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.


tangled said...

I disagree re: guru. It has two u-sounds and the 'r' to mutilate, remember.
And so.
What's up with you?

Ph said...

And hes back! Welcome and all. Happy New Year too.

tangled said...

Also, someone has forgotten.
Perhaps more posts soon?

DSK said...


Are you interested in making friendship with me?


Some say potatoes, some say potAtoes...
Happy New Year!

One in a Billion said...

Tangled: Yes .. the u-sounds are susceptible to manglement, no? Chhota-u/bada-u type confusion. Noted.

And nothing much is happening here .. what's up with you?

Ph: Thank you! And Happy New Year!

Tangled: But your list pretty much covers it :(

DSK: Friendship? Absolutely. So .. what's up with you?

LAK said...

Hallelujah, the one is back!
When you said, "but avatar takes the cake", I pictured Varaha-avataram, or Narasimha-avataram looking in a puzzled fashion at a cake!
What about the reverse, yaani-ki, adopting western catchwords to Indian langwidges? To quote "Laughter Challenge"(A show on Star Plus, for the uninitiated):
What's up? Upar kya hai?
Lets hang out together.--- Chalo baahar jaa kar latakte hain!
Are you nuts? Kya tum akhrot ho?

LAK said...

Sorry, I seem to be uninitiated myself (so my teenager tells me)---it is Star One and not Star Plus!

One in a Billion said...

LAK: :-) But one begs to differ with the Young Person. It is quite definitely Star Plus.

This is purely for the sake of argument, of course - it's possible that both channels show it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for what You are doing!Information, that I managed to find here
is extremely useful and essential for me!With the best regards!

daviejones said...

Why does one get the feeling that THE ONE himself feels he is Kalki incarnate?!! ;))

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this place, where people can leave their ideas and opinions, it's great!With the best regards!

shakester said...

ah, a visit after very long. must learn not to bury links.
endless repetitive IM conversations will be the death of me (seeing them take place all around i mean)

new year an allthat...

One in a Billion said...

David: Glad, as always.

Daviejones: Not true. One fancies oneself to be Magneto most of the time. One likes Magneto very much, for some reason.

Anon: Thanks.

Shakester: Ah, long time no see. One has been posting and posting and you haven't been reading only. But Happy New Year :)

tangled said...

dammit, boy!
update, already!

Anonymous said...

I second the motion. Write a new post.


LAK said...

Oh, elusive One, are you there, or have you donned a new avatar? Let us have a dose of at least ONE quirky post per month. Is that asking for too much? Hope all's well, and it is only that you have been swamped in work. * fingers crossed against writer's block*

babelfish said...

tumi ki jaataa! lekho or else ami abar eshe banglay khisti mere jabo!! *glares*

Anonymous said...

Hey, what's it about living in Singapore that causes people to vanish like this? Where the heck have you disappeared to? Winter's long over, Spring's on its way out too, so how come you're still hybernating?? Wake up! And write.


One in a Billion said...

T: Wish is command etc. :)

N: Ah yes, it's been a while. What to do.

LAK: Ah, many thanks for finger-crossing. Part writer's block, part work - the usual.

Babel: Umm .. the general threat is understood.

Matilda said...

Well written article.