The Spelling Bee, Asian linguist Kings and Mendeleev table – Part1

Once again, it’s one of those “a bit of that, a dash of that” kind of posts. I am covering The spelling bee, Asian linguist Kings and Mendeleev table in this. Do not worry, It’s my job to combine three seemingly mutually exclusive topics. I am quite impressed myself writing it, there is quite a good possibility that you might like as well. 😊

Okay, Let’s start with the Spelling Bee. I argue that Spelling Bee is an entirely pointless undertaking and It, unfortunately, chooses to celebrate the wrong attribute of the Language – the imperfection. Think about this, the fundamental premise of this competition is based on the weakness of the Language, not strength. Try disputing this: You cannot never hold such a contest for a language when it has ‘only one way to write a sound and only one way to pronounce a letter’. Let’s say Korean, Mandarin of many of Indian languages.

I mean no offence to 1st generation Indo-American parents who (obviously) forced their second-generation Indo-American kids to memorize thousands of words. In fact, despite the overwhelming stereotype, we Indian have naturally and particularly disadvantaged to even compete. Its called knowledge of mother tongue. Yet, Indian’s go on to win the contests. Probably, the only way 2nd generation Indo-American are winning it is by unlearning how their mother tongue works. For them, Language is memorization rather than analytical.

Another thing I have observed is the contest treats for loan words badly – predominantly Asian. Let me provide a real example for you from Scripps National contest, “abinaya” and “apparently” that was correct Spelling. Really? How do then know? Who signed it off? A north Indian will swallow an ‘a’ and spell it as abinay. A south Indian will add an ‘h’ and spell it abhinaya. A Bengali might even spell it Obinaya, and he is obviously correct.

During my first ever test on English (obviously When I was a little kid) I spelt these: ‘Skool’ for school and ‘siti’ for the city. In my defence, I was learning my third Language chronologically, and the previous two had some sort of pattern in writing system – English didn’t. Just an off-topic trivia, Few of the boys managed to spell-like me and girls spelt it correctly. I am no expert on gender studies, but does this indicate Boys attend Language as an analytical problem rather than memorization problem?

Let’s inspect some languages for its fitment for a contest like a Spelling bee.

Spanish: jalapeño is pronounced as /ˌhæləˈpeɪnjoʊ/. And I rest my case.

French: The most famous French phrase in pre liberalized India was “bourgeois capitalism”. Socialism transfused newspapers started and ended their editorial with these phrases. It is apparently pronounced /ˈbʊə(r)ʒwɑː/that’s it. Its two sounds making a word!

Mandarin, however, has an entirely different approach to writing. Each word has its own symbol and vice versa. It’s incredibly unambiguous as long as you can memorize thousands of them. No scope for a spelling Bee, you either know a symbol, or you don’t.

Now comes my new favourite, Korean (Hangeul or Han’gŭ 한글 ) Language is widely regarded as one of the most straightforward scripts (Chosŏn 조선글 muntcha writing system) to learn and one of the most scientific as well. Writing in Korean is as simple as the recipe of an ice cube. You take an unambiguous consonant (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ), add an unambiguous vowel (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ). You have an unmistakable sound, then you literally put it in a block!. Apparently, it wasn’t always like this. Fed up of illiteracy of his subjects, the king “Sejong the Great” (세종대왕) created the most straightforward script of all.

One of the most beautiful features of this script is strokes of the Symbols/letters. Some of them are caricatured versions of human mouth when that sound is actually pronounced. HOW COOL IS THAT!

The Case for Hangul as the World’s Easiest Writing System – Photo from Double consonants are not listed.

Continued as Part 2 here

Kannada Rajyotsava, the Flag and the Language

November’s up. It’s that time of the year, my north Indian friends exclaim “Aray Bach, tell me one thing; Why does Karnataka has its own flag and while no other state has one ?”. They are both right and wrong simultaneously and let me explain.

It is true. Karnataka does identify itself with a flag, but it is not an official flag of the state or Government. It’s a flag of a torchbearer group which fights for Kannada identity, which eventually went on to become a popularly accepted flag of Karnataka. Even though it’s not official yet, for all practical purposes, Karnataka does have a flag.

Now, the question is, why?

