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Posts tagged ‘glottalizing tamil’


In the foreword to THE GITANJALI, Rabindranath Tagore had written that  after the translation of his magnum opus into English from Bengali, he was far from satisfied as he felt that English had not brought out the essence as the Bengali original had. Therefore every language has its own essence. The essence, that is the quintessential distillation of the culture. The QUINTESSENTIAL DISTILLATION that pervades the whole fabric of the movie is the THAMIZH culture, although through use of English, Thamizh and Hindi languages.

Firstly, without knowing the Thamizh culture and the expletives that are in vogue in Thamizh, it would be hard to follow and even more difficult to appreciate. For example in the movie, QGM (Quick Gun Murugun) says, “ I will spank him on his backside and apply calcium on it!” , for a minute i was a lil flabbergasted as i was not able to follow what it meant. When i asked my friend who accompanied me, he said in hushed tones: soothadichu soonaambu thadaviruven!! (which when roughly translated means I WILL BUGGER HIM AND APPLY A WHITEWASHING LIME ON IT. )

In the southern districts of Thamizh Nadu, it is very commom for persons to say this in vain boasts and during fights. If anyone is a lil uppity about this, in Hindi it is not uncommon to say GAAND MAAROONGA, which roughly means the same. But what is intriguing is that CALCIUM part. If a scorpion were to bite or a wasp were to sting then the quack remedy was application of this lime- which was freely available in local paan shops which was used for betel chewing. Maybe this an extension of that idea.

In my experience of 12 years in the northern parts of India, especially in Delhi, i had observed  a misconception that every Thamizhian was a Brahmin clerk happy with his idlis and sambar and going to a Murugan temple and making his children study English  and well! So much for perceptions. To form an opinion of a lion in its own habitat would be different from forming an opinion of it in caged circumstances! This is the same when the Sowcarpet Marwaris are perceived as money grabbing, sweet toungued docile guys by the local Thamizhians! For a living, man has to play different roles and sometimes by constantly playing that role he assumes an identity that is much removed from reality. That is what has happened to the Thamizhian expats (it they can be called that, in a country which does not recognize state domicile).

Now to MURUGAN. That is the accepted spelling of Lord Murugan, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. He is colourful. He travels by a peacock, has two wives and quick in his actions. Now anyone familiar with that incident, would know that, when Lord Shiva got a fruit that was rare and wanted to give the fruit to  his sons, had to draw them into a competition as the fruit was not to be cut for sharing and had to be handed over to the winner as a whole. The competition was that the first person who circled the world and came back was to be the winner of the fruit. Murugan took off in his peacock and got back to find that his brother had already been given the fruit  by his specious interpretation of the words, “TO CIRCLE THE WORLD AND COME BACK TO THE PARENTS”! So murugan goes by the WORD and Vinayak goes by the SPIRIT. We can see this stream of consciousness pervading the Thamizh society. They give importance to the WORD and keep refining it to mean the same, so far as humanly possible, for everyone. The SPIRIT should not hijack the WORD. Because, SPIRIT could express itself through different persons through different ways and cause confusion. OBJECTIVITY would be lost. Lord Murugan is the patron of Thamizh, colourful, efficient and dynamic. He is not one to sit in corners and eye women  or help others in their ventures, but galvanizes people into action thru energizing them.

So Murugan being named with an epithet QUICK GUN is indeed appropriate. Now the spelling had to be changed so as to rhyme with the GUN. If Geoffrey Boycott the Yorkshire cricketer were to pronounce MURUGUN, he would say MOOROOGOON and appropriately rhyming with GOON for GUN!!

Thamizh is the language that had shown the maximum resistance to Hindi being declared the National Language, as Thamizh does not have the glottalized sounds which are in great numbers in Hindi, and thereby causing great inconvenience to the Thamizhians. In all fairness,  why should a native speaker of Thamizh language be forced to  learn a language which is not his mother tongue, when 40% of the Indians are not imposed the burden of learning another language which is not his mother tongue. Afterall there are 22 scheduled languages, and if the native speakers of Hindi are also told for the purpose of national integration to learn a DRAVIDIAN LANGUAGE, which has some peculiar sounds, there would be fairness. But imposing a language merely on the grounds that it would facilitate the communication between a set of persons who are in majority and others who have to put an extra effort to learn that language seems inequitable.

Students in schools DROP subjects. For example, under the ISC pattern in the XII standard, if one wants to DROP chemistry and do 3 other subjects besides the mandatory English and Environmental Stusied, he/she is allowed. In fact the schools encourage the students to DROP instead of burdening the children in EXTENSIVE pursuits. If that were to be the case in schools, it is but right for states not to accept a single language as the NATIONAL language, when there is no reciprocity or effort from the native speakers of Hindi to take up the burden of learning another ethinically different, but an Indian, language.

Let me give another example. in the Bible the Gileadites were a part of the tribe of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim), but the Gileadites were able to pronounce  SHIBBOLETH, whereas the Ephraimites  were able to pronounce only SIBBOLETH. This is an apt example, as the Ephraimites were not able to GLOTTALIZE the SA sound whereas the Gileadites were able to get the glottalized SHA sound. The net result was that the Gileadites massacred the Ephraimites, as the Ephraimites were distinguished from the Gileadites  and killed in that dispute. (pl. refer to the BIBLE , JUDGES 12:6)

Coming to our movie QUICK GUN MURUGUN, there is a scene in which a Hindi speaking killer is told by QGM in Thamizh, THUPPAKIYAI KEEZHA PODU!! ( WHICH MEANS, DROP THE GUN), but the Hindi speaking mercenary says THUPPAKIA KEERA PODU!! The sound ZHA is not available in Hindi, and QGM brings out the innate lack of sounds in certain languages and thereby shows that a language is no less because it doesn’t have a sound and it is no better if it has a particular sound!!

