Stalin’s Jaffna Kolaveri.

The admirable fisheyed not only revived this old thread (and remember, every time an old thread is revived, an angel gets his wings) but linked to a video and an explication thereof by Fotheringay-Phipps at Ground Views that are so interesting I thought I’d give them their own post. From the latter:

The day before yesterday SJ Stalin released a fascinating response to the song, entitled “Yarlpanathilirunthu Kolaverida”, a rough translation would be “Dude, Bloodlust from Jaffna”. Its essence is a celebration of Tamil language and culture, a deploration of the bastardisation of Tamil and chastisation of those who are ashamed of their Tamilness.

At first glance, the music video appears to be primarily targeted at Dhanush. His mix of English and Tamil in the Kolaveri song has proved immensely popular with over 30 million hits on Youtube. Stalin considers his song a war on the Tamil language and describes his attitude toward it as bloodlust. He wonders why Dhanush chooses to use English – he asks why Tamil is scarce in its heartland, Tamil Nadu. He seems to imply that if Tamil gave sufficient creative freedom for Kamban, Valluvar and Bharathi it should be enough for Dhanush. Stalin thinks that Dhanush doesn’t give Tamil the respect that it deserves. As an ancient language, one which Stalin describes as predating the creation of stones and sand, Tamil has a rich literature and culture and Dhanush appears to ignore this and consider Tamil lacking. This is brought out by the poignant contrast between the focus on the keyboard in Dhanush’s work as opposed to the harmonium, perceived to be a more indigenous instrument, in Stalin’s video.

Once I got over the cognitive dissonance caused by reading “Stalin” and having to remind myself “No, not that Stalin,” I found the whole thing very enjoyable. Warning: fisheyed says there are some errors in the Ground Views translation of the lyrics.

Comments

  1. J. W. Brewer says:

    He has a long way to go to match the lengthy musical career of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Stalin. But “older than stones and sand”? And is it too cynical to think that writing a song about how Tamils living in comparative safety and prosperity in India are not sufficiently hardcore about their Tamilness is a little safer for this particular songwriter than writing a song overtly bitching about the Sinhalese?

  2. fisheyed says:

    And is it too cynical to think that writing a song about how Tamils living in comparative safety and prosperity in India are not sufficiently hardcore about their Tamilness is a little safer for this particular songwriter than writing a song overtly bitching about the Sinhalese?

    You are mistaken. The song is not generically about “Tamils living in India”, it’s specifically about the people who made the song he responded to (Why this Kolaveri) and their use of Tamil. And in fact, every example he gives of Tamils doing the right thing, ancient and modern, up to and including AR Rehman at the Oscars, is a Tamil from the north side of the Palk, rather than the south side. And from what I have seen online, he has received nothing but love.

  3. @LH,
    Your first link appears to be broken

  4. Fixed, thanks!

  5. J. W. Brewer says:

    I should have made it more explicit that he was obviously criticizing only *some* Tamils in India. On the other hand, even if his “good” examples of purist users of Tamil are also located on the Indian side of the water, that doesn’t contradict the claim by Fotheringhay-Phipps (probably not a real name?) that the whole thing can and should be plausibly read as a way of talking about the language situation on the Sri Lankan side without doing so out loud. Now, maybe that’s not the best reading of what’s really going on with the song — I’m just taking the link at face value.

    Re the passing claim that the harmonium is “perceived to be more indigenous,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pump_organ#On_the_Indian_subcontinent makes interesting reading — there was apparently some genuine creative adaptation for local circumstances of something that had started as a Western import item, and also some significant resistance from certain purism-oriented nationalists who thought the indigenized harmonium was still not indigenous enough. Although since the Stalin fellow is seen in the video looking at his smartphone while performing (in a recording studio filled with technology of non-South-Asian ultimate origin) he’s obviously not himself seeking purism when it comes to hardware as opposed to language.

  6. I should have made it more explicit that he was obviously criticizing only *some* Tamils in India. On the other hand, even if his “good” examples of purist users of Tamil are also located on the Indian side of the wate

    So now Valluvar, Kampan, Bharathiar and most bewilderingly, AR Rehman, are purist users of Tamil ?! That is really not a statement that can be defended very far.

