True speech | paragraph blogging

Paragraph blogging.png

I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to connect with my mother’s L1 – Tamil, a language that’s native to southern India and Sri Lanka. I’ve taught myself to read but I  can’t manage its extreme diglossia so forget literature, even newspapers are out of reach. I am building my knowledge of the language in other ways such as David Shulman’s sumptuous and erudite ‘Tamil a Biography‘. In it, he discusses a concept called ‘vāymŏḻi’ (the ḻ happens to be a retroflex approximant) or true speech which I’ve been mulling over this past week.

“One might think that truth is a universal concept not in need of further, local characterization. There is truth and there is untruth, and the difference between them is, we could imagine, clear in every culture. But in fact the notion of truth or truthfulness is always culturally determined. The Greeks called truth aletheia, a “nonforgetting” or “noninattention,” and linked it with unveiling, penetrating past the shimmering surface. Tamil conceptions of truth are quite different. They are, above all, dependent on ideas about the autonomy and integrity of the spoken, audible (musical) word that, once uttered, will always live out its life in the world independent of the speaker’s will. Thus truth is connected to sound—specifically, to the phonemes of the Tamil language—and what sound can do in, or to, a world that is itself made up of sonic forces, inaudible quivers, subtle buzzes.”

David Shulman

That’s of course fascinating, beautiful and lyrical but what got me thinking was this idea of speech becoming truth because it is spoken in a certain context. When you’re training teachers, particularly trainee teachers, I get the sense that your word as the trainer is accepted as the truth regardless of whether it is or not outside that room or platform. And when these ideas go out into the real world, they continue to evolve because they’re being implemented in some form or the other. I certainly experienced this on my initial training and acquired ideas that continue to influence my practice even today. These notions once utteredlive out their life in the world independent of the trainer’s will. That’s a proposition I find deeply unsettling.

* A big thank you to Matt Noble for prompting me to start paragraph blogging with his frigging paragraph blogging fecundity this month!

Image attribution: Jaffna, Sri Lanka by arileu | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

5 Replies to “True speech | paragraph blogging”

  1. Such a good sentence: “A big thank you to Matt Noble for prompting me to start paragraph blogging with his frigging paragraph blogging fecundity this month!” Thanks for making Adi write, Matt! 🙂
    This is a really interesting concept, and one I’d like to think about a bit more.
    I’d also like to know what you mean by ‘its extreme diglossia’. I feel like I should know what that means, but can’t figure it out. Can you help?
    Thanks!

    Like

    1. Thanks Sandy. Diglossia is sort like register but on steroids. In diglossic languages, the formal variety of the language (called the H variety) and the everyday variety of the language (the L form) are markedly different. Most Indian languages are diglossic to some extent but Tamil is exceptional because it’s H and L varieties have diverged to such an extent that they are no longer intelligible. This creates some odd situations in terms of use. The narrative in novels is usually written in the H variety but dialogue us written in the L from. Arabic is supposed to be a classic example – it’s standard variety is diglossic with regional varieties.

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