Friday, March 05, 2010

South India’s fascination with the alphabet ‘h’

I’ve been in Bangalore for more than 3-and-a-half years now. During these years of my stay in south India, I’ve visited some or the other parts of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh. But one mystery still remains unrevealed to question still remains unanswered...why ‘h’? South India’s fascination with the alphabet ‘h’ was known to me even before my arrival in south India. Let me explain you the mystery. As you travel southwards across India, many things change like temperature, language, culture, etc. Among all these changes, one subtle change bothers me more than anything else. Why does ‘t’ get converted to ‘th’ in south India? Kartik becomes Karthik, Lalita becomes Lalitha, Gayatri becomes Gayathri...My knowledge was limited to the conversion of ‘t’ to ‘th’, until one day I found out the conversion of “Jeevan beema nagar” to “Jeevan bheema nagar”. Now, ‘b’ gets converted to ‘bh’. Interesting, isn’t it? The story doesn't end there. One fine day I observed "Shakti" getting converted to "Sakthi" and "Nandini" to "Nandhini"...Chaos !!!
I’ve asked this question to many of my south Indian friends. But I’m yet to get a satisfactory answer. One argument is that ‘h’ is added to differentiate between the pronunciations of 'त' and 'ट'. ‘t’ stands for 'ट' while ‘th’ stands for 'त', as they say. In other parts of India, ‘th’ stands for 'थ' while ‘t’ stands both for 'त' and 'ट'. But then converting ‘t’ to ‘th’ doesn’t solve the problem at hand, to say the least. One is still left with the confusion between 'त' and 'थ'. Plus, it adds up more to the confusion created due to different spellings of the same name in south India and the rest of India. Also, I’ve found out a major flaw in this theory. If ’t’ is pronounced as 'ट', how do you pronounce 'Tamilnadu'? 'टमिलनाडू' ? Shouldn't it be spelled as 'Thamilnadu'? Similarly, are they demanding a separate state of 'टेलंगाणा'? My dear South Indian friends, please justify this.

Disclaimer: This post should be taken in a casual manner. I did not intend to hurt anyone's feelings.


  1. This is so mean to our south Indian brothers and sisters. Kapil, just because you want to write something funny, do you really have to come up with something like this? This ain't cool man...

    Kidding man, good one!!! :-P

  2. Ha Ha.. I am European :) No comments

  3. Add to this shobhit's ever lasting plight of transforming into shobith.. (okay, they like h a lot, so fondly they added it at the very end, but why to abduct the innocent h fellow following b? I mean WHY?)

  4. @black c: Thanks :)
    @Santosh: How come u still not 'Santhosh'?
    @Shobhit: My full sympathies!
    @Pratyush: That's not the point :)

  5. I can explain the reason atleast for my language Tamil.

    There is no 'ta' sound in Tamil. There is only 'tha' and 'da'. That is why you will see 'h' added with 't' in English. Phonetically speaking, 'th' sound in english is not the same as the sound in tamil. So few people use 't' and many people use 'th'. The word tamil itself is wrong spelling but there is no accurate way to represent it. So people continued with tamil instead of thamil.

    Tamil is oldest of dravidian languages. So probably would have influenced other south indian langugages too.

  6. I dont know about Kannada or Telugu, but as per my knowledge of Tamil, there is single letter for 4 letters in devnagri, e.g., there is single alphabet த for त थ द ध. This could be the reason they do not differentiate between t & th. In fact, in spelling of Murlitharan, instead of 'dh', 'th' is used, as it represents same alphabet in Tamil.

  7. one more PhD topic. This is issue with Research students . Don't think from brain think from heart ..Like SRK way "

  8. @Senthil & Ninad: Thanks guys for your inputs. Good knowledge add.

    Having written all this, I'd also like to mention that these subtle differences indeed make India an interesting & wonderful country to live in! How boring the life wud be if all of us were similar!

  9. k.. wanna actually ask.. why do north indian's hate 'h'.. :D....

    many ppl miss my golden 'h' at the end .. and write it as 'Prashant'....

