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Konjam Tamil Konjam English

Tanglish is suddenly in with advertisers in Tamil Nadu. MALATHI RANGARAJAN on the new ad-speak


ANXIOUS VOICES cry out that the Tamil language will cease to exist in another five years or so, unless immediate steps are taken (so says a UNESCO finding). But drowning out these panicky proclamations are even shriller statements — Chennai's hoardings that advertise the latest products in Tamil with English lettering. Is Tamil dying? Or do the businessmen know better? Whatever the truth, advertisers believe they can sell better if they reach out to the youth — and what better way to do it than by luring them with their own, familiar colloquialisms? And it's no longer just Hindi that is catching consumers with its "Roti Kapda Aur Rented Makaan" (UTI Bank Home Loans') or "No Chinta Only Money" (ICICI Prudential's retirement solutions) kind of slogans. Tamil in English — Tanglish — is pretty much on every ad-man's mind as he tries to give international products a local feel.

Taking a lead in this campaign that gives an essentially Chennai feel is the cell phone industry. RPG's (now Aircel) colourful slogans that scream from every nook and corner of the city divide mobile users into distinct categories and have an enticing word or two for each. So with "Konjam" as the common factor, for the housewife it is "Konjam Samaiyal... Konjam Serial", for friends "Konjam Advice... Konjam Udaans", for lovers "Konjam Kadhal... Konjam Modhal" and so it goes. The catchphrase in each is of course "Appo... Ippo... Eppavum". The "Kaila matter ... " slogan for the prepaid card, Wings, seems to have kicked off this kind of promo trail. "It received a very good response," says a cellular industry executive. "The cell phone stays with you from morning to night and is hence is a very `relatable' commodity."

Since every economic stratum has mobile phone users, the cellular phone companies try to give importance to each. Establishing an emotional connect with the target groups is essential. Complete Tamil won't do. "When the defined marketing area is comfortable with a particular kind of tongue, using it makes our job easier," he laughs and adds, "All of us feel more at home when talked to in a native lingo. And today that lingo is not pure Tamil or complete English. It's a friendly mix of both — Tanglish. So the conscious strategy is to use it."

"When the company that launches ad campaigns is based in Tamil Nadu, wherever you take the product, the local Chennai flavour will help it retain its uniqueness. Take the Saravana Bhavan group of hotels. They may be in Delhi or Dubai but their roots are here and they would keep their local aroma intact," explains Ashok, also from the mobile phone industry.

Others have realised that this is a paying ploy. So you have Reliance Mobile's "Ini, Ulagam Ungal Kaiyyil" slogan and their prepaid's dusky model in blue drawing attention from the high billboards with the words "Ennaal Mudiyum" splashed all over the city. Beckoning attention with the catchy phrase, "Veettukku veedu, karaikku karai" is Surf Excel. There are also the city's various jewellers trying it out — KFJ's "Thangame Thangam" Savings Plan promos, Lalitha Jewellery's "Mudhan Mudhalai" offer and Saravana's "Jolikkudhae Joli Jolikkudhae" publicity. And not to be left behind are other players like the "Pariso Parisu" scheme from Sowbhagya Grinders.

"All this does not mean that Tamil is in vogue," says Kanimozhi, a Tamil poet. "Like Greek and Latin, it could become non-functional. The death knell for any language begins when its people fail to understand its script. It's already begun. A generation ago, speaking in Tamil in public had begun to be considered infra-dig, but even then people could read and write. Now the number who can read the Tamil script is negligible," she says. Then how does she explain the use of so many native words in

English ads? "I'm not a blind optimist. Ads are meant to communicate and business houses sell their wares by giving their products a local colour. But otherwise you just have a complete generation that is past caring for its mother tongue," is her contention.

The argument may hold water. But the fact remains that today's Chennai uses a blend of English and Tamil to communicate — a blend that's become the businessman's USP.

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