Monday, May 14, 2012

The Death of The Last Vowel

When I first moved to Bangalore I loved everything about the place. The cosmopolitan/ progressive outlook and the abundance of fresh minds. It was a huge relief to be able to wear anything and not be judged professionally or personally based on that. And thanks to the sudden exposure to myriad cultures, living in Bangalore also involved being treated to particularly entertaining wondrous accents of India.. Where school could be "ischool", one could be "wohne", college was "kholl-age", sit was "shit" and "bhaiyya" , "machan" and "maadi" (as in enjoy maadi) became part of the vocabulary of a northie and a southie. I am wondering if Kolaveri and Saddah Haq have joined the youth lingo yet..

But one small thing did irritate me to no extent: the loss of the vowel.. Where Mahabharata became Mahabharat (sometimes mah-bhart), where a guy named Shiva automatically became Shiv, and Rama - Ram, the meaning of  meaning itself- artha is now arth and the most annoying – in conversations and mails I suddenly became Keerthna. Bullshit!

Thinking back, in 80s/90sNorth India had still not lost that vowel. Mahabharata still had that last 'a'.. And arjuna and duryodhana had not yet lost it too.. Well my only proof is ofcourse the Doordarshan, but Gopi grew up in the north and he does say those vowels were surely alive in the 80s.

My theory is that the death of the vowel is due to de-sanskritization of Hindi with the onset of heavy Urdu influence in Bollywood music. Hema Malini and Sridevi uttering Urdu words was nothing short of an "ouch" but then, beloved effeminate Bollywood heroes crooning those popular with Zindagi, Mehbooba, Intzaar was also an integral part of growing up in urban India. And I did dig 'ashiqui' and 'mohabbat' (compared to simpleton 'prem' and 'pyar') growning up. And pain, if not other emotions, is best expressed with abundant use of Urdu words..
But why kill that last vowel???!!!. Killing the beauty of Sanskrit vowels in a Sanskrit word is as sacrilegious (to art) as emasculating those statues in St Peter's Cathedral (yeah I saw Angels and Demons yesterday).

Would be interesting to research and find out the story behind the dead vowels.. What do you think?
I am also wondering if the onset of UP and Bihari lingo in Bollywood will see the revival of the lost vowels..

And I still like to be called Keerthana, with all the vowels intact. 


  1. The english 'a' inadequately translates the sanskrit ":" - so it's not really ramaa but ramuh. This "uh" does not exist in the hindi or urdu alphabet so the onset of UP or Bihari lingo will not be able to help much. I personally feel that this is just one of the side effects of translation - the beauty of sanskrit is lost when translated to hindi and so is the beauty of hindi and urdu when translated to english - so and so forth.

    1. True.. I guess most of the sanskrit words are not adequately translated into english.. and the way the sanskrit words are popularly written in english is far less confusing than language experts do in the translated texts..with all those exotic accents.. éka, catúr, páñcan - suppose this has a name..

      yeah anyway my grouse is with the pronounciation.. the dropping of the vowel sound.. I just realized my blog looks like i am unhappy with the written form. what A blunder! :-D

  2. mmm I guess evolution is to be blamed for this , we are taking shortcuts for everything ..

    I sometimes wonder what we humans are going to .. they said we evolved from apes but then apes have stopped evolving thinking what are they getting into :)
    I went on a tangent there oooops :)

    language also evolves .. and along with the vowel we are losing a lot of other things toooo ..

    hence my name from bikramjit became bikram to bikky to bik to B soon it will be I dont know ...


    1. Haha yes that does happen. Infact there are mutilated versions of my name that I actually like being called as! :-)