Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two-Word Tamil Lesson

My husband Mowgli (not his real name) speaks three languages. English is his first (in case you're curious -- he gets a lot of questions about that), and at home, his parents speak a mix of Tamil and Telugu in addition to English. So if I want to understand and converse the way they do, I'll need to learn two languages as well as the particular mixology at work in my in-laws' home.

For now, I've decided that learning Tamil, slowly and randomly, is the way to go, since they live in Tamil Nadu and I should therefore be able to use it both in the house and in public the next time I visit.

One word I've learned, from doing yardwork with Mowgli, is the word for "snake," because we have garter snakes and he is not fond of snakes in any form. When he sees one, he will point and use the Tamil word for snake.

Not long ago, when a nature show ad came on, and there was a gorgeous close-up of a tongue-flicking snake in the ad, I proudly trotted out one of my five Tamil words. "Ooh, honey, look at that big bad tombu!"

That's when the laughing started. Tombu means "thumb." Pombu is "snake."

And now I know two Tamil words really, really well.


  1. and now i do too. two big tombu's up for you!

  2. Hm. Interesting. Different spelling, but probably the same pronunciation. Makes me wonder if there are standardized Anglicized spellings for Indian languages, like there is for Mandarin.


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