Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Linguistic Interpretation of KaTi Jokes in Tamil Prof. K.Nachimuthu

                        The role of jokes, puzzles, riddles in language learning is explicit. Conversely the use of language elements is one of the key areas in the creation of such items. In ancient literature prahelika,mathracyutaka,sylesas etc.are often mentioned as kinds of pastimes the kings and the learned indulged in. In alankara  sastras such genre are defined  under chithrakavis  a  kind of varthalankaras. It is also part of verbal folklore of communities. The skill in composing such items extempore is considered to be a gift a few only could possess. Such language skilled wizards were well respected and they occupied the courts of great kings. The names of Kalidasa, Nakkirar, Kalamegam, Auvvaiyar, Aantaan Kavirayar and others come to our mind. Many stories of Tenali Raman and Mariyadai Raman famous practitioners in this art exemplify the skillful use of language.(e.g.the stories likes 'unakku viruppamAnataikkoTu','tONTi eTukkoNTu vA,kanci varatappA etc.).

                        In the modern Tamil, jokes form part of the varieties of features in popular magazines and they add spice and variety to them. The jokes are based on funny language use and comical situations. In recent times a type of jokes called kaTi jokes are abundantly created in Tamil. Even the name itself is of recent origin. They are based on puzzling situations mostly language puzzle a kind of riddles. The young are the creators of such jokes. They are not only published in magazines but also kaTi-telling sessions are held on the occasions of pastime and play.

Puzzles: A historical over view
            Puzzles can be grouped into three broad classes: riddles and word puzzles, mathematical and logic puzzles, and physical and mechanical puzzles.[1]
                        Riddle is a question that is deliberately very confusing and usually has a humorous or clever answer. E.g. What is black and white and red all over? Answer. An Embarrassed zebra. It is variously called viTukatai, azippAnkatai, prahelika Indian languages. It is part of verbal folklore and are delivered/performed in group sessions. It has a definite pattern and structure about which folklorists have studied in detail.
A conundrum is a riddle based on puns with the words in a question. The conundrum, “What is black and white and red all over?” uses puns on the words “red” and “all over” to yield the solution: “a newspaper”.[2]
Rebus, anagrams, acrostics, charades, cross word puzzles, and visual puzzles are the other word puzzles.

Rebuses combine words, symbols, and pictures and have been found in Ephesian letters written in the 6th century BC. For example, a very basic rebus might consist of symbols for an eyeball, waves, and a sheep and would mean “I see you” (eye; sea; ewe). Egyptian hieroglyphics contain many examples of the rebus.
Anagrams, a Greek term meaning “letters backwards” involve rearranging letters of a word or phrase to form a new word or phrase. The Greek poet Lycophron, in the 3rd century BC, made a business out of making anagrams of the names of members of the court of Ptolemy II.
Charles Dodgson, who used the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, found a wonderful anagram of Florence Nightingale: Flit on, cheering angel. A word square puzzle was carved in alabaster by an Egyptian, Moschion, in the 3rd century AD. The puzzle was to find a message in the square array of 1,521 Greek letters, arranged 39 across and down.
Acrostics take the first letter from the first word in each line of a verse or group of words to form another word. A double acrostic also uses the last letter of each line to form an additional word. The early Christian use of the fish as a symbol is reportedly derived from an acrostic using the first letter of the Greek words for Jesus, Christ, of God, Son, Saviour.-Tikkalivalivallam.
Charades, named from the Portuguese word for entertainment, charad(o), are solved one syllable at a time. The syllables of the answer are found by solving a series of puzzle clues. The answer to the following charade: “My first is a vehicle, my second is a favourite, and my whole is in most drawing rooms”, is “carpet”.
            The crossword puzzle was invented by Arthur Wynne and first published in the New York World on December 21, 1913. Although popular from the first publication, it was 11 years later when Simon & Schuster published the first book containing a collection of crossword puzzles, that a national pastime was born. They sold half a million crossword puzzle books in the first year.
Visual puzzles with hidden people, animals, and other objects were the subject of many of the popular 19th-century prints of Currier and Ives. A miniature 16th-century painting of a camel included hidden figures of 17 people, 10 rabbits, a monkey, and a dragon.[3]           
In the Tamil Dandiyalankaram 12 types of Chithra kavis are elaborated.
kOmUttiri kUTacatukkam
mAlai mARRE ezuttu varuttanam
kAkapantam vinAvuttaramE
kAtai karappE karantuRai ceyyuL
cakkaram cuzikuLam caruppatOpattiram
akkaraccutakamum avaRRin pAla

