Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Classical Tamil?


Please understand the purpose of the post correctly. Before you start reading this, you may have to forget all the discussions going on around races and racism in India in the last few weeks. It's not on those lines. This was written sometime back with a different purpose, so please don't mix this up with such things.

There is always a complaint that Tamils are excessively proud about their language. I agree. It surely doesn't make them superior to others. If your language is older than someone else's or if it has more literature than someone else's, it is just a fact and there is nothing to feel superior about it. You can still feel proud about it, not excessively though. What makes them feel so? They truly believe that their language is an asset for them. The reasons are many. Antiquity of the language, the amount of literature they have preserved, strength of its grammar, vocabulary (though can't be compared with Sanskrit!), the love all their kings and their kingdoms had for it (including the kings that came from outside!), spread of the people that speak the language, their relentless efforts in translating every single scientific/technical term to their language, and more than all that, the simplicity of the language, etc. etc.

Invasion was way of life for a long time. Like everywhere else, there also, a lot of outsiders came, conquered and went. They also looted their wealth, harassed their people and did everything that any invader does. None of them could destroy their language. Everywhere else the language changed. Only there, it didn't happen. I mean, here also, the language changed but not completely. Everywhere else, the name of the language itself changed. New letters came in. New pronunciations came in. New languages were born. Only there, the same language went through change. At the max, only new words were introduced. It's the same letters that were there in the first available literature, which are being used even today. Even the same pronunciations are there today. Even today there are people who name their kids in pure Tamil, which is way different from what we are speaking today. There are many letters that are called Sanskrit letters, which have not been included in Tamil yet. They don't feature in original Tamil letters list. They are just given as supplementary. There are people who are against adding them to Tamil alphabets list for the reason that they won't be able to prove that Tamil is not an offshoot from Sanskrit if they do that.  They use those letters only in the borrowed words. Borrowed words? Yes. There is a list of words that they call "borrowed words", which are nothing but the pure Sanskrit words. For every such word, there is an equivalent Tamil word, which just doesn't sound like Sanskrit. But, most of the common men don't know those words. Including the priests that chant mantras in Sanskrit, everyone speaks Tamil so proudly at home.

Like all others, Tamils also go all around the world for their livelihood and learn the languages of the land (Bangaloreans! please excuse here... they don't do that in Bangalore because they feel at home here!). When they do that, people make fun of them for their accent and pronunciations. There are reasons for why that happens. Why they are made fun of? And, why they speak such a funny accent? That is what I want talk about today. Being aware of them helps both the parties (the ones that make fun and the ones that are made fun of) understand each other better. That's it.

Are there limitations in Tamil? Yes. Many. Then, is it not a classical language as people claim? No. I don't think so. They are unrelated. Just like every individual having their traits / personal attributes, every language also has its own traits and personal attributes. There is no language that has equivalent letters and pronunciation for all letters and pronunciation from all languages. For example, there is no equivalent letter for our 'zha' in English. In fact, no other Indian language has an equivalent for that, except for Malayalam. There are many things that English doesn't have. Likewise, no Indian language has an equivalent letter for 'Z'. Including Malayalam! Why am I stressing Malayalam here? Because, that's the perfect blend of both Sanskrit and Tamil. If that doesn't have a letter, we can be two hundred percent sure that no other Indian language would have it.

Bengali and Oriya do not have an equivalent for 'V'. If we write 'V' in English, they read that also as 'B'. When a lovely friend of mine from Bengal was asked to read out 'VB', 'BV', 'VV', and 'BB', with great difficulty he twisted his tounge and mouth so much and finally read it as 'BB', 'BB', 'BB', and 'BB'. It doesn't mean that Bengali is a weak language. It's the only Indian language that got Nobel prize for literature. So, such limitations should not be used to judge a language. There are much more such limitations in Tamil. Let's just see what they are and how to manage them - objectively. So, rest assured - I am not trying to prove that 'it is' or 'it is not' a classical language.

All Indian languages just take into account only the vowels and consonants when they are asked about the number of letters in their language. So, if you ask them, they would say a number around 50 to 60. But, if you ask a Tamilian, he/she would say, 247. People would just laugh, asking, "Did you have proper attendance in elementary school?". "Where did you guys get so many letters from, when you can't even pronounce the existing letters?", They ask with amazement. That's because vowels, consonants, allied letters and a special letter are all considered in counting - in Tamil. So, it's important that they are aware of the reason for the difference, too.

