Since late last year I’ve been involved in intermittent study of three South Asian languages, Hindi, Bengali, and the current subject of study, Tamil.
To those readers perhaps unfamiliar with them, non-Indians like myself, I’ll note a little of what I currently know of these mellifluous languages, and why I study them to the extent that I do when I do.
Hindi arises from the Delhi area, and its cousin Bengali, or Bangla, is the language of the people of Bengal, currently divided between the Indian state of West Bengal and neighboring Bangladesh.
Both of these languages are Indo-Aryan tongues, but Tamil, my third language of choice is of different linguistic roots. It is a Dravidian language, along with others of the Big Four of South India, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada, as far as widely spoken languages go, and more than a score or so of less commonly spoken languages belong to this same ancient family.
Why study these? I say “Why not?” For some years now I’ve been fascinated by those things of the South Asian subcontinent and its peoples and thought it would be fun to learn a few of the languages, delve into the cultures there, and generally do myself and my aging brain some good by expanding my horizons.
Never mind the fact that even though I’m not particularly given to romantic leanings, not at my age, I consider many of the ladies of the region and thereabouts (not just India per se) to be among the loveliest on the planet…beauty is as beauty does, especially when strong, capable, and often models of independence.
I also draw upon some of the culture and history of the region, the Gupta empire, the Indus Valley civilization, the Mauryan empire, the Chola and Pallava dynasties, and several non-Indian historical entities like the Rus vikings and pre-Spanish Filipinos, to flesh out my fictional extraterrestrial race of humans, the Kai’Siri, who are simply not to be trifled with. You do not want to make them cross with you.
Two of the iconic characters in my Gods of Terra SF universe, the Mirus and the Magna, can trace their descent from South Asia and the nearby region, the Mirus, whose ancestry hails from both Northeastern India and from people of the Philippines, the Magna from rural communities on the tip of Southern India.
I suppose my interest in the region began with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, with his discussion of the scientific achievements of ancient Indians, highlighted by scenes of magnificent temple architecture, and a newbie’s look at the festival of Pongal.
Things led to other things, and in time I decided to engage in a lifelong informal study of things South Asian, particularly but not exclusively Indian.
Well, so far, here are my plans for further language study:
I currently use an entire month to study a single language, and this month’s is Tamil. Next month, Hindi study will come to the forefront and the month after that, Bangla study resumes, then back to Tamil for a month, and so it goes.
I do it this way to allow myself to make real progress in each language by focusing on one at a time for learning new material. Right now, I’m concentrating on the sounds and script of each language and incidentally learning portions of the vocabulary, grammar and useful phrases for practice and better fluency.
But this is not a rigid schedule, as I’m also engaged in recall practice of all previously studied material, and varying use of learning time on between different subjects. As long as I take steps to avoid the interference effect, all is well, and thus far it has been.
Let’s see how far I can take this!