    Stalin was criticizing one specific person, Dhanush, who wrote Why this Kolaveri di, as is explicit in the very first line of his version, in which he uses “da” (singular masculine informal). (“di” is singular feminine informal).

    Of course the song has a Jaffna subtext, the fact that there is a shout out to Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha (!) and ahimsa has a Jaffna subtext too, but there is a distinct difference between what you wrote and what Ground Views wrote.

    Anyway, there are a number of pop songs about Tamil qua language, I wonder if this is true in any other language. (Big L’s Ebonics doesn’t count.)

  7. > And is it too cynical to think that writing a song about how Tamils living in comparative safety and prosperity in India are not sufficiently hardcore about their Tamilness is a little safer for this particular songwriter than writing a song overtly bitching about the Sinhalese?

    Yes, that’s too cynical. Every culture has had its wars and conflicts; if it’s impossible to love one’s own culture without automatically hating some other culture, then we’re all doomed. We might as well just give up now, toss all our existing arts and letters into the ocean, and take up Esperanto. 😉

  8. In The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, the hero(ine), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, says:

    […] Hate Orgoreyn [where they now are]? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe [Estraven’s political rival, now in power back in Karhide]] talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession… Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre [in Karhide, where Estraven was born], but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.

    (I’ve quoted this before but in a different context.)

  9. J. W. Brewer says:

    There is a vast and diverse corpus of “pop” (broadly construed) music in English and I don’t know that language-qua-language is much of a theme, but I think it might be fair to say that if there is a common thread below the surface it’s that such music is an appropriate context for non-standard non-prestige varieties of English – regional or ethnic dialect, teenage or other subcultural slang, taboo words, etc., whereas condemning deviations from some sort of purist/standard/prestige sense of the language would be an unusual stance to take as a performer/lyricist — complaining about the non-standard grammar or slangy/taboo lexical usages of popular music is traditionally the social role of Uptight Old People Who Don’t Get It. (There was that Weird Al Yankovic song taking a jerky prescriptivist tone last year, but he’s an outlier, and/or part of his schtick is lyrical themes that are either overtly jocular or jocular-in-context because they do not fit the conventions of the genre.)

    I guess the Proclaimers’ “Throw the ‘R’ Away” (a defense of Scottish rhoticism against the non-rhotic British prestige norm, coupled with disdain for the allegedly inferior vowel phonology of RP) is nerdily language-politics specific. For a very loose analogy to the “Tanglish” hit criticized by the clip above, a few of the Texas Tornados’ songs were macaronic, with lots of Spanish lexical items stuck into a basically English structure, I suppose trying to reflect how speakers who’d grown up in a “Tex-Mex” cultural context (whether personally Anglo or Chicano by ancestry) might mix them in practice. And then there’s Tom T. Hall’s “Salute to a Switchblade,” which is likewise a bit macaronic with more German that you’d expect a Nashville story song to have — until you realize that spending time stationed in West Germany as a drafted G.I. (and picking up just enough bits of German to try to chat up local girls in bars) used to be as common a blue-collar American male experience as being a truck driver, and was thus just as suitable a theme for a country & western song.

    I know that at least some rock-etc. music sung in French and German rather deliberately uses regional dialect rather than prestige standard, but I don’t know if the pattern is ubiquitous. It seems unlikely that, say, late ’60’s Greece had rival factions of psychedelic garage bands, with one singing in Katherevousa and the other in Demotic (and with each writing songs praising their choice and deprecating the alternative), although that would be sorta cool if it were the case. I have a CD anthology of Welsh-language rock from a variety of artists, which is enjoyable to listen to w/o comprehending, but I don’t know how the variety/ies or style(s) of language used might reflect factional divisions/affiliations within the Welsh-speaking community. I do know that the name of the band http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ffa_Coffi_Pawb was selected in part because it meant something benign in Welsh that coincidentally sounded like something taboo in English.