OK. Can they not even pronounce the existing letters? Yes. That's the reason why they can't learn other languages so easily. There is only one equivalent letter for all the following five in other Indian languages - KA, KHA, GA, GHA, and HA. All these five names - Kamal, Khaleel, Ganesh, Ghajini, and Hari start with the same letter. It doesn't mean that they pronounce the first letter the same way in all these words. We just have to change the pronunciation based on the context. It's only when people do not know when to change to what, they are made fun of. Many people know the difference in pronunciation but don't know the reason why there are not five letters like in other languages. Let's see that reason today. Another thing before we get into that - only KA in Kamal is a pure Tamil letter; rest all came from Sanskrit or other languages. But, there is something in their grammar, which explains the difference in pronunciation. The same letter that is used for KA in the beginning of a word should become GA or HA when it comes in the middle. So, a pure Tamil word would not have HA or GA as its first letter. It's only the borrowed words that have these letters as the first letter. It's only those people who had poor attendance in elementary school who make mistakes in these pronunciations. :)

Likewise, there is only one letter for CA, CHA, JA, JHA, SA, SHA, and SSHA. Why wouldn't others laugh? Let's see why they shouldn't laugh as well. They use the same letter as the first letter for Chandra, Jambu, Sabari, and Sharma. In some parts of Tamil Nadu, all these words are called Chandra, Chambu, Chabari, and Charma respectively. Only by the uneducated ones, by the way! What is called Saappaadu in other places is Chaappaadu there. Funny, right? Like in K series, as per the grammar, 'CHA' in the beginning becomes 'SA' in the middle. JA, JHA, SHA, and SSHA are all available only in borrowed words. In addition to all these, there is KSHA series also. Lakshmi is written as Latchumi and Kshatriya is written as Chathriya in Tamil. It's okay because they are not pure Tamil words. If London in English could be Landres in Spanish, why not the same logic here? Every language has some ground rules, which restrict its speakers from arranging letters in specific orders to form words. Tamil is not an exception. This is the reason why Tamil is different from other languages and Tamils are different from others. :)

Likewise, there is only one letter for THA, DHA, TTHA, and DDHA and there is again only one letter for TA, DA, TTA, and DDA. There is only one letter for PA, PHA, BA, and BHA. Tamils generally cannot make out the difference among all the four letters unless they studied Sanskrit or Hindi. But, the difference between T and D, TH and DH, and P and B could be made by all those that studied English because English luckily has different letters for them. When a north Indian asks me my name, I say "Bharathiraja", but it sounds like just "Barathiraja". Whereas, when they say, there is double stress on H. They smile and repeat "BHarathiraja?". I also smile back and say, "yeah, whatever!". That's the problem of using borrowed words. :)

On top of all these there is something called compound letters. KKA, CHCHA, TTA, DDA, THTHA, DHDHA, PPA, NKA, NGA, NJA, NDA, NTA, NDHA, NTHA, MPA, MBA, MMA, RRA, LLA, NNA, etc. They are there in Sanskrit as well, but they are handled differently in Tamil and Malayalam. There is no NKA, NTA, NTHA, MPA, etc. They just have to be pronounced NGA, NDA, NDHA, MBA respectively. You are not supposed to stress for the second letter in compound letters - like in NKA, NTA, NTHA, MPA, etc. In some languages, they are written as subscripts, which makes things even tougher. Telugu and Kannada follow this style. Luckily, Tamil does not have this difficulty - in addition to the existing ones! :)

More than all these, there is another very valid complaint. Only Tamils and Malayalis can understand what I am going to talk about. The complain is, more than three fourth of the people that speak this language called 'Tamil' can't even pronounce the word 'Tamil' properly. It's supposed to be pronounced "Thamizh'. This 'ZH' pronunciation easily comes for Malayalis but it's very difficult for most of the Tamils though they boast that their language has three different pronunciation for L. One of them - this 'ZH' thing is not even there in Sanskrit. It is only in Tamil and Malayalam. Whose mistake it is? Don't know! Thanks to the British. It's become stylish to say Tamil instead of Thamizh today, which saves a lot of more embarrassment, especially with Malayalis. :)

