English - Kannada - English translation fiasco!

November 28, 2022

English is a funny language. With just 26 alphabets/letters, the 21 consonants have to almost entirely depend on the five vowels to form a proper word, though a tiny set of words can still be formed without using a vowel. On the other hand, Kannada, described as the ‘queen of all languages,’ spoken much before English evolved is comparatively rich with modern Kannada consisting of 51 letters made up of 16 vowels and 35 consonants. While the former is made up of words with silent letters that is not pronounced, the latter hasn’t any as every word is pronounced which makes it even richer.

After more than two years hiatus whereby I could not fly anywhere due to the pandemic that engulfed the world, complicated by strict rules in the over-regulated country I reside, August 2022 saw me in India travelling via the United Arab Emirates. During this trip, I discovered many translation errors on street name boards and elsewhere between the world’s most used language English and one of the world’s oldest languages Kannada which I would like to share.

‘Bengaluru’ and ‘Tumakuru’ hit for a six:

Kempe Gowda, a feudatory ruler under the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire, would be a bit ashamed if he was alive today to see the city he founded has had different versions of the city’s name on the same name board indicating places. The huge place name board on the way from his namesake international airport towards the city centre has two different translations of the official name of how the IT capital of India is spelt. While the first square has got the name ‘Bengaluru’ right, the last square which is a repetition of the first has gone for a toss, the ‘e’ being replaced by an ‘a’ for some strange reason and thus turning it into ‘Bangaluru,’ the Kannada word however remaining unchanged.

Similarly, the official name of Tumkur, approx. 70 kms northwest of Bengaluru is ‘Tumakuru.’ From the same name board under discussion on the third square from left, the previous name the city was known has been painted in white in English letters with Kannada word being spot on. Going with the Kannada version on the board, the translation should not have gotten wrong by the authorities with the name reflecting as it was known before November 1, 2014. Now, if the same norm is followed, then the name 'Bengaluru’ will become Bangalore which is incorrect.

All this confusion with regards to the place names on a single name board. One of the ‘full stops’ in the Kannada abbreviation on the second square has also gone astray.

‘Kasturba and Kasturaba’ Kannada translation mismatch:

The first photo is of ‘Kasturba Hospital’ in Manipal, an educational hub which is over an hour’s drive from Mangaluru. I had to pay a visit to the hospital to see a relative of mine who was treated there. My circle of friends who have pursued their education in various Institutions under Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) say that there are not many with the Kannada translation of ‘Kasturba’ around. The full form of the Medical College’s name has been overwhelmingly in English without a Kannada translation on the Institution’s buildings. Moreover, the abbreviation KMC (Kasturba Medical College) is more often in use.

Coming straight to the point, the translation to Kannada on the hospital board looks faultless as compared to the similar name given to a road in downtown Bengaluru. ‘Kasturba Road’ lies between MG Road to the north and JC Road to the south. A 600-year-old Ganesha temple, commonly known as ‘Vehicle Ganesha’ is by far the proud occupant of this road. During my upbringing in Bengaluru, this road was known as ‘Sydney Road.’

I am not going to write about the origin of the word ‘Kasturba’ in these instances. I am mulling about the English to Kannada translation. While the hospital translation from English to Kannada is perfect, it appears the translation of the road has gone a bit awry. I for one believe the painter got it a bit incorrect here with the Kannada alphabet ‘Ra’ whereby instead of the full alphabet with a complete pronunciation, it should have curved ‘inside up’ for a semi-pronunciation and that would have been enough.

The translations in Bunder, Mangaluru:

If you want to get into the complexities of Kannada - English - Kannada translations and have a field day, our own Bunder is the place you need to pay a visit. Walking through the dusty streets, I came across so many variations of translations that were so musical that at one point I almost forgot my own English and Kannada, a little that I know.

I am not looking at any other mis-spellings or translations on this board other than the main subject. Concentrating at the proper noun AMBAR translated into Kannada goes by the pronunciation of ‘Am-baar,’ that may not have been what was intended.

Departure Vs Departing:

Inside the Bengaluru International Airport, once you have checked in and handed your boarding pass, walking right across you find this gate. Of course, you are not supposed to walk straight and enter here, instead need to take the escalator or the elevator on your left to the first floor and proceed for your security clearance and other procedures before you board your international flight. I am pretty early before travel to offset any eleventh-hour niggles. In this instance, it was a perfect world. Getting dropped from the suburb of Jayamahal Extension, surprisingly did not encounter any traffic bottlenecks on the road on the way to the Airport. It was a smooth check-in with the luggage weight within the permissible limits. With so much time in hand, it was now time to relax and that is when I took one of the seats opposite this gate to make a few calls and send some messages.

Oops! What I was staring at: ‘Departure Passengers,’ the term used to describe things rather than any living creatures. That didn’t sound right. The Kannada sentence was faultless. When it was translated into English, it had somehow taken a beating. Some English Vidwan thought it should be ‘Departure’ instead of the correct term ‘Departing.’ Either the sentence should have read as ‘DEPARTING passengers are not allowed through this gate’ or ‘Passengers are not allowed through this DEPARTURE gate.’

Vittal Mallya Road:

This road, known as ‘Grant Road’ during yesteryears holds a lot of memories. St. Joseph’s Indian High School where I did my middle-schooling is located on this road with the then address as ‘23 Grant Road,’ sounding familiar even to this day. On the location where the current name boards stand, where there was only a footpath those days, I might have walked a hundred times with my friends on the way to Cubbon Park on the one side and towards the Kanteerava Stadium on the other.

