Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 4 : 11 November 2004

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.


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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.

1. A Success Story from Malaysia!

The standardization of the Malay language as a fit vehicle for governance, mass media, and education in the last fifty years is a great achievement that we all can be proud of. Nations plagued by the questions of language standardization and forward-looking language planning can really draw inspiration, lessons, and ideas from the process the Malay language planners coined and adopted to make language planning in Malaysia a success story.

Inspired by this story and experience, I propose to look at the standardization problems faced by Tamil, one of the oldest living languages of the world, and a prominent language in India and Sri Lanka, with good standing official status and patronage in Malaysia and Singapore.

2. History Can Weigh a Language Down!

History can weigh a language down. Tamil is a classic example. Recently recognized as a living classical language by the government of India, the hoary history of Tamil could also be its own trap.

The challenges for Tamil to become an effective instrument of governance and medium of education are manifold. I will list a few important ones below.

3. How do we overcome the traditional insistence among the Tamils and in the Tamil language on loan translation in the place of borrowing? Or keep such tendencies regulated?

The need for effective communication between scientists of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds requires the retention and maintenance of technical terms that are common to all the practitioners irrespective of the diversity in their cultural and linguistic background. But there are factors, which force the scientists of a society to coin their own technical terms in their national language in place of the terms of international use. These factors include the urge to maintain one's national identity, the urge to meet the demands of education through the mother tongue or the national language, the long entrenched tradition of local and native scientific pursuits and the avowed conventions of linguistic usage of a society. These two conflicting trends are noticeable in all societies. Tamil is no exception to it.

There is a category of terms that come into existence in the language if the concepts are suggested and codified first in that language. However, when scientific concepts were adopted on a massive scale, because of the newness of the concepts as well as the newness of agencies and systems that impart such concepts, there may be a large-scale importation into a language of technical terms that have their origins in the languages of other societies. Further, a language other than the one spoken by the vast majority in a society may have been historically used in that society as the medium of sciences, as was the case in medieval Europe. This situation also may lead to a large-scale use of words that have their origins elsewhere.

In yet another category, users of a language may not at all accept any terms that have their origins in another language and may at all times aim at coining their terms in their own language.

4. A Number of Variables and a Number of Questions

That is, there are a number of variables that should be considered: how do the users of a language view the use of the terms that are imported into their language; how do they exploit the terms that are already available in their language to express a related but newly founded concept; what is the state of (or the quality of) scientific research carried out using that language as the medium; what are the programs for the coinage of terms; is the coinage a translation process or is it an integral part and a consequence of the state of scientific research carried out in a community through its language; what is the nature of the genius of the language in terms of productive coinage facilities and in terms of adaptation and adoption of terms with origins in other languages; what are the compelling needs of the profession within the community through whose language the scientific pursuit is carried out as well as the needs of the profession across diverse linguistic communities?

5. Intense Preference for Loan Translation

The move towards an internationally accepted common terminology is matched equally in its intensity by the tendency to prefer loan translation in languages of developing nations. Tamil has traditionally preferred loan translation rather than direct borrowing. We notice a very strong tendency in the early Tamil classics to adopt loan translation. However, for the last several centuries, there was some merger of the processes of loan translation and borrowing, by directly accepting the Sanskrit terms as its own. While, strictly speaking, this switch should be considered as a switch from loan translation to borrowing, Tamil scholars and common man always assumed that such words and processes are part of Tamil genius. Words from English are treated as borrowed words, but not the words taken from Sanskrit. Political and literary movements that began in the 19th century, however, went back to the original roots found in early Tamil and insisted on loan translation rather than direct borrowing.

6. Excessive Pre-occupation with Loan Translation

This has resulted in the excessive pre-occupation of seeking, finding, and coining Tamil equivalents, which could be at times extremely contrived. Communication, readability, and the correctness of the focus on the concept appear to take a back seat. Moreover, this trend makes a heavier demand on the users to acquaint themselves with the newly coined terms and to actively reconstruct their mental lexicon.

At the same time, if loan translation is not adopted, the essential phonological, graphemic, morphological, and even syntactic features of Tamil could be drastically altered. This, perhaps, is the greatest worry. Also again, excessive borrowing will not help communication and readability, but, to some extent, the focus on the concept may be retained. For the successful use of the terms, the learners will be forced to learn the terms and their usage, but also their correct pronunciation, if they want to use the same in their English transactions.

