Tamil

To commemorate our final issue of BeLingual, we will be celebrating a south-Indian language from the very heart of the flourishing Dravidian civilisation dating back to over 2000 years. The state of Tamil Nadu has been ruled by the Cholas, Pandyas and the Pallavas, and boasts of some stunning art and architecture, in addition to its culture-laden temples and the iconic Marina beach. Popular for their Idli-vada-sambhar with coconut chutney, Dosa, Sambhar-rice, Vada and more specifically, its Chettinad cuisine from Karaikudi, the white lungis for men and Kanchipuram Sarees with golden zari borders for women are also well sought after. Let’s learn a little more about its language: Tamil.

The what and where of Tamil

A Dravidian language that is spoken primarily in southern India, Tamil is the official language of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Puducherry. It is also an official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore, while also spoken in Malaysia, Mauritius and many other countries, in addition to a significant numbers of speakers in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Interestingly, Tamil is used as a language of education in Malaysia and Singapore. In the early 21st century, over 66 million people were recorded to be native Tamil speakers.

Tracing back the links

The earliest known inscriptions in Tamil date back to about 500 BC. Tamilian literature first started to appear in 300 BC. Tamil was originally written with a version of the Brahmi script known as Tamil Brahmi. By the 5th century AD, this script had become more rounded and developed into the Vaṭṭeḻuttu script, which then developed into the Chola-Pallava script in the 6th century, during the Pallava dynasty. During the next few centuries, the modern Tamil script evolved from the Chola-Pallava script.

The language used until 700 AD is what we refer to as Old Tamil today, while the language used post 1600 AD, is known as Modern Tamil.

Fun facts

Did you know that the alphabet was originally written on palm leaves? As a result, the letters are made up mainly of curved strokes so as not to rip the leaves.

Back in 2004, Tamil was declared a classical language of India, which meant that it met three criteria: its origins are ancient; it has an independent tradition; and it possesses a considerable body of ancient literature. This is a very interesting fact indeed.

The way forward

As a new wave of Indic Localisation is sweeping across the internet world in India at this moment, governments and companies alike are making a painstaking effort to bridge linguistic barriers and reach out to the 90% population of India that does not communicate in English.

Interestingly, back in 2017 in a report released by Google and KPMG regarding the internet adoption levels in India – Tamil, Kannada and Telugu users were predicted to be among the most digitally engaged through 2016 and 2021. This research also said that Tamil currently has the highest internet adoption levels (42%), followed by Hindi and Kannada among the Indian language users, and that by 2021, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu users were expected to form 30% of the total Indian language internet user base.

On a parting note, let’s strive to not only learn more about the various cultures around us, but also ensure that no linguistic minorities are in a position where they cannot consume web content in their own mother tongues. Let’s contribute to a new-age India.

Malayalam

“God’s own country”, “the land of coconuts”, “the spice garden of the world”, Aitareya Aranyaka, are all different names for Kerala – the green strip at the southwestern tip of India, sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Known for its high literacy rate, centuries-old foreign trade links, and an even longer tradition in art and literature, it is known by tourists for its reputed backwaters and beautiful houseboats floating in a labyrinthine web of canals, lagoons and lakes, along with popular attractions such as Onam, Kathakali and its exquisite sculptures and temples. So let’s explore Malayalam, the language of this beautiful south-Indian state.

Malayalam – what and where?

Malayalam, one of India’s classical languages, is a Dravidian language from the South Dravidian family subgroup. It is spoken mainly in India, where it is the official language of the state of Kerala, and is also spoken in union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry by the Malayali people there. It is also spoken by bilingual communities in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and has a significant number of speakers across the Nilgiris, Kanyakumari and districts of Coimbatore, in addition to being widely spoken in the Gulf owing to the Malayali expatriates based there. In 2006, Malayalam was recorded to have about 40 million native speakers.

