Every language has to borrow from other languages or be productive in itself to come up with new words to keep pace with new developments and technologies, according to Gregory James, professor, Language Centre, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and author of the book ‘Colporul: History of Tamil Dictionaries.'

Prof. James, who is here to participate in the World Classical Tamil Conference, told The Hindu on Friday that since one cannot stop the march of progress, one has to be open to change even in languages.

“Language will grow only when it responds to new developments. That does not mean the language is getting diluted or worse. It should only be viewed as change. English, as a language, has borrowed a lot but now it is in itself productive.”

Explaining the English language's technique to become more expansive in terms of vocabulary, he says it has reworked on the existing words; expanded the field to include additional meaning for the same word and also started using metaphors and expanding metaphors.

He suggests the same model should be adapted by the Tamil language. Pointing out that people are fixated about borrowing from other languages, he says it is not necessary to borrow since much can be derived new from within the language.

Conceding that whenever there is a suggestion of a change there is resistance, Prof. James says what is a natural outcome cannot be avoided. Still, change is inevitable if the language has to progress.

Giving examples of how the English language has effectively gone in for metaphoric expansion of existing words (mouse, cut and paste), he adds that such words have become so popular in computing that they have started to be accepted as the primary words. This he attributes to the influence of technology and computerisation.

Touching upon the fact that Tamil is still conventional in including new vocabulary in response to the latest technology, he says even though antiquity of a language should be celebrated, its enrichment should not be deterred by stagnation.

“Enrichment does not mean just adding new words to the existing vocabulary, but it is actually a process of give and take. When you gain some, you lose some,” he concludes.