One of the British commentators on Star Sports, showing the 2014 T20 Cricket World Cup pronounces the name of Sri Lankan bowler Mallinga as “Mallingar.” Have you noticed? Some, but not all, of the news anchors on BBC World, often pronounce India and China as Indiar (or Indyer) and Chiner, respectively. Some, but not all. Why?
Most of you may have read Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar and remember a character called Mark Antony or Marcus Antonius. The months July & August are named after Julius and Augustus Caesar.
Have you wondered why they months are not called Julius and Augustus instead? What is this “us” suffix of some Roman names: Brutus, Cassius, Aurelius? And why are they not used by modern Italians? Similarly why do some Greeks have name ending in “es” – Socrates, Archimedes, Thales, Hercules?
If you studied Hindi or Sanskrit, you remember the vowel series : a, aa, i, ee, u, oo, etc.going along nicely, then suddenly they finish with “um”, “ahaa” and you wondered what on earth that was all about?
Ok, I didn’t wonder about any of these until recently.
The um ahaa are not really vowels, they are called anusvara and visarga, respectively. Several words in Sanskrit end in not with a vowel or consonant as the last sound, but with this visarga, the ahaa sound.
So names like Rama, Krishna, Brahma, Bhima, Ashva and Vrushaba, are really pronounced Ramaha, Krishnaha, Brahmaha, Bhimaha, Ashvaha, Vrsuhabaha. In Hindi, and other regional Aryan languages they lose this terminal visarga, and even the short vowel a sound and are pronounced Ram, Krishan, Brahm, Bhim, etc.
Some names ending in short i or short u, as in Hari, Guru which end in a visarga are pronounced Harihi, Guruhu. In fact writing doesn’t properly, there is not a full finish of the breath of air coming from the mouth to finish these sounds. That is why the separate sound ha ह is not used to spell these words when they are written. This visarga was the soft expulsion of breath that accompanied the last short vowel pronounced among the earliest speakers of Sanskrit – the Vedic people – and was included by them in their alphabet.
Some of you may know that in 1784, Sir William Jones, an employee of the East India Company, Judge of the Calcutta High Court, founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, discovered and formally wrote about the linguistic connections among Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, which is now called the Indo-European language group. Modern linguistics, the comparative study of the common roots of languages, their geographic origins, grammars, etc begins with this hypothesis by Jones. In 1816, the Dravidian group of languages was discovered to be separate from the Sanskritic Indo-Aryan by FW Ellis in Madras, and in 1856, Robert Caldwell discovered the Munda group of languages spoken in India.
The es & us endings of the Greek & Roman names, or words, as in Socrates and Marcus Antonius, are the visargas of those languages : i.e. the Sanskrit versions of these name would have been Socrateehi साक्रेटीः or Markaha Antoniaha मार्कः अन्टोनियः! And this continues in some sections of the English speaking population of Britain today, whose visarga is the “ar” sound – hence Indyar, Chinar. And Lasith Malingar मलिङ्गः !
Incidentally, in a biography of Paul Dirac, “The Strangest Man”, its author Graham Farmelo mentions that natives of the town Bristol, like Dirac, used an “AL” visarga – in his words, “Bristol is the town that turns ideas into ideals and areas into aerials.”
Tailpiece My Sanskrit teacher Balasubramanian, says George W Bush pronounces English numbers with Tamil phonemes. Ok, read that sentence again J What he means is, Bush would say “Fordy fie” when he meant “Forty five.”