Monday, April 23, 2018

T : Tamil words I learned in last one year #AtoZchallenge

It is little over a year, since I started working in Chennai; and almost 8 months since I moved here with family. Recently I was having a discussion with my wife, when she mentioned that the biggest barrier for her to feel at home here, is the language. 

When we used to stay in Mumbai, we never felt compelled to speak in Marathi. We could easily get through our day with knowledge of English and Hindi there. But Chennai is a very different kind of city. It is a big city but seeped in its own regional identity. Tamil is the language which the man on the road speaks here. This makes socializing tougher for an outsider. It also makes getting some simple chores done, a herculean task - like buying vegetables, interacting with building security, getting house-help to do a particular activity. 

Also Tamil is difficult for us to learn, as we are not familiar with the language in any of its forms - written or spoken. The script for most north Indian languages is Devanagari, so even if we don't know Gujarati or Marathi, we are familiar with words written in those languages. Also many common words in these languages are same or similar sounding to Hindi. And people speak Hindi or English commonly in these places. On the other hand, Tamil is a Dravidian language, with a script very different from Devanagari, thus making it visually non-familiar to an outsider like me. As people in general, don't speak Hindi and English, it becomes difficult to learn it as well in due course, until and unless, you make special efforts like attending a class or use some other learning technique. Then the grammar of the language and importance of phonetics, also makes it tough for a newbie. Example: the Tamil words for Yes (aam), Mummy (am'ma) and Tortoise (amai) sound very similar and it is the way you stress on certain letters, changes the meaning. And while I don't fully understand the anatomy of the language, I am also given to understand that written and spoken Tamil are different too.

But we have to survive and thrive in the city we have committed a large part of our lives to, so we use multiple methods to overcome these issues:
  • Wherever possible, use digital apps - buy groceries online, book cabs / auto online etc. - This disinter-mediation helps by taking away the need of knowing the language
  • Use google translator for basic words - like we now know milk is called Pal and curd is called Tayir - It is inconvenient, but saying few words in Tamil, makes things nicer for an outsider and people are more willing to help
  • Take help from colleagues, neighbors and friends who know Tamil to talk to those whom you can't talk with
  • Actually learn few basic words of Tamil. Had it been any other language, I would have developed basic proficiency by now, given the efforts I have put in. But I am finding Tamil really tough. Here is the list of few words/categories of words, that I am now very comfortable with. This is not necessarily a complete list of words I have learnt, but some, which help me get by. 


Start from basics

The words you assimilate when you are trying to learn to tell people that you are not really proficient in Tamil. 

Tamil Teriyum - Know Tamil
Tamil Teriyatu - Don't know Tamil
Ventam - Do not
Aam - Yes
Illai - No
Chumma (its sounds like Hindi word for kiss) - Just like that
I - Nan

Did you notice, how saying "No" in different contexts, changes the word from Teriyatu to Ventam to Illai. I am still not sure how to use them comfortably.

Conscious effort to learn basics

First set of words that you learn with effort - like salutations, relationships, numbers, food items, basic questions/answers to talk to taxi drivers etc.

Vanakkam - Hello
Nanri Nanpa - Thank You Friend
Am'ma - Mummy
Appa - Papa
Akka - Sister
Anna - Elder Brother
Tampi (Thambi) - Brother, usually younger
Maplai - Groom (Context, Jamai in Hindi)
Nanpa - Friend
Cappatu, Saapadu - Meals / Food
Pal  - Milk, Tayir - Curd, Satam / Saadham - Rice, Tengai / tenkay - Coconut, Tanni / Neer - Water, Illanir - Coconut Water
Eppati Irrukinka - How are you | Nalla Irukken - I'm good
Enke Irrukinka - Where are you | Nan Inke Irukken - I'm here
Pujyam, Onnu, Rendu, Muunu, Naalu, Anju, aaru - 0,1,2,3,4,5,6 (Yes, I have been able to learn till six only. Also the 'u' at the end of each number is not pronounced like 'ooooh' in Himesh Reshamiya songs. I am yet to get the hang of how to pronounce that 'u' properly. A safe bet is don't stress on 'u' at the end of each number at all.)