7. Other Attendant Questions Relating to Loan Translation

A major question that arises in the minds of those who would prefer direct borrowing rather than loan translation is how one could effectively transcribe the borrowed words using the letters of the Tamil script, which, in many respects, is qualitatively different from the scripts of other Indian languages.

In Tamil, there are no graphemes for the voiced series of stops; there is no use of aspiration whatsoever in any of the available voiceless stop graphemes; there is no grapheme to represent the labio-dental voiceless fricative; there is no grapheme to represent the sounds such as alveolar voiced fricative, etc. The educated native speakers of Tamil manage this so-called inadequacy by simply using the Indian English pronunciation for various technical terms, ignoring the sound values represented by the letters of the Tamil language to represent these words. Other less educated Tamils do their best to approximate the assumed correct pronunciation of these terms by using sounds that may sound closer to the spelling used to represent the English term. In both the cases, note that an additional step is introduced in the mastery of the spelling and use of the technical terms in Tamil.

The problem could be solved, to some extent, if Tamil could adopt the Roman Script with suitable modification, just as it was done in the Malay language. However, this could not happen soon because the adoption of another script, such as the Roman Script or the Devanagari, will certainly change the phonological structure of the language. (But the speech habits of the urban educated classes are changing in many directions, and ultimately the accumulated changes will force the Tamil users to change their script radically.)

Moreover, unlike other Indian languages, Tamil has been following well-laid principles in the past as to how the borrowed words should be treated and represented. These principles, written in the earliest Tamil grammar, Tolkaappiyam, at least 1800 years ago, still are followed, not only in the written domains, but also in the rural speech. Until such day when the accumulated changes in speech habits force them to change their script radically, Tamil users will continue to depend on the transcription of borrowed words only with the letters available in their native script. And until then, a major problem exists as to how one could manage the spelling changes that are imposed on the transcribed terms because of lack of adequate letters so that a technical term borrowed from English could be recognized as relating to its original form in English. If Tamil is given a place of primary importance in the levels of higher education, then the students will be required to acquire this skill.

8. Developing Appropriate Morphological Processes of Derivation and Inflection

Technical terms are not learned simply as nouns, although the majority of these are indeed nouns. There are other processes to which the chosen technical terms may be subjected. For example, compound formation, using a term both as an adjective and as a verb, and using it sometimes as an adverb are some of the processes we often easily notice in the literature.

How do we subject the borrowed items to perform these functions in communicating the concepts and processes? How do we make a borrowed technical term productive in the Tamil language? Should we borrow and adopt all the related items to the originally borrowed item? Or let the native morphological processes apply automatically to such terms? The latter course was adopted largely when terms from the Indian languages including Sanskrit and English are borrowed both for colloquial usage and technical terms.

In the colloquial speech, the borrowed English terms are subjected to this very same process. However, when it comes to technical terms, Tamil seems to prefer the borrowing of the morphological processes as well from English. This further makes the mastery of the borrowed technical terms more complex. Some conscious effort needs to be taken in this regard which, I think, should accept and apply the native morphological processes to the borrowed technical terms.

I have no doubt that immediately some serious objection to this recommendation will be raised.

The strategy currently used, that of giving the term in English spelling in parentheses or giving the loan translation word in Tamil in parentheses, is good, but it simply adds to the burden of the reader or user of technical terms. A related problem that we face is as to how one could ensure that such processes do not hamper the growth of modern idiom and make Tamil a language only of the elites.

9. How do we resist the predominant tendency to self-generate terms for science only from the stock of Tamil words?

Tamil receives elements from other languages at the informal level but at the formal level the trend is in favor of loan translation. Unlike Hindi, which treats Sanskrit as its source of vocabulary for technical terms (and even for matters of mass communication), Tamil seeks its technical terms, wherever possible, from its own ancient and medieval stages. Tamil goes in for the coinage of pure Tamil terms as far as possible. Tamil does its best to have its own consistent endings for the technical terms of each discipline. Equivalents for -ics, -num and so on are also coined and an attempt is made to use them in a consistent fashion. But the number of such endings is few in Tamil and, as a result, one ending is used in many senses.