Tracing back the links

Malayalam is known to have three significant regional dialects and a number of smaller ones. The origin of Malayalam continues to remain a matter of dispute among many scholars. One view holds that Malayalam and modern Tamil branched out from Middle Tamil, and this separation took place sometime after the 7th century AD. A second view suggests that it is a branch of ‘Proto-Dravidian’ or ‘Proto-Tamil-Malayalam’ instead, from which modern Tamil also evolved. Either way, there’s no denying that Malayalam is heavily influenced by Sanskrit, and has several linguistic characteristics of Indo-Aryan languages.

Interestingly, the oldest documents written purely in Malayalam (and still around!) are the Vazhappalli Copper plates from 832 AD and Tharisapalli Copper plates from 849 AD. Since then, an extensive influx of Sanskrit words influenced the then Malayalam script, which was known as Koleluttu (“Rod Script”), which came from the Grantha script, which was, in turn, derived from Brahmi. Furthermore, Koleluttu is known to have letters to represent the entire corpus of sounds from both Dravidian as well as Sanskrit.

The Malayali culture

The culture of this Dravida Bhasha has evolved through the Sanskritization of Dravidian ethos, the revivalism of various religious movements and reform movements against caste discrimination. That said, the state of Kerala is also known to have several tribal and folk art forms. For instance, Kummattikali is a popular colourful mask-dance of South Malabar, performed during the festival of Onam, while the Kannyar Kali (or Desathukali) dances are fast moving, militant dances attuned to rhythmic devotional folk songs and asuravadyas. Kathakali continues to be an example of a highly developed art form developed from its folk origins. It is a combination of performing art forms namely the opera, ballet, masque, and pantomime. In case of music, the ragas and talas of lyrical and devotional Carnatic music, another prevalent feature of South India, dominate the Keralite classical musical genres.

As regards festivals, Onam is their well-known harvest festival celebrated extravagantly by the people of Kerala. It is also the state festival with State holidays on 4 days starting from the Onam Eve (Uthradom). Another distinct feature of the festival is ‘Ona Sadhya’ (Onam Feast) and consists of numerous dishes served on a banana leaf. Usually the Ona Sadhya would consist of numerous side dishes along with rice.

The way forward

As a new wave of Indic Localisation is sweeping across the internet in India at the moment, governments and companies alike are making a painstaking effort to bridge linguistic barriers and reach out to the 90% population of India that does not communicate in English.

Interestingly, Malayalam has an adoption propensity of 44% and is one of the top 8 Indian languages, along with Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Kannada, for which internet adoption has been ascertained in the near future, as was brought to light by the Google-KPMG report in 2017. The Malayali user base was estimated to grow from 1 million in 2016 to 6 million in 2021. With an already flourishing Malayalam cinema, it is now the need of the hour in our motherland, to be able to consume web content in our own mother tongues.

Urdu

Think Urdu and what are the first few images that come to your mind? A green flag? Hindi’s cousin? A man with a skullcap clad in white, saying his prayers on a mat? An ornamented white mosque, with its golden minarets and domes? The flawlessly beautiful women you see in Pakistani soap operas, in their flowy salwars, exquisite jewellery and porcelain-like skins? Well, you’re not too wrong. A refined language often associated with beauty and grace, sufis and shayars, a rich bank of vocabulary and an identity symbol for many Muslims across India – let’s explore more on Urdu.

Urdu – what and where?

The language Urdu comes from the Indo-Aryan group of languages under the Indo-European family. Spoken as a first language by nearly 70 million people, predominantly around Pakistan, India and the Middle East, it is notably the official language of Pakistan and is also officially recognised by the Constitution of India as one of its 22 official Indian languages. It is spoken by many people across India, particularly in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana and Jharkhand.

As for interesting facts, the word ‘Urdu’ was first used by the poet Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi in 1780. However, from the 13th century until the end of the 18th century, Urdu was commonly known as Hindi. The language was then also known by various other names such as Hindavi and Dehlavi.

