Thursday, September the 22nd, 2005

I’m currently working on a bunch of ideas I am trying to write up. It is just as hard to get out of random-writing-mode and into technical-writing-mode as it is transitioning the other way around. While we wait for this change however, here is something I wrote elsewhere in response to “Why don’t (more) Tamilians learn Tamil?”

[Establishing POV: I am Tamil, as in technically, but didn’t learn it as my second language in school either. I can’t write it, and can read about half the character set (which I figured out by matching English words and their corresponding Tamil script on bus route names). Which means I can inaccurately “read Tamil” by somewhat-crude interpolation and guesswork. I think I speak rather well in Tamil, and it’s definitely not accented (as in the parent had an issue with the “Anglicized-Tamil” the weather lady in the news used to use).]

Firstly, the anglicized accent (and other kinds as well) irritates me profusely, as it does my parents and grandparents. So I don’t think it is an age/generation issue. I am not even sure people think it “sounds cool”. I am tempted to believe people do care, but don’t care enough to force the weather girl to change.

Now to answer your question, at least as to why I didn’t learn Tamil

The ability to learn and use languages, just like anything else, comes in varying levels of difficulty to different people. Personally, I’ve found it extremely hard to pick up languages, so I’ve just chosen one that’s worked and stuck with it — English. I don’t intend on learning a language just to “preserve culture”. I am simplifying languages down to “just a medium to express ideas”, and as long as I can make do with one, one is all I will know.

Also, I think the important aspect of this is what you eluded to — what language do you “think” in. I think in English, and my inability to “easily learn” other languages, has pushed me away from learning something I’ve internally thought of as redundant, including my “native” tongue.

I am not proud of it; I see it as a choice necessitated by an impediment.

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10 Responses to “Filler post while I organise my thoughts”

  1. anita says:

    if i remember correctly, language-learning capacity reaches a peak at about 5 years old (or somewhere around there), and then it’s all downhill from that point on.

    i’ve noticed that lots of little kids in india are multi-lingual – and not because they are being forced to learn all these languages, but because they just pick it up so naturally at that age. but i guess if you don’t continue to use them as you get older, it gets really hard to re-learn them, just because of how that part of your brain is set-up. i spoke pretty fluent hindi when i was 4 (even though english was my primary language), but i have a lot of trouble with it now…

  2. wahgnube says:

    Apart from the being few-year-old is probably the best phase to learn thing, I think I have a bigger problem with languages.

    I have trouble with one. I hate it when society decrees that I learn (and be good at) more just to be “normal”. No, I will not learn a language to help me with my goals of higher learning and learn another to “retain culture”, thank you very much.

  3. J says:

    Aah. I couldn’t agree with you more on this. I hate that accent too. And I haven’t learnt how to read or write Tamil. But I CAN speak pretty fluently in the typical tambramish accent. But the point is… I’ve never been very comfortable talking in Tamil except when I’m home or with certain relatives who are linguistically-challenged AND some people (it breaks my heart to think that it’s sep the significant ones) who think I have this fake accent .

    What do I do? Super-cool Geek, gimme a solution!!!:(

  4. wahgnube says:

    At the outset, don’t call me super-cool geek. I don’t warrant the ‘super-cool’, so just ‘geek’ should about cover it. Please.

    Honestly, I don’t have the problem of people thinking I have a fake accent, but I have had the unavoidable Tambramish accent nearly causing confusion on the (meaner streets) of Madras. Actually, it wasn’t mean streets but more in places like college, where I didn’t get nor use certain slang (or even Tamil, really), and could easily be singled out. But thankfully (for whatever strange reason), I gave of an air that almost forced people to respect me and not mess with me. In a sort of this-is-too-trivial-a-matter for you to be picking on me, for, as you can see, I am clearly on a different plane of existence. Don’t waste my time.

    The truth is, it’s not like I have trouble speaking in Tamil. I am a guy, I have trouble expressing, period. I cannot have a thought or emotion and neatly articulate it usually. On top of this, I don’t think in Tamil, nor is my vocabulary usually sufficient, so I find it ridiculous that people expect I overcome all this AND say something insightful and relevant IN Tamil, IN the kind of accent or slang that they want it to be in. The only time this is reversed is when I am referring to, say, obscure food, for which I only know the Tamil name.

    Though, the rule of thumb is if you have a hard time remembering its name or pronouncing it, it’s probably going to be yucky.

    OK, with that monologue out of the way, I think the best thing for you to try is to spend more time talking to them. If they see you’re really trying to connect, and are actually making an effort to talk to them “their way”, they should be more than happy you are. I know I would. In any case, whatever it is they take offence to (even if it’s only in their head) will seem less apparent eventually.

    What I am trying to say is, if I took the time to call my Patti and talk to her for a while, I am sure the last thing on her mind would be getting annoyed at me switching to English half-way through a sentence when I couldn’t finish it correctly in Tamil, let alone “not pronouncing it the way it ought to be”.

  5. pUl| says:

    Interesting views indeed. Having spent a significant amount of time not speaking tamil, in my experience, I’ve noticed that at several points during a telecon say with mom or dad, I tend to almost naturally resort to a blend of occasional tamil and more english. I’m curious if you folks experience something similar?

  6. wahgnube says:

    I don’t speak to my parents in Tamil. Apart from actually using the words ‘Appa’ and ‘Amma’. It’s something, as J mentioned, I only “switch on” with people when I know I can’t get through otherwise.

  7. pUl| says:

    Well, then with those people, do you speak just tamil or a mix of both english and tamil now and then?

  8. wahgnube says:

    It’s usually a mix. If it’s necessary, I will start off in Tamil but often midway through a few sentences, realize that I don’t know the words to complete them, and arbitrarily switch.

    It’s never been a problem because people are smart enough to figure out what I am getting at from circumstance.

  9. J says:

    Whoa! That’s like an awesomely long reply to a comment.
    Ok… “Just-a-geek”, I don’t have too much of a problem with people think I have a fake accent either, except for the fact that I kinda sympathize with them for reading too much into how ands why I speak the way I speak.
    I remember, when I was in college, I avoided those tam-talking groups totally. And because I hardly look like one and I’ve never been spotted talking that language… I haven’t been judged pricey. At least on that account. But I’m a pricey bitch by all other means.

    If they see you’re really trying to connect, and are actually making an effort to talk to them “their way”, they should be more than happy you are. I know I would.
    => yeah? *can’t help winking, but then you hate smileys, but I still wanna do what I wanna do kinda look*

  10. wahgnube says:

    Of course.

    (Stark contrast to the long reply wasn’t it?)

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