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Toronto, Canada!
Report on Tamil Workbooks That were Intended to be Used for International Languages: Tamil Programme under TDSB!

- Flaws, Weaknesses, Errors, and Ideology in Them -

- N.K.Mahalingam -
(Tamil Language Instructor & Steward, CUPE 4400 Unit B)

N.K.MakalingamThe following Report was submitted to the TDSB officials on December 21, 2005, at a special meeting arranged for the purpose of highlighting the problems in the so-called workbooks and/or Draft as they claim them to be. More than 400 errors were in those texts and were to be pointed out orally, supported with the examples found in the workbooks. In our group, there were  two principals of schools, PTA president, two professors, one linguist who studied at Stanford between the two, and two practicing teachers with more than 25 years of experience, and a CUPE 4400, Unit B union representative. However, because of the bureaucrats stonewalling tactics employed by them, there were more noises than substance. I had enough of experience with the bureaucracy even before I entered the room. They would always protect themselves and their henchmen and would never ever accept their follies. Anyway, this is the report for our readers to know what is happening in our schools at TDSB regarding the Tamil workbook writing.

1. Introduction:

The history of the extant Tamil texts can be broadly divided into three periods: Ancient or Classical, Medieval and Modern. The ancient period begins at least 3 BCE and ends in 12 AD. During this period, all the texts were written in verses with all metrical systems intact. The Medieval period begins in 12 AD in which a high-flown prose writing for commentary on old texts began to flourish, along with verses. This period lasted till the end of 19th century when the Europeans, particularly the English, brought printing, modern prose writing, media, and modern literature. The Modern period has seen vast growth and changes in a short time.

2. Influence of Two Grammar Texts:

Tamil has evolved for more than three thousand years and is still evolving. We have at least a hundred classical literary texts besides innumerable works in all subjects. We have two highly structured grammar texts in the ancient and medieval periods. These two books-Tholkappiyam and Nannool- have been tremendous influence until the modern period, specifically, I would say, a few a decades ago. As you would correctly surmise these two books deal with prescriptive grammar, and the modern descriptive, structural and post structural grammars do not come within their domain. 

3. Workbooks and their Weaknesses:

3.1 Its controversy over draft vs circulation to students and teachers:

The workbooks that say draft in capital letters on the cover are actually not draft for five  reasons. First, they were distributed to all the students in all the schools. A draft is presumably a text that is given only to some teachers to test and find out in classes if it is suitable or not. Second, a workbook should precede a textbook. Has it ever been published before? When? Where? In fact, these so-called workbooks are indeed textbooks having all the elements of them, and they are approved by parents, volunteers and community representatives as the inside cover claims.  Hence, it is a tiger in a sheeps coat when it says it is draft. Third, these workbooks are nothing new except the word draft in the cover, only the names of the writers, and the foreword by Saro Jeganathan are missing. In other words, they were just the reproduction of the last years workbooks. Four, in these workbooks, only more archaic and obsolete words have been added, and more ludicrous translations are introduced.  Five, it is very important and serious. An unfortunate teacher has been reprimanded for not following the so-called draft. If it is a draft why was she given a such a treatment? It is, therefore, NOT a draft but an approved book. 

Anyway, whether it is a draft or not, it is immaterial to my argument here. Whats in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other word would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare says. However, these workbooks do not smell good at all. 

Unfortunately, the workbooks in question, although it is said  to be DRAFT but distributed to ALL the teachers and students in TDSB have been written by some writers who were schooled in those two grammar texts, do not seem to be conversant in the modern concepts of linguistics, grammar or student centred teaching methods, and, more importantly, have been heavily influenced by the heavy dose of political ideology of the day. As a result, the prescriptive grammar has been introduced in Grade 1 onwards to the hapless students in the International Language classes whose knowledge and standard of Tamil qualify them as Tamil as a Second Language (TSL) students, similar to ESL. Hence, our teaching tools such as textbooks or workbooks, methods, grammar, vocabulary, syntax and all should be based on meeting the challenges of teaching TSL. We should always remember what our target group is.  Here it is the TSL students of the Internaltional Language classes, not the first language students. 