            Among them  kOmUttiri,cuzikuLam and caruppatOpattiram are like  cross word puzzle,kUTacatukkam  and mAlaimARu  are similar to anagrams, vinAvuttaram (question answer)is similar to charades. ezuttu varuttanam is equivalent to acrostics.The rest has its equivalent in the western tradition about which a detailed study is called for.An example given for vinAvuttaram(question answer) in Tamil Dandiyalankaram is equivalent to charade .
pUmakaL yAr?pOvAnai EvuvAn Eturaikkum
nAmam porucarattiRku EtenpAr?tAmazakin
pEren?piRai cUTum pemmAn uvantuRaiyum

"What is the word for  bhumakal or maid earth?-Tiru.What will be the word used by the addressee to request the addressed to go?-Eku-What is the word for arrow? –ampu-What is the word for beauty?-am-If you combine all these words you will get the name of the place where Lord Shiva resides.That is Tiru+Eku+ampu+am=TiruvEkampam.,the old name of present Kanchipuram."
            A similar poem quoted in Ilampuranar's commentary to Tolkappiyam 423 sutra and Yapparunkala virutti sutra 62 gives the answer TikkAlivalivallam,name of a place  in this fashion which is a ezuttuvaruttanam or charade.

            In the modern Tamil riddles of various kinds are popular.As stated earlier a particular type of riddle called kaTi is popular among youngsters in recent times.

KaTi jokes in Tamil
                        KaTi means in Tamil to bite in its verbal form and hard in its nominal or adjectival form. Jokes which are biting or hard one to crack could be the etymology of  it.Biting by extension is an annoying or difficult one or a conundrum.Conundrum is defined as a riddle or joke,especially one that involves pun.It is kind of riddle which itself is a kind of puzzle along with other word puzzles.
             The kaTi jokes have become popular only recently and the name itself is of recent origin. Folklorists who studied Tamil Riddles have grouped similar items as distinct but have not attempted  to study the linguistic aspects of it. Here in this paper an attempt is made to look at them from a linguistic point of view and certain hypotheses are made on the basis of it.
                        I based my analysis on the kaTis published in Ciruvar mani a weekly  supplement of Dinamani a popular Tamil Daily.About 1500 kaTis published over  three years (1999-2002)are subjected to the analysis.I am presenting the preliminary findings in this paper.

                        An analysis of the kaTi jokes revealed the typical varieties and the language process and areas involved in their creation.As in the creation of pun or slesha the semantic areas of polysemy and homonymy dominate in the production of kaTis.See the varieties of  such linguistic aspects underlying in the kaTis.

KaTi  Jokes

1.tELukkum muTikkum enna ottumai?
IrantumE koTTum
What is the commonnes between the muTi "hair" and tEL "Scorpian?"
Both koTTum i.e hair "falls off" and scorpion "stings".
It is a case of polysemy

2CiRuvan:pATTi/ Antaikkup pakalil kaN teriyumA?/ Boy:Grandma/ can the owl see  in day time?
PATTi: enakkut teriyAtuTAppA. /Grandma: I don’t know.
CiRuvan:unakku yAru kETTA.Antaikkut teriyumAnnu kETTEn./Boy:I have not asked about you.I asked whether owl  can see ?

The polysemous  word teri has two meanings 1.(of eyes)to  see 2(with dative)to know.The ambiguous interpretation of the reply by the boy creates this kaTi.

Partial homonymy
3.Raja;inta vIttilE ellOrum cutta mocam.cintikka k  kUTa vitmATTInkarAnka
            /In this house nobody allows me to do "cintikka"
Tej: etai cintikka?/which one to "cintikka".
Raja:mUkkaittAN! /Nose only.
It is case of  partial homonymy.Cintikka is the infinitive of cinti  of  11 think.There  is another word to  cintu 5 blow the nose.Normally the infinitive of cintu is cinta but the compound verb cintittukkoLLa with reflexive auxiliary koL will become cintikka in spoken variety resulting in a homonymy with cintikka of cinti.It is a case of lexicogrammatical homonymy which is partial in  nature.