Tracing back the links

The earliest linguistic influences in the development of Urdu probably began with the Muslim conquest of Sindh in 711. The language started evolving from the first few Farsi and Arabic influences during the invasions of the Indian subcontinent, by Persian and Turkish forces in the 11th century and then on. Since a significant number of Persian-speaking sultans ruled the Indian subcontinent for a number of centuries, Urdu was influenced by Persian and to a lesser extent, Arabic, which have contributed to about 25% of Urdu’s vocabulary.

Urdu definitely developed more during the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1858). When the Delhi Sultanate expanded southwards to the Deccan Plateau, the language was further influenced by the languages spoken in the south, by Punjabi and Haryanvi, and by Sufi and court usage. Urdu religious prose goes back several centuries, while the 18th–19th centuries were regarded as the golden period of Urdu poetry.

The newly formed speech, then called Hindvi, was also known as Zaban-e-Hind, Hindi, Zaban-e-Delhi, Rekhta, Gujari, Dakkhani, Zaban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla, Zaban-e-Urdu, or just Urdu, literally meaning ‘the language of the camp.’ Major Urdu writers continued to refer to it as Hindi or Hindvi until the beginning of the 19th century.

Association with Hindi and the Hind

Urdu and Hindi share an Indo-Aryan base, but Urdu is associated more with Persian and Arabic, especially from the calligraphy point of view, and reads right-to-left, whereas Hindi is closest to Sanskrit and reads left-to-right. Phonologically, Urdu sounds are the same as those of Hindi except for slight variations.

They are known to share similar phonological and grammatical elements. In terms of lexicon, however, they have borrowed extensively from different sources i.e. Urdu from Arabic and Persian, Hindi from Sanskrit – so they are universally recognised and treated as independent languages. Their distinction is most marked in terms of writing systems: Urdu uses a modified form of Perso-Arabic script known as Nastaliq (nastaʿlīq), while Hindi uses Devanagari.

The way forward

As a new wave of Indic Localisation is sweeping across the internet world in India at this moment, governments and companies alike, are making a painstaking effort to bridge linguistic barriers and reach out to the 90% population of India that does not communicate in English. Urdu, among Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Punjabi, Marathi and Gujarati, are some of the sought-after languages on the internet today, where the need to consume content in vernacular languages is indeed the need of the hour.

Modern Urdu, the national language of Pakistan and the tongue spoken by the many millions of people in India, has always been known for its elegant poetry-like vocabulary, its rich literature, artistic script and its graceful free-flowing manner of speaking. At the current rate of the internet adoption levels around the Indian subcontinent along with its heavy influence on Bollywood music, it will soon almost become indistinguishable from the Hindi we speak 🙂

Estonian

This month we are going to take a look at a Northern European language that is spoken in Estonia, the most northerly of the three Baltic states, nestled between the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, between Latvia and Russia. It boasts of over 1500 islands, hilltop fortresses, endless forests and woodlands, two Unesco World Heritage sites and some wonderfully preserved medieval architecture, in addition to being one of most digitalised countries and a major start-up hub. Now let’s learn a fact or two about Estonian.

Estonian – what and where?

The official language of Estonia is Estonian, which is spoken by about 1.1 million people there and in scattered pockets in surrounding regions. It is closely related to Finnish, and while Finnish may have many loanwords from Swedish, Estonian contains many words that are of German origin, in addition to a few being from Russian, Latin, Greek and English. There is said to be a considerable mutual intelligibility between Estonian and Finnish, since it is also a Southern Finnic language and is the second most spoken language among all the Finnic languages.

Dialects galore!

Did you know that the Estonian language supposedly has 8 dialects and 117 subdialects? On the whole, Estonian has two groups of dialects: northern and southern. The northern dialects are associated with the city of Tallinn, while the southern ones with Tartu. Standard Estonian is based on the northern dialects, and the southern dialects are sometimes considered separate languages altogether.

