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Namboothiri Dialect

Namboothiris have a distinct dialect that is so much a part of their culture. As in any other speech form, culture has its overwhelming influence over the Namboothiri dialect too. They also have a peculiar intonation, diction and style of delivery in ordinary conversation.

1. Phonology
Observing the phonological (sound) system of the Namboothiri dialect, the striking point that one notes is, the tendency for Sanskritization. Aspirated stops like ph in "phalam" (result) and dh in "dhanam" (wealth) are pronounced as such by the older generation, while among the non-Namboothiris, this distinction need not often be strictly maintained.

2. Lexicon
The lexical items that are typically characteristic of Namboothiri speech, are large in number. Most of them are closely associated with the ever-so-many rituals that they used to observe. Examples:

a) Sudhham : Purity; protection against pollution
b) Mahal : (i) daughter of a person;
  (ii) daughter of a family who is now a member of another family through marriage
c) Othu : chanting of the Vedic Manthrams
d) Veli : the marriage of a man
e) Penkota : giving away in marriage of a girl

The word "maattitham" itself is somewhat Namboothiri parlance and is indicative of imminent disaster. There are some house (Illam) names which have "maattitham" and if pronounced, it is believed to lead to some disaster or accident that day. Uttering the same in the morning makes it even more severe. Therefore, in ordinary conversation, only an alternative name is used. Often, the actual names can be seen only in official records, and many may not even know what it is.

Similarly, there are many animals and fruits, the names of which also have "maattitham". This belief is true among non-Namboothiris also. For instance, the word "maarjaaran" is used instead of the common word "poocha" for cat, and "swaanan" instead of "patti" or "naaya" for dog. Similarly, though the common name for jackfruit is "chakka" which has got "maattitham", it is called "panasam", and "choriyan" (one that gives itches) for elephant yam ("chena"). One has to be particularly careful in the mornings of auspicious days, not to utter such words.

(ii) NAMES
It is taboo for a Namboothiri woman ("antharjanam") to tell the name of her husband or his Illam (house) name. Visiting "antharjanams", if unfamiliar, do not introduce themselves to hosts, but do it only through either children or maids.

Husband and wife do not call each other by their names. The names given during "naamakaranam"  (naming ceremony - one of the 16 "shodasakriyaas") are usually Sanskrit names, but are normally modified to cruder forms for common use.

There are some general norms followed in the naming of children. The first male child is named after the paternal grandfather, the second after the maternal grandfather, and the third after the father. The same order is followed for female children, ie., paternal grandmother, maternal grandmother and mother herself. Parents have a problem in calling the third child, those being the spouse's names. The mother thus calls the third son by nicknames like "Kuttan" or "Unni" and the father calls the third daughter as "Kutty" or some such name.

Whatever be the names in common use, it is imperative that the original given name be used in all vedic rituals. Since there are many such rituals involving male children, their given names are usually known to most people, which is not always true with the female children. The real names are also essential for all the religious ceremonies to be performed after death.

Male children are given any of the various names of gods like "Sivan" and "Vishnu", and female children, those of "Sreebhagavathy", "Sreeparvathy", etc. Although this is the case, the nicknames employed for day-to-day interaction are the Dravidianized versions of these typically Aryan names.

A few examples of names, relations and usages in Namboothiri parlance are shown below:

(a) Griham (Home): Illam, Mana, Mattham (or Madhom)

Person/ Relation Sambodhana (Address)
Achhan : father
Apphan : father's younger brother
Valiachhan : father's elder brother
Muthachh(ss)an : grandfather or his elder brothers
Muthapphan : grandfather's younger brother
Amma : mother
Achanpengal : father's sister (among Aasyans)
Perassiamma : father's or mother's elder sister (among Aadhyans)
Perassi : mother's elder sister (among Aasyans)
Chittassi : mother's younger sister (among Aasyans)
Chittassiamma : mother's or father's younger sister (among Aadhyans)
Oppol : elder sister (addressed by males)
Edathi : elder sister (addressed by females)
Aathemmaaru/ Akathullaalu : Namboothiri women (addressed by other Namboothiris)
Kunjaathalu/ Kunchaathalu : Namboothiri women (Aasyans) (addressed by lower castes)
Kunjaatharnu/ Kunjaatharnnu : Namboothiri women (Aadhyans) (addressed by lower castes)
Maalaathalu : Namboothiri women given in marriage to other families (Aasyans) (addressed by lower castes)
Maalaatharnu/ Maalaatharnnu : Namboothiri women given in marriage to other families (Aadhyans) (addressed by lower castes)
Kunchumboori : Namboothiri (Males) (addressed by lower castes) (Aasyans)

(c) Male Names (Common Use)
Itteeri, Ittyaasu, Kaavu, Kunjikkaavu (nasal alphabet of 'cha' group), Porothan, Pothayan, Thuppan, etc.

