Internet Tamil

Anglicization of Internet Tamil

Inia Pandian

TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 1999 (ID.1999-07-03)
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1. Introduction

Personal Computers (PC) and the Internet have become an essential part of most business activities throughout the world. They have also become part of everyday life, from education to entertainment and everything in between, in much of Western Europe and North America. That trend is filtering slowly into third world regions like Tamil Nadu also. Tamil Nadu capital Chennai (Madras) has emerged as an important international software development center. Tamil Nadu State Government seems to be doing an excellent job in bringing Internet to the people by planning to set up Internet booths and other such facilities throughout the state. In a region like Tamil Nadu where telephone facilities are still rare, it will take many more years for widespread use of Internet. In a decade or two (hopefully), a time will come when a farmer in rural Tamil Nadu will be able to check for price trends of agricultural products on the Internet in Tamil. Small business and cottage industry entrepreneurs will be able to check information on prices, markets and suppliers on the Internet in Tamil. (Remember that 100% of the Tamil population will never be sufficiently proficient in English to read and understand such information quickly and correctly even though English is and will be taught in Tamil Nadu schools as second language.) 

Tamil people are fortunate that Tamil has made significant inroads into the Internet because of the selfless voluntary efforts of many. Now the governments of Tamil Nadu and other countries with significant Tamil population like Singapore and Malaysia are also supporting such efforts. Work on standardization of Tamil usage on the Internet in such areas as keyboards, fonts and operating system commands is in progress. 

2. Tamil or English?

There are two schools of thought about computer commands. According to one, we should use English commands written in Tamil script; according to the second, commands should be Tamil words in Tamil script. This writer comes squarely in support of the second school of thought. All computer commands should be Tamil words. This is not Tamil fanaticism. There is a definite practical advantage to using Tamil words (instead of English or other language words) for commands. We will explain it by way of some words used in other areas of modern technology. All those who read this article are well versed in English but, in order to appreciate the practical advantage we are talking about, please think from the perspective of a Tamil whose knowledge of English is limited.

When telephone came into usage we coined the term "Tholai Paesi" (tholai means distance, and paesi means talker). Which word is easier to remember for a Tamil? Telephone or Tholai Paesi? Of course Tholai Paesi is easier to remember; it is coined out of two Tamil words every Tamil knows, and it makes sense. On the contrary, the word "telephone" does not mean anything to someone who does not know English.

Take another technological innovation - the train. We coined the Tamil word "Thodar Vandi" (thodar means series, and vandi means cart or wagon). A Tamil who sees a train consisting of a number of wagons connected in series immediately remembers the name thodar vandi because it is made of two commonly used Tamil words.

One more example. When electric pumps were introduced in Tamilnadu, the word "Min-Iraivai" was coined [min comes from the word minsaram (electricity), and iraivai from the word irai (draw water)]. What a wonderful name min-iraivai! It tells exactly what this new technological innovation is. Easy to remember, isn't it?

3. Final Words

Tamil is not a language born out of the mutation of another language. It is a primary classical language with a rich and long heritage. We shall not be quick to introduce English or other language words because we are too lazy to coin proper Tamil words or because we are short sighted. Tamil was born a long time ago and will live for a long, long time to come. 

We close this article with a verse from the oldest available Tamil grammar text Tholkappiam (Tolkappiam), written more than 2000 years ago. It says, "all words are based on its meaning" ("ella chollum porul kuriththanavae"). It means that every Tamil word is formed on the basis of its meaning. Let us keep this rich tradition and enrich our language by coining new Tamil words for the technological innovations of the coming century and the coming millennium!

[SUMMARY: Author advocates that Tamil words (instead of English words) be used in Tamil software, 
word processing and operating system commands.]

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