Tuesday, November 22, 2005

When names lack intimacy

You know what socialism is, right? Have you heard of a socialist language? No, I am not speaking about the style of using the language, but a language that actually gives almost similar status to everybody. It is English.

I realised this as I typed out the previous post. I said Maman for my paternal uncle. In Malayalam, Maman or Ammavan is a common name for maternal uncle. I call my Appachi's (father’s sister) husband also Maman.

Uncle can also mean paternal one, right?. Here arises the problem. Father is Achan in Malayalm. I call my father’s elder brother (he has two) Vallyachan and younger brother (he has three) Kochachan and I affectionately call one among them, Chittappan, which means the same.

But when translation comes, only one term prevails for all; Uncle. Isn’t English a socialist language? This is applicable for the feminine gender also. My Vallyachan’s wife is Vallyammachi for me and Kochachan’s wife is Kunjamma. And my father’s sister is Appachi. My mother’s sister, had there been one, would be my Kunjamma. Here also, translation offers you the convenience of a single term; Aunty.

I have seen children, even youth, using the term Uncle to denote their father’s brother, their mother’s colleague and even their neighbour. Same is the case while feminine.

Moving to Hindi, only the terms differ. Each of the members in the family have names such as Chacha and Chachi; Taoo and Taayi; Mama and Maami; Kaka and Kaaki. Each pair can be replaced by Uncle and Aunty.

Even maternal and paternal grandparents have separate names; Dada and Dadi; Nana and Nani. English conveniently shortened them to Grandpa and Granny.

Socialism prevails while addressing people also. There is Aap to denote respect (mostly to elders), Tum to show camaraderie and Tu to address the younger ones. We have fine tuned to use You to address an individual.

Back here, I have friends who cannot differentiate between Vallyachan and Kochachan; even worse some don’t even know what they mean.

Unnikrishna Pillai is my Unni Maman, Vivekanandan MC is my Thambi Kochachan. I wouldn’t alienate them by donning them the boring uniformity of Uncle.


Attribution said...

Hmm u know wat i do call my kunjamma as aunty and her husband as papan thats a short form for appapan thats what we call father's younger brother too.
Strength of the bonds matter more than the Salutations!

Attribution said...

And i do call all my other relatives by their respective salutations like valliyammachi and so on....just my kunjamma is called aunty.

Attribution said...

Ha ha!! Beat you to the post on Radio! But u can still write about it....

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