lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Speaking in tongues

There was a craze for it in the early nineteenth century America. All over the country people fell into rapture and spoke in tongues and handled snakes in revival meetings. Evangelists toured thundering fire and brimstone sermons to the congregations. There were camps that lasted well into weeks, there were temperance crusades, abolitionist rallies and much more to take common man's mind off the economic troubles that beset the nation.

Speaking gibberish in a religious fervour or trance. There is a term for it: glossolalia. But let's talk about talking sense, though.

We say something speaks for itself. We talk of speaking with a forked tongue when talking of deviousness. We speak our mind when we are being frank. We speak the same language when we are in accord with someone. We say it spoke volumes when a facial expression conveys something without words. We talk turkey when we get down to the brass tacks to deal with things.

Saying 'not to speak of' makes something more imperative than what is being addressed. 'Bite your tongue', we say; 'speak for yourself' we say.

There are so many idioms to do with speech because it is the cornerstone of communication. The tower of Babel is a powerful illustration as to what happens when you can't make yourself understood.

Children learn languages easily. Children of parents speaking two different tongues pick up both with the same ease. If different languages are spoken at home and out in the world, children learn both with no trouble and can switch back and forth easily. This facile learning of languages tends to wane as we grow older.

I spoke Telugu at home and Tamil in the outside world. Spoken English came later, in high school when it was a badge of sophistication and superiority. At our mother's insistence, we all learnt Hindi with private tuition at home. But I was a teenager by then and had lost the ability to speak in tongues, so to say. My spoken Hindi was halting and bookish.

Then I moved to Delhi. Needs must, as the adage goes, and my spoken Hindi improved dramatically if it still remained grammatically poor. I was not comfortable with a language where nouns had genders. Did you know a river or breeze has a gender? I didn't, until I learnt Hindi.

Becoming an honorary Bengali by marriage, I picked up enough Bengali to follow conversations. Most words in Hindi and Bengali have common descent from Sanskrit; since Telugu borrows heavily from Sanskrit as well, it was easy enough to get the gist and puzzle out the grammar.

But I had trouble speaking Bengali, what with the practice of writing Lalita and pronouncing it as Lolita. A language where he, she and it are all the same gender felt strange. Also, words that meant one thing in Telugu meant something entirely different in Hindi or Bengali.

Take 'daroon' for example: In Telugu it is pronounced as 'daaruN(am)', and means terrible, atrocious, dire, awful and other negative things (the only positive thing was that it meant extreme, if you stretch your vocabulary), just like it does in Sanskrit.

In Bengali though, it means wonderful, superb and fantastic. How this mutation of meaning occurred is beyond me to figure out, but it had me perplexed the first time I heard it.

A casual remark by a friend about some film being daroon; which I thought meant it was utter tripe and it turned out to mean fantastic helped me realise the language divide is wider within tongues that boast of same descent from Sanskrit.

Or take 'charitra': In Telugu it means history; it means character in Hindi and Bengali. 'Upanyaas' is oration in Telugu, and it is a literary work in Hindi.

'Katha', pronounced kotha is speech or words in Bengali, it means a tale or a short story in Telugu.

How is a puritan to cope? The aggravations are enough to drive one round the bend!

But English was the medium of communication at home mostly and Telugu and Tamil receded from my language circuits.

Then we moved to Calcutta and I had to speak the lingo. It wasn't a big deal. Everyone spoke a bit of Hindi and while it sounded strange to my ears, it was understandable and I could communicate. I could talk Bengali with a bad accent and fall back on Hindi when my vocabulary failed me.

Until one day I realised that my Hindi had become so bastardised by Bengali that it was atrocious. DaaruN, not daroon. :D Not that my Bengali improved by living close to the language. My accent is still awful and I still can't pronounce ah as oh. Something in me rebels at pronouncing a vowel that I know ought to be one thing as something else.

They may have great poets and wonderful literature, but Bengali won't ever get appreciated fully until the rest of the world decides to pronounce ah as oh, I am afraid.

Here is my clue for the day:
Out of order: Clock. As hinted, use the mouse. (5,2,3,3)

I am waiting for solutions, you lazy lot.

Here is not a recommendation: H W Brands, The Age of Gold. I just happen to be reading the book. :D It is about the California gold rush.



Blogger v_tel001 said...


2:11 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Thanks, V_te1001.

If you are a Silicone Valley reader- surely you could try and get us better fonts? I can blog in Telugu then. :D

iLEAP is pathetic. I'd hate to publish a poem of mine in any of the fonts and formats on offer, certainly.

why are Telugu info minds working on other things and not developing pleasing fonts for Telugu publishing online?

9:38 pm  
Blogger v_tel001 said... have posed a very apt question. Even though most (1/4th) of the Indian software professionals speak Telugu, I don't know why they don't take interest in Telugu computing.

Anyways, Here is an article on how to get started with Telugu blogging

Telugu Bloggers' List

As soon as you start a Telugu blog,I will add your it to this list.

My Telugu Blog

My page on 'Telugu-Italian of the East'

I beautiful Telugu font is Vemana, which i've installed on my computer. Click here to see an example of this font.

You can get the font from here.

1:51 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...


I checked out the sites. I think the fonts are not the problem. The problem is that Telugu is a phonetic language and not suited to keyboards, however much it is tweaked; 'b, laa ga r ' is not how it should be seen. I got cross-eyed trying to read the Telugu script. That is my main complaint with the language software, that you have to use more keys, employ your backspace key, check the output... It is too much of a hassle. I suppose it needs a different approach.

Keep visiting.

9:43 pm  
Blogger db said...

Nice post ... try for Indian fonts .. simple to install ... easy to use

6:24 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- Thanks, I will check that out. Keep visiting.

9:24 am  
Anonymous Birthday wishes said...

Take a look at my birthday wishes...

2:44 am  

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