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I set myself the formidable task of learning Tamil. I had picked up several phrases of Hindustani during my travels, through my attempts to study the half-dozen dictionaries and conversation guides which I had bought on landing in Bombay. But so far I was unable to catch hold of a single Tamil phrase. It defied my aural and mental vigilance--this many-vowelled, half-chanted, Spanish-like language. So I resolved to take the thing seriously and begin a proper study. There was only one book available at the place--a book which had been lying about for thirty years, probably--but it served my purpose.

The Madras Presidency contains perhaps the hardest and easiest tongues in India, if not in the world. In the Malish districts there is a tribe of simple, half-savage people called the Khonds. They live in the forest among the rocky hills. To learn the Khond tongue you need not learn more than three or four hundred words, and some are remarkably easy and apt. "Miau" is the Khond word for cat, "kwach" is for duck--literally transcripts from nature. Tamil writing is all angles and corners. Tamil shares with Armenian the dubious honour of being the hardest language in the world to learn. I heard a missionary once say that scholars have spent a lifetime but failed to master it.


-- Notebooks Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 2: India > # 75






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