Friday, February 24, 2006

Good Manners and Language

Germans can be grumpy, unpleasant people—and it's not because of post-Nazi guilt or a diet filled with bratwurst, says one American researcher. It's because of their vowels. Hope College psychology professor David Myers says saying a vowel with an umlaut forces a speaker to turn down his mouth in a frown, and may induce the sadness associated with the facial expression. Myers added that the English sounds of "e" and "ah" naturally create smile-like expressions and may induce happiness. [Link]
Quite a few buses in Bangalore do not have a conductor. In such buses, of the two entrypoints, the one closest to the driver would only be open. As we board the bus, the driver himself would issue tickets. Soon a crowd would build up at the front, due to their inexplicable fascination to hang out near the doors. And the driver would be walled in by a human fortress around him, rendering him unable to issue tickets to the new passengers. And he can't resume driving until the tickets are given out. Besides, he also has to deal with the honking massive traffic build-up behind the bus. In such an unenviable scenario, the driver would plead with the people around him repeatedly, "Ulagada hogi! Ulagada hogi!" (Please move inside! Please!)

I cannot imagine such a scene happening in Madras for two reasons:

1. No driver would have agreed to the additional work of issuing tickets. All proletariat would have united in a strike.
2. Let's assume the drivers (by some miracle, or threat of arrest by Amma) consented. Now, if the passengers suffocated him at his seat, he would eliminate the problem by a simple technique of hurling a volley of expletives at them.

What is the cause for the Kannadiga drivers' politeness?

A friend took an autorickshaw from his home for a long ride in Bangalore, at the end of which he realised he was... without his wallet. Had this occurred in Madras, the aatokaaran would have combined with others of his ilk to perform my friend's last rites -- after collecting everything of value on his person. All the Bangalorean, on the other hand, did was to offer to collect the amount from my friend's house the next day.

Now, here I must add that there are many autorickshawmen in Bangalore who are quite as skilled at fleecing us as the famed ones of Madras are. But they do so with that good grace that makes getting fleeced a much less unpleasant experience.

What makes the Kannada-speaking autodrivers more mannered?

While a student, if Mysore Vasudevacharya (the celebrated composer and musician) committed a mistake in his lessons, his guru would upbraid him severely but referring to him throughout with the honorific Acharyare. (Harken gentle sir, may I declare thee a blundering moron?)

Now consider this.

In (colloquial) Kannada:

SingularRespectful (Plural)
Go hogu 2 syllables hogi 2 syllables
Do: madu ,, madi ,,
See: nodu ,, nodri ,,
Put: haku ,, hakri ,,

Contrast this with (colloquial) Tamil:

SingularRespectful (Plural)
Do: sei 1 syllable seyyunga 3 syllables
See: paru 2 parunga 3
Put: podu 2 podunga 3

or Hindi:

SingularRespectful (Plural)
Go: ja 1 syllable ja'iye3 syllables
Do: kar 1 keejiye 3
See: dekh 1 dekhiye 3

or even Telugu:

SingularRespectful (Plural)
Go: vellu 2 syllables vellandi3 syllables
Do: chei 2 cheyyandi 3
choodu 2choodandi3

There it is, friends. Being polite and respectful is much easier on the mouth in Kannada. For every verb spoken, you are spared 1 syllable or more, compared to the other tongues. And in addition, employing the respectful plural takes the same effort needed for the casual singular: Same price, more value.

The Chief Architect of Kannada (let's call her Kannada Thayi, or KT for short), when she sat down after a hearty meal of bisi-bele-huliyanna to create the language, must have had respectfulness as one of her major design goals. And she achieved it by the simple (yet ingenious) method of making verb plurals user-friendly.

Therein lies another important lesson for all of you: If you seek to create a language that should escape degeneration with time, keep it easy on the mouth. Yes-sir, "easy on the mouth, easy on the mouth" - that's the cry. Or you will find that the resounding "Avarai azhaithukondu varungal" ("Please bring him along" - Tamil) would end up as the tepid "Adha itnu va" in the tongues of the hoi-polloi.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blogger stumbles upon Indian grammatical law

Today, blogger Amit Varma independently invents rules of euphonic combination, present as the laws of Sandhi in the Indian languages.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ah, Bliss.

My room-mate and I both are from Madras; so when we go to our respective homes, we travel together. But the last weekend, he stayed put in Bangalore while I went.

On meeting him on my return,

Me: It was Ratha Saptami yesterday.
Room-mate: What is Ratha Saptami?
Me: It means my mother makes sweets. I had Chakkara Pongal and Carrot Halwa. You?
Room-mate: @#$%& you.