Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

30 Jul 2010, 14:45 p.m.

Important Distinctions In Kannada

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

"Kaali" (empty) vs. "Ka(r)li" (a goddess of death). "Thali" (plate for food) vs. "tha(r)li" (necklace married women wear). The (r) here indicates just the slightest hint of an "r" before the L; linguists, feel free to remind me of the proper term.

"Chinna" (gold; "chinnu" is an endearment) vs. "chunni" (dupatta/sash)

"Bejarru" = sad or bored; "kopa" = angry; "hedthrike" = scared; "thoondhare" = troubled/troubling. When I was growing up, I thought "bejarru" meant "angry" and "thoondhare" meant "scared." Then again, when I was growing up, I basically heard all these as functionally equivalent: "If/when you do [thing you want to do], I feel [negative emotion]."

I also thought "mamouli" meant "trashy, dirty, or disgusting." Turns out it means "ordinary, common or usual." There is a slang derivative, "mamoulu," that (to be simplistic) means "bribe."

"Barthini" = "I'll be coming" or, idiomatically, "See you later," since traditionally when leaving someone's house you are making only a provisional goodbye. Leonard compares this to "au revoir." Many people say "hogi barthini," meaning "I'll go and come back."

While "santhe hogu!" is sort of idiomatically equivalent to "go to hell!" or "piss off!", and includes "hogu" which is the imperative second-person for "to go," "santhe" actually means "market," not "hell." "Go to the market!"

"Oota" is a meal with rice. Lunch or dinner would be forms of oota. "Thindi" is any other meal or snack, such as breakfast, that might have rice-derived foods in it but doesn't include actual cooked rice grains. Leonard immediately got my drift, which is that a host will act like, oh, you aren't hungry? You can't possibly eat any oota? Well, surely you could have some thindi, though, right? Just a little thindi... and then foist upon you a meal's worth of food items that somehow don't count since they aren't rice.

Legends whisper that Kannada has words for "enough" ("saku") and "a little" ("sulpa" or "wundh churru"). You can use the "a little" words and phrases as softeners when making a request, which confused me when I was a kid. "Will you, a little, turn that light on, please?" doesn't imply "somehow conjure that binary switch into a dimmer." Anyway -- perhaps "saku," "sulpa" and "churru," as modifiers on food-related information transactions, rarely work for me. I like pretending that they are archaic or ultra-formal or only understood within a certain dialect of Kannada or something. In fact, of course, it's just the rhythm and etiquette of this community's hospitality that devalues these requests. The host offers, the guest initially demurs, and they play out an enjoyable dominance/submission ritual that builds and reinforces trust and affection. In theory.

You'd think that "sum'nay" ("only" or "simply") would be easy to mishear as my first name. That doesn't happen, thank goodness. Girish, Nandini's friend (a native Kannada speaker) who's helping me keep this entry accurate, pointed out the doubling-for-emphasis construction "sum-sum'nay" which leads native Indian English speakers to literally say "sim-simply." This reminds me of x, gix.