Tamil Payitrum Murai

Professor's Classic on Tamil Teaching - 1957

[Considered to be Professor's  magnum opus  on Pedagogy]



Dr S Thiruvenkatachari

Professor of Education, Dr Algappa Chettiar Training College, Karaikudi, Tamilnadu

Prof N Subbu Reddiar has done much more than merely put out one more on the pedagogy of Tamil. Most of the books on the teaching of Tamil appear to present techniques and procedures ill-suited to the teaching of the mother-tongue, based on ideas appropriate to the teaching of foreign languages. Professor Reddiar has furnished almost the first book on Tamil teaching based on principles most appropriate to it. I know that he has developed many of these principles from his careful studies of Tamil grammar and prosody. It is a pity that most previous writers have ignored the basic material contained in the Tolkappiyam which, incidentally, is a mine of information on the pedagogy of Tamil. Professor Reddiar has broken new ground by resisting the temptation to which most earlier writers have succumbed, and resuscitated those educational principles  and procedures outlined in Classical Tamil Literature that are still valid according to the criteria of what goes by the name of Progressive Education. The Principles handed in the book are illustrated by apt examples from Tamil literature. As Professor Reddiar has given me a carte blanche in respect of the length of the Foreword, I am permitting myself to attempt an analysis of the original contribution he has made to the teaching of Tamil, chiefly by way of  helping teachers of other Indian languages to perceive the possibility of new dynamic approaches to the teaching of their own languages.

Professor Reddiar has identified the objectives of the learning of the mother-tongue from the mass of general objectives which hold good for all languages. He has rightly emphasised the role of the mother-tongue in providing wholesome emotional sustenance to teh growing learners. The distinction between a foreign language and the mother-tongue seems to lie in the possibility of greater emotionalisation through the mother-tongue. The mother-tongue patently serves the functional purpose of communication; but a subtle principle implied it is character, which is often missed is, that it conveys something most intimate to the life and experience of the learner, while the experiences gained through a foreign language are exotic and vicarious, through sensible by the process of comparison and imagination. The art of translation must remain an imperfect art even with the most perfect of multi-linguists because, while words may be translatable for practical purposes, most concepts must remain untranslatable. It is not the perfect nature of the translation in any accredited translation of a great work that helps one to see the beauty of the original in the translation. The superior education and imagination of the reader and teh circumstances of his being a good student of the original make him see in the translation what does not really exist, viz, the beauty of the original. GU Pope's translation of the Kural, for instance, can never be as perfect as Tiruvalluvar's Tamil Kural. But if the Pope is remembered better than any other translator of the Kural it is because the translation has literary value in English. It seems to be an axiom that to enjoy a work of literature there can be no short-circuiting of the process by reading it in translation. There is as much difference between an original work and its best translation as there is between as acutal visit to a place and seeing the place in a three-dimensional picture.

I have said so much about translation only to come back to the position that the study of the mother-tongue is most necessary for the proper building up of the emotions of the children. Psychic imbalance, lack of character, a negative, nihilistic attitude and frustration, result from a wrong approach to the question of the education of the emotions. It seems to be true that character is the product of a good knowledge of the mother-tongue. The foreign language can undoubtedly enlarge the imaginative horizon of the learner, and add to his fund of knowledge; but it can never substitute the mother-tongue as the most nourishing sustenance for emotional development.

Professor Reddiar has developed this theme in the chapter on 'Objectives' by discussing the personality values of the mother-tongue. The mother-tongue is the entrance to the true life of the community which has a direct and permanent influence on the individual. It is a means of enriching one's social usefulness and culture. It is also a means of self-correction and self-education. Language necessarily leads to literature, and also the whole literary heritage. A thorough grasp of the mother-tongue is a means of participation in the pride and glory of several generations which the heritage mirrors up before the eager participant. A nation of  character can be guaranteed if the mother-tongue is given the first place in the educational system, and every citizen is helped to participate in the enjoyment of the literary heritage of the mother-tongue.

Discussing the value of oral work, Professor Reddiar has rightly emphasised the role of questioning as an important technique in the promotion of oral competencies. I remember a teacher of mine in the Columbia University telling me that the correct measure of the best class-room teaching is the skill to use the question technique. How many teachers use the technique for any other purpose than for killing time ruthlessly? Good questioning is mutual inspiring. While the teacher's questions, in the ideal set-up, result in both learning and internalisation of knowledge, the students' questions, whatever they are, result in improved teaching. Questioning is not the prerogative of the teacher. Unfortunately, in the Western pedagogical tradition, questioning is indicated mostly as a weapon in the hands of the teacher. Questioning, in its technical connotation, means mostly the questioning by the teacher. There is very little said about student-questioning. No doubt, in recent times, especially after Dewey codified the scattered bits of the democratic philosophy of education and made it the basis of a number of practicable class-room techniques, American teachers have realised the educational value of student-questioning. But it was only in India that the true value of questioning as an educational technique was developed. The concepts of vina and prasna are at least as old as the earliest books in Tamil and Sanskrit literatures extant. Much in the heritage of Tamil literature has been the inspiration of student-questioning. There is the convention of many books being in the question-answer form; and one would suspect that the convention itself developed from a real practice. Parvati is the questioning student par excellence, and Iswara is the answering teacher par excellence, be it Astrology, Astronomy, Medicine, Physics or Metaphysics. The author has done very well by giving this technique the pride of place in oral work.