3.2 What Grammar? Prescriptive or Descriptive?

Any grammar we teach should be functional and relevant to the students need to speak and write correctly or acceptably. We should not and need not bombard them with old prescriptive grammar and aphorisms written for ancient or medieval Tamil versification and for literati.  It is so ridiculous that it can be likened to be imposing Latin grammar, structures and vocabulary to ESL students because some Latin educated teacher incorrectly thinking that old English vocabulary, structures and grammars are the basis for the development of modern English. 

3.3 Some controversy regarding diglossic languages: Its solutions

The Tamil language is one that belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is   diglossic, that is, it has both spoken and written forms like in modern Greek and in many old languages that have a rich oral and written tradition. As a result, the question of bridging those two forms into writing becomes crucial, and differences of opinions arise. However, modern linguists and common people win in the end in which spoken form is compromised to have a standard language form in writing and standard spoken form in speaking. For example, English has adopted RP, that is, Received Pronunciation, as an  acceptable form.  It is always the commoner who wins in a living language. Pundits, pedagogues and rulers not only lose but also become objects of ridicule.

3.4 Quixotic Experiments:

The workbook writers seem to be entertaining some quixotic ideas that they can resurrect old archaic and obsolete words, syntax, and grammar; create hundreds of ludicrous translations for those words that are already in USE to suit their ideology; go to classical grammar texts for writing sentence structures, and impose their ideology on young, innocent TSL students. These textbook thinkers assume that they can make these young  TSL students as guinea pigs for their weird and quixotical experiments. 

3.5 Deconstruction of the Writers Ideology:

In order to deconstruct the ideology and the attendant attitudes of these workbook writers we do not need to go too far. 

Everything that is classical, be it Tamil grammar, language, literature, great Emperors and kings of the past who waged wars and annexed other countries and cultures, one and two millennium years ago and their rule, is seen as PURE and GREAT and GLORIOUS. Anything that comes into contact with these classical aspects of Tamil is assumed to be impure and should be removed completely, going into their etymology and orthography of those words, and resurrect our language to the old classical glory. In other words, it is xenophobic and intolerant in nature to other cultures and languages. Marshall McLuhans global village would leave out one tiny hamlet in remote southern corner of India, and medium is the message would not touch this hamlet. 

This Tamil ideology and attendant attitudes come into conflict with all modern ideas of democracy, multiculturalism, and human rights, which we all dearly cherish in Canada.

All these writers are motivated by pure Tamil-centric attitudes and beliefs. These ideologues almost seem to be fanatically attached to preserving a false purity of the Tamil language. It borders around a fundamentalist idea of there being such a thing as a pure language, and any borrowing of any words from other languages, be it Sanskrit, Pali, Urudu, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, English or any language for that matter, from those language the Tamil language has borrowed words and ideas for more than two thousand years for so many reasons, is anathema to them. 

3.6 Following are some of the egregious, conspicuous and glaring errors and weaknesses I found in those workbooks:

However, in spite of all professed ideals, their workbooks style of writing proves that they are in serious need of refinement in all aspects of ordinary writing. Their style is clumsy and crude, banal and insipid.

(There are countless, roughly  more than 400 errors in them. I cannot give them all in the short period of time. I will only give a few.) 

3.6a Mispronunciation of proper nouns because of unnecessary transliteration.

Examples: Toronto, Ontario, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Foundland, Niagara, St. Lawrence, Saskatchewan, the Rockies, Prince Edward Islands, New Brownswick, Germany, Australia, Pakistan, Jack Cartier, Adrienne Clarkson, Hanukkah, Hockey, 

Gr7 Pg 61, Noodles, Leeks, Vancouver, Everest, Japan, Hudson, 

We, the Tamil Canadians and our children, are trying to perfect our pronunciation of proper nouns, whereas our workbook writers are artificially Tamilising them. An interesting observation made by one eminent English novelist, Anthony Burgess is in place here. He says, Tamils have a tendency to Tamilise English words and subsequently those words become so corrupt and unrecognizable that they dont look English at all. 

