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Vocative Expressions and Addressing Terms
There are specific ways of calling someone who is at a distance from the speaker but within ear shot. When calling by name, the name will undergo a change in one of the syllables, depending upon the ending. There are also certain terms of address like அம்மா, அப்பா, தம்பி etc., which lose their original kinship meaning and simply act as honorific address terms. Using the word 'hey' as in English, and a Tamil version similar to this as ஓய் are considered very impolite in Tamil. ஹேய் ஜான்! இங்கே வா 'Hey John! Come here' is considered very disrespectful in Tamil. Only a boss would call his/her servent with 'hey! or ஹேய்.
In general vowel length is stretched to denote the vocative. Vowel ending names are used in vocative expressions by stretching the final vowel to a maximum length.
கமலா would be கமலாஆஆ
செல்வி would be செல்வீஈஈ
ராஜூ would be ராஜூஊஉ
மேரி would be மேரீஈஈ and so on
In names ending in a consonant the vowel in the last syllable will be stretched.
ஜான் would be ஜாஆஆன்
கோபால் would be கோபாஆஆல்
In multiple syllable ன் ending words, the ன் is dropped and the final vowel is stretched.
நாராயணன் would be நாராயணாஆஆ
சேதுபாண்டியன் would be சேதுபாண்டியாஆஆ
கண்ணன் is கண்ணாஆஆ
In ம் ending names, the vowel in the last syllable stretched with nasalization.
மங்களம் is மங்களஆஆம்
சுந்தரம் is சுந்தரஆஆம்
These vocative forms can be used only among the equals or for adults calling the youngsters. It is disrespectful for any young person to call an adult by their name. In order for younger persons to call adults, or to call to a stranger, kinship terms such as தாத்தா, பாட்டி, அப்பா, அம்மா, அக்கா, தம்பி, அய்யா (to call a superior by a servant), சார் (to call an educated person) etc., are employed. Indeed, as we have seen, Tamil culture, as with many others, is very sensitive to social relations and appropriate interactions between individuals. Such social relations are often explicitly marked in how individuals are addressed and referred to: e.g., the use of pronouns such as நீங்கள் vs. நீ, அவன் vs. அவர், etc. as well as in imperative constructions போ vs. போங்கள், வராதெ vs. வராதீர்கள், etc. Kinship terms are no exception and can be used in Tamil to address not only actual kin, but to anyone else as well in conversation. Such 'fictive' kinship can be used for showing or not showing respect, conveying formality or informality, or creatively for insulting or complementing, etc. For example, one might refer to an older gentleman as அப்பா, an older woman as அம்மா. Similarly, to a young boy/girl as தம்பி/தங்கை or an older person, but not old enough to be one's father/mother, as அண்ணன்/அக்கா. Proper care should be taken to use these to address others, otherwise using them inappropriately could result in a misunderstanding.
For example, using தாத்தா on someone who is about forty or fifty years old might make that person very angry. One has to be about sixty to qualify to be a தாத்தா (cf. in English using the term 'grandpa', 'Pop'). Also, note that the person who is called as தாத்தா doesn't have to have grandsons or granddaughters to be called with this term. Also, only people under forty-years-old can call a person at the age of sixty or above as தாத்தா. A sixty-year-old person calling another sixty-year-old person தாத்தா is awkward. The same applies to the use of பாட்டி and other terms. For example, if one wants to call someone அக்கா, that person has to make sure he or she is much younger that the person one is addressing.
The terms அய்யா, அப்பா, அம்மா and அக்கா are also used with a reduction of first syllable and added in another word like என்னப்பா 'what's up respectable person', வாங்கம்மா 'welcome respectable madam' and so on. These terms can occur on their own, or be added to verbs.
Any stranger addressing a woman:
இந்தப் பழம் நல்லாருக்கும்மா! வாங்குங்கம்மா! 'Madam! this fruit is good. Please buy it (madam).
Any stranger addresing a man:
அய்யா! வாங்கய்யா! நல்லாருக்கீங்களாய்யா? 'Sir! Welcome. Are you doing fine?
Youngsters addressing educated male - either known or strangers!
சார்! வாங்க சார்! இங்க உக்காருங்க சார்! காப்பி கீப்பி குடிக்கிறீங்களா சார்! 'Sir! please come (sir). Please have a seat (sir). Would you like to drink cofee or something (sir)?
In addition to the honorific deictics and the kinship terms, Tamil also utilizes a number of other address terms. Like the kinship terms, a these forms are often attached to the ends of verbs or used freely to address individuals:
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