bear with me. the format is: Tamil letter | basic sound | typical pronunciation example | sound subtype | shape mnemonic | verse line mnemonic.

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This verse is based on the Dreamlands of H.P. Lovecraft, in part from his novel The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and a major entry-point to the land of Dream, the Enchanted Wood, the site of many disappearances of dreamers, be those by the resident Zoogs or as suggested here, Men of Leng who might have sent parties to abduct slaves from among unlucky travellers from the Waking World.

Note the bold Roman letters in each line of verse. I’m using the basic shape cues from each Tamil letter, minus the pulli, or dot, of the consonant’s pure form in the native script shown to the far left.

For line one, the letter Ka, the first “t” suggests the shape of that Roman letter in the uppercase, the first “k” from the sound of the letter, and “five” from the shape of that base-ten numeral in the letter.

For line two, the “t” and “f” suggests the shape of those Roman letters in the Tamil Cha, with one of its sounds suggested in “Enchanted.”

For line three, the “t” in “goatish,” and “Lengites,” are cues to the pronunciation of the consonant, while the uppercase “L” in “Lengites” uses the Roman letter as a useful recognition and recall cue. This is usually pronounced as a retroflex T sound, made by pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth when speaking.

In line four, the Tamil letter shape suggests a Roman letter “T” and “h,” which both fit well by striking correlation of shape and combined sound with the softer dental “th” of the consonant in the verse words “the” and “Other.”

Line five uses a letter-shape mnemonic not in the verse itself, but easily visualized as an uppercase Roman L facing itself as though in a mirror reflection, while in the verse, the single bold “p” in “kidnapping” (we must be careful not to confuse single consonants with doubled ones, as many Tamil words can differ only subtly in that respect and but are very different in meaning.) serves as a cue for the pronunciation of the Tamil letter.

Much of the rest of the material in the verse is used to create a coherent narrative and make easier memorization and recall of the functional details.

This is the first of such a series of verses, the rest dealing with other consonants (and the Grantha letters) of Tamil syllabary. For simplicity, I’ve chosen to provide pronunciation of the vowels in their pure form. This means leaving out some details of how each sound is spoken depending on word placement and the letter’s relation to other sounds in a word before or after it. It is simply a recall and recognition tool I use in my language studies that I find useful for learning.

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