Why Don’t Tamils Speak Tamil?


I was pretty excited about the evening. My உயிர்தோழி was getting married (arranged) and her fiancé was visiting her from the United States today. I was her wing-woman for the evening. Little did I know that it was more of a bane than a boon!

With a heavy American accent, glossy Armani shirt and shimmering Rolex, he was a typical NRI (Non-Resident Indian) IT மாப்பிள்ளை. The scant தமிழ் he sputtered here and there was heavily accentuated with American English. And he was relentless. He went on and on whining about how his new abode in “America” was far superior to his hometown – from the differences in driving to crows being fed a square meal on terraces.

Just as his grumbles were beginning to prompt me into head-banging, he hit an IT professional (obvious from his weary eyes, half tucked in formal shirt and the ID card around his neck) slithering on his FZ. Although the fault was completely with the NRI மாப்பிள்ளை, he was furious about the reckless driving of the biker. My friend and I were petrified as we looked on at the animated brawl from inside the car. Very slowly we lowered our window panes and what we heard blew our minds. We heard a veritable dictionary of proper தமிழ் slurs in all 26 letters of the English alphabet being spat between the two professionals. What a turn of events! Mr. Peter (NRI மாப்பிள்ளை) is now finally at the mercy of தமிழ்? And for what? For swearing at his fellow தமிழன்!

Is it just the NRI மாப்பிள்ளை who is biased with தமிழ் or are you too? Let’s find out from a small questionnaire. Answer these questions honestly and you will soon reveal yourself:

– What is your preferred language when you use the internet for Googling, Facebooking etc. Is it தமிழ்?

– When you want to send your friend a text in தமிழ், do you actually type in தமிழ் or send தமிழ் words in English? For instance, “என்ன கொடுமை சரவணன் இது” or “Enna Kodumai Saravanan Idhu” or “EKSI” *facepalm*?

– What is your preferred language of use on a date? Is it தமிழ்?

– What is the language you’d prefer if you were to write a love letter or if you were to pen romantic two-liners for your dear beloved? Will it be தமிழ்?

– What is the chief language for terms of endearment that you shower on your loved ones? Would it be a “sweetheart” or a “darling” or would it be a செல்லமே or a தங்கமே?

– How would you prefer naming your daughter ஆண்டாள்/பூங்கொடி or Aakaanksha/Parinita?

– How do you encourage your kids to address you? Dad/Mum, Daddy/Mommy or அப்பா/அம்மா?

– What is your preferred language of use for swearing at the motorcyclist who was the reason for a tiny scratch on your sparkling new Porsche in crawling traffic?

Now evaluate your “preferred language” meter. Aren’t you shocked by your score?

Should we not be ashamed of ourselves for the way in which we are ignoring and mistreating our mother tongue தமிழ் by looking down at it? Who/what are we going to blame for this attitude of ours? Is the blame going to be on the colonization that ended half a century ago? Or is it the fact that we are still shamelessly retaining a foreign language as our medium of instruction? How long are we going to keep accusing the foreigners who left our land for our inferior outlook towards our mother tongue தமிழ்? This blame game is just an excuse for us feeling insecure to stay true to our roots.

Research proves that a person’s thought has a language. Try consciously observing your thoughts. Are you thinking exclusively in one language? Now tell me the language in which you are thinking predominantly on a given day. Being a தமிழன் are you surprised that it is not தமிழ்?

Many தமிழ் parents in Tamil Nadu today succumb to peer pressure and decide for their children to take another language like French as second language because தமிழ் is no longer a high-scoring option when it comes to board exams. Hence, even the chance for the kids to get introduced to one of the oldest scripts (at least as a second language, let alone as a primary language of instruction) is royally guillotined. All because of the false perception that one would be wasting his time if he opts to master his mother tongue, தமிழ். Parents are too convinced that தமிழ் has no “scope” anymore. Are we not shamelessly inculcating in these young minds to live without pride?

Having your mother tongue as your medium of instruction is vital. It helps you to think and understand concepts in your native language. A language your mother taught you on her lap. A language the people around you in your community speak. A language you feel at home with. Are we actually helping our kids become wiser by forcibly making them gain knowledge in a foreign language? Is it a big deal ask to allow a தமிழ் child to be taught in தமிழ், and to be encouraged to learn English just as how he would learn any other foreign language (German, Italian etc.)? Living in a land that breathes தமிழ், English should be the second language in schools and தமிழ் should be the primary language of instruction.