OK, let's now see the reason for the limitations. Yes. There are limitations. But, not all are actually limitations. The grammar mandates certain things which have become limitations over a period of time. For example, things such as KA becoming HA or GA depending on the context should be blamed on the grammar. Likewise, in compound letters, KA becomes KKA after K and the same KA becomes NGA if it is after NG. If you look at it differently, the grammar was written in such a way that we manage with fewer letters (Not an excuse, by the way!). Common letters! This is what we call portability today, right? More for less! Even CHA, TA, THA, and PA also change accordingly the same way. There is also another reason why there is so less complexity in Tamil (which has added to the complexity now!). They say that it was designed to encourage more communication. Any Tamil word is pronounced only with the help of tongue and it originates just from the tongue, they say. On the other hand, Sanskrit letters come from the stomach. You need to spend more energy to speak the same amount of words. It's said that Sanskrit is designed to give good exercise to all your inner parts of the body. Some people even say that this is the reason why Tamils are so talkative. :)

Now, finally the last question... "It's all fine. When all other Indian languages are following some rules, why you guys alone follow some other rules so adamantly?". Even if you don't have this question, please take my answer. I have never compared Tamil with Sanskrit though there are lots of people who do that. Sanskrit is so rich. That's why all other Dravidian languages borrowed so much from Sanskrit. I also don't believe that my language is the best language in the world. I don't want to do that even if that's true. Because, that pride doesn't help in anyway. Especially in an era where it can only help create more conflicts with others!

I also feel that you should take good things from anyone, irrespective of wherever it comes from, so Tamil also should have adopted the letters that it didn't have as its own and enriched itself. But, there are people who still argue that if we had adopted good things from others, we would have lost the natural beauty of the language and we would be speaking a different language and calling it Damil or Dumil by now. That's the reason why people don't spend so much time in enriching the language with new letters as they do with new words. Maybe because we didn't interact so much with the outside world, we never had to think about it before. Looks like this is the best time to start thinking about it seriously. Don't know who has the answer to this.

17 comments:

  1. good stuff on Language and its letters dude, its well thought out post ...

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  2. 'Bengali and Oriya do not have an equivalent for 'V'. If we write 'V' in English, they read that also as 'B'. so no doubt we say Vande Matram and they would say Bande matram ...

    'VB', 'BV', 'VV', and 'BB', - I am on the floor laughing out loud.

    It doesn't mean that Bengali is a weak language. It's the only Indian language that got Nobel prize for literature. So, such limitations should not be used to judge a language --- here I would like to disagree, just because they have a nobel laurette, the language doesn't become great. Wouldn't give too much emphasis on a prize which didn't have Gandhi for Peace prize.

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  3. Thanks Shambu.

    Yes. If you look for a direct relationship, what you say is true. Having a noble laureate doesn't mean that language is great. It shows the quality of that individual's writings than that of the language. But, I also think, such a feat wouldn't have been possible with a language that has too many limitations either.

    Yes. Agree with you. There is something seriously wrong with them. Missing out Gandhi and the premature award for Obama... both indicate that there is something fishy!

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  4. Dear Bharathi
    I enjoyed your writing. The words you are considered CHA, SA, SHA etc are pronunciated and written as same in Tamil I agree, but kindly note that this is not a limitation, not a defective, cannot be considered as lackiness etc., since Tamil words shall have only CHA in Tamil and everything else we are writing in English or any other language shall never be considered as Tamil word. It doesn't mean that we shall not use, u can use but u cannot treat as a Tamil word and claim grammar for that. Eg. Shalini, syam, Gajini, are not the Tamil names, also note that these are the nouns developed by peoples who are believing that they are modern and not a verb or anything in Tamil which will never have this kind of discrepancies. This is the quality which ALL languages posses including English but the people for their convenient has changed the rules of acceptance to make the language to grow like English. But I don’t think that this facility of accepting anything without restriction is not a great quality and a language need not be grown in this way. The quality of a language can be estimated based on valuable produced literature and Instead of fighting for superiority among others, proficiency in one’s own mother tongue shall be improved and practiced to preserve the culture, language, tradition, etc.,

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  5. Good work....I like this classic Tamil language information ....I love Tamil ...

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  6. @Munusamy- Thanks so much. Yes. It became a problem only after we started borrowing words from others. Yes. The quality of literature is more important for a language than the number of letters, but I was just wondering if it would enable us to do much more if we have these additions.