  10. Except for Embirikos and Cavafy, there has been no literature in Katharevousa since 1900 or so, saith Nick; that’s one of the reasons for the collapse of the diglossia. So I think the dueling garage bands can be ruled out. In what accent of English does /ipaub/ sound like everyone, though?

  11. J. W. Brewer says:

    The less-benign reading of the band’s name is obv. itself a macaronic combination. There’s a very old hat post on “Wenglish,” but that seemed to be describing a variety of English larded with Welsh lexical items, rather than the reverse.

  12. I know that at least some rock-etc. music sung in French and German rather deliberately uses regional dialect rather than prestige Standard
    Yes, and in general, in Germany, it’s seen as OK to ascertain dialect identity and “authenticity” against the standard (like in this famous song in Kölsch (Cologne dialect), where ability to say blootwoosch “blood sausage” is taken as a shibboleth for real local dialect speakers against fake Kölsche). But I couldn’t imagine any German band singing about how, say, much better it is to speak literary German than dialect, which would simply be seen as unforgiveably arrogant. (Although it is fine to use dialect or collquial German for comical effect in comedy sketches etc.)

  13. fisheyed says:

    Proclaimers’ “Throw the ‘R’ Away” is explict enough to count but just deliberately using dialect is too broad, I think.

    Here is a pop song in multiple musical formats including a weird rap interlude, setting a poem by a politician advancing the proposition that Tamil is an excellent language. I have asked a couple of multilingual people I know whether they had heard of anything like this in the languages they know and they looked at me like I was a lunatic….

  14. J. W. Brewer says:

    I cannot understand the lyrics myself, but according to what seem like reliable accounts the lyrics of this number (stylistically pretty standardish early ’70’s post-hippie rock) strongly assert the view that there can be no future for a distinct Breton identity without the preservation and use of the Breton language: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGJNSHL8bt4. (The singer/composer is himself proficient at various traditional folkie instruments, but the lead guitar is by Dan Ar Braz, who for nationalistic reasons modified his name from the more born-under-French-occupation-sounding Daniel Le Bras.)

  15. J. W. Brewer says:

    Although I’m not saying that’s comparable, if only because it lacks the government involvement and lavish production values.

  16. gwenllian says:

    I have a CD anthology of Welsh-language rock from a variety of artists, which is enjoyable to listen to w/o comprehending, but I don’t know how the variety/ies or style(s) of language used might reflect factional divisions/affiliations within the Welsh-speaking community. I do know that the name of the band http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ffa_Coffi_Pawb was selected in part because it meant something benign in Welsh that coincidentally sounded like something taboo in English.

    There aren’t really dialectal factions as such in Welsh language politics. There are dialects, broadly divided into Northern (which you hear in Ffa Coffi Pawb/Super Furry songs) and Southern (which you hear in Datblygu songs, which must also be on your compilation), but the community is so small beleaguered, there’s just not much room for division. Mostly there’s just a lot of good will and hope and striving for unity. Also, unlike Irish, Welsh was fortunate to have an early and influential translation of the Bible, which helped to avoid inter-dialectal conflict in language politics. Yep, Ffa Coffi Pawb means coffee beans for everyone in Welsh, and fuck off everyone in English.

  17. gwenllian says:

    *small and beleaguered

  18. gwenllian says:

    Anyway, there are a number of pop songs about Tamil qua language, I wonder if this is true in any other language.

    It seems fairly common where there is a context of competition between different languages or varieties. Those who feel their language or language variety is under pressure or in some way stigmatized often have the need to say something about it through what they create. Those who don’t have to worry about such things usually just don’t have language on their minds quite as much.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    I know that at least some rock-etc. music sung in French and German rather deliberately uses regional dialect rather than prestige standard, but I don’t know if the pattern is ubiquitous.

    No idea about French. I don’t know any song in any kind of German that is about language. Here, have one in Viennese about the awesomeness of skiing (which is further increased by being ever so slightly drunk).

  20. gwenllian says:

    I love Viennese, How are dialects holding up in Austria nowadays?

