Friday, October 08, 2010


The name 'Enthiran' struck me as a very interesting example of a feature that Tamizh shares with Telugu, but does not share with Kannada (or any other language I know). The use of the male nominative case suffix '-an' is a brilliant way of making 'Enthiram' (machine) into 'machine-man'. In Telugu, I'd do it like 'Yantrudu'  (with 'Yantramu' for the machine).

Two features are important:

1. The nominative case suffix should be quite distinct for the masculine gender compared to the neuter gender. The '-an' and '-am' difference in Tamizh, and the '-mu' and '-du' difference in Telugu are sufficient, but there's nothing comparable in Kannada. Hindi or English don't use case suffixes, so they are totally out.

Kannada is weird because it has a nominative case suffix that is used in formal writing that makes sense only when used in a sentence, and not independently. 'Ramanu' can never exist independently as a word (while 'Rama' can).

Sanskrit does make a clear enough distinction, with 'yantram' and 'yantraH', but:

2. The gender of words should be dependent purely on the gender of the object. Else, there's nothing to do!

I wish the movie was half as clever as the name, though :-)


Varun Narasimhachar said...

Why, in Sanskrit, the verbal affix suffers no inflexion from the gender of the subject in any number or person. So in "in Kannada too (and even Sanskrit)", the "even" is unwarranted.

I have always found amusing the peculiarity of Hindi constructions with "ne", wherein the verb conjugation is governed by the gender of the direct object, even though the sentence is in active voice. "raama ne lakshmaNa ko Sikshaa dii".

The Telugu-speakers who I have confronted about the feminine-neuter ambiguity have argued that rather than relegating the feminine to a neuter, this ambiguity only gives undue respect to the neuter, and therefore it is not tantamount to treating feminines "neutrally". In other words, they argue that the missing (or assimilated) grammatical gender is not the feminine, but the neuter. But I don't buy that defence at all, because the surviving gender is so obviously seen to be the neuter on merely a rough comparison with other Dravidian languages.

S said...

IIRC "Srimad-Mahabharatavu" was the full title of the Kannada book. You can also find such chapter titles, article titles etc. in old books. (Probably if you go to, say, Vedanta Book House you may even find some of these old books. :p) I've heard there was a Telugu influence on Kannada for a while... (e.g. apparently some of my grandfather's personal writings had Telugu mixed in them for no discernible reason).

As for 5, I'm saying not that some forms are common, but that Telugu consistently has only two genders — there exists no case at all in which the feminine singular is distinguishable from the neuter singular, or the feminine plural is distinguishable from the neuter plural. Its grammar has only two "genders", and only recently and artificially (possibly in imitation of Sanskrit grammar, say) has it been said to have three. I also think two genders did use to be the standard way of describing its grammar; at least that's what C. P. Brown's book says. It would be great to find out more about this; such a gender system seems unique among all languages.