10. The Problem of Standardization

The problem of standardization is as acute as the problem of coinage in Tamil. Scientists writing in Tamil were not trained as scientists using Tamil. They need not also be conversant with the derivational processes that the natural grammar of Tamil allows. As a consequence, scientists may use different words for the same concept in Tamil. They may also use the same word for different concepts. The matter is much worse in the use of Hindi technical terms, with each Hindi-speaking state trying to adopt its own technical terms. The matter recently went up to the Supreme Court of India and early in September this year the Court ordered against such arbitrary practices in the use of technical terms in Hindi.

Some scientists are influenced by their dialects. Some are influenced by the content, shape and even the pronunciation of the technical terms in English. Some are guided by a particular aspect of the concept. Some are given to indulge in the excessive use of metaphor to avoid using technical terms in their native language. Some even go to the extent of adding some new derivational processes. Some choose a word and impose on it a new meaning.

In Tamil, many technical terms coined in Tamilnadu, India, are found at variance with those formed by the committees in Sri Lanka. This does not create much confusion, since these territories belong to two different nations, and, as a consequence, migrations of scientists, students, and other readers, and also the exchange of materials, are not frequent. But, in the case of Hindi, almost every Hindi-speaking state in India has its own committee of technical terms which has been busy producing terms many all at once and at variance with one another.

Furthermore, these committees seem to be influenced in their coinage of terms by a desire that the technical terms be comprehensible not only to the scientists, but also to the general public. They exhibit a tendency to elevate the terms used in the colloquial language to the status of a scientific term assuming that this elevation would lead to better comprehension, propagation, and even the acceptance of the concepts. This perhaps is the reason why such variations in terms have been allowed to a great deal.

In Tamil, there is a tendency to avoid and eliminate foreign terms. This tendency has its roots in the ancient efforts to avoid and eliminate words of Sanskrit origin, and supply and use in its place an existing Tamil word, and if no Tamil word is available, to coin a new Tamil word through loan translation. This is a tendency found in the general language, which has been accepted now in scientific writing also. As a result, there is conscious, massive and at times time-consuming effort made for the coinage of technical terms. Tamil scholars and scientists need to revisit the situation and decide how a balanced approach could be developed.

11. How Do We Bridge the Ever-growing Gulf between the Spoken and Written Styles of Tamil?

The distinction between the spoken and written varieties of Tamil is so wide that sometimes one is tempted to treat them as distinct languages. However, the interconnection between the two is so strong that with a little of formal education a mother tongue user of Tamil is able to discern to some extent what is communicated through these distinct varieties or styles. Yet this discernible relationship between the two varieties does not really help develop the coinage and use of technical terms.

Government records, and scientific work and expression in Tamil inevitably choose the written variety, and the written variety is more constrained by rules and traditions of usage. Government records presented in public forums such as the State Legislature and courts of law invariably adopt the written variety using newly coined technical terms in Tamil. These records are difficult to understand for the ordinarily educated Tamils. Even the highly educated Tamil scholars have difficulty in comprehending the contents of such documents.

Because in every language the "officialese" is quite different from the ordinary language of common men and women, the movements such as Plain English have been started. In Tamil, the complexity is taken to an even higher level because of the divergence between the spoken and written forms of the language. Once again, a variety of intermediary styles have been devised to bridge the gap between the two, and yet the gap is really widening because of English education. Difficulties with the written language and the assumed and apparent ease with the use of English, act as stumbling blocks for the effective use of Tamil as a fit vehicle for governance and education.

The inscriptional history of the Tamil language clearly shows that while the spoken variety was used for simple announcements, declarations, and records, it was the written variety that was used for "higher" purposes. This dichotomy, unfortunately, continues even now.

12. The Choices Before a Writer of Science Materials in Tamil

The foregoing brief description shows that a scientist planning to express himself through Tamil has to make, first of all, a choice between the spoken and written forms (Thirumalai 2003). The choice is made in favor of the written form just as in the case of the expression of non-technical matters. Within the written form, he may either accept the international vocabulary in transliteration or go in for loan translation.