Tracing back the links

The oldest examples of written Estonian are names, words, and phrases found in early 13th century chronicles. With the evolution of written Estonian, two separate literary culture centres emerged: the city of Tallinn in the North and Tartu in the South. It’s a fact that the Estonian language that we use today is based on the 19th century’s revised orthography (i.e. the conventional spelling system of a language).

Estonian is one of the official languages of the European Union that is not of an Indo-European origin. Apart from its close connection to Finnish, Hungarian and Maltese, and despite some overlaps in the vocabulary, Estonian and Finnish are not related to their nearest geographical neighbours i.e. Swedish, Latvian, and Russian, which are all Indo-European languages. In fact, it is interesting to know that Estonian has borrowed nearly one third of its vocabulary from Germanic languages.

Fun facts and trivia

Estonia is known to be the first country in the world to adopt online voting and is also one of the few countries in the world, where the population is predominantly female. But did you also know that Estonia was a part of Russia until 1917? That’s the reason why the Estonian language is still spoken in many parts of Russia.

According to the Foreign Service Institute, Estonian is the fifth hardest language to learn! Especially for native English speakers, this language is difficult because it operates with 14 noun cases. On the other hand, Estonian is said to be significantly easier to learn for a Finnish speaker owing to the regional influence, as well as both the languages being from the Uralic language family.

So if Estonia is one of your next travel destinations, you might certainly want to start learning it right away 😉

Japanese

Be it the Bollywood golden oldies like “Sayonara” from “Love in Tokyo”, or today’s always-in-vogue generation that loves wearing kimono and slurping on momos while flipping through manga or unriddling sudoku, Japanese language has been enchanting Western culture for decades. Some of us like to take up karate or go to karaoke on weekends, while others prefer the Zen state of mind rather than giving into the tsunami of emojis on the phone. Whether or not we realise it, Japanese has shaken up the mainstreams! Let’s propose a toast to this wonderful Oriental culture where the valiant Samurai and delicate Sakura play house together.

 Japanese – the what and the where

Japanese is an East-Asian language primarily spoken in the island-nation of Japan. Before World War II, the Japanese dominated Asian Countries such as North and South Korea and Taiwan to name a few and made it incumbent upon them to speak Japanese. If the statistics are to be believed, more than 130 million people speak Japanese even today, making it the ninth most widely spoken language in the world.

Roots and development

The origins of Japanese are the bone of contention among linguists. Japanese is most widely believed to be linked to the Ural-Altaic family, which includes languages such as Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, Korean. The country’s geography has fostered the development of various dialects throughout the archipelago. All these dialects, namely Honshu or Aomori and Akita, are often mutually unintelligible. However, linguistic unification has been achieved by outstretch of the kyotsu-go (common language), which is predominantly based on the Tokyo dialect.

Japanese writing system

Did you know that Japan did not have a writing system for the longest time? The first documented evidence was found around the 5th and 6th centuries, with names inscribed on things such as swords. Written records of Japanese date back to the 8th century, much before kana was invented. By the 12th century, the syllabic writing systems, hiragana and katakana, were created out of kanji, providing the Japanese new freedom in writing their native tongue. The Japanese Ministry of Education designates approximately 2,000 kanjis as a prerequisite before high school graduation. A standardised written language, which is believed to have come into existence in the mid-18th century, has adopted a huge amount of Gairaigo (foreign words) mainly from English such as teburu (table), biru (beer), takushi (taxi) etc.

Culture of Translation

Japanese culture is often characterised as a culture of translation because the today’s Japanese language is the result of translators struggling to match Chinese characters and Japanese words, hitching on native pronunciation and adopting approximations of Chinese pronunciation. It is likely that the founders of modern Japanese literature tended to be either scholars of Western literature or translators. Murakami, however, went even further and developed a distinctive rhythm of writing drawn from 20th century American jazz when creatively tackling the rhythmic prose of The Great Gatsby. Though deemed “unnatural” by some Japanese critics, his translations are so popular that ‘the ‘Murakami style’ now feels quite normal, especially for those raised on it since the 1980s.  