4.Oruvar:kELvippaTTIngkaLA   /Have you heard?
MaRRoruvar:illIngka nAn kOvilpaTTingka./No.I am not from (KELvippaTTi).I am  from KovilpaTTi.
The first one is a spoken form a finite verb with interrogative marker?kELvipaTu+A.But the listner feigns mistake and replies that he is from KovilpaTTi, a place.It is a  homonymy resulted due to the  corruption of the spoken form of  the verb with  noun .It is a case of partial lexico grammatical homonymy.

5.HMT yilE tiruTTE pOkAtu .En?/  Burglary  never takes place in HMT.Why?.
AngkatAn  vATc paNNRAngkaLE/Because they make watches/they are watching.
(HMT is the acronym for Hindustan Machine Tools which manufactures watches.)

The hybrid word vATc paNNu has two meanings:1"to make watch"2."to watch".This is a case of loan hybrid creating a homonymy.

6.Celvi:oru kappal vAngkaNumnA enna ceyyaNum  /Celvi:Suppose if you want to buy a ship/ a cup of teeth what shall we do?
Priya:paNam campAtikkaNum/Priya:You have to earn money.
Celvi:ille.oru pal TAkTarkiTTE oru kappaikkuTuttu vaikkaNum./no.give a cup to a dentist.
Here the Tamil word kappal "a ship'' is interpreted as kap" cup"(English)+pal"tooth"(Tamil) with a juncture to get English plus Tamil hybrid word.This is another case of loan hybrid creating a homonymy.
See below another such case.
7.enta Tavarai nAm  maRakkak kUTAtu/Which tower/man one shall not forger?
UppiTTavarai./ One who fed you.
Here the second part of  the word uppiTTavar"one who fed " is abnormally split out to get the homophonous form of English word tower to creat the pun. Such puns are called pirimoziccilETai  "pun with a juncture" in Tamil.

8.Elumiccam pazam cIppAk kiTaikkumA?Will lemon available cheaper?/will lemon available in bunches.
Elumiccam pazam ellAm  cIppAk kiTaikkAtu.oNNu oNNAttAn kitaikkum/Lemon wont be available in buches it will be available as countables.
Here the first speaker uses the English word  cIp to mean at a reduced prize.The second speaker takes it as Tamil word with the meaning bunch and creates a conundrum.This is another type of  partial homonymy created by the absoption of  English loan words and creating a homophonus form.Such jokes are in abundance in modern Tamil exemplifying the extent of bilingualism.

9.Ramesh:cORu engkE vikkum?/Where will cooked rice is sold/or where will it choke?
Suresh:kaTaiyilE/in the shop.
Ramesh:illE.toNTaiyilE./no ,it is in the throat.

 The word vikku has got two meanings.1  to get choked;choke sell.The word vikku with the meaning to get choked ,or to choke is a normal form while the form vikku "to sell" is a phonetically changed form due corruption in  spoken lanuage  of the word viRkum.(>vikkum) This is a  homonym resulted due to  phonetic change.

Syntactic ambiguity
10.Bharatan;pakkattut teruvulE nEttu oru vITTle pUTTai uTaiccu iraNTu laTcam tiruTiTTAngkaLAmE./ Bharathan:In the next street somebody broke the lock in a house and stole away 2 laks
varatan;pUTTukkuLLE avLO paNamA iruntuccu??Varathan:Was there that much  money  inside the lock!

It is due to the ambiguity created by the ellipsis of certain elements in the sentence(vITTle pukuntu having broken the lock and entering the house) .Or it could be due to  the  transferred sense a case of polysemy-lock means the lock in the safe,a kind of  aupacarika prayokam.or metonymy.

 Polysemy and syntactic ambiguity
11.MANavi:Sir,nIngka ceyyAta tappukku aTippIngkaLA? /Student:Sir!will you beat me/punish me for CeyyAta tappu? –ie.  mistake of failure-uncommited  mistake?
Aciriyar:cE/cE/aTikkamATTEn /Teacher:No no I will not
Student:vITTuppATam ceyyalai Sir?/Student:I have not done my home work/

Here the relative clause /phrase CeyyAta tappu is ambiguous.It could be interpreted as mistake of failure i.e an appositive clause or as uncommitted  mistake an accusative clause. It is a skillful usage creating a dilemma. Compare the logical dilemma as in the arguments in the story of  a mother and the crocodile which caught hold of her  child.
This is a case of Polysemy and syntactic ambiguity.

