April 23, 2021
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Yengyo, Desi Inquilab?

We can pardon generously when a Bengali says he loves to have, "Balls Ice cream" or when our Northeastern brothers and sisters sing, "God shave the queen". And it's pretty wokay when our Tamil Malini Iyer Sridevi states matter-of-factly, "the sun ris

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Yengyo, Desi Inquilab?
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The latest version of the Oxford English Dictionary has a generous desi dose, with 40 Hindi words finding a place in the English language. The dictionary includes entries such as bhasha, desi, naam bapu, chacha, langar, chakka, srimati and sindoor, ekdam, inquilab.

Apart from common Hindi words such as natak and chawal , other Indian words making their presence felt in the dictionary are bhadralok (Bengali for gentleman), tappa (Punjabi folk song), and Iyengar (a type of hathayoga ).
 
"The aim is to cover the English language based on the entire English-speaking world," says co-editor of the new dictionary Angus Stevenson, whose favourites among the Indian additions are roko (referring to protests) and history-sheeter (a person with a criminal record. 

***

But then there are words you won't find in any dictionary. Or even if you do, they would mean quite not what they are supposed to.

I have heard printers call a design "alwar" because it is "all over". The campus lingo has always had delightful expressions such as BTH (Bhaisaheb Turned Hep) and KLPD (which is too lewd, for me, to be spelt out) or BHMB (Baraa Hoke Maal Banega). Add to that the recent Campus slang of BKG (badan ki garmi, i.e. body heat) asking for which might get one OTS (one tight slap), raising the question "Kya fite hai?" and the advice to "chill maar yaar" ( "cool it", as a more vernacular version of "take a chill pill"). 

Coke's "Thanda matlab Coca-Cola!" now or Pepsi's "Yeh Dil Maange More"  or " humko Binnie's maangtaa" are classic cases of such mixed usages making it to ads aimed at primarily English-speaking classes. And of course there is a TV soap called "kitne cool haiN ham" (how cool we are!).

And of course, if you are a "cat," you always "crack" a paper;  "crash" when you sleep, great food is always "fundoo" or something that you "freak out on";  and anything which is not "fundoo" is "fart" which is not just a noun but also a verb as in "farting" which basically means "bullshitting" and those who do it are "fartoos" who need to be shut up and put into their place by being told, "tul mat maar yaar"; some guys are real "despo" (i.e. they take acads a bit too seriously. Acads? Academics), and the ultimate reason for something done for no apparent reason is "chumma"; people are generally called "janta" and you'd find "hajaar" (literally, thousand, but, in usage, many) "pseuds" who watch a "pondy" and therefore are also called "frust" (from frustrated, but the u is pronounced oo and the t is soft) 

Quite " arbit" or "arb" you'd agree? But then that's been the word for ages. Short for "arbitrary," it has assumed a meaning all its own which could quite aptly be used in response to deep questions on the life, the universe and everything. Of course, there are also other perennial favourites too - "sad" is another such word that has acquired a deeper meaning than the OED would have you believe. There's something about calling someone as "woh kuchh zyaadaa hii sad banda hai" which isn't quite the same as "he is a bit too sad a person".

Yes, I agree, it's all "tooms!" (short for Too much!, which is short for awesome) or yengyo (Tamil, not Chinese, meaning somewhere). When faced with such usage, it's of course zeneraal (general) to saar'ender (surrender). 

***

"Sunil, lagtaa hai ke mere system mein kuchh gadbad hai yaar" ("Sunil, it seems as though there is a problem in my system, buddy")

" Arre, Bala ko contact karo naa" ("Contact Bala")

"Bala, why don’t you come here and check my system?"

"I am a little tied up right now. I’ll ask Srini to have a look, OK?" 

"Srini, Sunil-oda system-le problem-aam, nee pio paakkariya?" ("Srini, there seems to be a problem in Sunil’s system. Would you go and look into it?")

"Iru, inda Gary kitte sollittu poren, illena moraippaan" ("Wait, I’ll tell Gary and then go, or else he’ll stare at me")

"Gary?"

"Yamay?" ("Yeah, mate?")

"Sunil’s got a problem again. I’ve got to go and fix it"

"That ain't fairdinkum. He keeps bothering you all the time. You are al’right. Go on, no worries mate".

The above is an actual recorded conversation that usually takes place in an office at say, Sydney or Melbourne in Australia where Indians work.

