kerala born confused polyglot

I think I am an Indian equivalent of an ABCD - to be born in one culture and been brought up in a place of another culture. I am, by birth, a Tamilian and belong to that clad who have come to be known as ‘Palakkad Iyers” whose ancestors migrated to Kerala and settled there many generations ago.

However, I consider myself to be a Keralite since I have always lived there. Moreover, though I speak Tamil at home, I am more comfortable and fluent in Malayalam than any other language. Inspite of some serious canvassing and cajoling from one of my dear friends to convince me that I am a Tamilian, I stand adamant on my mallu stand much to her annoyance. She had to settle with the truce that she would consider me to be a Tamil and doesn’t give a damn about what I consider myself to be (It’s a miracle I still get invited for dinner at her place!)

However the bigger issue was when it came to what is my mother tongue. Much before I had to confront this question of picking an identity, I have always been conflicted by the same issue whenever I had to specify my ‘mother tongue’ in application forms. I have used both Malayalam and Tamil for that particular column depending on how I felt about what my mother tongue is at that particular moment, though I never could convince myself which one was it for me. I don’t buy the explanation that mother tongue is the one your mother speaks (which is just the literal translation of the word and not I am certain that’s not what it was meant to be when the word was coined).

Sometime back a friend of mine wrote about the language one thinks in. I thought it was a good way to figure out the mother tongue for polyglots like me (I know 4 languages and working on the 5th one ;). A person’s mother tongue should be the language in which he/she thinks. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you speak. The language in which you have thoughts has to be considered your mother tongue since that is the one which comes involuntarily to you and by that theory; my mother tongue has to be Tamil. I have always had my silent thoughts in Tamil, the one which I have used and still use to communicate with my family even since I can think of. So, does that make me a Tamilian? Maybe it does, when I put it that way (my above mentioned friend would be delighted to read my confession :)

I know there would be people who refuse to accept this argument of mine. In fact, a very close friend of mine vouches that he thinks in English though he hails from Chennai and speaks Tamil at home (well, at least most of the times!). For him, English is the language in which his thoughts flow. In my defense, he doesn’t have confusion as to what his mother tongue is and is certain that its Tamil. This hypothesis stands true only for confused souls like me.

Spare a thought for a friend of mine from Mumbai; she has lived her whole life there and can just manage Marathi but converses in Malayalam Tamil at home since her parents are Tamil speaking Keralites like me!



Jaya said...

I was the friend that mentioned the language you think in :P ( And your theory makes me English. Even more so because French is best translated from English owing to similar grammar and sentence constructions. But yes, being a polyglot is a true gift and rather than try to segregate yourself into one of the niches that you think you must belong to, enjoy the fact that on the average you know far many more languages than the people around you. And what's the 5th one BTW? Happy learning!

Aravind said...

yes you are indeed the friend i was referring to. Acknowledged that in the post now. As i said, it doesnt apply to you if u are not confused. My confusion stemmed long time back when people asked what my mother tongue is and I was conflicted since i spoke tamil only at home and used malayalam any and every other thing and wasnt convinced enough if it can be called my mother tongue....thats what i wanted to say in the post, but when i read it back i see i hvnt put it across clearly..drifted more in rambling :)
I am learning spanish now to make my 5th :)

Dilip said...

Interestingly, I too think in English. Not sure what that would mean. I am also a confused guy between hindi, tamil and some english...(so to say)...But sometimes thoughts are just images or pictures or we really think in a language? What language do mute people think in?

Divya Krishnan said...

Interesting post... I belong to the same category as u though a bit different - Palakkad iyers settled in TN... but u should definitely take pride in being a polyglot! And btw, heard of the term Talayalam???

Aravind said...

@ dilip: maaaan.....i thought its just your blogs that are even your comments are becoming profound :) I said, i dont have any justification to my belief, its just a way to keep myself from wondering i suppose!

@ divya: thanks for stopping by Divya!...yeah I do brag a lot abt how much I know about both cultures:)....Talayalam!...hmm, never heard that term before, though I know exactly how it wud sound