How did you learn Malayalam

There are 17 recognized national languages ​​in India on every Indian banknote. But that's not all, because there are over 400 individual languages ​​and dialects in India. They come from different language families, for example Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. A little consideration with an emphasis on the most complex regional language: Kerala's Malayalam

Hindi and English are provided by the Indian Constitution as the official languages ​​of the republic. Hindi is the mother tongue of 30% of the population. English is considered a second language, but it is the most important language in politics and business.

The linguistic diversity has a Babylonian effect and everyone should treat themselves to the pleasure of researching how many official languages ​​there are in India. In addition to the recognized national languages, federal state laws also specify other regional languages. How high the exact number of all languages ​​can be assumed depends on the classification as a dialect or individual language, especially the numerous languages ​​that are similar to Hindi.

The system is made even more complicated by the many different scripts. Hindi is an Indian language spoken in most of the north and central Indian states. Its roots are, among other things, in Indo-European and in the Prakrit languages. On January 26, 1965, Hindi became the official language of India alongside English. Today it ranks second in the world's most widely spoken languages, after Chinese, and ahead of English and Spanish. Over 600 million people in and around India use Hindi as their mother tongue or everyday language.

A highly complicated palindrome

Malayalam (a palindrome only in Latin script: malayalaM) is generally considered to be one of the most difficult regional languages ​​in the Indian language diversity. Even for the Indians themselves. The foreigner recognizes from 116 consonants and 16 vowels in the Malayalam alphabet that sounds are used here that are unknown to us. That means a lot of pitfalls.

Malayalam is the national language of Kerala. Those who know the Kerala Discovery online magazine know: We have been visiting the tropical plantation in the northern Kozhikode district of this Indian model province with our guests for over 25 years. Though a small state, its language has distinctive regional dialects. At least a lot of what I learned up north is not understood down in the south.

That is one of the reasons that after such a long time I still only have a rudimentary command of this language. I said yes: it is very difficult. If it's 'nuhre waake' (100 words) and a few idioms, that's a lot. A few chunks of Malayalam can initiate a conversation, which I then have to continue in English.

If it weren't for Kerala my favorite destination, I would be a lot further with the official language Hindi. It is much nicer to our tongue. But in South India in particular, Hindi is still very little widespread and even unpopular in Kerala.

The friendly Keralites know about the difficulty we Kalknasen have with their language. They are all the happier when someone has mastered a few words. That opens hearts and doors. And that is exactly my motivation to learn something new every time I visit Kerala.

The "D" has family

The main pitfalls are the pronunciation. Many letters have close relatives that we cannot distinguish at all. If it were about a click and crack language like the African Bushmen, it would be easier - in Malayalam sounds are used that are often very similar to our letters. So we repeat them and reap happy laughter - or like me in the following case: icy silence.

Let's take our letters 'T' and 'D'. They are similar - but our ears clearly distinguish them: one hard, one soft, depending on how we press our tongue against the roof of the mouth. The Keralites know several fine variants of this sound alone, and all are independent letters.

Then I pick up this completely harmless sentence: "Onne kudi kannekiu" and that should mean: "Show that again" (Malayalam in Latin does not work - I just write it as I hear it).

Later I want to sprinkle this sentence casually at the family table, looking at a few photos as an Indian. So I say "Onne kudi kannekiu" and point to one of the pictures.

Words that are better to forget

Embarrassed silence in the group. Nobody is looking at me - they are looking at Mercy, from whom I learned most of the Malayalam vocabulary. The looks are reproachful and say: What did you teach Alyan, your brother-in-law, again? But Mercy didn't know anything. She hadn't even heard what bad I had said of myself. "What did you just say?" She asks angrily, and I take care not to repeat that out loud now.

Later in the room I say the scandalous sentence and she explains to me: "You can't possibly say that! That means 'Show your ass!' - what did you want to say? " - "Show that again" She doesn't think that's funny: "But that means 'Onne kudi kannekiu'!" And now don't think I hear any difference.

