Monthly Archives: October 2012

Custodians of the English Language? You, Me, Everybody, Nobody.

I was sitting in a coffee shop chatting with someone I had met on one of my travels. We were discussing about how does one understand India. I replied saying, one must immerse in the Indian culture, learn the language and observe. Easier said than done, I say. Especially the bit about language.

We Indians learn British English in school. Most of us remember our English language literature journey starting from Enid Blyton books and graduating over to over to British Classics and modern British literature. So, we learnt that people live in ‘flats’ in a building which may have ‘lifts’ and schedule is not pronounced as ‘skedule’. We put a ‘u’ in colour and labour.

Source: Macmillan

Somewhere along the way, came along Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham and the rest. Suddenly our television channels were flooded with American TV shows and soap operas. And then just about everyone started peppering their sentences with words like – whatever, yeah, really, like. And the British English went for a toss. Suddenly we were buying ‘apartments’ in ‘high rises’ which have ‘elevators’. We have ‘cell phones’ not ‘mobile phones’ and we go for ‘vacations’ not ‘holidays’. We are not the only ones who have this problem (which is a natural progression of a globalized, connected world). Apparently the Americans and British who live in each other’s country speak a mish-mash of both forms of the language.

As we Indians continue to bumble along the language highway, along the way, we were made to realize that we spoke something called the Indian English. We end sentences with ‘only’ or ‘na’ and use ‘basically’ everywhere in a sentence! We have singlehandedly invented the word prepone (ladies and gentlemen, it wasn’t in the dictionary before!). We love translating Hindi to English in our heads and thus we construct sentences in the present continuous tense.

While talking to our friends, unconsciously we slip in and out of Hindi and English, using a better word which conveys the meaning to construct the sentence. Most of our songs, ad slogans and film titles are in Hinglish.

So, who has the monopoly over English language? Apparently, no one and everyone. The English language evolves as it travel. It grows, it shrinks, it makes words obsolete and adds new words every year.

As a result our language is a mix of British, American and Indian English along with a smattering of Hindi (in Hindi speaking areas) and other local Indian languages. So if I were to advice someone to learn our language, I wonder what mongrel form of English and Hindi would they have to learn to understand the new globalized India! Interestingly, a news report in a British newspaper says that British staff in high commissions to India will be encouraged to learn our khichdi language. I say, good luck with that, dude!


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