Naturalla pesum Tamil

Tayathula saaptu, tayathula thoongu*, came amma’s voice over the phone.
I had heard that bit of advice all my life. I thought nothing of it until the day a friend and I were leaving home for a long trip away. As we stepped out Amma called out her usual line. My friend looked totally puzzled. When the door closed he asked, What did your mom say? I repeated her chant, and after a moment’s incomprehension he burst out laughing.

What’s so funny?
Tayathula! Hahahaha!

It was then that it hit me. Tayathula was a total Tamilisation of the word ‘time’, in which the final ‘m’ sound is omitted to make it fit the Tamil system of affixing prepositions.

And since then I have met actualla, idealla and best of all – systeth. In the same way that the ‘m’ was removed from time, it is removed from system (usually referring to a computer) to make way for Tamil word-endings. Photo enga da? Systethla paaru! (Where is the photo? Look in the ‘system’!) Other words ending with the ‘m’ sound have suffered similarly: Poeyatha manapadam panniya? (Have you memorised the poem?)

Tamil has adopted and modified many English words to suit its purposes. ‘Comedy’ and ‘super’ come to mind. As do yescape (escape) and rouse. But these words have been lucky to retain (at least a semblance of) their original meanings. Words like assalt (from assault) now mean fearlessness or sometimes impunity. Assalta vandhu rouse vuttaan, saar! (He boldly came and caused a stir!)

And sometimes, words acquire a whole wealth of significance when used in Tamil: Avanga yenna pursnalty-aa irukkanga! (roughly: What a personality she has!) but here the word goes far beyond its English meaning. In Tamil, pursnalty is an adjective, not a mere noun!


Like every self-respecting Tamilian I called it ‘cool drink’ until the day a someone pointed out that it should be ‘cold drink’. I was about to respond somewhat hotly (sorry! couldn’t resist!), when I realised she was right, but in Tamil Nadu ‘cool’ is far more accurate – by the time the bottle travels from the refrigerator, carried by warm, sweaty hands to your table, it is somewhat less jill than you might like!

* Eat on time, sleep on time.

For more on systeth see this and this.

For other words from English that have taken on colourful Tamil avatars, see here.

Written with key inputs from PB.


8 responses to “Naturalla pesum Tamil

  1. This is a very nice piece. Supera irukku.

  2. Indeed! A nice observation this…

    It used to grate on me earlier.. but I’ve grown quite fond of it!

    Especially tiyathla! And it’s really interesting how absolutely integrated it has become into madras bashai..

  3. Raj: Thanks-nga!

    Sneha: Have you heard Surya and other actors say ‘youth-aa’? As in ‘Inda padathula naan youthaana role senjirukken‘? It had me in splits!

  4. Hilarious. Asaalta is a classic. Systeth is awesome too. Other typical phrases like “sooper”, “saar”, etc. Nice one!

  5. Actually, Haven’t!! But I’ve been away for a couple of years 😦 Looking forward to it when I get back in a few months!!

    Mostly to giggle at.. I suppose as they as say, a language that does not evolve will die.. I’m just not sure if it’s tamizh or english that’s doing the evolving..

  6. Philramble: Mikka nandri!

    Sneha: Good question, although I think it is Tamil that’s changing. Each time I go back to Madras, which is every six months, I find the baashai has changed. Learning new slang is good fun!

  7. Tiyuthala-va. Isn’t it Tiyathukku-saaptu, tiyathukku thungu..

  8. Tayathukku is more gramatically accurate, yes. But I suppose each family has its own unique approach to the Tamilisation of poor Tayaum. 🙂

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