The nuances of hybrid languages…

My God, the title sounds imposing- doesn’t it? I feel like some post doctoral fellow at no less a place than Oxford University…!! But don’t get intimidated folks- things are not as they seem. Read on ….

First things first - I am not a purist I do realize that with the coming together of cultures languages change and hybrids develop. A first generation hybrid, (I recall from my genetics lessons in college) exhibits the best traits of the parents- the best example being “Urdu”- the language of poets and cultural etiquette. But if you go along the banks of the Musi river in Hyderabad you will hear a language which locals refer to as “Urdu” but which bears no resemblance to this  language of mushairas.

Some excerpts for your consumption

“ Itta kai ko satate ji?” ( why are you troubling so much?)

 “Aapichh mujhe anjaan maar rahe the” ( you were the one ignoring me)

And then there is this word – “Parson” – literally meaning “the day after tomorrow” or " the day before yesterday" in the Hindi language anywhere else but in the land of the Asaf Jahis and the Qutb Shahis- here it can be used to refer to anytime in the recent past!!

 This language is very unique to the Deccan peninsula covering parts of northern Karnataka, the Telangana region of  Andhra Pradesh and parts of Maharastra. It  requires to be given a distinct identity- I will go with the word “Deccani”- it is what geneticists would call a F2 cross  i,e between Urdu - Telugu/ Kannada/ Marathi!

An absolutely delightful tongue, Deccani is what Urdu can never be – flippant, casual and often rude! ( probably the coming together of recessive genes but who cares!!!!)

Then there is a language very peculiar to India -  IND- ISH formed by the coming together of the queen’s tongue and our own native ones. Indish has sub regional variations depending on which part of the “Ind” that the language is being spoken in .

I will give some examples of  “Tamlish” -  a wonderful tongue that I hear all the time.

“ Tiffen items” is something that you might see in restaurants in the south –referring to idly, dosa etc which are eaten as Tiffen or snacks.

“Mini Meals” – these include small portions of what are called “Variety rice” items- meaning premixed rice preparations!

My late mother in law  who was fond of speaking in English, often used to refer to our part time domestic help as the “top servant”. Being new to Tamlish those days,  it took me some time to understand that it referred to a person who did “top work” ie sweeping, wiping the floor and washing clothes- tasks which are referred to in Tamil as “Mel Velai”

Then there are words like “sidey” which are used to describe sly and sleazy characters. A “two wheeler” refers to a scooter/moped and not to a bicycle though a cycle also has two wheels only. “Bike” refers only to a motor cycle.

Imagine this incident where colleagues in offices have been jealously discussing another colleague who got a promotion because of “soaping”/ “crow catching” the boss- another fine example of Tamlish.

My daughter told me about an interesting expression that she heard one of the attendants in school use to describe a sick child to the principal- “Madam, Vishal has to go home because he was taking vomit”- literally translated from the Tamil “Vaandhi edukarthu”- Guess this is how hybridisation begins

Some universal expressions in the Indish of the cell phone generation – “Give me a missed call”- this refers to calling someone on the mobile and hanging up after 2-3 rings. There is an entire communication strategy around “missed calls” alone but then that is another story in itself.

More interesting expressions – “Line maroing”- used mainly in the context of boys/ men it means expressing interest in a girl/ woman, hanging around where they are etc My friends in college used a pure English translation of this term – “putting line”…!!! Now this is different from the Tamlish expression of “Putting leave”- which is an innocent term used to describe the leave application process.

You might have heard of this term “eve teasing” used to denote a serious offence called in other countries as “sexual harassment”- somehow takes out the seriousness of the offence doesn’t it? Just as the word “road side romeo” is another mild word for a man who harasses women in public places.

We need to mention here the Anglo Indian language – again varying slightly depending on whether it is spoken in Chennai or Kolkata but yes the spirit conveyed by the language is as gay as the Anglo Indian community themselves – I love this language! “What you doing in the Veyil child?” meaning “what are you doing in the hot sun my dear?” Somehow this language reminds me of my dear “Deccani”.  There is a slight variation to this Anglo Indian tongue spoken in Sri Lanka by the Burgher community. You must read Carl Muller’s “Jam Fruit tree” or “Maudie Girl’s kitchen” to appreciate it.

Finally there is this weird language called “devloplish”- language spoken by development workers from the Indian non profit sector like me. Supposedly English, this language would puzzle etymologists. Here are some samples of this specimen- “Federating” (meaning forming a federation), “ Process orientation/ process owners”, “IEC Material” “Strategic direction” “Capacity building” – Sorry, I cannot write down the meanings because I am not sure what some of them actually mean …! Colleagues who work closer to the grassroots in the state of Tamil Nadu use this word – “Es kejji Group” –Guess what it means? “Self help group”- SHG- a grassroot level micro finance group.

