Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On Celestial Pachyderms

Today, I was listening to a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi by a yesteryear vidwan. The pallavi was in Tamil and went:
ten-pazhani vaDivElanE, devayAnai maNavALanE*
The pallavi refers to the deity Muruga/Karttikeya. He is considered a bachelor in the north** but is twice-married down south. His second wife is called dEvayAni in Sanskrit and dEvAnai in Tamil. Gods and goddesses in Tamilnadu have two names - one each in Sanskrit and Tamil.

In this pallavi, the vidwan wishes to refer to the deity in relation to his wife, i.e., "O Husband of such-and-such-a-person." But he confuses the two names, dEvayAni and dEvAnai, of the goddess and ends up with the hybrid dEvayAnai, which means "Divine Elephant" (yAnai = elephant, in Tamil)!

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* தென்பழனி வடிவேலனே, தேவயானை மணவாளனே
** Whether it's north of the Vindhyas or that of Tirutthani, I am not sure.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Language tidbits

A large number of Bangaloreans can speak Tamil. But there is a simple way to distinguish the native speaker of Tamil from a Kannadiga who learnt it: Where the former will use app'DiyA ("is that so?"), the latter will say AmAvA. As in:

"nALaikki Madras pOrEn." ("I am going to Madras tomorrow.")
"app'DiyA / AmAvA?" ("Is that so?")

This is because the Kannada equivalent of app'DiyA is audA. And audu ("yes") translates to AmA in spoken Tamil.

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In my opinion, a Tamil-speaker can learn Kannada easier by comparing Kannada expressions to their equivalents in formal (rather than spoken) Tamil. This is because Tamil words are often shortened when used colloquially and the similarities between the two languages may not be readily apparent.

For example, vanduviTTu ("after coming") becomes vandu'TTu in spoken Tamil, but the Kannada bandbiTTu is closer to the first form. So also, vandukoNDu (becomes vandu'NDu) & bandkoNDu; vanduviDu (becomes vandu'Du) & bandbiDu.

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Did you know that in Sanskrit, the letter व which now has the sound V, was originally W?

Of the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet, य, र, ल and व (which make up the penultimate row of the Varnamala) are considered to be "semi-vowels," as each of them is formed when two vowels combine. य (ya) arises out of the sandhi of the vowels इ (i) and अ (a). That is,
इ + अ -> य
ऋ + अ -> र
ऌ + अ -> ल
उ + अ -> व
When the vowels उ (u) and अ (a) combine to form व, as you can see, the resultant sound is better represented by W. I am curious how it evolved into a V. I find this surprising since the W sound is after all easier on the mouth than V.

And the preponderance of W's in the names of Sri Lankan cricket players (Wickremasinghe, Samaraweera) makes me wonder if, in Sinhalese, the letter has retained the original sound.

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Hindi has a number of dialects - Khadiboli, Braj-bhasha, Awadhi, etc. But few may know of the existence of a southern dialect of Hindi. It's called Carnatic Hindi, the language as sung by Carnatic musicians!

The main languages of Carnatic music are, of course, Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada. A share of the pie was given to Hindi by the royal composer Swati Tirunal, who created 36 songs in the language. One of them begins:
रामचन्द्र प्रभो, तुम बिन
जाने कौन खबर ले मेरी!
A Carnatic musician would pronounce it thus:
rAmachandra prabhO, tuma bina
jAnE kauna khabara le mErI!
... without eliding the 'a' sounds as a Hindi-speaker would do (tum bin jAne etc.)!

And I approve of it. Such a pronunciation gels with that of the south Indian languages (including Sanskrit) that a Carnatic aficianado is attuned to.

Meera bhajans, when pronounced in Carnatic Hindi, appear an integral part of the Carnatic repository:
morE to giridhara gopAla
dUsarO na koyI...
... while a playback of MS Subbulakshmi's Hanuman Chalisa
SrI guru charaNa sarOja raja
nija mana mukura sudhAri
... runs seamlessly from that of any south Indian household regular such as the Siva Panchakshara Stotram.

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PS: I apologise to all readers for the long silence.