Linguistic Trivia

All you Star Wars fans in the house will be surprised to know that the basis for George Lucas’ famous venture “Star Wars” was “The Hidden Fortress” – a film by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

Haiku poetry, which was invented in Japan, comprises only three lines and is the world’s shortest poetic form.

Hindi

With International Mother Language Day just around the corner, there is an array of emotions that are evoked by one’s mother tongue. With this nostalgia, come other parallel thoughts like the binding factor in diversity in a country of 29 states and the coolness quotient around multilingualism – especially in a country as linguistically diverse as India, where the Constitution itself officially recognises 22 languages. So let’s brush up on some trivia on one of the most widely spoken and easiest “make do” languages when travelling across the country: this month, we celebrate Hindi.

How many and where

In India, there is a popular proverb, “Where the water changes with every two miles, the tongue changes with every four.” In spite of this, there is a significant Hindi speaking population all across central and northern parts of India, and it is officially reported to be the mother tongue of an estimated 41 percent of the population. It is no news that Hindi music, literature and films have held a dear place in the hearts and minds of most Indians.

According to the textbook, Hindi (हिन्दी) or Modern Standard Hindi is a standardised and Sanskritised register of the Hindustani language. Hindi written in the Devanagari script is one of the official languages of India alongside English, and is one of the 22 scheduled languages recognised here. Currently, there are an estimated 521 million Hindi language speakers and about 500 million Indian language speakers in India*.

Scope and fun facts

Known to be a direct descendent of ancient Sanskrit and having evolved through Prakrit and Apabhramsa languages, Hindi belongs to the Indo-Iranian sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. It has also been heavily influenced and enriched by Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Portuguese, English and the South Indian Dravidian languages.

Knowledge of Hindi is likely to help understand Sanskrit, Nepalese, Bengali, Gujarati and Urdu, as they all share a lot of similarities with Standard Hindi. We must also not forget that Hindi easily has a few dozen dialects that are spoken across different regions, even though the script used is the same.

Indian states are allowed to pick a co-official language for administrative purposes, and yet, Hindi certainly becomes a favourite go-to lingua franca as a result of having grown up with a lot of Bollywood influence (it is admittedly one of the largest and most successful film industries in the world!) and is a great last resort as regards being understood when travelling across states, especially when all else fails.

Tracing back the links

Like other Indo-Aryan languages, Hindi is a direct descendant of an early form of Vedic Sanskrit. The term Hindī originally was used to refer to the inhabitants of the region east of the Indus. It was borrowed from Classical Persian Hindī (Iranian Persian Hendi), meaning “Indian”, from the proper noun Hind “India”. In essence, Hindi got its name from the Persian word Hind, meaning ‘land of the Indus River’.

The modern Devanagari script used for Hindi came into existence only in the 11th century. Interestingly, the earliest evidence of Hindi printing is found in Grammar of the Hindoostani Language, a book by John Gilchrist, published in 1796 in Calcutta. It talks about the Hindustani language then, a common form of Hindi and Urdu, but used to be a spoken language for most part. After independence, the government of India instituted a convention for the standardisation of grammar and orthography, using the Devanagari script.

 National language

 Article 343 (1) of the Indian constitution states that the official language of the Union shall be Standard Hindi in Devanagari script. There seems to be no official record or agreement of it being recognised a ‘national language’ and nor is it a language necessarily taught in every state. Either way, there is little clarity on whether India has or needs one binding national language owing to its rich diversity and distinct mélange of cultures, but Hindi is certainly as official as it gets, since it is known to be the ‘language of the north’, especially that of Delhi, and thereby used in most official documentation, parliamentary proceedings, and inter-government communications.

