“Tamil pesa theriyatha?” (Don’t you know how to speak in Tamil?)

This annoying question is commonly directed towards those of us who appear to be of South Indian ethnicity when we speak in English. Here’s our take on the 6 most common groups who find joy and fulfillment in asking this ridiculous question

1. Those who can’t understand English or Bahasa Malaysia

This group of people genuinely don’t understand what is being said, and they ask the question out of sheer incomprehension.


Although they are being crude by asking you about your language capabilities instead of just asking to repeat what was said, these aren’t the bad guys. They don’t carry any malice or ill intention, most of the time.

2. Those who have nothing else to talk about

This is another group that isn’t necessarily evil. As humans, we commonly feel uneasy when there is a lull in the conversation. We just cannot take that silence, so much so that we need to say something, be it “Have you put on weight?” or “When are you getting married?”

Occasionally, the intention behind “Tamil pesa theriyatha?” is no different. This is the query of choice when there are no more personal questions left to ask.

3. Those who cannot come up with a counter argument

Ah, these are the fellows you need to be careful of. How many times have you ended a discussion pertaining to Indian culture, simply because the other person says, “Eh, you can’t even speak Tamil, what would you know?”

The sneaky people of this group know what your Achilles heel is, and use it against you when they run out of ammo.

Interestingly, for this group, your intelligence is diminished because you don’t speak one language, whereas they seem to forget that there are about 6,000 other languages that they probably cannot even say a word of.

4. Those who suffer from an inferiority complex

And then there are those who feel inferior because they cannot speak English. These people assume that the English speaking crowd is above them, simply because they speak a ‘foreign’ language. Of course, we cannot blame them, we were colonised by the English speaking, and for many of us, white supremacy has been bleached onto our minds.

This group, however, forgets that English is merely a language. Sure, it is widely spoken, but it is no indication of superiority. All of that was created in our mind, and probably thanks to the numerous Tamil films that depict the rich families conversing only in English.

5. Those who are unaware of the existence of Malaysian Indians of non-Tamil descent.

This group operates on the assumption that because you are Indian, you must speak Tamil. They forget that there are Malaysian Indians who are Malayalee, Telugu, Gujarati and from other parts of India. Their mother tongue is not Tamil, so why would they need to know the language?

So my dearest Tamil puratchi kaarars, how would you feel if they asked you, mid conversation, “Ningalku malayalathil sansarikkan kaliyumea?”


6. Those who are bullies

There are people who belong to a select group that enjoys making others feel small. They often make references to the colour of the other’s buttocks and question if we enjoy consuming paruppu sambar. They do this in hopes of making the other person feel like a pile of excrement.

They often make references to the colour of the other’s buttocks and question if we enjoy consuming paruppu sambar.

This group has one priority. Point out everyone else’s ‘flaws’. Make sure every brown sambar eater knows they should have a good command of Tamil. And if a Malaysian Indian female doesn’t speak Tamil, let’s deride her and ask her if she thinks she’s a white woman. Men, of course, get a free pass.

These bleating goats are so concerned about the Tamil language that they could care less about their own personal development, and have made it their life goal to ensure all those who try to speak the language are shamed out of it.

Does this question really make people want to learn and speak Tamil?

Asking someone “Tamil pesa theriyatha?” actually has a reverse effect on increasing the penetration of the language. It is very discouraging when one tries to speak in Tamil, to be made to feel small, or like their effort isn’t worthwhile.

The cherry on top of this distasteful sundae is that this question is usually followed by echoes of “Don’t mutilate Tamil by speaking it,”

This obviously causes a person to drift further away from speaking the language. Can you blame them, though? A language is mastered by speaking, and we only learn when we try. If you don’t even allow people to try, then what hope is there for Tamil to be spoken?

A language is just that.

English and Bahasa Malaysia are languages, just as Tamil is, and there is no superiority in choosing one language over another. There is so much more to culture than just the language.

Also, another person’s cultural practices are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, and even if it was, it cannot be reflected by the use of a language.

There are people all over the world who embrace their South Indian culture without being able to speak a word of any Indian dialect. There are people of South Indian descent who even converse exclusively in French, German, Swedish, Thai and Burmese. Does that make them any less Indian? Nah.

South Indians in France. Image credit: OnVaSortir

Of course Tamil is important lah

We aren’t saying that the Tamil language should be swept under the carpet. The language needs to develop, and be spoken by those who want to do so. But shaming people for not speaking it is no way to get the ball rolling.

Parents can opt to send children for Tamil classes, and adults who want to polish their command of the language can do so with a variety of courses online. Speak Tamil to those who are trying, and don’t belittle their attempts. We all need to start somewhere.

And if the person you’re speaking to doesn’t want to engage with your Tamil crusade, leave them alone. It is impossible to force someone to speak a language.

So to all those self proclaimed Tamil linguists who claim that every Malaysian Indian should speak Tamil, தயவு செய்து உங்கள் வேலையைப் பாருங்கள் (please mind your own business).

Edit: Ready for today’s entertainment? Grab some popcorn and check out the comments on this article!


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