Yet a child born to a தமிழ் family surrounded by தமிழர்கள் is vehemently forced to become pseudo-English. And the worst part is he is made to believe that his mother tongue will be of no use to him other than for understanding movie dialogues and bargaining with auto rickshaw அண்ணா. Isn’t it depressing that soon our kids will be loitering on the streets unable to read the signboards written in தமிழ், and will need to seek help from passersby to translate it for them? Are we not making them aliens in their own motherland? Or are we blatantly prepping them for a massive brain drain to the West?

With all due respect, English is an equally beautiful language. I have no contempt for English. This article being written in English attests to my love and fluency in the language. But my anger here is that there is a misleading notion in the minds of this generation that தமிழ் is not as good a language as English. This attitude needs to change.

How does a language grow and flourish with great works of literature? A person is taught a language. He masters its grammar and gets acquainted with his predecessor’s works. He observes his surroundings and thinks on his own in the language of his comfort. He then conceives new ideas and puts them down in that language which he has mastery over. So are we not nipping potential கம்பர், பாரதிதாசன் and வைரமுத்து in the bud here?

Try typing the faulty sentence “Everyone are happy” in the Google search bar and press enter. You will see umpteen results from forums discussing that it is an incorrect usage. How many தமிழ் forums do you think are actively discussing the doubts and intricacies of the தமிழ் language? And how many of us use online தமிழ் dictionaries as much as we use the English counterparts? Have we used them at all? This is the tragic state of our mother tongue.

Sadly, many of the பாடல்வரிகள் websites put up lyrics of தமிழ் songs in English. Why is that? To facilitate தமிழர்கள் to enjoy the beauty of தமிழ் lines through English? Even if our kids do understand the meaning of தமிழ் words via English, will they be in a position to appreciate the beauty of its rich grammar?

For instance, in the exquisitely written song “இதுஎன்னமாயம்…” from the movie ஒரம்போ, நா.முத்துகுமார் has penned the romantic lines:

உன்னால் இன்று புதியதாய்
உற்சாகத்தை முழுவதாய் ”

The word, “உணர்கிறேன்” acts as அந்தாதி, which is an unique kind of தமிழ் poetry constructed such that the last or ending word of each verse became the first word of the next verse. Are we raising our kids to be able to recognize and appreciate the grammar in this lyrical style of writing?

Learning and reciting all the 1330 திருக்குறள் was vital during my school days. It was a part of my curriculum. Now for my niece, this is a contest in school! Kids who are “interested” can enroll for the contest and the winners get rewarded. Wow! And the handful of “interested” kids memorize these verses with no knowledge of its meaning or semantics.

The fact that we are letting our kids not get familiar with the great தமிழ் இலக்கியம் is not their loss. It is our grave failure and it makes it evident that we are nothing but hypocrites with no pride whatsoever. Gone are the days when we felt like Wren & Martin’s cousins trying to correct our grandparents speaking butler English. “அது டிகாசன் இல்லை பாட்டி. அது deduction.” Now, we are marching in full swing to greet the dark days where “வணக்கம்” would be the most தமிழ் that our kids will ever know and they would be doomed to watch தமிழ் movies with English subtitles.

It’s high time we increase the use of தமிழ் in our daily lives. Let’s spend a few minutes every day reading a few lines of தமிழ் literature to understand its beauty and to save our lovely mother tongue from vanishing into thin air with no trace at all. It is tragic that something that should be inherently part of our identity (being well versed in one’s mother tongue) has now become a plea for keeping our language alive!

Related articles:
Why It’s Important to Learn Tamil

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Abirami Reddy

Abirami Reddy

1. Soak Basmati rice in water for 10 to 15 minutes 2. In a heavy based pan, add oil and sauté the chicken with- cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, followed by garlic and onion. 3. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook till the raw smell is gone. 4. Add the tomatoes followed by chilli powder, coriander powder, salt and turmeric. 5. Reduce heat, add curd and cook till half done. Let the chicken simmer. 6. Gradually incorporate the rice into the chicken masala. 7. Cover the lid and let the rice and chicken cook together for additional 10-15 minutes on medium heat. That's the 7 step recipe for my favorite chicken dum briyani. Why am I putting this up in my bio? Because, nothing else matters to me in this world when I hold a plate of yummy chicken briyani in my hands. Now, that's ME!!!

