English? English!

By Sheila Kumar

"In his masterpiece "Leaves of Grass", Walt Whitman
 says: "The English language befriends the 
grand American is brawny enough
 and limber enough and full is the medium
 that shall well nigh express the inexpressible."

One wonders. One really wonders. All the more

 when one reads sentences that - really and truly -
 run like this: "It had just gone 11. After scoring 
some stuff at the strip mall downtown, eating pretzels
 till I was sick to my stomach, I ran into this chick,
 Sue, who really cleans up nice. Sue wanted to
 know if the uni `do' was on this day month. I said I
 wasn't sure; okay, I felt like an ignorant schmoozer
 but I wasn't going to beat myself up over that. 
I noticed a couple of frat boys ahead of us who were
 ogling Sue and I wanted to smack them upside their
 fat heads but Sue was talking, she wanted me to
 weigh in, this was some serious stuff going down, 
and before we knew it, we were out the door."

That, now, is English. Of a sort. The kind used 

by people in the vast land known to us as 
the United States of America.

Out here in India, thankfully, we still use British 

English. However, what is increasingly happening
 these days is wrong English masquerading as a 
hip trend. Which is why people keep 
saying 'anyways'; any schoolteacher of the old 
school will tell you the word is 'anyway'. 
Another popular term one hears is 'courtesy of'.
 That second word is so redundant, it shrieks 
its wrongness out loud.

Let's not confuse wrong English with slang, 

with words like wassup, dude, whatever or 
chill. Let us also not confuse it with the way 
we have indigenised the English language, 
moulded it to a comfortable fit and made it 
ours, so to speak. Which is how and why 
we happily use `believe you me' and `I'll 
explain you'. Well, in some indefinable way,
 it works.

All across the length and breadth of this land 

of ours, different brands of English is being
 spoken and spoken sans hesitation. Alongside
 Hinglish, we now have Banglish (Bengali 
English), Tinglish (Tamil), Malglish (Malayalam), 
and of course, that special one-of-a-kind, 
Laloo-glish, pioneered by our pioneering
 railway minister. In the northeast, they speak
 it differently, ditto in Mumbai. This indigenisation
 reaches its peak in `don't stare badly, Blackface', 
which the reader will realise on some pondering is 
the transliteration of the famous 'buri nazar wale,
 tera mooh kala'.

Popular lore has it that Salman Rushdie opened

 the floodgates to our brand of English; early
 readers of the film magazine Stardust will remember
 Hinglish invented by its then editor, Shobhaa 
 De. Today we have writers like Vikram Chandra
 who firmly believe that English is an Indian language
 and who pepper page after page with 
colloquiums with nary a glossary anywhere in
 the book. That, now, is another example of
 true indigenisation.

The media continues to be a confused lot 

though. Are they following archaic colonial
 traditions of language, being what they
 consider reader-friendly (talking in the reader's
 supposed patois?) or is it the aforementioned
 nonsense-as-trend thing? Well, something must 
explain why we read of train passengers being 
`looted' or gratitude `being paid'. Sometimes, it is
 the sheer inability to get a handle on the
 foreign language that is English. `After he was
 burglarised, he became a sadder and 
wizened man' reads one unfortunate report,
 while another talks of being `spell-binded'.

Then again, may be all of it is just the insidious 

influence of American English. One has to admit
 this Yankee virus does a good job of mangling
 the mother language; it has no style, no class 
whatsoever. So, dear reader, this is a call 
to arms: it is time to rediscover - and use - 
good English. Think about it. You have 
 nothing to lose but your ignorance.

(Sheila Kumar is a freelance journalist. )

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