Universal Phonetic Roman Script

India is a vast country of more than a billion people. Over 300 languages are spoken. Less than 30 have written script and only 18 of them are recognized as official languages. Scripts vary. Their base, however, is Tamil and Devanagari of Sanskrit. These are the two ancient classical languages of India that have distinctively separate scripts. Barring English and Urdu, all others are indigenous languages. Their scripts are derived from either Devanagari or the Tamil script called vattezuththu (inscribed letters).

With the advent of the British rule, English has become the link language of India. Roman script is familiar to most of the literate class of people. There have been several attempts to devise a common script adopting the Roman script but they failed to gain any significant acceptance. Sentimental resistance apart, the innovations are a little too complicated for the lay learner to grasp. Phonetic codes are confined to the dictionaries. Invariably, names and words written in English are mispronounced. The newsreaders are a glaring example. Hindi speaking people cannot pronounce any South Indian name correctly and vice versa.

All the Indian languages are phonetic. The problem arises when the words and names are written in English and spoken or read out. English pronunciation for the Indians is total confusion. It takes time for a child to grasp the difference between put and but, especially when there is no explanation for the dual sound of the letter 'u'. The vowels A, E, I, O are also erratic in pronunciation. So also are the consonants C and G. It defies logic or reason. UPRS is designed to eliminate such variable pronunciation.

After examining all the efforts to evolve a common script, a simplified phonetic Roman script retaining the natural sound of the Latin alphabet has been devised. Broadly based on the principle 'one letter, one sound', it is easy to follow. UPRS uses only the existing letters in the standard computer keyboard. Capital letters and diacritical marks are avoided. However, two symbols ~hyphen for elongated vowels and the stress mark (`) to indicate the variation in the sound of some letters ~are used. In this article UPRS is made applicable to three dominant languages-- English, Sanskrit and Tamil. With minor changes or additions it can be applied to any language all over the world.  

        Natural sound of alphabet           UPRS usage


A  `y- (as in Yale)                          a (at, other, up), `a (an, bank), a- (all, on)

E  e- (eel)                                      e (English), e- (easy)

I   i (I)                                             i  (ice) 

O  o- (oh)                                      o (one), o- (old)

U   u- (use)                                  `u (wood), u- (woo) yu  (unite), yu- (unit)

`Y (additional vowel)                     y (Edison),    `y- (Yale)

OW                                                 ow (owl  how)


B  be- (bee)                                 b (bib) b- (beep)

C  see                                         c (cara`nam) c- (Ceasar) ch (church)

D  de- (deep)                              d (did) d- deed)

F  yf (effort)                                 f (if, fifth) 

G  jee  (gene)                             g ( gig) g- (geese)

H  ych                                         ha (hub, hob)

J   jy- (jade)                                 j (jet)

K  ky- (Kate)                               k ( kick)

L  yl (elm)                                   l (lull) `l (fly)

M  ym (emblem)                       m (mum)

N   yn (envy)                              n (nun) `n (and)

P    pe- (peel)                            p (peep)

Q   kyu- (que)                            q (quick, queen)

R   a-r (are)                                r (roar) `r (stressed r)

S   ys (yes)                                s (sense) 

T   te- (tea)                                t (tut)

V  ve- (veil)                                v  (vow)

W  dabe`lyu-                             ow (how)

X  yks (x ray)                             x (six)

Y  oy (why)                                y (yell, yale)

Z   ze- (zebra). also ezad         z (zigzag) `z (Jean in French)

'u' represents the fifth vowel in Indian languages where it is the beginning of a word and it becomes the attribute of consonants in other places. It gets its natural sound along with y (as in dyu- for due) in UPRS. To indicate that it is a vowel, the stress mark is prefixed (as in `uthsav).

Similarly, the consonant 'y' also represents the seventh vowel where it is the beginning of a word. When it follows a vowel it represents the consonant Y as in 'boy' and an attribute of consonants in other places as in (dy- for day). That it is used as vowel is indicated as `y (`ymersan for Emerson).

'c' represents a variation from 's' and 'ch' and is extensively used in Indian languages. e.g: sangam cara`nam gachcha-me.

The aspirate 'h' when it follows a consonant the latter acquires a distinct sound such as bh (bharath), ch (check), dh (dhal, bandh), gh (ghost), kh (lakh), ph (phone), rh (rhyme) sh (she), th (thought), wh (what). In UPRs this characteristic is retained.

'`z' as in the French jean is extensively used in Tamil and Malayalam.


dhes es `y spyseman a-f unevarsal fonatek ro-man skr ept. (UPRS). 

ef et es tyu-sdy- heyar en endeya-, et es mandy- en amyreka- (If it's Tuesday here in India, it's Monday in America).

janyuvare-, fybravare-, ma-rch, y-pral, my-,  ju-n, ju-li, a-gast, syptymbar,

a-kto-bar, no-vymbar, dezymbar.

sandy-, mandy-, tyu-sdy-, vynsdy-, tharsdy-, fridy-, s`a-tardy-

The chart that follows shows how UPRS is applicable to languages 



sathyamy-va jayathy- 
va-ymiy- vellum

Truth alone triumphs Tru-th alo-n triamfs


thvam pra-thaha kem pa`tase?
ne- ka-liyel `ydhip padekkera-y?

What do you read in the morning? va-t du u- re-d en dha ma-rneng?


aham prathaha pusthakam pa`ta-me
na-n ka-liyel puththagam padekkery-n

I read the book in the morning  I re-d dha buk en dha ma-rneng


saha kam thathra pacyathe 
avan `ydhi angy- pa-rkkera-n?

What does he see there?  va-t das he- se- dhy-r?


saha thathra gajam pacyanthe 
avan angy- y-niyip pa-rkkera-n

He sees the elephant there  he- se-s dha ylafant dhy-r


sa- kam namathe 
ava`l ya-ri va`nanggugera-`l

To whom does she bow?  tu hu-m das she- bo-?


sa- dhy-vam namathe 
ava`l dhy-vani va`nanggugera-`l

She bows to God  she- bo-s tu Ga-d


ramaha sa-yam greham gachchathe 
ra-man ma-liyel ve-du selgera-n

Raman goes home in the evening  r-aman go-s ho-m en dha e-vneng

UPRS is intended not as a substitute for the orthography of English. Nor does it seek to reform the language. Great men such as Bernard Shaw tried to do that without success.  UPRS is devised primarily as a guide to correct pronunciation of names and words written in English, especially by the various linguistic groups in India and elsewhere who communicate with each other in that language.  It will be useful for learning other languages without the need to sweat over the scripts. More importantly, UPRS can provide the script for the large number of spoken languages in Asia and Africa.      

The author, Kasturi Rangan is a resident of Chennai. India. Age 70. A journalist by profession he has been the New Delhi correspondent of The New York Times for over 20 years since 1961. He retired as Editor, Dinamani, a leading Tamil language newspaper in Tamil Nadu State He was the founder-editor of Kanaiyazhi, a renowned Tamil monthly devoted to social reform and literature. A follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he founded the Swachid Movement and has been the founder-secretary of Gandhi Mission He is the founder president of People's Alliance for Good Governance.. His interest in Spiritualism has taken him to practicing Meditation and doing extensive research in that field. For more of his work you may visit   


More by :  Swachid K. Rangan

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