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21 thoughts on “Why Don’t Tamils Speak Tamil?

  1. அது ஆண்டாள்!!!, ஆண்டால் இல்லை!!

  2. 1. I used to interact with graduate students from TN in Toronto. Lot of them cannot read or write Tamil. They can speak Tamil with English words. Not sure why someone born and raised in Tamil Nadu (“land of Tamils”) cannot read or write Tamil.

    2. On Sun TV, I’ve noticed lot of people speaking in Tamil with heavy English. I don’t know if this is limited to the rich and elites and city dwellers or is it widespread in TN? Certainly it seems to be different from the Tamil spoken in old movies where they prided in dispersing forceful dialogues in pure Tamil.

  3. Why isn’t Tamil a mandatory subject in high school?  Even as a second language it should be mandatory..

  4. Jay Sothi  Tamil leaders should be doing that instead of carrying tamil tiger flags and asking for an imaginary state.Too bad it isn’t the priority.

  5. A large number of educated Indian / Tamil population depends on outsourced jobs for which English is mandatory. An extension of work life is seen in the society as well. Soon you will find names like ‘Bill Sivanandi’ & ‘Mark Savarimuthu’. Next, we have a political set up where parties just kindle the emotion ‘TAMIL’ and don’t move an inch further in preserving the language. 300 years of colonial rule is yet another baggage. Finally, no Chennai girl would prefer a guy who says ‘Naan Unnai Kaadhalikkiren’ or one who feeds her with ‘Kammangkool’. Obvious winners would be ‘Peters’ and ‘Baristas’. Mistake isn’t ours, solely.

  6. chinnraasu Imaginary state? Learn the history before commenting. Present day Sri Lanka was ruled by Tamil kings before the Sinhalese immigrated to the island with Buddhism. Jaffna Kingdom and Kandy Kingdom was ruled by Tamil kings before Dutch, Portuguese, British and Sinhala invasions.

  7. rtor2013 In Tamil Nadu, Tamil is heavily mixed with English. From the street vendor to the elite. Sign boards have English words written in Tamil and not the translation. In Tamil Nadu they are killing the Tamil language. In Sri Lanka they are killing the Tamil people.

  8. karthik sp Learning Tamil should come within. Work is important, but knowing your mother tongue is just as important. The mistake is yours solely.

  9. The author clearly speaks with the urban population & culture in mind. Sub-urban & rural depend on jobs outsourced or the onsite jobs, to make a living. They are not convent educated. They educate from very normal school or university, and are even nervous to communicate in this so-called foreign language. But they learn using the language, to make his living. And whats wrong in respecting his effort. If not I am sure there would be an article somewhere, for these poor Tamilian not respecting the language which served him bread and butter.
    For the matter of children, the kids do happen to interact with cross-cultural pals. While learning Tamil is easier, there is a need to take effort in learning Hindi or English, or any language required. The parent practices the child to use English in public, only because their child is more important to them, than the stranger staring at him.

  10. The cine stars and politicians do once a while talk about being Tamilian. They talk because they have a fancier life. Its a similar story here.
    There are people who see language only as a mode to communicate. And for this category in 10 years if Latin becomes most universally accepted, I am sure they will quit using English and start using Latin. And there are people to whom proficiency in language is important. Not the entire population can be Tamil-maniac. There needs to be good doctors, engineers, scientists, trainers.
    Like the author being happy with chicken briyani at the end of the day, some are happy with couple of idli, and for some just to have a dinner. A complete personal choice.

  11. Well said, Abirami (a name I absolute love by the way). 
    Hope you’re not too far from a plate of chicken buriyani.;0)

  12. Why one should be ashamed to speak Tamil? Am still learning to speak tamil though in my old days.

  13. Tamil is language not a religion. Get the facts right guys. That’s like saying “Why Don’t Canadians Speak Canadian?” Sure, we say French people speech French but that doesn’t apply here if you ever assume it does.what i can only tell you is that, anybody can speak any language they want and can. We have no right to question what language people can speak. if we allow multicultural people to be in our country, we can allow anyone to speak any language the same way.

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