Musa for Tamil
தமிழுக்கு மூசா

Like most languages, Tamil has a few particularities. Most important, voicing is allophonic, so that instead of having both voiced and unvoiced stop phonemes (or even four sets, with aspirated and breathy stops, as do the Indo-Aryan languages), Tamil has one set of phonemic stops, which are voiced in some contexts and unvoiced in others. But Musa writes them as they are pronounced, so the Musa alphabet for Tamil includes both sets.

The Tamil script also distinguishes between dental and alveolar stops, although this distinction has been lost in the modern language, except for the letters t and n when geminate (doubled). In those cases, Musa writes the alveolar sounds with an apical suffix .


Tamil has a classic five-vowel system with both short vowels (in red) and long vowels, plus two diphthongs:

 
i: i u u:
 
e: e o o:
  
aj ʌ (a) a: aw

Stressed vowels are written high. Usually, the first syllable in a word is stressed, but the stress moves to the second syllable if the first has a short vowel.


Letters on a yellow background are only used in foreign words, including those from Sanskrit, Arabic and English.

ப¹² p த¹² ற¹² t ட² ʈ ச¹² ʧ க¹² k
பⁿ b த³ⁿ d ட³ⁿ ɖ சⁿ ஜ ʤ கⁿ g
ஃப f ச³ ஸ s ʂ sh க³ ஹ h
m ந ன n ɳ ɲ ŋ
ஃஜ z ɾ ɻ ற³ⁿ r
ப³ வ ʋ l ɭ j

¹ initial ² geminate ³ intervocalic ⁿ postnasal


The current Tamil script, like all Brahmi-derived scripts, is an abugida, in which vowels are combined with the preceding consonant. Abugidas handle the usual sequences of consonant plus vowel very well, but have to use tricks to handle consonants without a following vowel - consonant clusters, gemination or final consonants - and vowels without a preceding consonant.

The Brahmi scripts offer independent symbols for vowels without a preceding consonant, but they thus lose the identity of independent and compound vowels, and they duplicate letters. Some Brahmi scripts - Thaana, Lepcha, Burmese, Thai, Lao, Khmer, Lontana and Javanese - offer a "silent consonant" to which the normal compound vowel signs are attached; that's a better idea, but Tamil doesn't use it.

For consonants without a following vowel, most abugidas offer a "silent vowel". In the case of Tamil, that sign is called a puḷḷi. Others offer conjuncts: compounds of two consonants to which the normal vowel signs are attached to spell the vowel following the consonant cluster.

Musa takes a much more direct approach, writing Tamil in Akshara gait. Vowels are written under the preceding consonants - if they dion't have one, a Break is used. Long marks and offglides are written in the next column.


Now that you know the letters, why not try to read some Tamil written in Musa?

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