The Name Is Pizza

One of my ongoing sources of torment, and virtually the only thing the sales team in my office can tease me about now that England have confirmed themselves as the number one cricketing nation in the world, is the English pronunciation of various Tamil names and phrases.

The trouble stems from the fact that English, being a sensible language, has just 26 characters in its alphabet and has approximately 42 phonemes (the way things are pronounced). Tamil, by contrast, being the 2,500 year old language that it is, has 247 characters in the alphabet and a mind boggling number of phonemes – for example they have 17 ways just to pronounce the letter ‘L’, 8 ways to pronounce the letter ‘N’ and exactly zero ways to pronounce the letter ‘W’.

All this presents a bit of a problem, particularly when trying to transliterate from a Tamil word or phrase to the English equivalent because there just aren’t enough characters or phonemes to get the pronunciation accurate. One constant source of amusement for everyone who knows me is that my office is in an area of Chennai called Valluvar Kottam. Now being the person I am and refusing to take in to account that it’s just the best spelling match you can get with such a rudimentary language like English, I read this word (as all other English speaking people would) as: val-loo-vaar cot-tam. Which isn’t even close to being right. Infact it couldn’t be more wrong. You go up to anyone in Chennai and ask how to get to val-loo-vaar cot-tam and they will look at you like you’ve just stepped off a spaceship from Mars.

My pronunciation disability can have some bizarre outcomes as with what happened this evening. I got back to my apartment after a hard day at work and the watchman (all apartments have watchmen, but that’s a story for another day) motioned for me to come and speak to him. He wanted the maintenance money which every apartment needs to pay each month, it’s 900 rupees (about 14 pounds) so I fished around in my wallet and handed him a wad of notes and the watchman pulled out a tatty old notebook and a stub of a pencil. The conversation went a little something like this…

Watchman: வாட் இஸ் யுவர் நேம? (Transliterates to: Un peru enna? and translates to: What is your name?)
Me: Peter
Watchman: Picture?
Me: நோ, Peter (Transliteration: illa, Peter. Translation: No, Peter).
Watchman: Pitza?
Me: நோ, Pee-ter (Transliteration: illa, Peter. Translation: No, Peeter).
Watchman: *confused* …Petcha?
Me: Grr, no! It’s P-E-T-E-R, Peter.
Watchman: …Pitza?
Me: *sigh*. Yes, fine, pizza.

And that is why, if you were to look in the watchman’s tatty old notebook, under August 2011 Maintenance you would find an entry that says Mr. Pitza paid 900 rupees for maintenance.

Note: If you just see silly square boxes in the conversation above, it means you have an old computer that doesn’t support the Tamil fonts.

9 Comments The Name Is Pizza

  1. Swapnil

    Haha he hates that song! Little Pizza Rabbit had a fly upon his nose and he flicked it and it flew awayy! This is really funny. You should write a column in the newspaper!

    1. Peter

      It would be too pressurizing to come up with stories each week, what if I had a really boring week and all that happened was a festival that kept me up all night, food got delivered to my door that I didn’t order, a herd of goats invaded my apartment complex and England won the cricket test matches? I’d have to make something up.

  2. Devika

    Funny! I am picturing your conversation with a really old watchman, grey hair, dark skinned, faded uniform, no shoes…
    Btw, what would be a Tamil equivalent to Peter??

    1. Peter

      It’s like you’ve seen my watchman. Well one of them anyway. The other one is always asleep on the steps, so I guess he’s the sleepman. (Oh yes, Dad jokes rule!). As for the name “Peter”, according to my work colleagues, it means “big show off” in Tamil, but I’m sure they are just having a laugh with me, I’m the most humble and shy person ever!

  3. Rommel

    Do not say that, we have ran out of options. When was the last time a Britisher won a Grand slam in Tennis, never mind a Wimbledon?????? and you say you invented the game. Ha ha ha 🙂 ………………

    1. Peter

      Always trying to deflect the blame and be defensive, Rommel! Just admit it, England are currently a stronger, better and more united team than the Indian youngsters!

  4. Rommel

    For now, The only thing, the English team is better at is with their bowling and that showed in the results. I will keep my mouth shut for now, till our youngsters destroy you in the coming seasons.

    The only thing I do not understand is that, you like Football and never speak about your International team and you do not like Cricket and speak on it (just because you have won one series over India in your home) conditions……………


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