January 03, 2007

The Word incarnate

So there's this word that's quickly finding its way into the vocabularies of net-savvy sorts worldwide. Avatar. As in the Sanskrit for incarnation. Apparently it's a little cartoon that represents the user when he logs on to a chat client.

While the purpose of these avatars is quite unfathomable to the One, it may be noted that one considers instant messaging itself to represent the very nadir of technological progress, irrefutable proof that the global village is nothing but an extended gossip club. It is one's firm belief that the world will one day grind to a screeching halt because every single person is asking every other person what is up with them, and receiving the reply that nothing significant is actually up followed by a reciprocal inquiry into what is up with them.*

But that is not the point of this post. The point is that one has a Problem. Yes. One has never quite figured out how to pronounce these adopted words, particularly when one is abroad, which is most of the time. 'Tis a Major Issue. Do you stick to pronunciations so Sanskritized they'd make the VHP weep in collective joy (but risk not being understood by anyone except their local rep) or do you say 'ave-a-tar and submit meekly to linguistic neo-imperialism?

It was okay in the old days. We had 'jungle' and 'guru', which gave you only a little leeway pronunciation-wise. There are only so many ways you can say 'guru' - you can roll the 'r' a little this way or that, but it's difficult to do anything substantially word-altering. Then came 'mantra', where the English pronunciation begins to diverge from the Hindi/Sanskrit, and that was the start of one's woes. But 'avatar' takes the cake, for it is unlikely that the original pronunciation would even be understood in foreign lands, at least not in the middle of a sentence, and it is certain that the English pronunciation would be met with much scorn by Homelanders.

Tailor the pronunciations to the audience, many have told us. Firstly, this requires observation and analysis and hence involves *gasp* thinking. And secondly, what does one do when the audience is mixed? When you have a fifty-fifty split between People Who Speak At Least One Indian Language and People Who Don't? Dilemmas ensue, do they not?

And where will this end, pray? Given the rate at which they're assimilating our words, we might find accented Hindi passing off as reasonably good English at some point in the future. Tum samajhta haai hum kya bolta haai?

Fear not, though. We'll just wait for Kalki to come and clear things up.

* Actually one's just sour-graping because one has no friends except for the kind folks who make friendship on Orkut, but don't tell anyone.