An interesting article in TOI focuses on the need to retain the original flavor of the language while translating foreign words. The names of places are also discussed in this article. In this context, I wish to say that the original names of places conceal a history behind them. Even the names of people as a collective noun has a history behind them.
One example I can say is the name 'Pandya'.
Pandyan is the family name of the kings who ruled from Madurai.
No one knows exactly why they got this name.
But while searching for the lost roots in the submerged Kumari, I came across a number of hints from Ramayana and Mahabharatha.
One hint is that Pandyan kingdom had a mountain called Rishaba.
In Tamil Pandya or Pandy also means rishaba.
The Pandyan king who fought for the Pandavas in Kurukshethra war was described as a bull (rishabha) in 2 places.
From Shugreeva's description of the South that is now enveloped with the waters of the Indian ocean, it is known that a mountain existed there by name Rishbha.
Rishbha is the vahana of Lord Shiva.
The Pandyans were shiva worshipers and derived their family name as Chandra vamsa owing to the moon adorning the head of Shiva.
All these put together give a justification for why they were called as Pandyas which means the bull.
In my next article (41st) in the series on Thamizan diraavidanaa, more details will be covered.
It is worthwhile to analyze them to know / construct the history of the past.
What would you call 'global warming' in Tamil?
Arun Janardhanan, TNN, Feb 25, 2011, 12.50am IST
"We are yet to find the right Tamil words for many expressions of the present times, such as sustainable development' or carrying capacity'. When instruction in English is spreading at the cost of local languages, our discourses on issues should be in the language of common man, in the ambient language," said Theodore Bhaskaran, historian and film critic.
Bhaskaran said that local languages were facing a threat as it was difficult to develop new words and ideas. He said the British, who had done immense work in the field of natural history in India, had completely ignored the local context of names. He also blamed the government and media who transliterate English words into Tamil rather than translate them. King Cobra, for example, is translated into Tamil as Raja Naagam', when a traditional Tamil name already exists for the reptile, Karunagam'.
Bhaskaran said the reason for this could be the fact that environmental concerns remain as a pre-occupation of the elite who use English. As a result, the linguistic heritage built over the centuries is being lost rapidly. "Not just the names, but even proverbs, metaphors and similies connected to the external world, to nature, are being lost. When metaphors die, ideas pass away and a way of thinking is buried," Bhaskaran said.
According to Dr S Balusami, senior Tamil professor in Madras Christian college, the problem arises when a language receives a new concept or idea. "What we are doing now is mere transliteration of words. An inferior feeling always prevents us from using the root words but going for the English substitutes. A new word should emerge from the roots, not as a translation. Tolkappiyam describes it as a problem with all regional languages as Tamil has had this problem during the period of Sanskritisation too," said Balusami.
Historian and writer Nanditha Krishna said that preserving the local language and names had nothing to do with changing street names into Tamil. "Such ideas have no justification in this time, especially when we replace the foreigners' names forgetting their contributions to the development and planning of this city," she said.
The local names always portray the history, character and the nature of a place. Egmore was originally Elumboor, meaning the seventh village in Tamil, as it was the seventh village to be bought by the East India Company. "Kodambakkam is a mispronounciation of ghoda bagh, the stable of the Nawab of Arcot, Pondy Bazaar was named after WPA Soundarapandiyan of the self-respect movement. Teynampet was named after the coconut groves that once flourished there, while Mylapore was named after the peacocks and peahens that once roamed here," said Nandita.
Dr G Ramachandran, a senior etymological researcher on Tamil and world languages, also agreed that there is more of transliteration happening than translation. "If we consider our language to be inferior to another, we kill the possibility of the development of the language. In other states, a regional language is the second language afte the mother tongue. But due to the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, English became the second language and now it is dominating Tamil too," said Ramachandran.