Lost in Translation | Tamil Consonant Mnemonics I

I came up with this while on study break, a silly but idiosyncratically memorable story that contains recall and recognition cues for two groups of Tamil consonants, the stop consonants, the nasal consonants, and thirdly, the velar fricative akkēnā lying somewhere between vowel and consonant.

As with this series’ previous post, no disrespect toward the Tamil language or its speakers is intended. The silliness of the story is an aid to memorization, not an attempt at satire.

I’ll also explain my rationales for choosing the cues I did for each part of the mnemonic narrative, to lay out how easy it is to come up with a set of memory cues that work perfectly well at least for oneself. We tend to individually give our mnemonics meaning to make them effective, and that meaning may not translate to the preferences and quirks for others, as we all have different brains and different information in those brains.

Here goes:

 “While I baked a 91 kilogram cake¹, I was chased by a school of flying sea jellies² who smote a fruit-bat by dropping logs³ on it. Elsewhere, a tadpole drank tii with much adu⁴. But he never stopped the remaining poor bats in a box⁵ from angering 15 kings⁶ who for the 16th time outmaneuvered⁷ a 600 tonne giant⁸. It, the giant, then thought to send⁹ regards to 60 of the newbies¹⁰whose mega-large diamonds¹¹ where not a hoax and therefore not fake¹².”

Here’s the breakdown:

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1. I used the words bake and cake to show the k sound the letter represents, the number 91 to indicate the general shape of the letter, minus its central stem, if it were to be rotated to the left by ninety degrees, the k and g of kilogram as a reminder of the letter’s sound in general usage.

2. I used the ch in chase to indicate the general sound of the letter, with the f and j in flying sea jellies to reflect my perception of the letter’s shape. The s in sea is used as a reminder of the occasional pronunciation when the letter is in the word initial position.

3. The words smote and fruit-bat indicate the retroflex t sound at the end of each at play, the word logs used as a cue for the shape of the letter, a lengthened  Roman letter L with the pulli or dot just above it in the Tamil consonant’s pure form.

4. The use of tadpole here is a cue to the letter’s resembling in outline a newly hatched tadpole, while tii and adu are both romanized transcriptions of the Tamil words for tea and it, but double-mnemonics in reminding of the sounds of the letter they help cue for.

5. Poor and bats are both used as cues for letter sounds p and b, less aspirated in Tamil than in English, while box is a cue to the letter’s shape minus its pulli.

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6. The 2nd and 3rd ng in angering and kings are both used as cues to the sound of the letter, while 15 is given as a cue to its resemblance to that very number written in digits.

7. 16th is also a cue to letter shape while outmaneuvered is a cue to the sound of the letter.

8. 600 tonne is a cue to both letter shape, resembling the number 600 + letter T, and tonne also indicates the way the n sound is pronounced. The giant part was just a little extra to help memorization by fitting things together.

9. The first words, It, and then are cues to letter shape, while the nd in send is a reminder of the presence of this letter solely in consonant clusters.

10. This letter slightly resembles a number 60 + letter T, and newbies is used as a cue to pronunciation of the n sound.

11. Mega here indicates the m sound, while the phrase large diamonds are cues to the letter’s resemblance to a Roman capital L and D.

12. The h in hoax and f in fake are used to cue for pronunciation in different uses as indicated above, while therefore is used to indicate the letter’s resemblance to a common notation in symbolic logic () for the words Therefore or Thus.

In coming up with these, one must use what one knows, and often the easiest memory cues will be things that no one else has thought of. These are just a few of the consonants of this rich and ancient language. In future installments, I’ll explore mnemonics for other consonants and full syllables as well. See you then!


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