Trending today

The country is witnessing a massive influx of non-English first-time internet users in India. With 12.83% of India managing to understand English, players across several digital platforms have now adopted regional content strategies to reach out to the masses. Internet adoption levels across the country are clearly increasing with every passing day, with the number of Hindi internet users at 201 million, expected to easily surpass the English internet users.

With giants like Google, Amazon, Duolingo, MakeMyTrip, BookMyShow and now Instagram, visibly taking a keen interest in reaching out to the Hindi-speaking audiences, it is only a matter of time that the rest of the country’s businesses do too.

*Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet, KPMG and Google Report, 2017

Gujarati

Gujarat might have been in the news recently owing to the Statue of Unity, Prime Minister Modi or even the Ambanis, and their constant pursuit to redefine most superlatives. But the Gujju culture for us is not just all about Dandiya Raas & Garba nights (and gathiyas and fafras!) but well extends to the exquisite textiles, lavish thalis with mouth-watering kadhis, an endless variety of munchies, their warm hospitable nature and a vibrant array of handicrafts that they are known for universally! This month, we’re celebrating a much-loved language of all the Hansa bens and Jignesh bhais – ‘Gujarati’.

Aspects that matter

This Indo-Aryan language shares a lot of vocabulary with Hindi and Punjabi, just like other languages derived from Sanskrit. The word Gujarati (ગુજરાતી) by itself comes from “Gujara” i.e. a branch of the White Huns, who ruled the area during the eighth and ninth centuries.

With nearly 56 million speakers as was recorded in 2016, there is a sizable community of Gujaratis who live and work outside India. The Gujarati population in the USA and Canada is notably significant and this amicable community is known to carry along their culture with them, wherever they go. As for fun facts, the most characteristic trait about the Gujarati people, apart from their passion for food, is their terrific flair for business and family trade.

Tracing back the links

There are several dialects of Gujarati, including Kachchi, Kathiawadi, and Surati. Bhili is a language similar to Gujarati that is spoken by tribal groups in northern and eastern Gujarat, while there are also other dialects that are spoken by the Parsis and Bohri Muslims.

Visually, the Gujarati script is very similar to Devanagari but without the letters crossed off at the top, as in Hindi or Marathi. A descendant of the Brahmi script, Gujarati is usually written in a cursive manner. Until the 19th century, the Gujarati script was used mainly for writing letters and keeping accounts, while the Devanagari script was used in literary and academic texts. Today, the Gujarati script is the official script used in Gujarat.

Trending today

KPMG India and Google’s 2017 report on ‘Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet’ has predicted that by 2021, the number of Hindi internet users alone is expected to be more than English users at 201 million. In light of this, several digital platforms have adopted a regional content strategy to reach out to the 1.3 billion population of India, after realising the limited potential of consumers in the urban pockets.

On a more micro level, it has never been more important to know how to speak, read and type your own mother tongue, especially if it is one spoken by a significant number of people in the country, such as Gujarati. The enormous flux of content going out in Indian languages at this very moment is nothing short of a digital revolution, one you want to be a part of.

If you’re travelling to Gujarat, you surely want to experience the major festivals like the Navratri Mahotsav, Kite festival and the Rann Utsav; but what you definitely don’t want to miss is a visit to the colossal Statue of Unity, which is 182 metres (597 ft) high and is dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, popularly considered as the Iron Man of India and the architect of the secular country it is today. Whether or not you’re a fan of history, you most certainly want to stay up-to-date on your heritage!

Dothraki

While Game of Thrones fans from all over the world wait eagerly with bated breath for the next season’s release, we decided to take a little sneak peek into the languages invented for the show. Long gone are the days when fantasy drama series spouted gibberish on screen. Production designers today are not afraid to invest in the anthropological details: be it the hand-embroidered costumes, rusty drapes or the crested weaponry! One such globally-admired detail is Dothraki, Khal Drogo’s native tongue.

Mother of fantasy tongues!

