Sunday, Sep 25, 2022
Outlook.com
Review

Frown Jewels

This thoroughly entertaining and informative book reminds us of the jewel we snatched from the British crown: the English language.

Frown Jewels
Frown Jewels
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

As John shows us through innumerable examples and personal observations, India is home to thriving colonies of different Englishes, many of them surprisingly robust. The journey he takes us on goes from the most humble instances of the language, the classified advertisements of Raj-era journals, to the nasal twang of call centre-speak and on upwards to the heights of Booker-prize-winning prose. In the course of his extensive research, John argues persuasively that a desire to align ourselves with the ruling elite was the single most powerful reason for the great speed with which the weak little English seedling, with its dainty consonants and fussy grammar, took root in the richly variegated linguistic soil of nineteenth century India.

With a journalist’s flair for combining information with easy readability, John provides sharp, cheeky insights into the early flowering of the language, while maintaining a careful decorum in his own usage and abusage. It cannot have been easy: there are so many outrageous puns of the ‘backside’ kind to be attempted, so many rhyming-jingles of the ‘English-Pinglish’ kind to be created! But his gaze is kindly rather than cruel, as he surveys all the errors and omissions that ‘Indlish’ is heir to. However much we might wince at the mangled pronunciations of Indian newsreaders or sneer at the hybrid language of local banner advertisements, this book reminds us to be grateful to all the small-town babus and school teachers without whose early struggles with commas, colons and colonials, you and I would not be sharing this article today.

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