This has a straightforward answer. Karnataka is probably, the only state in India which is going through an identity crisis. Kannadigas strongly think if they don’t wake up now and fight for it, the state will end up speaking a language or following a culture alien to them. Karnataka has been suffering from a while, and the issue is now much more severe than it ever was. With this background, a Flag‌, an anthem, and even a logo should undoubtedly help to create a brand value for the momentum. Hope that answers your question.

Karnataka unlikely to get separate flag by this Rajyotsava

Let’s take the Kannada language, for example. The total contribution to its literary tradition been too superficial for a while now. In my opinion, the first and foremost measure of the health of any Classical language should be how alive its literary tradition is? Imagine this, Kannada prides itself with the highest number of Jnanapeetha Awards and the first one as well. Even then, the book stores continue to stay empty in Kannada sections, this is where masterpieces go to embrace their neglect. Lets not even talk about lit fests. Let’s take Amazon Kindle or Audible books. As of now, they support many Indian languages including Tamizh and Hindi, but not Kannada. I am not blaming them, its definitely not discrimination. Why wouldn’t  Amazon and Google create fonts for Kannada, if there are actual “takers” for it !!

There are several factors which acted against Kannada, both internal and external. For example:

  1. Kannadigas seem to have relatively lowest self-esteem as compare to any neighbouring states. For instance, two Sardars in South Hall will always talk in Punjabi. Two Keralites in Dubai significant each other in Malayalam. But two Kannadigas in Bangalore will always prefer to speak in English.
  2. Get this, if I need to buy a Kannada newspaper or Magazine, I need to travel for 6 kilometres. That is true while Rajasthani, Tamizh and Malayalam news magazines are available at a walking distance.
  3. Royal Challengers Bangalore – The pride of Bangalore, the IPL cricket team release an Anthem.  No points in guessing this – it’s in Hindi. Please compare this to CSK.
  4. The friend who challenged me on the flag did his Graduation in Bangalore for 4 years subsequently were working in Bangalore. He did not care to learn more than “Kannad Gothilla” and “Swalpa Adjust Madi.”. In his defence, the Kannadigas around him repeatedly reassured him on the sufficiency of the above two phrases.
  5. Kannada Vocabulary deteriorated over the period to an extent, even a common Kannada word sounds like a poetic version of the same language. English & Hindi words have infiltrated in their place. The T.V., Movie or Print media have made themselves so much dependent on English that they struggle to complete even single sentence in Kannada. I am not exaggerating when I say this, any non-Kannadiga can switch on Kannada news channel and can still comprehend 100% because if it’s Kannada Vocabulary.

I can go on with my list, but I think you get my point.

I am not saying that the Government is not doing enough. They indeed have taken several measures to protect the language. But in my opinion, they all remain mostly unsuccessful. Even though the intention and effort were honest, some of those arrows landed miles off the target. Let me call out one of them.

There is a Government directive mandates all boards within the boundaries of Karnataka should be written in Kannada along with English and/or Hindi. This directive gets into very prescriptive mode and it even defines the font and size of Kannada letters in the entire board – by both square footage and percentage. However, the biggest drawback of this order is, it warrants the protection of Kannada Script, not language.! In other words, you can even write a board with an African language, as long as it is written in Kannada script.!

Example :

Let me decode it for you. The board states “Karnataka Shops and Establishments Bangalore” twice in the English Language, once in Kannada Script and next in English Script 🙂 What’s the point of all these?  A Villager Kannadiga knows to read this but can not understand what is actually written.!

Also, we need to make up our mind on what exactly are we protecting? The script or the language? Mind you, scripts come and go. When the greatest epics were written in Sanskrit, Devanagari script did not even exist. In fact, to this date, you can write Sanskrit literature in Kannada script or even Telugu.

My advice is, don’t be precious about the script, love the language. Protect the literary tradition and spread it, everything else should fall in place.

P.S. I will leave you with a recent video on how annoyed a lady gets when a security guard speaks to her in Kannada. She goes on with unparliamentary abuse Kannada‌, Karnataka and so on. Apparently, she has the right to do so due to her knowledge on some penal code. Please do not assume this is an isolated incident, these are widespread. If you don’t trust me, please talk to an Auto Driver or Food Delivery Agent, they can tell you stories.

Caution : Please reduce volume of your device before you play this.