The Mother of All Tongues – Thallae!

In the modern world, ‘frustration’ is our most frequent state of mind and words like fuck and shit are among the most used in our vocabulary. Though these words are freely used, they represent western culture and moreover there’s an element of obscenity in it which can make the listener uncomfortable. Sometimes we try hard to find alternate words, but most alternate words fall flat and don’t really reflect the exact mood.

But when English cannot help, there’s always our mother tongue. Actually our mother tongues are rich in swear words which fits perfectly to the need of the moment. And, there’s one word which airs frustration without a tinge of obscenity about it, a word which doesn’t breach our cultural and social ideologies, a word which smoothly rolls down our tongue, and the word is thallae!

This is a Malayalam word from Trivandrum dialect and this is one of the words which Pandit Suraj Venjaramoodu, the father of modern Malayalam language, popularized through his extensive works in the film industry.

Thallae is very simple in its meaning. It means ‘mother’, and mother, of course, is the most divine character in our culture. The word can be found in medieval and modern Malayalam and even in Tamil literature as the word has the same meaning in Tamil.

But mother is not a person you would associate with frustration. Alternate local words for mother like maa, amma and ammae are commonly used to express pain, because mother is the first person on earth you would call when you are in pain. Yet, the word thallae can be used to pronounce frustration and that’s the magic of this word.

Pronouncing the word can be tricky because the ‘la’ sound as in Puli (tamarind – in both Tamil & Malayalam) and as in Uli (sour taste in Kannada) is not there in English and in Hindi, so you may need to personally learn the sound from a South Indian next to you. There’s a bit of tongue rolling you may need to practice initially to perfect it, but it is certainly not as difficult as the ‘zha’ sound as in Pazham (banana in Malayalam) for which you will have to sit half naked in neck-deep water in your local pond every morning to get it right, like what singer Yesudas did in his formative years.

The pronunciation is tricky because if you wrongly pronounce it, the meaning could change. If you use ‘la’ sound as in London, and the ‘la’ sound as in Puli (Tiger in Tamil and Leopard in Malayalam) the meaning will change to ‘thalla’ which means ‘head’ in both Tamil and Malayalam. In Tamilnadu there’s an additional meaning to the word ‘thalla’ and it stands for Ajith kumar, a very popular actor, and his fans may not like it. Now you know why you need to get it right.

Sentence making is easy. First let me use the word fuck and shit in a sentence so that it wouldn’t confuse you in understanding the proper usage.

Example 1: Fuck, Manchester United has lost again!

Example 2: Shit, my computer isn’t working!

Now use ‘Maa’ and ‘Ammae’ in the same sentence:

Example 1: Maa, Manchester United has lost again!

Example 2: Ammae, my computer isn’t working!

It doesn’t cut it, does it? No. So let me use the magical word here:

Example 1: Thallae, Manchester United has lost again!

Example 2: Thallae, my computer isn’t working!

Perfect isn’t it?

About Joshi Mukard (100 Articles)
The author is a wandering soul with no place to call 'home-town'. He was born in Kerala, brought up in several parts of Tamil Nadu, and currently living in Bangalore, shifting his base across the city on a yearly basis with fellow (unfortunate) wanderers, his wife (Libena) and little daughter (Tanaya). Despite all these, the author is a happy soul with no complaints on anything. He wakes up in the morning and sleeps at night and in-between he ducks, stumbles and dances through this world.

6 Comments on The Mother of All Tongues – Thallae!

  1. Thallae…ningal entharaanu cheyyunnathu?ini bloody englishkaar f-wordinu pakaram thallae ennu vilichu thudangumo?Don’t let out our swear words 😛

  2. Anil Panicker // March 11, 2014 at 7:16 am // Reply

    Thanx Joshi for enlightening us about our rich repository of “Swear vocabulary” in Malayalam… Good attempt for sure…

  3. thallae, kollam kto

  4. Joshi Mukard // July 4, 2016 at 8:30 am // Reply


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