Signifier signified-Ambiguity
12.Aciriyar:neppOliyanukku bayamnA ennannane teriyAtu…En collungka? Teacher:Napolean did not know what bayam/fear was?Do you know why/
MANavan:avarukkuttAn tamizE teriyAtE/ Student:Because definitely he did not know Tamil.
Pun is played on the word bayam.Here the sabda artha identity or signifier signified is broken and the speaker refers the artha aspect but the hearer picks up the sabda to create the conundrum.
13.vAttiyAr:AciriyarkaLukku mANavarkaLiTamiruntu piTikkAta patil enna?/
Teacher: What is the reply the teachers dont like (to hear) from the students.
MANavan; teriyAtu! Sir /Student;I dont know Sir!
vAttiyAr:rompa karekt,uTkAr./ Teacher: very  correct.Sit down.
MANavan:?!?!?!?!/ Student:?!?!?!?!
Here the word teriyAtu "I don’t know " is interpreted  in its artha and sabda  aspects to create the same kind of signifier signified ambiguity and the consequent dilemma.

Rebus type of kaTis are  also created as in the following examples ,which is not  very common.
14.K7 (kEcavan )OT(oTTi)  vanta 6.5(Ar(u) ancu) paza vaNTi  V10(vi-pattukku-uLLAkiyatu?itu enna?
Kecavan OTTivanta Arancu paza vaNTi vipattukku uLLAkiyatu.(The orange cart driven by Kesavan was involved in an accident.)

 Other examples
15.Varun:kuraikkiRa nAy kaTikkAtu teriyumA?/Varun:barking dog does not bite.
Varsha:teriyalaiyE/ I don’t know/
Varun:reNTu vElaiyaiyu orE nErattulE ceyya muTiyAtu./one cannot do two jobs at a time.
16pUTTait tiRakkaNumnA enna ceyyaNum? /If you want to open the lock what shall one do?
Mutalil pUTTaNum./At first one has to lock it.
These two examples are cases of ambiguity created at the discourse level.

17.pAlil oru kAlai eTuttAl atu enna?/What will happen when you remove the length marker in the word pAl "milk"
Pal/it will be pal or tooth
KAlil oru kAlai eTuttAl /similarly what will happen when you remove the length marker in the word kAl"leg".
NARkAliyil oru kAlai eTuttAl/ similarly what will happen when you remove the length marker in the word nARkAli
NaRkAli/the word naRkAli
AtutAn illE .mukkAli./it is not at all correct.It will become mukkali
Here the questioner shifts his meaning from length marker to leg, because the word kAl means 1.leg 2 and length marker. This is a case of homophony.

1.The creation and expression of these jokes are made mostly by young people.This indicates the excitement young  people get at the exposure of the various  uses of  language use for the first time in their life. A sensitivity towards language and sharpening of the feeling for the language are created-that means it helps them in their language acquisition. So it can be profitably used in language teaching.

2.Unlike in English the kaTi jokes are made more popular than the cross word puzzles in Tamil.It may be due to its briefness and the oral nature of the jokes which makes it easier for reproduction and trasmission,a typical trait of  folklore.

3.In the creation of kaTis the ambiguity provided by homonymy and polysemy is dominant as it is in the creation of slesha or pun in literature. Ambiguities created other wise are also responsible for the finer kaTis.An exhaustive  study on these linguistic aspects is to be  conducted along  with its aspects  of  folkloric nature    in future.

4.Homonymy is of two types one resulting from the absorption of loan word from English and the other one resulting due to corrupt spoken forms. It indicates the high degree of bilingualism and the external history of the language.In earlier period the loan words from Sanskrit played such a role. On the contrary the homonyms created by  the spoken corrupt forms shows the internal changes  in the language.

5.In normal riddles the different aspects of synonymy are exploited.In kaTis polysemy and homonymy are  more exploited.This is the major difference between Kaitis and vitukatais


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[1]"Puzzles," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[2]"Puzzles," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[3]"Puzzles," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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