Once loan translation is accepted, he has a choice between words of Tamil origin and words borrowed from other languages closer to Tamil from the point of view of both historical (non-linguistic) and linguistic reasons. Once a preference for words of Tamil origin on the basis of their being comprehensible to the general public or on the basis of transparency is established, he has to make a choice between ancient forms and modern ones, between making compounds and making phrases (for a technical term), between focusing on one aspect of the concept and focusing on all aspects of the concept, between readable pronunciation and difficult to read concept-based coinages, between elevation of a common word to technical term status and discarding altogether the common word to coin a new word, and so on.

13. How do we avoid the indiscriminate use of foreign words in the name of communicative convenience and such other claims?

The Tamil script has certain inherent constraints against the indiscriminate and excessive use of foreign words in Tamil. It simply does not make it easier to reproduce foreign words using the letters available in the script. Normative grammatical traditions in Tamil, very much admired and very much insisted upon in writing processes until recently, regulated how the foreign/loan words should be transcribed using the traditional Tamil script. Such regulations have been in place at least for the last 1800 years!

However, despite such restrictions, over the centuries, the Tamil script accepted a few letters that immediately helped the reception of words from Sanskrit. These covered the representations for a few sibilants and glottal voiceless fricative. At least two other graphemes to represent some compound sounds/letters were also added. These additions help the reception of some categories of words from Hindi and other Indian languages, but are not adequate enough to receive, or to represent foreign words even approximately, on a large scale.

Unlike other Indian languages, Tamil always tried to maintain its distinctiveness from Sanskrit and Sanskrit-based and Sanskrit-influenced Indian languages. Internally, at least one infrequently used or rather obsolete letter of the Tamil script is given a new function to represent the alveo-dental voiceless fricative.

Simply put, both normative grammatical traditions and the structure of the Tamil script do not allow large scale representation of words from other languages.

14. Social Prestige and Communicative Convenience

Social prestige and communicative convenience are always offered as the rationale for the profuse use of foreign words in the informal spoken language. In the formal spoken and written language, ease in elucidation of the concept being discussed, precision in expression and implication, and alleged paucity of equivalents in Tamil are some of the reasons offered for the profuse use of foreign words.

Arguments against such positions cannot be easily made, but there have always been attempts to demonstrate the "falsity" of such positions from the so-called Tamil zealots or pure Tamil adherents.

Ultimately such arguments almost always made an earnest appeal to the need to maintain the purity of the language in order to demonstrate one's love and devotion to the mother tongue. As I mention below, in the changing social environments among the Tamils in India, such an appeal may be acknowledged, but not always followed in practice. Convenience in communication rather than the retention of the purity and identity of Tamil holds the fort even among the modern teachers of Tamil. Under such conditions, restraining the influx of foreign words into Tamil may not lead to much success. This tension is sought to be resolved by accepting the reality of the profuse use of foreign words in the spoken informal language, and by seeking to restrain such use in the formal spoken and written language.

15. The Interplay of Many Social and Political Factors: The Union versus the State

Motivated more by linguistic identity issues than by issues relating to inter-personal, social, and educational communication, language planning in Tamil for a long time focused on coinage of technical terms. Efforts to put them into use succeeded only partly, especially because reforms relating to the introduction of Tamil as the major medium of instruction never took off in strength.

Despite the declarations by successive governments in Tamilnadu, India, that Tamil would be introduced as the medium of education in all levels of higher education, such statements were put into action with little or no success. The Madras High Court judgments have actually hampered the introduction of Tamil as the medium of education in Tamilnadu. The government in Tamilnadu acted/acts helpless in all these situations, even as the political parties that formed the successive governments in the last fifty years never failed to declare their intention to make Tamil the medium of governance and education. These governments could have at least made Tamil the dominant language of administration in all fields of government, but even here the lack of political will resulted in haphazard development.

Inherent in the situation is the close interplay between the needs and goals of the Union which is multi-lingual, and the State, which, though multilingual in a real sense, is predominantly a monolingual entity. Members of the higher administrative services are seconded by the Union to the State, and these members need not necessarily know the dominant language of the State before their posting to the State.

It is true that the governments have made provisions to encourage and even to penalize the members of these services if they did not pass the examinations in the dominant language of the State. However, once they pass the mandatory exams (often an eye-wash), they are not under any compulsion, legal or otherwise, to use the language in official notings and declarations. Expediency of the administration takes precedence.

