Archive for May 1, 2022

Musings from Kochi-III

The complex alphabets

If you were to Google for “the toughest Indian language”, the instant pop-up on the screen would invariably be Malayalam. With fifty-six letters and many ligatures (combination of two letters), Malayalam is easily the language with the largest number of alphabets and words formed with some of these are a near impossible for a non-native to pronounce. Try uttering ‘Mazha’(rain), that almost everyday weather occurrence in Kerala or ‘Thengya’ (coconut) that indispensable ingredient in every Malayali dish, you would get a sample of what a tongue-twister of a language Malayalam is!  You might find ‘Elluppamaaya’ such a hard word to sound out, but it just means “easy’ in the language.  And when hungry, you may want to say ‘Viśakkunnu’ signalling time for the meal but might end up uttering ‘Viyarkkunnu’ meaning that you are sweating profusely, a physical condition soon after having a sumptuous Malayali feast. But sweat you definitely will pronouncing ‘Vazhappazham‘, a gorgeous word for the humble banana while trying to utter ‘Khizhakku’, meaning east, your tongue might take a flight northwards. Your few brothers would collectively be called ‘Sahodarangal’ but each one needs to be addressed according to their order of precedence. Thus the one elder to you is a ‘Chettan’ and the other younger, a ‘Aniyen‘ though many refer to them as ‘Moothadu‘ and ‘Elayadu‘, meaning the matured and the tender. Overwhelmed by the burgeoning complexity of the language, you may just want to give up attempting to dabble with the tongue and might decide to say so in colloquial Malayalam…’Ennikku Vyya‘! 

Yet it is the tough Malayalam which produces a vast body of literature across genres and the ratio of its readership to the native speakers is indeed the highest among all Indian languages. When the numbers of books published is very impressive, it is its circulation and the sheer volume of their sales that reflect the standing of Malayalam as a very vibrant literary language. This status is only further confirmed by the top of the chart readership for Malayalam newspapers and magazines among all regional languages and the trend shows no signs of abetting even in the digital era. The literary movement is only strengthened by a strong network of libraries in Kerala, both small and big, that ensures deep penetration of all published works in the language. It’s no accident that the writers in the language have been the recipients of many prestigious international awards and of course, a large number of Gyanpeeth award winners are Malayalis!

Translations of Paulo Coulho in Malayalam

Three distinct aspects can be discerned to have contributed to this pre-eminent status of Malayalam as a literary language par excellence. First, it is the religious literature of high poetical and philosophical merit produced in the language that contributed to it’s early growth. The ‘Adhyathma Ramayanam‘ by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan written in a bird song format called the “Kilipattu” is considered a classic and continues to be a highly revered and narrated epic text. To that the works of sages like Poonthanam, inculcating a strong devotional fervour, popularised the poetic language among the masses. Also, the early translation of Bible, incidentally by two Hindus,  Chathu Menon and Vaidyanatha Iyer, did further carry the written language to a wider audience. Second, the reform movements and the new political ideas that came from the West unleashed an epoch literary activity and an avalanche of classical works in the language came into existence. The contributions of the Great Trio – Kumaran Asan, Ullur Parameswara Iyer, and Vallathol Narayana Menon, gave the language a literary tradition and a modern outlook that helped it to absorb and assimilate fresh ideas. The later writers could build on this grand foundation and develop the language that’s capable of communicating highly complex social and political thoughts with ease. Third, Malayalam has been the language in which all the major international works got translated early on. Not merely of Marx, Tolstoy, Shakespeare or other internationally acclaimed writers but also the works of many lesser known African and Latin American authors were made available in Malayalam, enriching the literary pool and variety of the language. French novelist Patrick Modiano for instance, who won the Nobel Prize for his book, ‘In the cafe of the lost youth’ was translated into Malayalam six months before it was translated to English! About a hundred plus works in other languages are translated into Malayalam every year and there would hardly be a Nobel laureate in literature or a Booker prize winner whose work is not published in Malayalam! 

And as the Malayali diaspora spreads its wings across the globe, the appetite for the language in its various literary and cultural forms is only bound to grow and thrive. So the next time you meet a Malayali, along with asking her ‘Nadu Evideyya’ do also check out ‘Enndha Vayikene?’ meaning “ What are you currently reading?”

Yours

Narayanan  

Also read: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2022/04/11/musings-from-kochi-1/

May 1, 2022 at 1:39 am 22 comments


Recent Posts

Categories

Most popular

Chronology

May 2022
M T W T F S S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Blog Stats

  • 26,888 hits

previous posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 456 other followers