So I delete this catchy word from my vocabulary. The language is highly disciplined within the family, and such indecent words are absolutely taboo.

In the course of time I can add many other words to this collection. I cannot forget these improper mix-ups. The shock they caused is memorized.

Like the pretty neighbor, for example, to whom I wanted to say something nice on my walk in the bush. I praised the fragrant flowers in front of her house, and she disappeared into the kitchen in horror - I had praised her beautiful breasts.

This language is proof that you can move on very thin ice even in the tropics.

Still: keep learning!

With all the risk, there are many more reasons to learn a few chunks of the regional language. A greeting, a thank you, and you immediately set yourself apart from other foreign travelers and become one of theirs. That's exactly what we want: to be part of everyday Indian life for a few weeks.

In fact, just a few words are enough. Because most Indians think it is generally impossible that Westerners can learn their mother tongue. If they do meet someone, figuratively speaking, they carry him through the village on their shoulders.

The magic word "Weeanda"

You know that there, where the tourists settle, a high competitive pressure builds up among the Indian traders. This requires a persistence that we are not used to and often find intrusive. During a wonderful walk on the beach, being constantly turned on by restaurant tugs, masseurs, fruit sellers and postcard sellers can be annoying, especially in the off-season.

Here your English "No" clearly means "Maybe", and they won't let up.

In the INN, I have often come across that I can work miracles with just one word in the national language. If you come to the two small tourist enclaves Varkala or Kovalam Beach in Kerala, for example, try "Weeanda" (I don't want to) instead of "No". That pulls better, even if you smile at it.

Because the dealers are particularly persistent with the newcomers. They pay the best prices. You will notice this when after three days you are suddenly greeted happily by everyone and otherwise left alone.

With "Weeanda" (Kerala), "Bädda" (Karnataka) or "Nahi athi hai" (Hindi) you are effectively saying "I don't want", you are an insider and you may only have to use the torrent of words "You speak our language? Where did you learn that? " Quit silently with a knowing smile and turn away.

How sensational it is for the Keralites to meet a white man who speaks Malayalam was made clear to me during a walk along the coast. With the auto rickshaw I had left the tourist beach of Kovalam behind me and got off near the great mosque of Vizhinjam. From here on, I wanted to hike south on tourist-free beaches.

Faster than the phone

But first of all, a couple of children want to give me the obligatory "school pen?" a couple of ballpoint pens dribble out of his pocket. With a few chunks of Malayalam, I will make her think differently and go my way. No one was far and wide on these beaches, and I can walk unmolested by the water for half an hour. It only gets lively again when I take a few pictures of the colorful fishing boats in Vizhinjam Bay. Here's something going. The daily fish market takes place with excited chattering and bargaining.

As I stroll through the rows and admire the colorful variety of seafood, a murmur accompanies me. I'm talking about again, I think. Because that's always the case when a limestone nose is walking around alone among locals. But then I keep hearing the word "Malayalam" and listen a little more closely: In fact, the fisher women whispered "The Sahib speaks Malayalam" and point at me, respectfully making space for my camera and smiling because I think their fish are beautiful.

After the initial surprise (I had never been here before, how do they know about me?) I realize that this can only come from the children. They probably hurried ahead of me as quickly as possible.

The children are everywhere the heralds of the Indian villages. It is they who first discover us on our hikes and run ahead and say "Vellha karin vannu!" shout (white people have come!).

Learn hindi

This is not so easy with Malayalam - but the Goethe-Verlag has put a phrasebook online with Book2 that you can use free of charge. Learn foreign languages ​​the easy way with 100 audio files (mp3)! Book2 contains 100 lessons that are suitable for beginners. You memorize short sentences - sentences that you really need. Book2 helps to speak the foreign language without errors immediately. It covers the basic vocabulary and does not require any knowledge of grammar.

Don't be alarmed if you see the translation in the Hindi script Devanagari - just click on the loudspeaker symbol. The language in Latin letters reveals little about the speech melody - you have to hear it. Learn Hindi

(From "InderNettNews" No. 558)