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Sexism And The Tamizh Language

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Tamil or rightly spelled (according to pronunciation) Tamizh is a language spoken by approximately 76 million people around the world (according to the US Census 2016) and is the oldest language among the four Dravidian language families. It is one of the official languages in the state of Tamil Nadu, Union Territory Pondicherry, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. It was declared as a Classical Language in the year 2004, implying that it fulfilled three criteria- its origins are ancient, has an independent tradition, and possess considerable body of literature. This makes it a language of great importance throughout the world.

Every Language is a product of its culture and tradition, which may be good or bad, and this paper is about the Sexist implications that Tamizh has as a language. These sexist traits in the language occur from the culture and later influence the ones using the language, working like a circle. This problem is necessary to be addressed now, as it is the age of modernity and progress and language plays an important role in this development. This paper will look at all the indicators of sexism that is embedded in the Tamizh language, from daily use to its most ancient literature. It will look at all these aspects in a broad spectrum to understand the basic structure and maybe try to bring a change in it.

Literature Review:

As stated earlier, Language is the product of both culture and traditions and Tamizh is no exception to this. Tamizh as a language is spoken on a daily basis not just by the Tamizh community of the Indian state but a variety of other places all over the world. And sexist notions embedded in it also originate from all these different cultures. These sexist qualities are visible in their Entertainment Industry-Movies and Music, Daily Conversations, and Literature.

For instance, the language does not have corresponding words for various positions in the society, example, the Tamizh language does not have a equal terms for – Arinyan (Sholar), Amaichar(Minister), Vaittiyar(Doctor). This is something that G. Sankaranarayanan also talks about in his paper. There are phrases and words that are used in the daily used colloquial languages that specify Gender Roles. Sentences like “Vellaku vechu nerathilla ena thookam?”(Why are you sleeping at the hour of lighting Diyas?) is used for women while the same time is denoted in a different way for men- “AAru maniku mela enna veetula vellai?”(What are you doing at 6 in the evening at home?) Both these sentences clearly specify gender roles, where the woman’s role is associated with religion and the man is associated with his work. The same time – 6pm is referred in two different ways depending upon the gender.

There are various literature and scriptures in Tamizh which also specify the “rules of proper conduct” for women, like the “Silapathikaram” which is a story of a woman who loses her husband for the injustice by the Pandiyan King and avenges by destroying his kingdom. The woman, Kannagi, here is described to be a woman of great purity and of best conduct in life, which is always used as a yard stick for women. This again is an indicator of how literature influences one’s daily life even after so many years.

The movies of the Tamizh Industry are no exception to this where the dialogues and the song lyrics show this quite evidently. Nadika’s paper also talks about this, where she takes the example of the Tamizh movie- “Paddaiyappa”. “Tamil cinema attempts repeatedly to tame, the wild horse women and make her a pure Tamizh woman.” Music is an important factor for a film’s success in the Tamizh movie industry. And their lyrics also add to it a major component. The lyrics if noticed in many of the songs always denote the female gender as an enjoyable feast for the males and hence is to be devoured by them. This brings the issue of looking at a woman in a materialistic way, giving no importance to her feelings whatsoever. And this very tradition is followed by the ones who watch and listen to it. The media also has largely influenced the people speaking this language. According to Ranggasamy Karthigesu, the Tamizh newspapers in Malayasia which is another place with a Tamizh speaking population has played an important role in maintaining the cultures of the minority Tamizh.

All these examples stated above are just a small image of the concerns of sexism in the Tamizh language. They cannot be erased completely, but they can surely be mitigated. This may put one in dilemma, whether to completely avid the great master pieces of literature and cinema by criticising them or to change them. But the answer is definitely to understand them, and not be ignorant of them while teaching it to the next generation. Because as mentioned earlier language is both an imitation of culture and an influencer as well.

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