QGM is stereotypical. That is the way one could reach the masses with massive prejudices.

The colourful (neon orange trousers, with green jacket, bright yellow scarf) dress brings out our image of a Thamizh hero, who would be drenched in colours eventhough it might not suit him. It is the SINCERITY in the beliefs that QGM holds which makes us sympathize with the character. He is GARISH in his dress sense, but not KITSCHY  trying to be  better than the original. It is that which is redeeming.

In a true Thamizhian style after making love with Rhamba, who asks how was it?, in all innocence he says: NEXT TIME IN THE PAYASAM ADD MORE CARDAMOM!!! That is the incapacity of a Thamizian who pays homage to FACTS and not to what others might think. It is that culture that spawns a mathematical wizard like Ramanujam or a Physicist like Sir C.V Raman. It is that innocence- with no frills.

The movie may not be a masterpiece in movie-making. But the theme is unique and it brings out the essence of one of the hoariest cultures of this country. It is worth watching and sets the record straight in many ways and shows the interplay of the various cultures of this country.


There have been some questions raised regarding the singing of songs in Tamil by Udit Narayan Jha w r t my earlier blog. The reasons for my opinion are mentioned below and anyone, who could contribute on this topic is most welcome to join in.

Tamil consonants[2]

Labial Dental
Retroflex Postalveolar
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɳ (ɲ)
Plosive p  (b) t̪  (d̪) ʈ  (ɖ) k  (g)
Affricate tʃ  (dʒ)
Fricative (f)1 s  (z)1 (ɦ)2
Tap ɾ
Approximant ʋ ɻ j
Lateral approximant l ɭ
  1. /f/ and /z/ are peripheral to the phonology of Tamil, being found only in loanwords and frequently replaced by native sounds.
  2. [ɦ] is a possible allophone of /k/

The above is the link, where the consonants of  Thamizh are represented in a tabular form  classifying the HA sound as a fricative glottal sound. The footnote says that Ha is a possible ALLOPHONE of KA.

Once we get into the allophones, then there is no certainty. We bring in usage into play. Most of Carnatic music (except for Purandaradasa), was formulated in the Thanjavur area of  Tamil Nadu and the Sanskritization of the hyms are well known. The sounds were essential in the singing of these hymns. However, to say that HA, was a sound in Tamil is preposterous. A person who is in a Sanskritised atmosphere is likely to pronounce AGAM as AHAM (meaning inner or inside). It is merely an usage and not a necessary sound in Tamil. (I’d consider it hilarious, if someone were to say AHATHIN AZHAHU MUHATHIL THERIYUM!!!)

The more basic question would be WHETHER THE WORD AGAM itself is Tamil or a LOANWORD, which was  SUBSEQUENTLY adopted into Tamil, by usage ?

INDIRA PARTHASARATHY on Iravatham Mahadevan’s Early Tamil Epigraphy, HAS THE FOLLOWING TO SAY:-

“Though Br-ahm-i was the mother of all the scripts in India, Devan-agari and Dravidian, it was adapted in a way to suit the genius of the language of the region. There were five variations of the Br-ahm-i script such as (1) Northern Br-ahm-i. (2) Southern Br-ahm-i, (3) Bhattiprolu script, (4) Sinhala- Br-ahm-i and (5) Tamil- Br-ahm-i.

Tamil- Br-ahm-i evolved after certain changes were made in Br-ahm-i to suit the phonetic system in the Tamil language.

Tamil- Br-ahm-i omitted sounds not present in Tamil viz., voiced consonants, aspirates, sibilants, the anusv-ara (.m) and the visarga (-h). Tamil has certain sounds for which there were no signs in Br-ahm-i, which called for additional letters viz. -l, .l, -r, -n.

By introducing a diacritical mark called (dots) three things were achieved: (a) basic consonants in final position were indicated (b) ligaturing of consonant clusters was avoided (c) the short vowels `e,’ `o’ were differentiated from the respective long vowels.”

In any case, purity of a language is essential to prove the UNIQUENESS and the NON-DEPENDENCE on other languages. However, PURITY can never be at the cost of one’s SURVIVAL. If GOLD has to SURVIVE AS AN ORNAMENT, IT HAS TO ACCOMMODATE COPPER.

Like, Anglicization of Tamil is required for keeping oneself abreast of the Scientific development in the present times, Sanskritisation was essential for MUSIC and RELIGIOUS PURPOSES in the past, and consequently when certain ALIEN SOUNDS CAME INTO USAGE,  SOME  HAVE BEEN LED INTO BELIEVING THAT THOSE SOUNDS ARE NATIVE TO TAMIL, EVEN THOUGH THESE SOUNDS HAVE OUTLIVED THEIR PURPOSES.

NEVERTHELESS, the foreign sounds need not be adopted, but the foreign words could be adopted and used with the available sounds, till a word in Tamil is invented and brought to large-scale usage. For example, till the coinage of KANIPPORI, in Tamil a computer was pronounced as KAMPOOTER. Alternatively,we can wait till people become liberal to accept foreign words and and pronounce it the foreign way, for example,  ENVELOPE (noun), was pronounced in English as “en-ve-lep” till a few years ago, but now it is not uncommon for persons to ask for an “aan-ve-lop”. But to come to a conclusion that “aan” is a sound in English is downright ERRONEOUS.



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