Language, folks is a very cultural thing-as cultures grow, evolve and come together the language changes. As a communicator I love expression and expressions often give you the best results when used in their “mongrel” forms. A “mongrel” dog on the street is often scorned for its lack of lineage but I can see so many blood lines in that loving creature. So let us enjoy the language and expressing ourselves in it instead of getting very uptight about the classical this or classical that of languages…!!! 


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, and your observations.

    Very true. But I'm not so sure the 'hybrids' coming into being now actually enrich the original dialects.

    Some parts of Northern Karnataka (especially those of Gulbarga and to an extent Bijapur districts) you'll hear this dialect, particularly among Muslims, not so much among 'upper classes of muslims', and it can be very amusing like the exclamation of one bloke who was triumphantly telling another of his killing of a snake as I heard on:

    'Main Kal Lekhe Havu Ko Marya'.

    Those parts of Northern Karnataka, and parts of Andhra Pradesh, and to a small extent, a bit part of Maharashtra are a contiguous region. I find this mish-mash to be relatively more widespread in those regions of Andhra than in other states.

  2. Welcome Anil to my blog and thanks for your comments.I am not sure about the class or the religious angle but in Hyderabad almost everybody speaks Deccani. Northern Karnataka or parts of what are called Hyderabad Karnatak - Raichur , Gulbarga also have lots of common people speaking this. Why, I was literally left alone to do an assessment of livelihoods post the Krishna floods in 2009 and I must say I managed very well in these parts with my Hyderabad Deccani. Language also gets enriched by cultural inter mingling so I would still maintain that it enriches dialects.

  3. i personally feel there is nothing wrong in manipulation of some words or even if there is some grammatical mistakes by some one, as long as it serve their purpose of communication, but using some words does leaves us into an interesting situation.....:))

    btw an interesting observation and a good post.

  4. When I was young I have heard one guy speaking in English with a literal translation of Tamil words or the converse.A few examples of his would show the ridiculous outcome
    நன்னா இருக்காது,நாலு பேரு என்ன சொல்வா -Not good, what will four people say
    தலை மேல வேலை இருக்கு-I have work on my head
    கம்பி நீட்டிட்டான் -He has wire lengthened
    I cannot undergo hardship-நான் கஷ்டமான கப்பல் கீழ போகமுடியாது
    சும்மா அளக்காதே -Don't measure freely

  5. A fun post after some really burning issues;) Laughing like mad after reading the Tamlish- top servant, taking take, one of my friends wrote a leave letter stating "as the temple umbrella is walking in my village, i want two days leave". You know what a temple umbrella is:P Good observations and great post Meera!

  6. Seems like u are a multi lingual..It is a linguistic study, a subject for a research.
    I couldn't understand some of the jokes due to my ignorance in some languages..

  7. Namaste.......
    Language has and always will be the way in which people gain access, maintain status Quo, manipulate etc....It happens here too, there is Ebonics, can't explain now take too long, google it if you dare, its a tail spinner.

    Just stopped in to present you with a SUNSHINE AWARD. Please go to my page, read the last paragraph (BLOG AWARD)on the post PICTURE OBSERVATIONS. Click on SUNSHINE AWARD and it will take you to my award page, there you can save it and post it on your blog. Congratulations. Please remember to pass it on.

  8. Thank you all for your comments. KP as usual your comments express your complete involvement in understanding the post. @ Nivedita, LOL you have bought some new dimensions into this - I must remember this when I compile the dictionary on TAMLISH. @ Tomz dont worry- as I said the the hybrids are region specific. I am sure there are many in the region where you come from which would puzzle me. Rhapsody, thank you so much for the award and I am going to google ebonics- sound verrrrrry interesting!

  9. Loved it....loved it....we do it to the vernacular language too. As said, we think in a particular language and just translate it, fr eg. a bengali friend of mibe who was more comforable in Hindi, once requested a person to clisk a sna[p for him; he said, " Amaar photo taa TENE de.." which was directly translated from Hindi, "Mera Photo kheech do..."

  10. Hmmm, talking about Languages...i know Hindi is spoken in your films which i assumed was the 'general' language..but your write just told me otherwise....Nigeria has diverse languages also but 'PIDGIN ENGLISH' is commonly spoken by ALL tribes.

  11. Its to get attention i think , so people get curious and I dont know but maybe a marketing trick ... anything to sell :)

    I have seen some funny places where translation is done as it is and offcoure the world famous Santa-Banta jokes are based on that ..

    I beleive that as long as one understand what the other says JOB done :)


  12. Thank you very much for the award...look at my Friend's Awards page


Post a Comment