Thursday 27 January 2022

Unicode Trivia U+0861

Block: U+0860..086F "Syriac Supplement"

The Syriac Supplement block contains letters used for writing Suriyani Malayalam, also known as Syriac Malayalam. This is an Eastern Syriac script with eleven new letters added to capture Malayalam sounds:

The Syriac and Malayalam scripts are almost entirely unrelated; the former is a right-to-left abjad from the Middle East:

Whilst the latter is a left-to-right abugida from Southern Asia:

So the "mashing together" of the two scripts is somewhat surprising and problematic.

For example, the Suriyani Malayalam letter "ja" only appears in isolated form, so the "standard" U+0D1C "MALAYALAM LETTER JA" could have been used, however, the decision was taken to encode a separate U+0861 "SYRIAC LETTER MALAYALAM JA":

Although it may be possible to use U+0D1C within a Syriac environment, a separate encoding is needed [...] so that Syriac vowel marks can be combined with the letter. Furthermore the differing directionalities of the Malayalam and Syriac scripts may cause problems for introducing a Malayalam character directly in Syriac sequences.

Anyone who has tried editing text with mixed left-to-right and right-to-left script will appreciate that last comment.

Suriyani Malayalam is used by Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala in India as a liturgical language. According to tradition, Thomas the Apostle voyaged to Muziris on the Malabar coast (Kerala) in 52 CE, bringing Christianity to the region. This may sound implausible, but Kerala had an established Jewish community at around that time, particular in Cochin. So it is possible for an Aramaic-speaking Jew, such as Saint Thomas from Galilee, to make a trip to Kerala via the maritime Silk Road routes:


Perhaps not surprisingly, after almost two thousand years, the Saint Thomas Christians have experienced schisms and (sadly fewer) reunifications:


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