Hey guys,
I'm a comp sc student in India. My interest in phonetics has
been widely described as disproportionate (by my friends--tired of my
correcting their pronunciations), unfortunate (by my professors who
know it's too much of a distraction from my studies) and fascinating
(my English professor--another self-confessed word-junkie).
My mother-tongue is Telugu. I have this anti-Aryan streak in me (how
I envy these Northies' buff complexions ;o)) which has grown into a
passion for the most Dravidian of the Dravidian tongues--Tamil. Now
this is where my problem comes in.
There's this consonant in Tamil (someone called it a retroflex
lateral fricative or something--excuse my ignorance when it comes to
technical terms) which sounds uncannily like, but isn't quite, the
American r (the MID-WESTERN American r: from what I've been reading
about the rhotic <is that what it's called?>). It's transliterated in
English as [zh]--you can find it in the Malayalam name for Cochin:
Kozhikode. It's listed in the same row in the Sanskrit-like Tamil
alphabet table as the other glides/fricatives/whatever:

([j], [r], [R], [l], [zh], [v])

The first time I heard it I felt betrayed that a sister-language of
my mother-tongue (an aunt-tongue? :o)), hidden in its esotericity (you
will agree with me if you know any of these cloistered Tamilians). The
sound exists also in Kannada (but not much used, like the telugu [R])
and Malayalam (which, anyway, is, I heard, more or less a derivative
of Tamil).
I've been struggling to pronounce this like a native for the past
two years and I'm still caught out at it. It's so frustratingly
elusive. Can you guys help me out here (it'll be a break from your
Lithuanian/Polish/Russian I guess :)

Yours tongue-tied,

PS: Pardon my not having used the IPA font, but like any conscientious
programmer, I'm on Linux and that means foregoing a few pleasures...
[Heil Tux!]