Kannada signboards lost in translation

Since reinforcement of the rule mandating shops to have 60% usage of Kannada in name boards, Bengaluru residents have been seeing words in the language they have never encountered before

Published - February 10, 2024 11:49 pm IST - Bengaluru

A signboard of a business establishment after being vandalised by the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (Narayana Gowda faction) members, in Bengaluru. File

A signboard of a business establishment after being vandalised by the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (Narayana Gowda faction) members, in Bengaluru. File | Photo Credit: PTI

A shop in Koramangala, Bengaluru, puts its Kannada name out on its signboard as “Angadi hesaru”, which literally translates to “shop’s name”. A fast-food restaurant in BTM Layout has a Kannada signboard that literally translates to “Friends’ food is in a corner”. In yet another place in Marathahalli, the word “smokers” is written as “smrokers” in Kannada. Such errors of both spelling and grammar on signboards have been spotted at many places around the city, also resulting in a meme fest online.

“I was walking past a hair salon in Indira Nagar which claimed to be a “global leader in hair restoration”. The Kannada version of restoration was punasathapanayalle, whichis not a word at all,” recalls Swapnil M.J., a digital marketer from R.T. Nagar. 

On January 4, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) reinforced its rules about signboards of commercial establishments being 60% in Kannada. Soon after, members of a Kannada outfit, the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, vandalised several commercial establishments in parts of North Bengaluru for not having visible Kannada signboards. The deadline to adhere to these rules was February 28. To give this rule legal teeth, a clause is expected to be added to the Kannada Language Comprehensive Development Act, 2022, in the upcoming Budget session.

While some citizens are happy that the 60% Kannada rule is being enforced, many say the BBMP should also make sure the names are written correctly. In a city as cosmopolitan as Bengaluru, not all business owners know the local language. Shop owners say they use online translation tools or entrust the responsibility of writing in Kannada to painters or board makers.

“If neither the shopkeeper nor the board maker knows Kannada, then such errors are inescapable. BBMP can set up an online platform where shop owners can verify the Kannada names beforehand,” suggested Mahendra R., a retired government employee from Puttenahalli.  

Kannada activists, who led the signboard campaign, have now started helping commercial establishments with the correction of errors. They also say that chains and big brands are generally accurate with Kannada names, but some individual businesses are struggling to get it right.  

“We appreciate people for putting in the effort to use the language. Now that they are putting it on their boards, if there are errors, the activists will help them to get it right. In the meantime, awareness should be raised through media and other means to let people know that translation sites are not accurate,” says Arun Javagal, a Kannada activist. 

A BBMP official says there is little they can do about spellings and grammar on Kannada boards as an enforcing agency.

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