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  7. ya bharat i agree with you

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  8. ya bharat i agree with you

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  9. hi mr.Barathiraja .. i'm Jai.. i just read ur blog.. its gud :)
    simple and straight ... ur a thamizhan too ?? O.o
    i am .. and i love the language and country (Thamizhnadu) .. actually i loved it the way it was before .. but i feel very very bad thinking the way it is today .. i dnt knw why tamils r like this.. losing everything they had ,losing themselves... sumtimes, thinking abt the things we lost and the way we r now makes my eyes fill with bloody tears...
    u know .. but still i believe Thamizh .. sumday i hope i could make it like before... :) am a martial artist and even my class name is THAMIZHNADU ACADEMY OF MARTIAL ARTS.. and teaching not only fighitng stuff, also every other things like tamil arts of war, history, tamil medicines,who we were, and all other things in world, with which they can make lives gud .. ... hmmmmm .. i agree.. tamils are talkative.. like me huh :P :P
    gud day mr.raja :)

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  10. hi mr.Barathiraja .. i'm Jai.. i just read ur blog.. its gud :)
    simple and straight ... ur a thamizhan too ?? O.o
    i am .. and i love the language and country (Thamizhnadu) .. actually i loved it the way it was before .. but i feel very very bad thinking the way it is today .. i dnt knw why tamils r like this.. losing everything they had ,losing themselves... sumtimes, thinking abt the things we lost and the way we r now makes my eyes fill with bloody tears...
    u know .. but still i believe Thamizh .. sumday i hope i could make it like before... :) am a martial artist and even my class name is THAMIZHNADU ACADEMY OF MARTIAL ARTS.. and teaching not only fighitng stuff, also every other things like tamil arts of war, history, tamil medicines,who we were, and all other things in world, with which they can make lives gud .. ... hmmmmm .. i agree.. tamils are talkative.. like me huh :P :P
    gud day mr.raja :)

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  11. Hi Jai, Thanks for the appreciation. Good to know that you are so fond of the language and land of ours. I think, the most fundamental of all these is being a good human being. I somehow feel that we are becoming more and more materialistic thereby less human. It's not just Tamilians, all for that matter. But we are relatively faster, I think. But as you said we have to get all the good things back in place so that life can be better for all, not just us. It's not possible as long as the craze for English and everything western remains in our land. Long way to go. Let's see.

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  12. Lord Shanmuga mantra sa ra va na ba va here ba should be pronounced as ba or bha as per origin of mantra no matter which language it is tamil or sanskrit
    I feel since remainder of mantra is tamil it should be pronounced as ba
    Confused
    Help bharathiraja

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    1. I am not sure too, Jeevan. I am sure it's a Sanskrit term. So it's better to pronounce it as bha as that's how they spell it. However, as you said, since the rest of the mantra is Tamil we can stick to our own pronunciation itself. For that matter, Saravana itself is not pure Sanskrit pronunciation. It's the Tamilized form of Sanskrit's Shravana if I am not wrong. Likewise we can make bha as ba too. The other point of view is that mantras are more effective when recited in their original style because the vibration created by them in our body seems to have some effect as claimed by the experts in the subject. I am not sure how scientific they are though. But going by that logic, Saravana itself must have lost its vibration. If retaining the originality of our language was the priority I would have said ba. But when it comes to religious stuff there are other things to be kept in mind so I am not able to suggest anything strongly. Sorry. Looks like I can only confuse you more and not help you. :)

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  13. Hi Bharathiraja, I just read your blog. Great stuff. You have explained everything beautifully. Continue your good work. There is no language, however classical it may be, that can be considered as one hundred percent pure. There have always been exchange of letters and words between languages through interaction. I think in the name of Tamilization of Tamil language, over the years, we have removed many of Sanskrit letters from Tamil. Many Tamil scholars treat all other languages, especially Sanskrit, as untouchable. In longer run, this will do no good for the Tamil language. I still remember how when I was in high school, my teacher even changed my name as it was not having pure Tamil letter. She asked me to write my name as வெங்கடேசன் instead of my real name வெங்கடேஷ், as ஷ is not our Tamil word, she said.

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    1. Thank you very much. Absolutely. No human being is perfect, so are their products! Language is one of our greatest products, yet far from perfection, just like us! Languages have evolved over time by interacting with their peers. So I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be open to such exchanges if they are enriching our language. I am still confused about few things when it comes to other language influence. Mahakavi Bharathi, for instance, had two distinct styles for his poetry and prose. He tried to write poetry in a purer Tamil and used a lllot of Sanskrit words in his prose. While some people say English enriched itself by borrowing words from other languages, they also stayed their ground when it came to Indian names. E.g. Tuticorin, Baroda, etc. They didn't make an effort to learn to pronounce Thoothukudi or Vadodara in our style. Instead, they anglicized them and called it the way they were comfortable with. Some people suggest that we should also follow that. But they did that when they were ruling us. :)

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