The official actions and provisions in this regard, in many respects, do not exceed the arrangements done by the British India Administration in the letter dated the 12th August, 1881, from Her Majesty's Under Secretary of State for India, India Office, London to the Secretary, Civil Service Commission, London. (For want of time, I will not get into the details here, but see Thirumalai 2004.)

Inherent in the situation is yet another factor: the prestige and widespread use of English among the educated classes in India. In the early years of independence from the British rule, people were more apt to pursue education through their mother tongues. However, parents soon realized that jobs and other opportunities that brought in more money and real power went to those who had better control of the English language.

16. Preparing a Fertile Ground for Globalization

In South India, including Tamilnadu, there had always been an admiration for the usefulness of English all over the world in all walks of life. Forced to choose between Hindi as the official language of India and English as the language of national and international importance, the Tamil parents preferred English over Tamil as the medium of education for their children. Confronted by the slow growth of industry in India for various reasons, and consequent lack of adequate jobs, the employment opportunities opening up in the Persian Gulf coupled with wider openings for immigration in the affluent western nations, incited the parents of all classes to seek education through English, rather than through Tamil. In some sense, negligence of the mother tongue education as well as the lack of will to use only Tamil as the medium of governance, etc. actually preceded the emergence of globalization.

Tamils, as an ethnic community, were always appreciative of the overseas opportunities to do business and offer services. However, for various reasons, only a few castes and other communities took advantage of these opportunities in the past. English educations kindled in every Tamil heart a desire and hope to seek a better life overseas! (And, of course, no ethnic community in India is free from such desires now!)

17. Enter Globalization - Change in Social Attitudes Toward Learning Tamil

Enter globalization - parents now seek only English education for their children. Globalization has further accentuated the existing problem.

With India emerging as a major recipient of outsourcing activities, hundreds of thousands of jobs are available in the mundane software-producing and service-providing industries. Such jobs demand better English competence, and the current assumption is that if a child learns the English language early in his schooling, preferably from the kindergarten classes, he will have better skills in English and will get better opportunities for better jobs.

While it is true that learning a language in early childhood will bring in better competence in that language, there are other issues of identity. Maintenance of one's own languages, loyalty, etc. are lost sight of. Learning English now has a twin function: that one may be able to go abroad and make a living because of English skills, and that, even if one does not get an opportunity to work abroad, the same person may be able to land a better job in India with better English skills.

Many children prefer, in addition, learning another European language in place of Tamil. Because of the Indian constitutional provisions that protect linguistic minorities, and because of the judicial pronouncements which help implement these provisions, the curriculum is so organized that even a student whose mother tongue is Tamil actually need not learn Tamil at all. The willing co-operation of successive governments has made this possible.

18. Caste-based Models to Emulate

The function of linguistic identity has always been a bone of contention between various caste groups among Tamils. While most of the non-Brahman castes highly value this as an essential feature, the members of the Brahman communities have had a different accent to this question. They certainly feel proud of their Tamil ancestry, but their religious or sectarian upbringing in many ways emphasizes also their loyalty to Sanskrit, the language of the sacred books of elitist Hinduism. Tamil Brahmans have contributed immensely to the development of the Tamil language in all its departments, and heroically championed the cause of Tamil. However, their world view emphasizes, in many ways, the need to look beyond the Tamil situation.

Moreover, in modern times, because of the politics of affirmative action, they also feel aggrieved that their due share in the public square of government positions in Tamilnadu is denied, despite their competence and contributions to the society.

Political power changed hands in Tamilnadu years ago, with the non-Brahmans having a greater say now. Since the Brahmans' world view looks beyond the Tamil situation, since the Brahmans have for a long time been educationally more advanced as a community than any other group among the Tamils, since they are quite willing to seek jobs anywhere in the world using their skills, and since the Brahmans have become models in such matters, at least from the days of the East India Company which offered wider employment opportunities based on entry level attainments, other Tamils also seem to follow the Brahman model in recent decades. In addition, there is a clear indication that emerging middle class values and aspirations seem closer to the Brahman model than any other community among the Tamils: religiosity, focus on excellence in knowledge-based disciplines, emphasis on and preference for white collar jobs, etc.

One of the essential features of the Brahman model is to accept the Tamil identity, but downplay it in some manner. This model gives a more prominent place to the religious and caste identity, even more so than to the display of linguistic identity. This world-view is catching on rapidly among all sections of Tamil society.