Another aspect of oral work which has come in for detailed attention at the hands of our author relates to the need for speech education as an integral part of language education. Not many, even among Tamilians, may know that the word Tamil language is among the first languages of the world to have systematised its phonetics in the manner found in the Tolkappiyam and later grammatical works.  Ignorance of this has led to disastrous consequences. Though, unlike in Sanskrit, the letter symbols of Tamil do not cover all sounds, some of the letters in combination in a word do have sounds other than the basic ones for which they stand in the alphabetical system. Thus, we write in Tamil Ka, m, pa, n. In combination as a word unit we do not pronounce it or transliterate it as 'Kampan' but as 'Kamban. Another instance is pa, n, ta, m. This is not transliterated as 'Pantam' but as 'Pandam'. Ko, n, tu is not to be transliterated as 'Kontu' but as 'Kondu'. Va, a, t, aa, n is not 'Vantaan' but 'Vandaan'. We could multiply instances in respect of the multiple sound-purposes of certain letters in combination in words. Professor Reddiar has devoted the requisite length to the important of the 'Oli Iyal ' in Tamil. I am not aware of any other scholar in Tamil who has emphasised the need for codifying the phonetic principles of Tamil as they are available in the earliest grammatical works; and the day mat not be far off when Professor Reddiar's inspiration produces a Daniel Jones for Tamil.

The discussion on oral and silent reading is really scholarly. The author has distinguished three types of reading: developmental, recreational and functional. Language education is, to a large extent, self-education in so far as it relates to the mother-tongue. The role of the teacher will be as much a negative one as it would be a positive one. The negative aspect of the teaching work will include the undoing of the wrong influence of the home and the community in speech and writing. The mother-tongue, in its spoken form at home and in the community, is not only full of colloquialisms but also regional variations. Before any visit to England I had imagined that in the whole of the British Isles there was one uniform way of peaking the English language. But when I visited the difference part of the country, I discovered there are regional variations. I was left wondering which was the standard form. In the United States where English has been accepted as the language of the nation with certain modifications, the variations in speech result from two factors. One is that the Americans have developed a basic speech pattern with inflections, modulations and pauses, determined more or less uniformly. Another is, that even within this uniformity there is influence of the original mother-tongue of the community. A predominantly Italian community domiciled in an area shows itself up by the way it speaks the national language which has also become the community's mother tongue. There can be no denying the fact that there are regional variations in respect of Tamil speech also. Certain mistakes of speech are perpetuated in each ear, and Professor Reddiar has listed these. The function of the teacher is to wean the learner from such incorrect habits as may be inculcated in the home and community environment of the learner. The positive role relates to the inculcation of the right language habits. But even the best teaching by the ablest teacher can only be a beginning. It must be completed by the reading of the three types of reading materials suggested by Professor Reddiar. No modern educationist will underrate the value of library reading as integral to the process of learning. What the teacher initiates, the library completes. The pity of it, however, is that, even in the year of grace 1964, the library is considered a luxury in not a small number of high schools in Tamilnad. A year ago I assisted in a survey of libraries, and the revelation shocked me. Only a few schools could boast of anything like a library. Some schools have a few almirahs containing books most of which are of no use either to the teachers or to the students. Even if we should concede that a collection of books, whatever they are, is a library, and apply this definition to defend an unhappy situation in our schools,  there can be no escaping the fact that the number of good Tamil books in the libraries of most schools can be counted on the fingers of both hands. The current harvest in the field of Tamil literature is as rich as it should be. Excellent reading materials has been put out in recent years in Tamil; but very few schools have bestowed any thought on the question of organising a good Tamil section in the library.

The section on Tamil literature appears to be the best part of the book. I am particularly impressed with the author's treatment of poetry. He rightly emphasises the role of poetry as an instrument of educating the emotions. He warns the pedagogical surgeons among Tamil Pandits against performing purposeless surgery on beautiful poems in the name of grammar and paraphrase. Poetry is not for dissection; it is for enjoyment. It is one of the major ingredients in aesthetic education.

In this connection, I would commend the following books of Professor Reddiar for careful study. Kavignan Ullam, Kalingathupparani Aaraichi, Kaathal Oviyangal, and Kavithai Anubhavam.

The place of grammar, the need to promote expression through the written word and the development of creative writing in Tamil have received really expert treatment at the author's hands. I am fascinated by the section on 'Teacher Planning' in which he advocates the preparation of a blue-print of the whole year's work by the teacher. I should like to congratulate the learned author on his masterly treatment of the concept of Evaluation in its appropriateness to Tamil.

Professor Reddiar has not however, discarded what is of essence in the writing of experts in Linguistics. The merit of his work lies in its eclectic approach, coalescing what is still valid in the traditional approach and what Western educational thinking has to furnish as its cream. The bibliography at the end of the book is the key to the way the author's mind must have worked at the time of his writing the book.

The glossary of technical terms many of which he has coined, must prove the forerunner to more exhaustive glossaries.

I am thankful to Professor Reddiar for the honour he has done me by asking me to write the Foreword to his magnum opus. The value of this work is bound to increase with the greater realization of the new contribution it has made and the new vistas it has opened up to the teachers of Tamil for whom it is primarily intended.