Book Review

Tamil Handbook by G.U.Pope

Today while going to Higginbotham’s bookshop in Anna Salai, Chennai I spotted this book. Titled “A Handbook of Tamil Language” by Rev.G.U.Pope and published by Asian Educational Services, the black leather hardbound book attracted me towards it. I bought the book for Rs.545.

Born in Canada in 1820, G.U.Pope came to Tamil Nadu and spent nearly his entire life learning, mastering the local language. Though he translated many works of literature from Tamil to English, he is remembered even today by all Tamilians for his work on translating Tirukkural from Tamil to English, which made the 2000-year-old work popular throughout the world.

The first edition of this book was published in 1855 in (then) Madras, the book gives a solid introduction to Tamil Language, it’s history and usage with lots of everyday exercises. In the Preface to the first edition, the Author says “Do not proceed too quickly. An entirely new language requires great accuracy in the mastering of its elements. Begin to talk – though with stammering lips – as soon as possible – the very first day. Never speak English to a native if you can help it. Why say ‘Salt’ when you can say ‘உப்பு? Do not be afraid of making mistakes“. What timeless recommendations!. No doubt the handbook was prescribed reading for the young British civilians appointed to Madras for more than half-a-century.

In one of the lessons, the author gives over 8 variety of ways in which the English phrase “man eats to live” can be rendered in Tamil, like in “மனிதன் பிழைக்கும் படிக்குச் சாப்படுகிறான்”. Overall a must read even today for all students of Tamil.