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Kolaveri Di – the plasticity of the Tamil language

Recently I was sent this video of the Tamil song “Why this Kolaveri Di” (English version at end of post). I’ve only just found out that it was probably the most popular song of 2011. I have to admit, I have a rather slim grasp on my Tamil roots, so I had no either what it meant or what it was. So of course I went to Wikipedia: apparently, the song title translates as ‘Why This Murderous Rage, Girl?’ and the song is from the soundtrack of an upcoming Tamil film 3, due out this year, about a guy who is rejected by a girl. Anyway, this blog post is way behind the times, given that the song was released in November.

What’s really interesting is that the song is written in ‘Tanglish’, a Tamil/English hybrid, but that’s what interesting about Tamil, you don’t need to be really fluent in it to speak it, you can mix Tamil and English together in a way that you can’t (or not allowed to do) with English and other European languages (although not Tanglish). So listening to people talk conversationally over a period time I have found that slowly I have been able to understand things. I can speak Tamil, although perhaps not to the same level of my parents who came to England from Sri Lanka. When I was a child, they would often speak in Tamil if they didn’t want my sister or I to understand what they were saying, but as I got older, this became more and more difficult as I understood more and more.

Here’s an example of how Tamil and English fit together (not that you will probably need it). If you want to say “I would like (want) some food/dinner” in Tamil only (apologies for the English spellings):

Ennakku sharppadu vernum (Literally, for me dinner want). “

But you could also say:

Ennakku dinner/food-ikku vernum.”

Of course, probably because of colonial times, there are a number of English words for which there is no Tamil equivalent anyway, such as apple, (motor) car, orange and (ironically) tea, although they may be said in a Tamil accent – Ahpple, mohtar car, thear. And, there are apparently Tamil words that have become a part of English, such as catamaran and mulligatawny. So, and this post would not really be complete it I didn’t mention Hegel, there is arguably a Hegelian dialectic between Tamil and English. The two languages are plastic, where they shape and are shaped by each other, whilst at the same time resisting deformation. The language of ‘Kolaveri Di’ (the song) appears to a manifestation of that plasticity. (As an aside, the single video at the top of this post indicates the dialectic between creator and created, particularly where the studio instructions are included.)

There are a number of videos for ‘Koleveri Di’ on Youtube but I particularly like this English R&B version, which I think captures what ‘Koleveri Di’ (Murderous Rage, Girl) is all about.

And of course there’s already a Downfall parody.


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