The Dothraki language is a constructed fictional language in George R. R. Martin’s novel series and its television adaptation Game of Thrones, where it is spoken by the Dothraki tribes from Essos and eventually by the much-loved protagonist, Daenerys Targaryen. While this language first appears in the novels, it was developed for the TV series by the linguist and professional conlanger, David J. Peterson to enhance the cultural context of the characters and the world they belong to.

The dream job

HBO hired the Language Creation Society (yes, that’s a real thing!) to create such a language for Game of Thrones. The application process alone involved over thirty conlangers (people who invent conlangs or constructed languages as an artistic and/or intellectual hobby), in which David Peterson was hired after having submitted a 180-page proposal with functional grammar and nearly 2000 words – dictionary and audio files included!

He drew inspiration from George R. R. Martin’s description of the language, as well as from natural languages such as Turkish, Russian, Estonian, Inuktitut and Swahili.

Fiction or reality?

While the Dothraki’s tongue is intended to be harsh and guttural, considering they are nomadic tribes, George R.R. Martin has stated that the Dothraki do not resemble or represent any tribe or community in particular, but they have been loosely inspired from the Mongols, Huns, Alans, Turks, Native American plains tribes and various other nomadic horse-riding people who lived on the open steppe, typically with a large frame, dark eyes and dark hair.

Other invented languages

While the first entirely artificial language “Lingua Ignota” was developed way back in the 12th century; entertainment industry conlangs have come a long way since Klingon’s utterance in Star Trek (1979). Popular “conlangs” today include Elvish (Lord of the Rings) and Na’vi (Avatar).

After being introduced to Esperanto by his linguistics professor, Peterson caught the bug and now has a string of languages under his belt – or well, on his website.  He developed High Valyrian for the nobility in Game of Thrones, along with Castithan, Irathient, Zhyler, Njaama and Sidaan, most of them for sheer pleasure.

Hey, I want to learn Dothraki!

While you’re probably already well-versed with the term “Khaleesi” (the Dothraki term for a queen or the wife of a khal i.e. a ruler) there are plenty of web and mobile apps that teach you how to pronounce words, learn with games, discuss morphology theories and have a conversational dialogue! In 2014, David Peterson also produced a guidebook for learning the language: Living Language Dothraki.

So happy learning and  fonas chek! (Goodbye!)

Marathi

Every language shares an intimate connection with the culture and history of the people who speak it. Our language of the month too comes from a land that is steeped in culture and history. Whether it’s the opulence of the Peshwas and Marathas, the mesmerising tradition of the bhakti movement or the powerful literature of revolutionaries of our independence movement, Marathi has always been the ideal bridge connecting people to its rich past. It is a language that has inspired not just the works of literary stalwarts like PL Deshpande and PK Atre but also the gifted creators of warli paintings, Kolhapuri chappals and paithani sarees, not to mention the Laavani, a famous folk dance performed to the beats of a dholki. It’s about time we celebrated this rich language, so here’s to Marathi.

How many and where?

Marathi (मराठी) belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the 22 official languages of India, spoken by about 89 million people as their first language, mostly in the western state of Maharashtra. Despite differences among the various dialects in pronunciation and vocabulary, standard Marathi is said to be based on the speech and syllables of educated speakers of Pune, the second largest city of Maharashtra after Mumbai, while literary Marathi is based on older versions of the language, which differs significantly from spoken Marathi.

Believed to be derived from Sanskrit through a Prakrit dialect called Maharashtri around the 1st-2nd centuries AD, it was the most widespread Prakrit dialect of its time. In fact, today’s Marathi-speaking and Kannada-speaking parts of India spoke Maharashtri Prakrit for centuries, until about 875 AD. Maharashtri gradually evolved into Marathi in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Tracing back the links

The earliest evidence of written Marathi dates back to 700 AD. It is known to have a long literary history, right from some religious writings in the 12th centuries to the first English book that was translated into Marathi in 1817, and the first Marathi newspaper that appeared in 1835. With the advent of large scale printing, the then used Brahmi-based Modi script proved very difficult for typesetting and 1950 onwards, all Marathi correspondence and chronicles were written with the Devanagiri alphabet.

