Sunday, August 24, 2008

Local Language

The Madras Day celebrations ended today and one of the last events was a book release; a compilation of essays by various authors on their impressions about Chennai. My first thoughts on listenting to the description of the book was that I must get around to reading it - it will be a challenge, but I know I must.... it has been a long while since I read a book in Tamizh, but this one sounds too good to be left unread, or even unsampled. One of the good parts of the Madras Day celebrations is that it has tried to reach out to places where these kind of celebrations are normally not taken to. It sometimes sounds much better hearing about impressions of Chennai in the native language!

Tamizh is indeed a unique language. Evolving fairly independent of Sanskrit, Tamizh has been in use for at least 2000 years. The armies from this region took their language with them when on their campaigns into the island of Ceylon and to the Malayan peninsula; today, Tamizh is a national language not only of India, but also of Sri Lanka and Singapore. Though the dialects spoken in those countries is very distinct from those of India, it is quite easy to understand them if one has learnt Tamizh at school / college levels; however, someone who has picked up the langauge listening to the day-to-day exchanges in Chennai will be all at sea trying to figure out the meanings. Chennai Tamizh - naw, that doesn't sound right - 'Madras Bashai' is a mixture, a Tamizh base into which phrases from several other languages are thrown in and which must be spoken in a way that sounds like an invitation to arm-wrestle. If that has been your only exposure to the language so far, you are forgiven for wondering how could anyone make any sense of it.

Which is probably the reason why, when the language became the first ever to be declared a 'Classical Language' in India, this Institute was set up in the city. We need to be reminded that the language is also part of a heritage that goes back a couple of millenia - and I'm sure next year's Madras Day celebrations will include some events to push that thought!

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