Just keep in mind, learning these words / numbers don't ensure you can really make others understand things. Because each word in English has multiple synonyms in Tamil, but they have to be used very particularly when put in a sentence. But these help to break the ice.

Let us move to few basic phrases (I am limiting to those I can recall now)

The phrases which spell some action. These are for practice with those kind souls who can tolerate your bad pronunciation.

Pokalam / Pollam  - Let's go
Capitallam / Saapadalam - Let's eat
Cirikate / Srikadhe - Don't laugh
Moraikadhe - Don't stare

Clearly the way these phrases are written and the way they are spoken are different. That explains why I am writing each Tamil phrase with a slash followed by an option. The post slash word is the way I have been taught to speak. Did you also notice, that 'kadhe' also means No in this context, adding to the list of ways of saying No. Aren't things becoming more complex?

Tough ones / Bad ones

When I reached phrases in the above section, I had almost given up hope to learn Tamil. But then I thought at least I should learn some bad words.

Poda Venkayam / Pota Venkayam - Useless onion (I don't know how it is a profanity, but seemingly it works)
Enkita Vachukita Konduduven - Don't mess with me or I will kill you (Yes, this is what I am being taught in lieu of cuss words)
Dei naaye Kolaikadhey - Hey (dei) dog (naaye) don't (kadhey) bark (kolai) (At least this can work for school kids)
Dei kosu Kadikadheey - Hey mosquito(kosu)  don't bite (kadi) (Back to kindergarten)

Do you realize that people speaking Tamil get offended by simple profanities? They don't need big guns from Punjabi like MC / BC at all. Or they didn't teach me. I may have to take classes from someone who is good in Teru / Tharai Local (Local Street Slang).

*Disclaimer - Wherever I have written Tamil in English Alphabet, I have taken help from people who taught me these words or Google to write spellings. The logic used is to be as close as possible to way they are spoken. But given the complexity of the language, there might be errors in spelling. Please bear. 

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My last year's challenge post from letter T was about Train Rides and one particular memorable one. Read it here.

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My theme for this year's #AtoZchallenge is all about writing stories, anecdotes and observations from my life in form of easy to read listicles. You can read the theme reveal post here.




11 comments:

minalbhate said...

It sounds though...ur blog can actually serve as a guide for a newbies to survive in Chennai

Seema Misra said...

I admire the effort you have put into learning Tamil. And can relate a lot to what you have written. I have been in Bangalore for many years, however, find it very difficult to learn Kannada.

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Anonymous said...

Hahaha!!! It is really a tough language. Specially when u want to abuse or to get angry with someone you are helpless and only option is to keep quiet.I hardly understand my maid's language. We have to communicate through actions and that too sometimes we don't understand each other. And while shopping sometimes I have to show pic or Google translated word to shopkeeper to buy that particular word. Now only hope is to learn language from my son when he will join school. Lol!!!

Colette Bates said...

This was very interesting to read. You show many words in Tamil that appear and sound so similar while having very different meanings. It must be very, very difficult.

Charan Deep Singh said...

Sure, if you think so Minal. But I doubt. 😝

Charan Deep Singh said...

I can empathize seema

Charan Deep Singh said...

Ishwinder don't pin hopes on your son. Learn few words

Charan Deep Singh said...

Colette, locals say it is actually very easy.

Anonymous said...

So in my humble opinion, there is a classical version of Tamizh spoken in the so called "refined" circles, which has many words common with Sanskrit. For example, Neer is water in both languages, gruh pravesham means the same thing too. But neer on the street is known as tanni.
Which is where the fun starts.

Kandipa, kunjum kashtam.

Charan Deep Singh said...

Thanks for adding to the complexity Anon.

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