    I’ve sometimes wondered about the popular music output of Scandinavia and the Netherlands being almost entirely in English. Is it really an inevitable consequence of almost universal English fluency? Will it be the same throughout Europe (and then the world) as fluency rates grow? Or are there other reasons?

  21. I’ve sometimes wondered about the popular music output of Scandinavia and the Netherlands being almost entirely in English.
    I on’t know about Scandinavia, but depedning on what Dutch station you listen to, there’s quite a lot of pop music in Dutch. The thing is probably that only the English-language songs gain popularity abroad.

  22. gwenllian says:

    depedning on what Dutch station you listen to, there’s quite a lot of pop music in Dutch

    Makes me happy to hear that!

  23. fisheyed says:

    whereas condemning deviations from some sort of purist/standard/prestige sense of the language

    I’m not sure if this is in reference to Stalin’s Kolaveri, but just to clarify, he’s not condeming deviations from standard or prestige forms of the language, his own song is colloquial enough. What he’s condemning is importing English words to the point where half of Dhanush’s song is in English. In contrast to AR Rehman, who spoke in Tamil to an Anglophone American audience, Dhanush is speaking in English to a Tamil audience. By imposing the purity/prestige framework, you are misunderstanding all of Stalin’s references, Bharathi for example is famous for writing in a colloquial register rather than in the prestige literary register.

    It seems fairly common where there is a context of competition between different languages or varieties. Those who feel their language or language variety is under pressure or in some way stigmatized often have the need to say something about it through what they create.

    Examples? Because I don’t know of any “Oromo is named nectar” or “The refined language Cantonese” or “My beautiful Farsi”, though I know speakers of these languages and the chips on their shoulders.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    How are dialects holding up in Austria nowadays?

    Perfectly well outside of Vienna. In Vienna, an upperclass exists; that upperclass first tried to distance itself from everyone else, and then everyone tried to imitate it; as a consequence, almost everybody under 40 and probably everybody under 30 natively speaks something that they believe is the colloquial register of Standard German – and Germans believe is the dialect, which isn’t wrong as far as grammar* or sound system are concerned.

    * Apart from the occasional Turkish influence: Fahrts ihr Ankara oder fahrts ihr Istanbul? Turkish has an allative case instead of bothering with prepositions. This phenomenon can also be encountered in various large cities in Germany, and reportedly in the most Finnish places in Minnesota.

  25. Iron Range English has (or had when Bob Zimmerman was young) not just “let’s go Hibbing,” but “let’s go show,” without an article.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    there’s quite a lot of pop music in Dutch

    I can’t get my head around the fact that actual people are able to sing in Dutch.

  27. If people can sing in Danish, a fortiori people can sing in Dutch.

  28. Trond Engen says:

    No, those aren’t comparable. There are many things that can’t possibly be done in Danish, but singing isn’t one of them. The one thing there is, is vowels.

  29. If people can sing in Danish

    One potato, two potato, three potato, four.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    I can’t get my head around the fact that actual people are able to sing in Dutch.

    Why?

  31. Well, phonologically it is sort of at the opposite extreme from Italian.

  32. I can’t get my head around the fact that actual people are able to sing in Dutch.
    Proof that it happens , and that one was quite popular oustside the Netherlands (although normally after translation into local languages).

  33. Trond Engen says:

    John C.: the opposite extreme from Italian.

    Exactly.

    However: I hadn’t realised just how aspirated and unvoiced Danish can be, until today, in my car, I heard this.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Well, phonologically it is sort of at the opposite extreme from Italian.

    Weeeeeaksaaaauce. It’s basically Italian with most of the final vowels chopped off and the occasional [χ] inserted to spice things up.

    Try this.

  35. Bella Coola just has a few more vowels chopped off and a few more fancy consonants inserted to spice things up.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Well, a lot more.

  37. gwenllian says:

    Apart from the occasional Turkish influence: Fahrts ihr Ankara oder fahrts ihr Istanbul? Turkish has an allative case instead of bothering with prepositions.

    Is this limited to people of Turkish background or has it become a wider phenomenon?

  38. David Marjanović says:

    Wider, but probably not much wider.

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