Home Columns Anantha Narayan Tamil’s twisted tale

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    Shiva Ayyadurai is a Tamil-speaking Indian American. He invented the ‘email’ that we all use today and he copyrighted, way back in 1982. Logically speaking, he should either be a household name in the state of Tamil Nadu or the word ‘email’ should have been permanently enshrined in the Senthamizh Agarathi (Tamil dictionary). Neither happened. Instead, the purists continue to use min anjal as the official term for email and Ayyadurai never made it to the Tamil pantheon of achievers. So much for local pride.

    Anyway, the larger point of focus this week is the propensity of Tamil pundits to steadfastly stall any English influence on their lexicon. Perhaps, the irrational fear of being inundated by foreign words forces the lexicologists to shut the valve on cultural osmosis. The unfounded paranoia is the fuel for coining neologisms that nobody uses.

    Let’s take the cell phone. Every Suppan and Kuppan on the street calls it the ‘cell’ or the ‘mobile’. What do the experts call it? Kai pesi or nadai pesi! Can you imagine deploying it in a regular conversation? If you say, “Aiya, ungal nadai pesiyil oru kurum kadidham anuppa vendum, thaareergala?” every time you borrow a handset to send an SMS, you will only get an ivan-oru-Kilpauk-case look from strangers. That’s what the puritans reduce you to.

    I have never understood why the computer mouse needs another name in Tamil. Why would you use a chutti or a kaikaati as an option when you have the universally understood ‘mouse’? What’s the grand plan in educating people in kannini iyal (computer science) and filling their heads with esoteric terminology like parimaari (server), pagir menporul (shareware), visai palagai (keyboard) and sol seyalakki (word processor)? Do we want our Tamil-educated software engineers to feel like Eskimos in Essaikimuthu land, when they do offshore projects?

    Why can’t we let ‘browser’ be ‘browser’? Why insist on an ulaavi as replacement? Which graphic designer would prefer to call a font as varivadivu? Why would anyone choose a valaipadhivu over a blog? Those who want to translate selfie into thannaithaaneypadam are clearly living in a world where Facebook is mugaputhagam. Get over it, thambi!

    -Anantha Narayan
    Spotted any more complicated coinages? Anuppungal to anantha@albertd

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