So, I see that a combination of various social, economic, and political factors within the Tamil society, and in other ethnic communities in India, has joined forces with the processes of globalization. In this phenomenon, the emphasis on the linguistic identity, which expects some mastery of the mother tongue, is weakened among the Tamils. The way things are currently done indicates that the ethnic identity of the Tamils may revolve around other forces rather than on language use. Such processes have happened in several linguistic communities in the past in India, and these processes are more likely to be repeated in the future.

Tamil minority religious groups exhibit no exception to this trend when it comes to education and employment. However, Tamil Christians and Muslims more actively seek and use Tamil words intentionally in their religious literature. For various reasons, these groups have chosen formal written Tamil with very few loan words (except for the theological constructs of Islam) for their religious discourses. For example, if you attend Tamil Christian worship, or a public discourse on Muslim theology, you will be surprised to see how strictly and earnestly they seem to follow the formal written Tamil style.

19. Impact of Globalization on Language Use and Language Identity

Enter globalization with advanced technologies for communication and opportunities for jobs. The real danger now is the possibility of Tamil emerging as one of the most hybridized languages in the world: English words with Tamil derivational and inflectional processes, and Tamil words with English derivational and inflectional suffixes!

Globalization has further dampened the enthusiasm, love, and admiration for the use of Tamil. Rapid changes in the choice of personal names, changes in naming processes, preference for the study of languages other than Tamil in all levels of education, use of an extremely hybridized style, and the trend to use English words with English letters in written Tamil sentences are only some of the examples revealing the future to come.

Unrestrained use of words from English with English letters in written communications between individuals, in stories narrated in popular and leading weeklies, and in formal records and communications in educational and other institutions and work places, have become commonplace now. Movie dialogues abound in hybridized sentences, with a profuse use of English words, phrases, sentences, and idioms. Most people in the audience may not really understand such expressions, but they soon come to view such usage as prestigious and worthy of emulation.

People with economic and social power, young and old, educated through the medium of English, who may be literate or almost illiterate in Tamil, or feign to be not adequately acquainted with Tamil as a mode of fashion, follow such practices with abandon in the name of communicative convenience. In reality such practices are established mainly because of the lack of adequate acquaintance with the Tamil language through proper schooling. This class of people becomes models for others to emulate.

20. Tamil Is No Stranger to the Process of Hybridization

Tamil is no stranger to the process of hybridization. For many centuries prose was not the preferred medium of expression in written Tamil. All literature, secular, religious, and literary works, was composed in poetry. No doubt, the commentaries on these works were composed in prose, and copper plates and stone inscriptions, etc. did use some prose, often grammatically inelegant.

After the medieval period of Tamil literature, there arose a body of literature, mostly Hindu religious materials or commentaries that began to employ a hybrid language, a blend of Sanskrit and Tamil words, phrases, and sentences, etc. The hybridized style was given a very attractive name maNipravaaLa - a garland of the blend of diamond and coral. The works were meant for the elitist groups, and not for common men and women. Scholarship in both Tamil and Sanskrit, especially in Sanskrit, was indeed a pre-requisite to the comprehension of such materials.

This literature had high prestige, and drew admiration and respect. It opened the floodgates for the indiscriminate borrowing from Sanskrit, not only from its lexicon but also from the morphological processes. Tamil grammar was sought to be re-written with Sanskrit categories.

This process of hybridization was mainly initiated and sustained by the Brahman groups with the support of some non-Brahman elements. The genius of Tamil, however, withstood this process of hybridization, when movements against such hybridization took stronger roots in later centuries.

After a break, Tamil is now being willingly subjected to another wave of hybridization once again with the willing co-operation of the elitist groups. Hybridization of Tamil and English in the language use of these groups becomes their identity marker.

maNipravaaLa, thus, is an elementary pre-cursor to the linguistic processes that we notice now in Tamil because of the widespread impact of globalization.

21. The Process of Hybridization

In hybridization, blurring of the boundaries between two languages takes place. However, for the individual who uses the hybridized speech consciously as a routine form of speech, and for those who accept such usage as normal and participate in the speech event, the hybridized variety is a wholesome single unit. Blurring of the boundaries is taken for granted, and does not appear to be in any sense abnormal or strange, etc. If demanded, some users of the hybridized speech may be able to keep separate the languages involved, but for some others such separation becomes a more difficult, if not impossible, task.

