As I said in the last post on learning Gujarati, I’ve been trying to learn the script because I need it to reinforce for me what I’m hearing. Unfortunately, this has not been easy, because, not only is my ear not good for discerning unusual phonologies, but my spatial sense is not so great. On top of that, my ability to memorize is nothing to brag about either. Sheesh, it’s a wonder I’ve survived!
Learning an alphabet made of swirly curly doodads, twice the number of the English alphabet, and often similar to each other, that shift around and change each time a vowel is added has not been easy, but I think I’ve finally got it.
The “capital” vowels are quite closely related to each other and, necessarily, to the diacritics that stand for those vowels when they are attached to consonants. They are also closely related to the vowels in Hindi that I had begun to learn before coming to India and, of course, they are few in number. For the most part, I’ve managed to memorize the vowels. But, since my memory is not great, the consonants were just too numerous for me until now.
I finally learned them by carefully going through the entire list of consonants and rearranging them, not phonetically as they are usually arranged, but graphically. I then made mnemonics out of the ones that are graphically related so that I could remember which ones are alike and what they sound like.
So, for instance, since to me, the characters for p, y, and m are confusingly similar, I lumped them together into the word “payama,” which, I think, sounds like the word I’ve heard used here for salwar, the pants that match the kameez. Of course, to me, it sounds enough like pajama that I can remember it. By reading the word in Gujarati repeatedly, I can remember that those are the letters that all look more or less y-like and also remember their sounds. (I can never make sense of other people’s mnemonics, so I wouldn’t be surprised if mine don’t work for other people, but the basic idea is simple enough.)
The key was to lump them into graphically related groups and assign the groups words that were easy to remember so that I could also remember the sounds associated with the letters. And it worked. Finally.
Suddenly, I can identify a word with its sound when I hear it. This gives me passive recognition of vocabulary that I couldn’t have without the script. Passive recognition means that, although I still can’t actively recall a word to say it, I can recognize it when it’s written. So, for instance, if someone speaks a word from the list of words in my baby alphabet book, I can pick out which word they said. This may not sound like much, but it’s the breakthrough I needed to start getting some comprehensible input and to start remembering new words I learn. More about that in my next Gujarati post. Now to find a native speaker with the time and patience to read baby Gujarati to me.