The Kogul Phenomenon

“Kogul” is one of the hashtags that was pretty popular in India, specifically down South. Here’s the reason behind this hashtag frenzy. Tamil is a phonetically limited language.  There are 18 consonant sounds, however if you look closely there are only ten major consonant sounds. There are three ‘na’ sounds, two for ‘la’ and the sounds ‘zha’, ‘gna’ and ‘nga’ are rarely used. Even if they are used, very few people properly pronounce them. The majority of the Tamil speaking population cannot distinguish between most of these consonant groups. This might have been the rationale behind our state being named ‘Tamil Nadu’ instead of the phonetically proper ‘Thamizh Nadu’. (Even some politicians who extoll the virtues of Tamil do not say ‘zha’ properly.)

Coming back to Kogul, this is a play on the inability of many Tamil speakers to differentiate between the similar sounding consonant groups. Listen closer to conversations in a crowded shop on Ranganathan Street or in a crowded MTC bus, and you’ll know why. Kogul is a corruption of Gokul, however it is only one of the cases of discordant consonants.

G and K; P and B; D and T; G and H; J and Ch; P and F(Fants, anyone?) are among the frequently confused sounds, sometimes giving the word another meaning altogether. This phenomenon can be attributed in part to Tamil’s lack of phonetic equivalents to most common consonants in other languages.

A few samplings:

  • Mound Roat
  • Jeerial Bulp
  • Probational Korier
  • Gangrats
  • Plight (flight)
  • Kaambus
  • Gidnab
  • Log the door
  • Ragul Travit
  • Lady Kaka
  • Eskaladder
  • Plowervaas
  • Darren Cough
  • Pogemian Rasapodi (That’s Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen)
  • “Do you know Gopal?” (He meant COBOL!)
  • And how can we forget the famous “Ek gaam mein ek kisaan raghu thatha” in Indru Poi Naalai Vaa.

There’s a whole world of funny kogulized words out there. Search for #kogul on Twitter and join in the fun.

Update: Corrections made after @oligoplot’s comments on some inaccuracies. The real reason lies not in the language, but the speakers of the language. Of course, English is an alien language, but I do find it funny when people rip it apart with their own pronunciations.

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9 thoughts on “The Kogul Phenomenon

  1. Any language takes words of foreign origin and adapts to its phonology. Mother tongue influence is also not strange in other languages. Check how Spanish pronounce English words in their language. Check how even names like Jesus is pronounced in English, than in romantic languages.

    Somehow this is funny only in case Tamil because the slave mentality that dictates it. The elitists holier than thou mentality also tries to judge rest of Tamil population by their pronunciation.

    Tamil phonology has inherent structure for words, unvoiced k,t,p,ch always comes in the beginning of the words. Voiced one comes later. In case of stops, like kka, ppa unvoiced pronunciation is used. The theory is every word starts in front part of the mouth, middle part of the word may be voiced from throat and ends back in front part of the mouth. Think of words like Aaivu, kalai, Kagam etc. Even adapted words are retrofitted for this in old literature. This is prescribed in Tholkapiyam. But during Bhakti movement many Chanjgrit (sanskrit) words were introduced as is, which later even led to a new language called Malayalam, through Manipralavalam.

    Phonetics of any language is not perfect (how do you write red/read in Hindi?!, ‘little’ is better written in upper L in Tamil and Marati).

    Blind adaptation will screwup the native language. Words like Natakam, santosham, durbhagyam are not pronounced as such even by elitists as you suggest. It will sound like late actor Ranga Rao!.
    True while speaking English we need to pronounce better. But slight changes can be allowed.

    1. This post was written in jest. And, I do not see a problem with people unable to pronounce words from other language. It is a matter of concern, however, when they cannot talk even proper Tamil (and no, I do not refer to the different dialects. I mean the basic la- La- zha, ra- Ra, na- Na, etc) I do not vouch for the perfection of phonetics in any language. My point is that Tamil being a primitive (or ancient, as the Tamil-saving blowhards would say) language has a limited number of consonant sounds. Blind adaptation is bad, but you need not always try to come up with an equivalent word – adapting from a foreign language saves a lot of effort. I have a small doubt. How is it right that sanskritised characters (vadamozhich chorkkal) are taboo when I write my name, but Joshua, Joseph, Haroon, etc are allowed to use those very characters? All signs point to the dumbassery of the Tamil-saving political class.

  2. Try writing or saying !xobile (search for “xobile” in youtube and watch for “Russell Peters” ) in any of the Indian languages. It is idiotic, stupid and plain wrong to say that Tamil as a language is phonetically limited. None of the Indian languages have click sounds found in african languages. So, are all indian langauges phonetically limited ?

    The tamil phonetics are enough to say native Tamil words. A language like English is phonetically limited (search for “Ghoti as Fish”). It is only when we try to bring in foreign words into Tamil it exposes some of the missing sounds and we end up tamil-ifying them. It is very common universally. Jesus is pronounced “iyesu” in tamil which is phonologically very close to how Europeans (Germans, French etc. not English) call him. J is pronounced as Y in German etc. Joseph is called Yoseph in Europe and the same in pure Tamil FWIW.

    You really seem to have some kind of anger towards tamil politicians but dont let that make you call Tamil a phonetically limited language.

    1. I agree on several points that you mention. However, I think Tamil is a very old language, and its evolution has been stunted by self serving ‘guardians of the language’. For example, we reject almost all words from other languages. The phonetic limitations of the language can be attributed to the fact that it has been in existence too long. It was highly sophisticated for the time when it was first established, most other languages were just animal sounds and howls. And it has to evolve further and be more accommodating of other languages (and maybe add a few consonants too? )

      1. Now that I read my comment I believe I may have come across a little harsh. Sorry about that. But it was mainly due to the way you labelled it in your first paragraph. Languages have to evolve, no arguments.

  3. Sorry, but this post is factually incorrect end to end. For a start, it’s wrong to say Tamil does not have ‘ga’ and other sounds. A single ezuthu in Tamil, ‘ka’, would have a stop consonant when it occurs at the beginning of a word (‘kamban’) or when it doubles as in ‘akkaa’. Elsewhere, it is pronounced as ‘ga’ (mangai, magan). You need to start reading from: http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsComplementaryDistributio.htm ‘Kogul’ is the way கோகுல் will be pronounced in tamil. Just as Volkswagon would be pronounced as ‘Folks Wagon’ in Deutsch (Did you know that German is an exonym of Deutsch and there’s no ‘ja’ sound in that language?).

    If you can read Tamil, read http://www.tamilvu.org/slet/l0100/l0100pd1.jsp?bookid=1&auth_pub_id=2&pno=125 to know Tamil phonology 101 before writing such posts. While English is an Alphabet system, Hindi/Devanagari is an abugida, Tamil ezutu doesn’t fall under either of these systems.[1]
    [1] Niklas, Ulrike (1988). “Introduction to Tamil Prosody”. Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 77 (1): 165–227. doi:10.3406/befeo.1988.1744. ISSN 0336-1519

    I’ll request you to update the post to avoid misleading more people.

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