Wednesday, August 31, 2005

we speak like this only

languages in contact often transform into other languages over centuries (prAkr.t becomes hindi or bengali or marathi) by adapting to the structures of other languages and by other organic changes such as simplification (e.g. dropping case markers from old english to modern english). today, most english users in india resist such change, preferring a "purer" form of the language, but who knows what language we may be speaking here in 2205? in spoken english, already, these intrusions proliferate. here are some of the changes we often use in indian english, as observed in the oxford companion to the english language.
  1. Interrogative constructions without subject/auxiliary inversion: What you would like to buy?
  2. Definite article often used as if the conventions have been reversed: It is the nature's way; Office is closed today.
  3. One used rather than the indefinite article: He gave me one book.
  4. Stative verbs given progressive forms: Lila is having two books; You must be knowing my cousin-brother Mohan.
  5. Reduplication used for emphasis and to indicate a distributive meaning: I bought some small small things; Why you don't give them one one piece of cake?
  6. Yes and no as question tags: He is coming, yes?; She was helping you, no?
  7. Isn't it? as a generalized question tag: They are coming tomorrow, isn't it?
  8. Reflexive pronouns and only used for emphasis: It was God's order itself It was God's own order, They live like that only That is how they live.
  9. Present perfect rather than simple past: I have bought the book yesterday.
These have different levels of acceptability among users of Indian English. While much more can be said if a formal study was available, one may venture to guess that alternations (I would rather not call them "errors" or "mistakes") as in 6, 8, and 9 have more wider usage and thereby possibly somewhat higher acceptability, than for example, 4.

It would be interesting to present this data to several user groups across the country and have them mark the sentences for the degree of acceptability etc.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

the role of grammar in indian thinking

compared to the west, india developed a grammar
very early. this has consequences in the way
thought has evolved in india. for example, the
role of ambiguity in language was understood
much earlier, and was traced to fundamental
ambiguities in our understanding of the world
(interpretations of pratyaksha-pramANa). This
may be why indians (and by extension via buddhism,
most of the orient) are more open to non-categoric
thinking - it is not that "either you are our enemy
or our friend" - but that there are many gray
levels in between.

here is an extract from the eminent philosopher
bimal krishna matilal's word and the world,
(oxford, 1990, rs. 225):

it has often been claimed in recent times that in
the indian scientific and philosophical tradition,
mathematics plays a less crucial role and its place
is taken by grammar or linguistics.
... linguistics, and along with it the philosophy
of language, developed in india from the fifth
century bc, although not much is known about these
subjects in the early centuries except for the work
of three grammarians (pANini, followed by kAtyAyana
and paTan~jali), and that of the etymologists
(called nairuktas) such as yAska. in the west,
linguistics developed relatively late, although for
an early discussion of the philosophy of language
one can go back to plato's cratylus.

vyAkaraNa (literally it may mean 'analysis') or
grammar was regarded as the gateway to other
disciplines. it was part of the vedAnga, one of
the six 'limbs', i.e. auxiliary (or preparatory)
disciplines, for the successful study of the vedas.
the six ancillaries include grammar, phonetics,
etymology, metrics, astronomy, and the science (or
art) or rituals.

[the six vedAngas: shikShA - phonetics;
vyakAraN - grammar; nirukta - etymology;
chhanda - prosody; jyotish - astrology;
kalpa - rituals]

The early development of 'grammar' or what may be
termed 'science of language' led to many
interesting results. Intimate relationship between
logical and grammatical categories was noticed:
what may be called certain 'universals' of logic
and language were noted, distinction between
language and metalanguage, or rather between use
and mention, was underlined, and metalinguistic
notions were more clearly understood and treated
accordingly. For example, in rule 1.1.68, pANini
notes the distinction between the practices in the
'language' of grammar and in ordinary language. In
grammar, by the use of a word (say 'cow') we refer
to the word itself, while in ordinary language by
the use of a word we refer to its meaning, the
object, a cow.


