Canada isn't Kannada, ay (ಎ)?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/02/13 10:16 -05:00, original URI:

More fun from that India trip....

One of the interesting things that can happen as a government works to keep language in the minds and hearts of people is that the language ends up getting used. The results can be interesting or amusing or even dangerous (thinking back to previous blogs about Irish and Welsh) but there are even more fascinating concepts when you involve Indic languages like Kannada (a-la-Bangalore or Bengaluru (Bengalūru)?).

Let's take a look at the back of the buses in Bengalūru for a moment....

Like vehicles around the world, they have license plates. But let's take a closer look:

I was seeing these license plates all week and every time I did I scrambled for my camera but kept missing getting the picture all week -- this one I got on the way to the airport, it was the closest to non-blurry that I was able to get from the back of a moving taxi!

On the left side is the license plate like you see on vehicles throughout the city. But if you look on the right, there is that same license plate, using the Kannada script and language!

Now this is fascinating on several levels -- first and foremost it is the sort of thing that makes the idea of internationalizing StrCmpLogicalW of more than just theoretical interest!

Then there is taking 0123456789 in Kannada when you get ೦೧೨೩೪೫೬೭೮೯ and by coincidence 01 looks like ON and 1019 looks like NONE. :-)

But there is another interesting thing that happens for the language. Do you see it?

Just like with Hebrew, where IBM becomes יבמ rather than יבם (mentioned previously here), KA becomes not (KANNADA LETTER KA) or ಕಾ (ending with a KANNADA VOWEL SIGN AA) or even ಕೆ (ending with a KANNADA VOWEL SIGN E), it is instead ending with (an independent KANNADA LETTER E) -- which gives hints on both how it is pronounced if one is a native speaker, but clearly making sure people don't make it a single word KA but instead something that sounds like KAY-AAY (the KANNADA A and AA sound more like AHH than AAY, as opposed to the E).

Do you also see how that KANNADA LETTER E surrounds the second word in order to allow the letters to be pronounced not as a word but as individual letters, and how it seems possibly happier not using (KANNADA LETTER FA) but instead something closer maybe to (KANNADA LETTER PHA)?

A native speaker can probably explain better about what is going on here exactly, but one thing is clear -- the license plate really is quite a literal transliteration of English pronunciations into Kannada. That is indescribably cool, in my opinion!


This post brought to you by(U+0c8e, aka KANNADA LETTER E)

# Oliver Slay on 13 Feb 2008 11:44 AM:

Looks like ಫ್  with the dot very close to the line.. from here:

# Michael S. Kaplan on 13 Feb 2008 11:47 AM:

Yep, those are the lines I was thinking on... .

Fascinating -- I wonder what made "aay-ph" a better choice than "aay-f" for the letter "F" here? :-)

Language rocks.

# jonlfh on 13 Feb 2008 12:18 PM:

Actually, KANNADA LETTER FA is a misnomer for KANNADA LETTER LLLA, which probably corresponds to the last letter of Tamil (normally transcribed as ZH), so it isn't even a symbol for the /f/ sound.

see for a list of other misnamed characters.

Since Kannada doesn't have a native /f/ sound, they make do by using /ph/ as their closest approximation. It's actually quite common among Indic systems to use some sort of /p/ with some sort of modifier, such as nukta or aytham to represent /f/ (or similarly for other foreign sounds).

Just two cents from an irregular reader.

Armchair linguistics rocks! :D

# Michael S. Kaplan on 13 Feb 2008 1:14 PM:

Aha, then the interesting thing in this case is another bad Unicode character name. :-)

Great info, thanks!

# Sandeep on 14 Feb 2008 3:38 AM:

License plates are generally a literal transliteration of English pronunciations into respective language in India. In Maharashtra also this is common. So a number like MH 1 A 1001 will be like एम एच १ ए १००१  .

# Pavanaja U B on 14 Feb 2008 12:06 PM:

Canada is written as ಕೆನಡ in Kannada. Yes, FA is a misnomer in Kannada Unicode for the letter LLLA.


# Oliver Slay on 29 Jul 2008 10:35 PM:

The number plates were possibly read out to the person writing the Kannada plate by someone reading in English-style ... the English speaker reads 'kay-ay 0 1, eff-ay 1 0 1 9' and not 'kar 0 1, far one thousand and nineteen' - so the sounds of the English reading were written on the number plate in Kannada script.

[A Japanese or Thai reader etc would read it 'ka ... fa....' ]

Please consider a donation to keep this archive running, maintained and free of advertising.
Donate €20 or more to receive an offline copy of the whole archive including all images.

referenced by

2010/07/14 License plate curiosity in Tamil Nadu

2008/02/14 More on license plates in Bengalūru, and in India

go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day