(d) Female Names
Ittithaathri, Nangatha, Nangayya, Nangeli, Nangema, Nnicha, Nnikali, Tangeli, Thaathri, Tichiri, Tingiyya, Unikkali, Unnyema etc.

(e) Nick-names ("Omanapperukal")
Aniyan, Appu, Kunchu, Kunchunni, Kunjan, Kunjaniyan, Kunjikkuttan, Kunjunni (the last four, with nasal of 'cha', sometimes spelt 'nh') , Kuttan, Unni, etc.

(iii) AACHAARA BHAASHA (Used by Lower Castes)
This refers to the special words, usages, addresses, prefixes and suffixes used by people of lower castes while conversing with people of higher castes, in the present case, the Namboothiris. In general, it may either belong to the class of "aachaarabhaasha" (connoting respect) when referring to Namboothiris, or to that of "vinayabhaasha" (connoting obedience or subservience) while referring to themselves. These reflect the taut dictates of behavior that were expected while a person of the lower castes spoke to those of higher castes.

Examples of Aachaarabhaasha:

Thampuraan : (your) lordship Ezhunnalluka : come/ go
Avitunnu : you - respectful Neeraatuka : to take bath

There are a large number of words prefixed with "thru", "thiru" or "palli". Examples:
Thrukkayyu : hand Thrukkanpaarkkuka : to look/ see
Thruchlaatham : Sraadham Thiruvezhthu : letter
Thirumuti : hair Thiruvayassu : age
Pallikkaalu : leg Pallithalayina : pillow
Palliyara : bedroom Pallikkuruppu : sleep

"Vinayabhaasha" has mostly "pazha" as a prefix. Examples:
Pazhanthantha : father Vitakolluka : come/ go
Pazhayathu (Pazhanthuni) : clothes Nanayuka : to take bath
Pazhankayyu : hands Atiyan : I
Pazhankanji : gruel Chekkan : boy
Pazhamuti : hair Kuppaattu : home/house

Of course, outside the above two classes, there are also many general words in "aachaarabhaasha". Examples:
Ennamezhukku (Mezhukku) : oil Manalaaram : salt
Thanneeru : water Chembukaasu : money/ coins
Karikkaati : paddy/ rice

Instead of saying "sari" (OK), oh!, aa (nasal), etc., as response, the lower castes say "raan" or "eraan" or in some southern parts of the State, "atiyan".  If it is a positive reply like no, yes, etc., they add "vitakondu" or "vitondu" to the response "illa" (no) or "uvvu" (yes).

In addition, there were peculiarities when the higher castes address the lower castes, as opposed to equals. Thus, if one says to equals "parayoo" (do say) or "povoo" (do go), it will instead be "paraye" or "po". The same in permissive forms "paranjoloo", "pokkoloo" will be "paranjo" and "pokko".

There are obviously regional variations in all such usages, and the samples given above are loosely valid in central Kerala, say, Ernakulam to Kozhikode. The speech form is a classic example of extreme Sanskritization on the one hand and extreme Dravidianization on the other. The present generation, of course does not follow these rigid dictates of language use. Most of the usages are fading into obsolescence.

| Article No:12 | Last update of this article:5th July 2008 |
Article prepared by: K. D. Nambudripad with inputs from Dr. Usha Nambudripad.
1. "Ente Smaranakal" - Vol. 1 and 3 by Kanippayyur Sankaran Nambudiripad, Panchangom Press, Kunnamkulam.
2. "Malayaalathile Sambodhanaa Padangalute Saamoohika Paschaathalam" by: Dr. Usha Nambudripad (1990), Publishers: Kerala Sahitya Academy
3. The Speech of Namboodiris - A Socio-linguistic Study- By: Dr. Usha Nambudripad. Ph D Thesis (unpublished); University of Kerala (1989)

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