***

Microsoft has launched on 19, February, 2004, its Office package in Hindi and 9 other Indian languages, "empowering Indian users to leverage global-based Office applications in the language of their choice".

***

If you can talk in Hindi or Bengali or Tamil, you are well on your way up in tomorrow’s global world. Or so it would seem. Dr. David Graddol, a leading English linguist, says that the present time is an extraordinary moment in the history of languages after which, "a new linguistic world order will emerge".

English will be backtracked and will be replaced by Chinese as the top language. Hindi and Arabic will follow, sending English to the fourth place.

Our other Indian regional tongues, Bengali and Tamil will rank sixth and seventh respectively (Spanish is slated to occupy the fifth place).

Thousands of smaller languages spoken all over the world today are expected to become extinct by the end of this century.

The future is in the tongues of Asians, so to say.

It has been predicted by scholars that by year 2050, only 5% of people will be native English speakers. English will only be an additional language spoken by bilingual and multi-lingual people. Conversations in English will be between non-native English people. Further, monolingual English speakers will be disadvantaged by the fact that multilingual people around them will conveniently switch languages for routine tasks and casual conversations.

In this context, Professor David Hall, Head of Linguistics at Macquire University in Sydney, Australia challenges the expectation that a student should aspire to speak English as well as a native. Accents are a thing of the past. Hence, this is generating a rethink on teaching methodologies in academic institutions.

Professor Hall feels that since Australia is home to millions of migrants who are fluent in many other languages, it will be a great advantage to the country in adjusting to the new world linguistic order. He highly recommends that Aussies learn at least some of the top languages of tomorrow, predominantly Asian, of course!

And, three of the top languages of tomorrow are Indian: Hindi, Bengali and Tamil. Supplement this with English, and you are way ahead in the new world linguistic order.

Often couples belonging to varying linguistic communities worry that their children speak a lingo that mixes the languages spoken by both the parents, and so may end up not being able to converse in any language properly. These supposedly inarticulate bilingual or multilingual utterances are only indicative of the child’s capabilities to absorb and master more than one language. We all know how adept our Indian children are at this when they go to school and learn more than one language.

My closest Tamil friend has married a Bengali man. She worries that her toddler is unable to speak a full sentence coherently in one language as he is picking up Tamil from her, Bengali from his Baba, Hindi from his neighbors and English at play school. I reassured her that there’s another Nobel laureate coming up!

Multilingualism will be an essential criterion in fifty years time.

It would be worthwhile to follow a multilingual approach in our educational system. In addition to learning English, learning one or more of the top languages of the "new linguistic world" surely makes sense.

Tamils could learn Hindi. Let Bengalis learn Tamil. Hindi speakers could opt for either Bengali or Tamil. May all the others choose between any amongst the ‘trinity’. Besides, we Indians were destined for multilingualism anyway.

The mammoth People of India project undertaken by the Anthropological Survey of India revealed that Indians have 216 Mother Tongues, which can be grouped into 114 languages. A major finding of the survey, not surprisingly, was that the vast majority of Indians are multilingual. Many can speak or understand on an average 4 languages, an enviable asset in the eyes of the world.

Conversing in English and the vernacular, both at the same time is an art and skill developed and honed naturally to perfection by us Indians. You only have to look around you to ‘hear’ this- at home, in the school playgrounds, college campuses, shopping centers, offices, films, on television channels- Indian MTV has been particularly singled out as a model of "evolution in action" through the linguistic marriage of Hindi and English.

Many do turn their noses up at such intermingling of languages saying it reduces conversation to kitsch. But linguistic experts conclude that in a multilingual world, it is all right for us to mix English with our mother tongues. It is just a matter of adding spicy curry to a bland course making it more palatable to our tongues-in every sense!

Well, above all, we can stop worrying about our vernacular accents. It is perfectly all right for a Hindi speaker to call an early educational institution, "is-school". We can pardon generously when a Bengali says he loves to have, " Balls Ice cream" or when our Northeastern brothers and sisters sing, "God shave the queen" or when our Punjabi brethren get all "sportive" at laiyar with plaiyyar. And it's pretty wokay when our Tamil Malini Iyer Sridevi states matter-of-factly, "The sun rises in the yeast".


G. Sujatha is a Social Anthropologist from the University of Madras. She used to teach "Thai Studies" at a Bangkok University for many years. She now lives in Sydney, Australia


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