in the west, these notions distinguishing the signifier
and the signified appears most clearly
in the work of de Saussere (1907), although it was
presaged in Locke's work An Essay
Concerning Human Understanding (1690). by
then the spread of logical thinking (started
with euclid's geometry) had deeply entrenched
itself in the western ethos.

people belonging to the Westernized and urban upper middle-class, heirs of British rule

For nimbleness of wit, plausibility, argumentative
skill, and gift of the gab they are not surpassed
by many people on the face of the earth. But in the
very nature of things they are unqualified to give
a full or fair view of what is taking place in the
country. For one thing, they have their trusteeship
of the people of India, which I took upon as their
exploitation, to justify. This makes them prone to
misrepresent and even to lie. But it would be a
mistake to think that as a class they deceive
intentionally. They are so completely imitative of
the West, so dependent on current literature
written in English, mostly by foreigners, for their
knowledge of their own country, so ignorant about
the original sources of knowledge, and so formed by
their urban upbringing that the whole traditional
and rural India remains outside their ken

(Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Introduction, The Continent of Circe, 1965).

Green Hills Guide (to the best conducted tour)

Robin S. Ngangon

Take your time and discover
The best about Manipur.

October - February: During these months
of cherry blossoms and deep blue skies
we proudly announce the remote viewing
of bare-breasted native girls in their natural habitat.
Dark-maned, graceful, really chinky-eyed.
Binoculars recommended.
Olive green personnel restricted.
February-May: Exciting, memorable call-in
on real, live terrorists from bullet-proof
cable cars. This show is a favourite with children.
Children can actually touch the terrorists
who will also pose for photographs
with you and your family.
Bring anti-glare dark glasses.
Feeding prohibited.
Added attraction (5% extra)
A practical demonstration
of vandalism of a power station.
Book in advance.
June-September. Since visitors will be
rainbound during these months
a unique indoors local event is recommended.
See languid, sloe-eyed, unhappy (because
of constipation follwing a relentless
demand by their constituents) politicians
actually shitting rupees (coins & notes).
Fed and ably assisted by bureaucrats
who wash and launder the notes
during the painstaking process.
Due to frequent overdosing
children are not allowed to feed laxatives.

Open throughout the year.
Among the rare exhibits are
seven bottles of fossilized liquor,
a national flag hoisted daily,
a stuffed replica of the canine family
Eaten to extinction by malnourished Meiteis,
native erotica,
A pack of sexy cards,
One Hero bicycle,
A gold & silver shaving kit
Of a star who died of Aids,
A minister's unprintable pet, & c.

Bandhs are heavily booked
Especially during the peak season
By non-governmental organizations.
We advise that programme Be booked in advance
To avoid disappointment.

Go ahead as you please about tickets
(tickets do not guarantee
an available bed or bullet-proof vests)

(from Indian Literature, May-June 2005)

The Dance of the Eunuchs

Kamala Das
(from Summer in Calcutta)

It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs came
To dance, wide skirts going round and round, cymbals
Richly clashing, and anklets jingling, jingling
Jingling... Beneath the fiery gulmohur, with
Long braids flying, dark eyes flashing, they danced and
They dance, oh, they danced till they bled... There were green
Tattoos on their cheeks, jasmines in their hair, some
Were dark and some were almost fair. Their voices
Were harsh, their songs melancholy; they sang of
Lovers dying and or children left unborn....
Some beat their drums; others beat their sorry breasts
And wailed, and writhed in vacant ecstasy. They
Were thin in limbs and dry; like half-burnt logs from
Funeral pyres, a drought and a rottenness
Were in each of them. Even the crows were so
Silent on trees, and the children wide-eyed, still;
All were watching these poor creatures' convulsions
The sky crackled then, thunder came, and lightning
And rain, a meagre rain that smelt of dust in
Attics and the urine of lizards and mice....