Since most Indian languages belonging to the Indo-Aryan language family were derived from early forms of Prakrit, Marathi’s grammar also proved to be similar to that of other Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi, thereby making it easier to pick up the other languages if you already spoke one.

Trending today

KPMG India and Google’s 2017 report ‘Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet’ has predicted that by 2021, the number of Hindi internet users is expected to be more than English users at 201 million; while Bengali, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil users are expected to form 30 per cent of the total Indian language internet user base.

In light of this, several digital platforms and content providers have adopted a regional content strategy to reach out to the 1.3 billion population of India, after realising the limited potential of consumers in the urban pockets of India. On the other end of that spectrum, the future of the language industry in India is said to be heading towards vernacular languages across all domains, and every language professional has been advised to first speak, write, read (and type) their mother tongue. So if you’re a resident of Maharashtra and are considering adding a skill set to your content or language portfolio, we definitely recommend learning how to type Marathi here:  marathi.indiatyping.com/

Pidgins

It is not unusual to see regions that are in close geographical proximity to each other, share common practices, vocabulary, cultural as well as linguistic elements. This forms the basis of how language evolved and how dialects came into being. This month, however, let’s take a look at an interesting concept called Pidgin languages. And no, this has nothing to do with birds! In fact, Pidgins develop when people with no common language come into contact with each other and make do. Let’s take a look at some pidgins spoken in West Africa, Hawaii and other multicultural hubs.

Pidgins – Creoles or Dialects?

Pidgin refers to what is known as a ‘make-do’ trade language that emerged as a mixture of languages, to help people who do not have a common one to communicate with one another. They are usually formed as a result of major languages belonging to former major colonial powers, such as English, French and Portuguese. For instance, the establishment of plantation economies in the Caribbean with large groups of slaves from different backgrounds who came from West Africa, gave rise to a number of English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese based pidgins. There are also a significant number of pidgins spoken in parts of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia based on languages other than those of the colonial powers.

A creole is known to include elements from its parent languages and is a fully-functional language of its own; however, a pidgin is usually a blend of the vocabulary of one major language with the grammar of one or more other languages. It is never really a person’s native or first language.

How many and where?

A lot of well known pidgins have evolved into creole languages, with Pidgin English being recently recognised as an official language in Hawaii. In the Nigerian city of Lagos alone, there are 500 various spoken languages, the resulting pidgin known as Naija. Technology has also begun to focus on pidgins and creoles, with BBC radio broadcasts in English-based Pidgin for West and Central Africa. This News Pidgin reaches a weekly audience of 7.5 million people in Nigeria and around the world on radio. There is also an app that offers translations in pidgins, while the Wycliffe Bible Translators is working on a Pidgin English website for the Bible.

Tracing back the links

Creole originated as a form of communication used between English speaking residents and non-English speaking immigrants in Hawaii. A few languages such as Portuguese, Hawaiian and Cantonese were influenced by it, while Pidgin also acquired many words from the Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Filipinos and Koreans who settled in Hawaii.

Trade and colonisation is what brought pidgin to West Africa. West African Pidgin English arose during the period when the British dominated the Atlantic slave trade in the late 17th and 18th centuries. These pidgins have now evolved into creoles, and are a claimed first language for a new generation of speakers.

Trending today

Today, variations of pidgins are used in all spheres of life ranging from political campaigns, television and radio broadcasts. They are also taught in some tertiary institutions, used in music and other works of art, and are sometimes also used in speeches by public officials!

Among the various efforts taken by linguistic authorities as well as governments to preserve this language, pidgins are often viewed in a “non-purist” way by language experts. Some might view them as languages that have helped to bridge the communication gap between them and others, while it continues to remain a “make do” medium for many others. Either way, the pidgins are developing on a daily basis as new lexical items are being introduced quite regularly.