3.6b. Lack of Knowledge in Canadian Geography: Examples: 10 provinces and 3 Reserves, Gr 7 Pg.10, 31, 

3.6c. Lack of knowledge of Canadian school system and how they function: Three terms and in each of those terms the children have 3 exams like in Sri Lanka. Our schools are Principal-centric and everyone else works for him/her. 

3.6d. Lack of Knowledge and Misspelling of Canadian eminent people: Adrienne Clarkson, Jack Cartier Gr 6 Pg 31, 

3.6e. At least a hundred archaic and obsolete Tamil words that are purposely introduced replacing those words that are being in use in journalistic language and everyday usage . 
lion, cereal, plastic, vessel, 

3.6f. Introduction of prescriptive grammar in Grade 1 and sometimes randomly peppered in all levels of books without explanation or examples only in words. Their functional use is little or nothing. 

Worst Ex: Grade 3 Page 98. write verbs that show tense and gender. 

3.6g. Confusion of meanings of certain words which are not given in contexts and are above the students level. musical instrument, snake, fish, thirst abstract noun- sun for s/k students with pictures misrepresenting.  help unite Gr 3 Pg. 13, 

3.6h. Stilted, unsuitable, disjointed, unclear sentences and bizarre vocabulary and mumbo jumbo in nature.  They are not graded and/or structured according to the grades and level of students. (Grade 4 Pg 1, 6, 11,)  Grade 7 Pg 1, 5, 37, 42, Gr. 3 Pg. 32, We have to keep in our observation. a gibberish) Subject is far removed and else where. Gr 2 Pg. whose? Pg 32, Lions roar not shout Pg. 51

3.6i. Subjects do not agree with predicate in number, missing subjects, unclear subjects, 
Gr 7 Pg. 26, 66, 

3.6j. A number of typos, not at all proofread, leading to some ludicrous and hilarious meanings. unconnected words, tele vision, enter tainment, o cean, hos pital, tele phone, val ley, 

3.6k. Dreadful and literal translations of many English words into Tamil; unwanted, forced and undesirable, long, some illogical: Ex: ice cream, emergency, accident, refugees, Christmas, man, society, metal, plastics, Tsunami, cycle, petrol, lottery, fur coat, Gr 1 Pg 58, (Here you find some interesting words) band music, development, Gr 7. Pg 35, 42 animal lover, (hilarious), lakhs, alarm, 

3.6l. Insensitive and politically incorrect use of terms: Red Indians, Gr 6 Pg. 31

Gr 7 Pg 31, 42, Man has become animal lover. (insensitivity) 

3.6m. Introduction of chapters consisting of 10 couplets in Thirukkaral, a moral text written in old Tamil in 2 AD to Grade 3 to 7. Like introducing Shakespeares sonnets or metaphysical poetry to ESL 2. 

(There are a lot more. And. as the officials do not know Tamil I could not explain to them the intricacies and complexities of our grammar and structures. Moreover, they were not in a mood to listen, but to stonewall. And even the Tamil official present was a just an onlooker, and clueless about Tamil, and she is just another official present.) 

4. Conclusions and Recommendations:

4.1 Having carefully examined these workbooks, I, therefore, conclude that these books do irreparably more harm than any good to TSL students. I, therefore, recommend that these workbooks either be thoroughly edited, revised and rewritten, in other words overhauled, or completely withdrawn from use in classrooms. 

4.2 A new panel of textbook or workbook writers should be appointed to write and oversee. This panel should consist of educators, linguists, child psychologists, scholars, artists, classroom teachers, educated parents, equity screeners among others who are experienced with Canadian background knowledge.  This panel must be devoid of ideologues and fundamentalists. 

4.3 Any workbook must be fully tested for their teachability, suitability for the particular grade relating to vocabulary, and structures in classroom situations before it can be circulated to students. 



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