  10. @Prashant: because ur name is प्रशांत and not प्रशांथ

  11. I guess reason lies in Mathematics..
    They like hyperbolic more than circular...

    I know you are looking for my head.hahaha!

  12. Te thopic was intheresting...on thop of ith, te way u wrothe...keep ith up!

    1. hehehehehehehehehe.....great comment dude!!!!

  13. thanks for writing this blog. now i can get my pay slips corrected from abhijith to abhijit

  14. @Bhise, Prajakt, Chandra: Thanks :)
    @Abhijit: abe tu bach gaya, dhote ka dothe kiya hota to kya hota soch ;)

  15. but people may pronounce prashant as प्र शां ट that's how its done. now you can do the math.

  16. @Anonymous: Agree! That's the limitation of English language. It doesn't have enough number of alphabets to represent the complete set of Indian languages' alphabets. That results into a one-to-many mapping. But my point is that using 'th' in place of 't' rather aggravates the issue, much less solves it. Because we are overloading 'th' to represent for थ, ठ & त.

    Also, my another concern is the inconsistency followed with this approach(Tamilnadu, Telangana, etc). Instead, we could have opted for a better solution like 't' for त, 'T' for ट, 'th' for थ, 'Th' for ठ. What say?

  17. t' for त, 'T' for ट, 'th' for थ, 'Th' for ठ.
    Not a bad idea, but then one could never write Telangana with a capital T eg. at the beginning of a sentence.

  18. Nice post ...If any one learn tamil language means Tamil alphabets 1 is one of the best i Phone app. Its very useful for all the age groups to learn Tamil in an easy way...

  19. There is a pattern which you have missed.They don't use the "h" at the start.Rather,they add it when the t or th what ever you wish to call and read it as, appears in the middle or in the end.
    And yes,tams are known to swallow the h which appears in the start,as someone pointed out earlier,it's the lack of conversion standards between english and the indian languages.

  20. Also,you are so short sighted! it surprises me so much that it makes me laugh.
    You seem to be intrigued and point fingers at the south indians for all the t and th stuff but fail to look at the bigger picture!
    In case you don't have the power to look beyond your own boundaries let me bring it your kind attention,the rest of the world kind of follows the south indian way of using th in place of t for t/th in most cases. Forget the Lankans as you'll include them as south indians any which way. herath,ajantha just to name a few.
    How did you miss Elizabeth,Gareth,Perth and a hell load of similar names? well,before you say they're right in using th,just try spelling it and pronouncing them the indian way.The mahapraana sounds horrible! elizabetthh! garetth! pertthh!!

  21. Haha now may i ask why the north indians are so different from the entire world,yet consider the south indians as some extra-terrestrials? :p
    Hell! south and north. there you go. can't get any better than must spell it as nort and sout,right :p

  22. No offence meant by my posts above and none taken by the article in question :)

  23. To add to that the consummately riduculous "zh" to represent the "tongue deep inside touching the upper palate" sound closest to "la". Such as the puritan "Tamizh"

    Whoever came up with that "zh" thought the whole world would know how to pronounce it.

    "zh" sounds more like "jh" than the "la" with the tongue deep inside.

    No offense but Tamil is majorly deficient in many phonetic pronunciations

  24. tats becos only ur stupid language hindi has so many thas and dhas.. bitch please..! don bring in ur complex language structures into our simple languages.. tis complexity and inadaptability made sanskrit die...

  25. There is no right way to write Indian names in English...
    The English alphabet was never meant for Indian languages, both Aryan and Dravidian families included.
    All spellings are based on us trying to "force" English to fit with Indian languages.
    So, to call a spelling "right"/"wrong" is incorrect.

    More on this post:

    PS: As someone pointed out, It's better that you understand the history and alphabets of other languages before commenting on how they are transliterated...

  26. How will they spell ''Rahul'' in south indian language, which is a very famous name in India.'' Naam to sunaa hi hogaa'':D