50 Shades of Love and Obsession In The Tamil Language
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50 Shades of Love and Obsession In The Tamil Language

Much has been spoken about the universal language of different cultural expressions like music, dance, cinema, painting etc. However, semantic research suggests that this is not so for linguistic expressions. Words expressing emotions such as angst, grief and happiness, could have very different meanings depending on the language family they originated from. This is probably because ‘meaning’ itself is contextual, and therefore varies from one culture to another. “This is also a huge debate in linguistics and cognitive science and philosophy,” Lindquist said.

In fact, many languages have words with such specific and nuanced meanings that they cannot always be directly translated into another language with no such scope for expression. For example, the German words schadenfreude, meaning “the pleasure derived from another’s misfortune”, or sehnsucht, meaning “a sort of deep yearning for an alternative life”, or the Japanese word, ikigai meaning “the reason for being are words” cannot be directly translated into most other languages of the world. The Persian word ænduh, is used to express the distinctively English emotions of “grief” and “regret.” The Sirkhi dialect of Dargwa, in contrast, uses dard to convey both “grief” and “anxiety.” An excerpt from an article at SentinelSource.com reads, “Persian speakers, it seems, may think of grief as more related to regret while Dargwa speakers may see it as more similar to anxiety.”

Another interesting observation made by linguistics researchers is the way different languages interpret the emotion of ‘anger’ and how it is again ultimately related to cultural variations. In Indo-European languages (a huge group that includes such disparate tongues as English and Hindi-Urdu), it was closely linked to the emotional concept of “anxiety.” But in Austroasiatic languages (which include Vietnamese and Khmer), “anger” was related to “grief” and “regret.” Nakh-Daghestanian languages (which include Northeast Caucasian languages such as Chechen) connect anger to “envy,” while Austronesian languages (a family that includes Tagalog and Maori) link anger to “hate,” “bad” and “proud.”

However, irrespective of cultural variations, no emotion is as talked of or as cherished as the concept of ‘love’, which is not to be confused with the idea of ‘love’ as ‘romance’ (a cultural construct originating in the ‘courtly love’ traditions practised by knights in Medieval Europe). Cultures all over the world interpret the idea of ‘love’ through a wide variety of expressions, and each expression embodies a slight nuance in its meaning and expression. For instance, in the Rotuman language spoken just north of Fiji, both love and pity are rolled into one word, “hanisi”.

This International Mother Language Day, let us explore the emotion of ‘love’ in all its manifestations through a whole bunch of words in the Tamil language. Here’s a list for the uninitiated:

Kadhal : passionate love

Neirchi: love between friends

Pakkam: fondness/affection

Pinai: love that is possessive or overprotective in nature

Pukarchi: another word for kadhal

Muzhuval: A love that has attained fulfillment

Nesam: affection

Mevudhal: another word for nesam

Maindhu: sexual love

Mogam: infatuation

Varapadu: another word for love

Allii: love

Avththai/avasthai: any kind of love associated with suffering

Kaikilai/ oru thalai kamam: Unreciprocated sexual love

Sangam: a bond of friendship/love

Thagai: affection/kindness

Thatpam: love/mercy (a love that can forgive any odds)

Than: grace/love

Thalaiyazhi/uthama anbu: ideal love

Naithal: to woo/ show affection

Oodal: the act of fake-sulking after getting into a trivial argument with your loved one

Feature image illustration by Akansha Bhatt for Homegrown

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