Madras Bashai (Tamil: மெட்ராஸ் பாஷை, lit.'Madras Language') was the variety of the Tamil language spoken by native people in the city of Chennai (then known as Madras) in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.[1] It was sometimes considered a pidgin, as its vocabulary was heavily influenced by Hindustani, Indian English, Telugu, Malayalam, and Burmese; it is not mutually intelligible with any of those except for Tamil, to a certain extent.

Since the advent of urbanization of the city especially since the Indian Independence, due to large immigrations into the city from different parts of Tamil Nadu, the Madras Bashai variety has become closer to normalized standard spoken Tamil. Today, the transformed variety is majorly called as Chennai Tamil.

Madras Bashai evolved largely during the past three centuries. It grew in parallel with the growth of cosmopolitan Madras. After Madras Bashai became somewhat common in Madras, it became a source of satire for early Tamil films from the 1950s, in the form of puns and double entendres. Subsequent generations in Chennai identified with it and absorbed English constructs into the dialect, making it what it is today's Chennai Tamil.


The word Madras Bhashai is a compound word, where Madrās is derived from the classical name of the city Madrāsapaṭnam, and bhāṣā is the Sanskrit word for "language", nativized as bāṣai.


Madras Bashai evolved largely during the past three centuries. With its emergence as an important city in British India when they recovered it from the French and as the capital of Madras Presidency, the contact with western world increased and a number of English words crept into the vocabulary. Many of these words were introduced by educated, middle-class Tamil migrants to the city who borrowed freely from English for their daily usage.[2] Due to the presence of a considerable population of Telugu, Hindi–Urdu and many other language-speakers, especially, the Gujaratis, Marwaris and some Muslim communities, some Hindustani and Telugu words, too, became a part of Madras Bashai. At the turn of the 20th century, though preferences have since shifted in favor of the Central and Madurai Tamil dialects, the English words introduced during the early 20th century have been retained.[2]

Madras Bashai is generally considered a dialect of the working class like the Cockney dialect of English. Lyrics of gaana songs make heavy use of Madras Bashai.


A few words unique to Madras Bashai are given below; an Internet project, urban Tamil, has set out to collect urban Tamil vocabulary.

Madras bashai Standard Tamil Meaning
Appāla (அப்பால) piṟagŭ (பிறகு) Afterwards[3]
Annāṇḍa (அந்நாண்ட) aṅkē (அங்கே) There
Gānḍŭ (காண்டு) kōpam (கோபம்) Angern
Daulattu (தௌலத்து) gettu, kauravam (கெத்து, கௌரவம்) Respect, Honour
Gēttu (கேத்து) āṇavam (ஆணவம்) Swagger
Galaṭṭā (கலாட்டா) kalavaram (கலவரம்) Commotion
Iṭṭunu (இட்டுனு) kūṭṭiṭṭu


Take (me along)
Merasal (மெர்சல்) accam (அச்சம்), bhayam (பயம்) Fear
Mokka/Mokkai (மொக்கை/மொக்க) Nanṟāga Illai (நன்றாக இல்லை) Lousy
Ḍabāykkiṟatŭ (டபாய்க்கிறது) ēmāṟṟugiṟadŭ (ஏமாற்றுகிறது) To fool
Kalāykkiṟatŭ (கலாய்க்கிறது) kiṇḍal ceivadŭ (கிண்டல் செய்வது) To tease
Gujjāllŭ (குஜ்ஜால்லு) makiḻcci (மகிழ்ச்சி), santōam (சந்தோஷம்) Happiness
Nikkarŭ (நிக்கரு) kāl caṭṭai (கால் சட்டை) Knickers
Sema (செம) aṟputam (அற்புதம்) Richness; colloquially, superb
Sōkkā irukītŭ (ஸோக்கா இருகீது ) Nanṟāga irukkiṟatŭ (நன்றாக இருக்கிறது) Looking sharp
Words borrowed from other languages
Madras bashai Meaning Source
Dubākkūr (டுபாக்கூர்) Fraudster From the English word dubash which, itself, is a derivative of the Hindusthani word "Do bhasha", usually, used to refer to interpreters and middlemen who worked for the British East India Company. As in the early 19th century, dubashes such as Avadhanum Paupiah were notorious for their corrupt practices, the term "dubash" gradually got to mean "fraud"[4]
Nainā (நைனா) Father From the Telugu word Nāyanāh[3]
Apīṭṭŭ (அபீட்டு) To stop From the English word, "abate"
Aṭṭŭ (அட்டு) Worst From the Burmese term အတု meaning 'worst'
Bēmānī (பேமானி) Swearword; meaning shameless Derived from the Urdu word bē imān meaning "a dishonest person"
Gabbŭ (கப்பு) Stink Derived from colloquial Telugu Gobbu
Gammŭ (கம்மு) Silent Derived from colloquial Telugu gommuni
Biskōttŭ (பிஸ்கோத்து) Sub-standard Derived from the English word "biscuit"
Ḍabbŭ (டப்பு) Money Derived from Telugu[3]
Duḍḍŭ (துட்டு) Money Derived from Kannada
Galījŭ (கலீஜு) Yucky Derived from the Urdu word "Galeez", meaning dirty
Kasmālam (கஸ்மாலம்) Dirty Derived from the Sanskrit word "Kasmalam", meaning dirty, discardable
Bējāṟŭ (பேஜாறு) Problem Derived from Urdu, meaning displeased
Majā (மஜா) Excitement or fun Derived from the Urdu word "Maza" meaning "enthusiasm"
ōsi (ஓஸி) Free-of-cost From English. During the East India Company rule, letters posted on behalf of the East India Company did not bear postage stamps, but had the words 'On Company's Service' or 'OC' written on them. The word "O. C." gradually got to mean something which was offered free-of-cost[3][5]

In film

Madras Bashai is used in many Tamil movies after the 1950s. Actors such, Manorama, J. P. Chandrababu, Loose Mohan, Thengai Srinivasan, Surulirajan, Janagaraj, Cho Ramaswamy, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi, Dhanush, Suriya, Santhanam, Vikram, Attakathi Dinesh, Vijay and Ajith Kumar are well known for using it. Representative films are Maharasan, Bommalattam, Sattam En Kaiyil, Thoongathey Thambi Thoongathey, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Thirumalai, Vasool Raja MBBS, Attahasam, Pammal K. Sambandam, Chennai 600028, Siva Manasula Sakthi, Theeradha Vilaiyattu Pillai, Saguni, Attakathi, Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru, Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara, Ai, Madras, Kasethan Kadavulada, Anegan, Vedalam, Maari, Maari 2, Aaru, Sketch, Vada Chennai and Bigil.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Smirnitskaya, Anna (March 2019). "Diglossia and Tamil varieties in Chennai". doi:10.30842/alp2306573714317. Retrieved 4 November 2022. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b Vijayakrishnan, K. G. (1995). "Compound Typology in Tamil". Theoretical perspectives on word order in South Asian languages. Centre for Study of Language. pp. 263–264. ISBN 9781881526490.
  3. ^ a b c d Pillai, M. Shanmugham. Tamil Dialectology. pp. 34–36.
  4. ^ Guy, Randor (15 June 2003). "Inspiration from Madras". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 16 November 2003.
  5. ^ "Footprints of the Company". The Hindu. 28 August 2005. Archived from the original on 7 December 2005.
  6. ^ "Language Found in Transition". The New Indian Express. Archived from the original on 25 September 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2018.