Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We are like this only

“You are going na?”

“He drinks cigarettes”

“I am working at Tata Motors”

“I was just telling only ki…”

“Righta leftaa?”

One aspect of modern India sorely lacking serious study is one of its most prolific languages, English. It is everywhere; blending with local languages sometimes, at others being elitist. With English literature having a decent repertoire of Indian author’s works and with English newspapers and television channels reaching the masses, it has come of age in India.

We often speak of good English and yet our brand of the Queens tongue rings of certain peculiar oddities. These not only stem from our mother tongues, but also from the delightful hot-pot that is Indian culture. Our inability to distinguish sometimes between simple and continuous present tenses, of making strange nouns even stranger verbs lend to Inglish a quaint air. The accent stresses more and bends around anglo-saxon oddities, the language however claims absolute loyalty to British English. Quick to throw some of English archaisms, quicker to add new ones, it evolves, grows and is the gateway to a better life for many in the sub continent.

A brief look at Inglish then, with words, their origins (where possible) and context, along with general bits of information that add to ones sense of knowledge, make one smile, but are essentially useless. Inglish Trivia if you will.

Among general words that English absorbed include catamaran, pundit, jute, jungle, juggernaut (from jagannath, Puri; referring to the rath yatra), bangle (bangdi), gym (gymkhana), shampoo and cheetah (sources are in conflict, but their Indic parentage seems doubtless). Also bungalow (hindi bangla), coir and teak both of Dravidian origin; kayir(rope) and tek (teak).

Our obsessive mentality to neatly slot people into classes has burdened English with aryan and pariah. The former from Sanskrit arya meaning noble and the latter from Tamil parayan (outcaste) (also something my grandmother used to refer to me first thing in the mornings it has definite racist connotations). Aryan and the Swastika have negative connotations, thanks to you know who and pariah isn’t a whole lot nicer either.

Enriching the Anglic palate are curry and ginger from Tamil kari and inji Mulligatawny is a bad corruption of milagu tanni (pepper water). Americans, true to their bland tongues shun all spice from it and actually put boiling rice in chicken stock, elsewhere it is just badly made rasam. It doesn’t take large amounts of intellect to connect mango with tamil manga. What is interesting is that the Portuguese also call it manga, and the Alphonso got its name from the Portuguese king, who was served it for dessert by a resourceful chef, as legend has it. The raj hangover left not only a legacy back in India, it also took with it loot and thug (Gabbar Singh immediately springs to mind) and the palanquin (palki).

Much more can be studied, greater minds will deduce more. Inglish is more than a variant of English languishing in the sub-continent, remnant of past greatnesses and follies, to many of us it is lingua franca, lingua prima and most of all the mother tongue.


Historiophile reminds me that one of the most important foods gets its name from the tamil arisi (rice). The Latin orizia, Italian riso and the French riz also owe their existance to arisi. Thank you.


Liberal said...

Possibly your best post ever.

chocoliciousgal said...

very well researched :D
and I really did like the starting 'specially "righta lefta" ..hehe :)
I feel this writing stye was really crisp (do I sound like 'm grading this here ;))

Anonymous said...

What research u did baap! Soild boletho solid it is! Your post is dhingchak post only! Awesome!

There! My comment in Inglish! Nice no? :P I deserve a Master's degree in it! :D

ROFL @ "He drinks cigarettes"! Excellent!

swatimala said...

i am liking this post a lot

buddy said...

@liberal: thanks...dont want to sound pretentious but i struggled with the style and content

@divya: yes teacher..thanks

@karthik: i hereby confer upon thee a masters in Inglish..happy?
and i plead guilty to accusing people of 'drinking' cigarettes

@swatimala: i am thanking you a lot :)

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, the word 'shampoo' is the bastard child of Hindi 'chaampna' (to press) and 'cheetah' comes from Sanskrit 'chitraka' (speckled leopard). You're welcome! ;) :P

And thanks for the degree, I'm finally a master! Haanured, I say! :P

Elusive said...

how true re! nicely said haan!
i didn't knew many things u wrote about only!! thanx for telling!
we're such a funny lot no? :)

crumpledpapers said...

very well researched and thorough...
delightfully quirky yet subtly jabbing for the subconsciousness of your past indulgences with the likes of "you'll come with me na?" or for the gucci sunglass clad elite socialite with golden-streaked hair gloating "you wanna come with 'moi'?"

but it all comes down to the debate of how much credit do we owe to a language as to not have a personal touch to it. And particularly as an Indian, growing up is such a mess! we grow up listening to ten languages by the age of 7. think of the people here. all they have to listen to is one language and yet they mess it up! Although not widely spoken outside of Indian subcontinent, I always think we ought to have pride that we know more languages without having a formal training in it. So what if they mingle with each other a bit?

but thats just an argument... for all I know, I was laughing at the Greek kid in my college for wrong English grammar!

aandthirtyeights said...

Oh, you must read - "Entry from Backside Only - Hazaar fundas of Indian English". Cant remember the author's name...

maxdavinci said...

nice research..

Mulligatawny is so ROFL, I'm so very ordering it next time I go someplace..

chutney said...

This reminds me of that scene in dasavatharam where Balram Naidu's assistant goes "He can speak 5 languages in telugu!"

good stuff!

buddy said...

@karthik: thanks..i think thats where chiruta/siruthai come from too

@sneha: haan ji. thanks ji
was dying to include dint knew, but thats an error just bad english not Inglish, and as far as lots go, we r a hoot!

@crumpled papers: well thought out. what im trying to say is that language mixing need not be a bad thing

@aandthirtyeights: will check it out..promises to be an interesting read. iwll disappoint you. drink rasam instead. always rocks!

@chutney: amazing how all ur comments include anecdotes. thanks!

Srividya said...

Here's an extension.

Inglish Lady: "Leftaa?"
Inglish bloke:"Aa leftee."

:D Good one.

maami said...

Hmmm I can think of:
cummerband, guru, bazaar, loot, pukka, pundit, bureau from Hindi, else Persian origin.
Cash (kaasu, Tamil), cheroot, poppadum, corundum (Ruby archaic in Tamil kuruvitham).
Thanks for the interesting read.

buddy said...

@srividya: :D

@maami: wow! you toh are the expert only! glad to know you enjoy my scribbles! thanks!

Historiophile said...

pretty interesting post and thanks for the G.K. ...dint know of mulligatawny and tek

there is one important item though, which i may add to your largely culinary list.

we call it "arisi" in tamizh, one of ancient Tamil land's mass export item thru trade links by sea, its called as "oriza" in Latin and "riso" in Italian and we all know it as rice in good ol' langauge of the Queen