linguistics (was: Tamil words in English)

S Krishna mahadevasiva at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Feb 20 03:50:23 UTC 1998

Vidyasankar Sundaresan says:

<<For many Kannada and Telugu speakers, saying that these languages are
similar to north Indian languages, and that they are allied to
Sanskrit,serves as a way of setting themselves apart from Tamil and
Tamil speakers. Since Sanskrit is popularly thought to be older than any
other language, it also serves as a means of suggesting that Kannada and
Telugu are somehow older than Tamil.>>

I have heard interesting variations of this *superiority* thing from
the different people in the South:

1. People who want to tell you that Tamil stands miles above the rest
of the languages will stress 1. age factor 2. alternative tradition in
Tamil i.e. otherness 3. "holy language"- since many of the classics in
Tamil indirectly/sirectly suggest the holiness of Tamil and it's
equivalence to Sanskrit in terms of addressing God.

2. People who want to tell you that Telugu is a cut above the other
languages will start off by saying 1. IT is the "ITalian of the East"
2. IT is the most popular(Telugu has more speakers than other languages.
3. It's "superiority" can be gauged by the fact that non
Telugus chose Telugu to compose in i.e. many musicians were Tamil
speaking but wrote in Telugu, true of the 18-19th centuries.

3. People who want to talk about Kannada  superiority will stress
the fact that 1. it has won 6 Jnanpeeth awards 2. It is the ideal bridge
between the north and the south since northern KAnnada is close to the
North Indian languages and southern KAnnada close  to the southern
languages 3. It is therefore very user friendly...

The most sensible people in this respect seem to be the Malayalis
(mind you, I'm not a Malayali:-) who seem to be a little too mature
to descend into all this gee-gawing about superiority and what have
you...may their tribe increase...

The reason why I brought up this is to lament the number of "books,
commentaries" written about these languages which contain longer
diatribes than any useful material...I have read books on Tamil
literature by scholars like S.Illakkuvanar, Mu Varadarasanar
and others which seem to be devoted to longer diatribes about Sanskrit
and it's evil influence than discussing Tamil literature.(I'm not
doubting their erudition in Tamil,but simply commenting about their
style of presentation). If one were to read R.NArasimhachar's book
on Kannada literature, it starts off by saying that there should be more
translations of KAnnada works( a very noble and good thought)
ESPECIALLY when there are so many translations of Tamil
works:-(,:-(..this book is devoted to rants against Tamil as much as
discussing KAnnada ...I find these kinds of academicians and tomes
appalling and wish that people were more mature in their is
this that makes me think at times that scholarship about India is safer
in Western hands( or atleast Indians teaching in the west i.e
A.K.Ramanujan being a very good example) than Indians since if nothing
else, the westerner would look at a matter dispassionately and not rave
and rant on these tenacious issues....

  Speaking for myself, I find all this talk about age, superiority and
what have you down right silly and would like to quote the poet Rahim
on this issue:

"baDA huA to kyA huA, jaise pED khajUr |
 panthI kO chAyA nahI, phal lagai ati dUr||"

(What is the point in being huge, like the date tree.
It can neither provide shade to travellers and the fruits are a little
too high to reach.)- flat translation

My request to all people who want to investigate the descent of a word
from which ever tongue is to adopt whatever logic  that would convince
them that a particular word is derived from their favorite source
language ALONE and nowhere else..prolonged discussions of this sort
serve only to promote unfriendliness and unhealthy competition....


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