This road houses the UB City - the luxury business district in Bengaluru, with a total built up area of 16 lakh sq ft completed by the UB Tower, Kingfisher Plaza, Concorde, Canberra and Comet Blocks. The posh road is named after Vittal Mallya, a notable Mangalurean, a proud son of Bantwal, the founder and former Chairman of India-based United Breweries Group who passed away at the young age of 59 in October 1983. The road is also maintained by the Conglomerate.

The remarkable thing is the name in English is identical on both the boards and that’s how the Entrepreneur’s name is spelt. What mesmerises me is when the identical names in English is translated into Kannada, it goes haywire. How do the two street boards placed merely a metre apart get two different Kannada translations, I fail to understand!

I will leave it to you to determine whether the translation on the yellow board is accurate or the one on the blue is correct or you respectfully disagree with both the translations.




By Stephen P D’Souza, Melbourne
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Comment on this article

  • V. Kavya, Sirsi

    Sat, Feb 11 2023

    Great explanation and lovely writing✍️. I really appreciate the way in which you expressed these facts. Keep up the good work ☺ Thank you!

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangaluru / Melbourne

    Sat, Dec 03 2022

    Many thanks Fr Jossie. Whenever you pass that way and have a glance at those boards, you will perhaps remember me 😊

  • Jossie D'Mello, SJ, Bengaluru

    Fri, Dec 02 2022

    Thanks, Stephen, for the interesting article on translation fiasco. I enjoy reading your articles. Though I stay close to Vittal Mallya Road, I had never noticed two different Kannada translations on two street boards. You have a good eye for detail.

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangaluru / Melbourne

    Fri, Dec 02 2022

    Good observations Priya. Yes, people can write what they want and what they know. The point that I am stressing is the ‘official names’ should be correct. You have written Tumkur as your place, no qualms about it, but officially it is ‘Tumakuru.’ Three cheers to you for endorsing the ‘Vittal Mallya’ kannada translation on the yellow board. I for one would still think there should be a ‘ta’ adi-votthu of the same alphabet family to make it accurate on the same board. I am told the road is maintained by United Breweries & Group – if then I wonder, has not anyone of authority from that Company noticed the discrepancies of the name of its founder?

  • Smitha priya, Tumkur

    Fri, Dec 02 2022

    Now a days,people are thinking wt v know that is always right.last vittal mallya road on yellow board is right. Bt beside that y write like that i am surprising abt that tq sir for correction

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangaluru / Melbourne

    Thu, Dec 01 2022

    Thank you for the appreciation of my article Maria. For the unversed, my second surname is 'Prabhu' and the nuns in the school I studied over there used to call me thus instead of my first name for a reason best known to them.

  • Maria Dsouza, Bangalore

    Thu, Dec 01 2022

    Very interesting. A good read. Never thought of it. Keep writing Prabhu. Keen observer must say.

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangaluru / Melbourne

    Thu, Dec 01 2022

    Thanks for your comment and observations Rita. My take is they should not take a funny form when translated from English to other languages or vice-versa as they are pretty much straight forward. What is the need of the hour however is, a qualified person in the Authority should be in charge of this. He should do enough research, get it right, execute it properly and most importantly quality it once the work is done.

  • Rita, Germany

    Thu, Dec 01 2022

    Interesting topic which we hardly think but daily use.These translations to other languages from English takes such a funny form ,.For example we mangaloreans now learnt some english ,but when we talk we mix english with konkani like GO-RE come re ...We never think of it ,but as professionals like you ,takes a deep breath and think over.Somehow have no time and stress ourselves to say whether it is right or not.But when we see funny translations yes we laugh and go away.Good thoughts from you.

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangaluru / Melbourne

    Wed, Nov 30 2022

    With regards to the last photo query, my opinion is: the kannada street translations on both the yellow and blue boards are partly correct. I would say if a similar ‘ta’ adi-votthu is placed under the parent alphabet 'TA' on the yellow board, that would be a perfect translation of the street name as compared to the one on the blue board. Cheers!

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Mangaluru / Melbourne

    Tue, Nov 29 2022

    Many thanks Ben, Alzira, Alwyn and Jeevan for leaving your comments. Yes BEN, I am still around! Yet another great observation ALZIRA. ALWYN, thank you for the wonderful coffee just opposite those boards in ‘Café Coffee Day – The Square.’ Do you concur with the translation? JEEVAN, fingers crossed!

  • Jeevan, Bengaluru

    Tue, Nov 29 2022

    Hope the relevant authorities in Bengaluru will read this article and correct those translations.

  • alwyn, Mangalore

    Tue, Nov 29 2022

    Dear Stephan, congratulations, very well written, you have captured all the great names of our beautiful State. Good to read and recall the same, Vittal Mallya road, was your last click when u were in town. Hope to read many more articles in the near future. Good Luck Steve.

  • Alzira Mascarenhas, Mangalore/Melbourne, Australia

    Tue, Nov 29 2022

    Steve, yet another inspirational article touching the core of English and Kannada language. Congratulations !!! Transformation and translation of several words to make English version 'Kannadish', is bit hard to digest as growing up with former version still sticks in our minds rather than words ending with 'uru', example Bengaluru, Mysuru etc. Translations can be tricky as you have mentioned is perfectly right. Perhaps it will take some time to get used to new translations as adjusting to change is not always easy. Thank God we have not migrated from 'Kannadish' to 'Canadish' and hope this does not happen. All the best for you next one !

  • Ben D'Souza Prabhu, Mangalore, Bombay Bandra now in Canada

    Mon, Nov 28 2022

    A Very Interestinng Episode in these Lovely Writings my dear Loving friend, Stephen ! Good to know, you are still there ?

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