Bakhtin's definition of hybridization that it is "an utterance that belongs, by its grammatical and compositional markers to a single speaker, but that actually contains mixed within it two utterances, two speech manners, two styles, two 'languages,' two semantic and axiological belief systems" (1981: 304, cited in Ghosh 2001), is valid for the current situation in Tamil. However, what we notice is a move toward the communal use of the hybridization process in the speech of almost every educated or literate Tamil. This process of substitution caused by a wide variety of social, political, economic, and religious variables is one through which an entire language has the potential to change radically, not simply the speech habits of some individuals.

Nandita Ghosh analyzing the situation relating to the use of English in India as portrayed in some selection works of fiction, has this to say (Ghosh 2001):

In English August, the official national discourse on the validity of English as a link language in India is presented by Srivastav, Agastya's boss. Srivastav, a civil servant educated in Hindi, asserts that English in India is not only useful as an administrative tool but also authentic by virtue of its usefulness. As part of an expanding middle class, he desires to use English to administer the country, broker power, and share the class privileges enjoyed by English speakers: "the English we speak is not the English we read in English books. . . . Our English should be just a vehicle of communication . . . how we speak should not matter as long as we get the idea across" (59). He desires that this administrative language should be absolutely transparent in order to facilitate inter-regional translations of culture, information, and resources. Srivastav therefore upholds the validity of Indian English because it represents the hybrid influences that shape identity politics in India within the postcolonial context: "You are what you are, just as English here too is what it is, an unavoidable leftover. We can't be ashamed of our past, no, because that is to be ashamed of our present" (60).

The arguments of the character Srivastav are implicitly accepted by all educated Indians including Tamils in India.

That globalization helps the already existing forces that support the continuous and permanent use of English is obvious. We also notice that hybridization or hybridity does heavily impact the English Indians use and also the culture of India's middle classes. That globalization helps rejuvenate the age-old process of maNipravaaLa that existed in Tamil also needs to be recognized.

22. Hybridization Adds Additional Complexities to the Tamil Situation

Hybridization in Tamil adds yet another complexity to the situation in Tamil: in addition to the existing differences between the spoken and written forms of the language, we have to reckon with the newly emerging level of hybridized tiers both at the spoken and written levels. The tremendous work already done in the preparation of technical terms in Tamil will all go waste, because with the spread of hybridization, it becomes easier to simply borrow the terms, morphological, and grammatical processes at will and insert these in the utterances.

The process of hybridization currently going on in Tamil because of the factors already discussed is not merely a phase in which one particular lingo is fashionable for a while, and such a lingo will be replaced by another in due course. A lingo is usually defined as "a strange or incomprehensible language or speech such as a foreign language, the special vocabulary of a particular field of interest, or the language characteristic of an individual." While SMS messages and such other items used by young persons may be considered lingo (See Paul 2004, for a list of such lingoes currently in use among the "wireless" population in India), hybridization of Tamil has come to stay as a way of life. Clear-cut patterned structures are easily discernible. And hybridization in Tamil has its own history, so the past models can be easily re-cycled in relation to a new language or languages, not necessarily using Sanskrit as in the past.

23. To Conclude

Lack of political will, lopsided emphasis on creating technical terms but not using them, educational provisions that do not mandate the learning of Tamil within Tamilnadu, the emergence of new middle classes with significant similarities in values and attitudes toward English and Tamil between the Brahman and non-Brahman castes, fascination for English as a passport for better jobs within India and abroad, inflexibility of the Tamil script, historical tendencies toward loan translation (which unfortunately estranges a significant population that seeks education through English only), the undue intervention of the Madras High Court even to the extent of going beyond what is mandated in law and seeking justification for the current situation through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc., and the past history of maNipravaaLa hybridization, all contribute to the strength with which the hybridization of Tamil is pursued. The future of Tamil, then, offers some worrisome and exciting possibilities for a total change in every department of the language. Globalization simply accentuates the existing contradictions at the linguistic level, because the emerging hybridized language use becomes a mark of elitism.


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This paper was presented in the Congress of World's Major Languages, conducted by the Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka (Department of Official Language), Government of Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from October 5-8, 2004.



M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Bethany Collge of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA

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