6 March 1989 (Salman Rushdie)

Boy, yaar, they sure called me some good names of late:
e.g. opportunist (dangerous). E.g. full-of-hate,
self-aggrandizing, Satan, self-loathing and shrill,
the type it would clean up the planet to kill.
I justjust remember my own goodname still.

Damn, bother. You saw what they did to my face?
Poked out my eyes. Knocked teeth out of place,
Stuck a dog's body under, hung same from a hook,
wrote what-all on my forehead! Wrote 'bastard'! Wrote 'crook'!
I justjust recall how my face used to look.

Now, misters and sisters, they've come again for my voice.
If the Cat got my tongue, look who-who would rejoice --
muftis politicos, 'my own people', hacks.
Still, nameless-and-faceless or not, here's my choice:
not to shut up. To sing on, in spite of attacks,
to sing (while my dreams are being murdered by facts)
praises of butterflies broken on the tracks.

(From Granta 10 - Birthday Special - Autumn 89)
[February 14 1989 was when the fatwa was issued
against Salman Rushdie]

indianization of english

These days the English news editors in India tend to use native words
and this makes an interesting study. A close look at the Indian words
used in leading English newspapers reveals that they are drawn mainly
from two sources: (i) Hindi-Urdu, and (ii) the regional
language. Interpolation of indigenous items especially where there are
no near equivalents in English is a dominating phenomenon of the
language of English newspapers. Words such as Hawala, Lathicharge,
Khadi, Satyagraha, bandh, dharna, gherao, etc. are among the commonest
of items in English newspapers.
  1. We have come to ask for Insaf.
  2. Vote for Vikas nothing else.
  3. Bandh disrupts life in the valley.
  4. Mulayam: An officer in the family of Jawans.
  5. I am protecting Izzat for everybody.
  6. Dumpy may have the reputation of being Goonda.
  7. Dharna against the construction of Tehri dam.
  8. Chandraswami gave Ashirwad to bride.
  9. Bandh cripples life in Darjeeling.
  10. A group of Sadhus to campaign against Pilot.
  11. Amarnath Yatra from August 16.
A few [loan word] examples are: dharma, fatwa, hindutva, hawala, bandh, manuwad,
hartal, ashirwad, burkha, talaq, mazedar, swad.

Kachru rightly observes that there is certain structural and
contextual constraints on blended items. For example, in expressions
such as Lathi-charge the Indianized element lathi cannot be
substituted by another Indian expression danda. Nowhere in Indian
English newspapers has an expression like danda-charge been used!

However, there are certain blended expressions where elements are
interchangeable. For example, police-station and police-thana are
equally acceptable in Indian English newspapers.

The blended expressions such as: Perfect swad for Perfect Taste;
Police chowki for Police Station; Police thana for Police Station;
Mazdoor Union for Labour Union; Meat masala for Meat Spice; Rice thali
for Rice Plate; Complete bandh for Complete Closure; Conditional
samjhauta for Conditional Agreement; Nine puriah for Nine Packet;
Kitab Centre for Book Centre; Railway fatak for Railway Crossing;
Political pandit for Political pundit (!); Block parmukh for Head of a
geographical Block.

M. J. Warsi, Ph.D.
Language in India v. 4 Aug 2004

Boycott British Language

Bhai phor how long Gorement is elect?' 'Ujually phor phie years.'
'Whyphore ujually?' 'Becoss in some times, it is not so ujually.'
'What that means?' 'Bhai according to Constitution, when one is elect
M.P. or MLA, seat is rejerve phor phie years, but nowadays all oph
sudden MP or MLA sitting in one seat is getting tired.' 'Muss to be
pheeling phie year hitch.' 'What that is?' 'Pheeling like to scratch.'

- from Psst, a satirical column in The Current, Bombay, (from 1967 issue)
This column regularly ended with the slogan: "Boycott British Language",
[Quoted in The Oxford Companion to the English Language]