“Words of Indian origin have been insinuating themselves into English ever since the end of the reign of Elizabeth and the beginning of that of king James, when such terms as calico, chintz and gingham had already effected a lodgment of English warehouse and shopes, and were lying in wait for entrance into English literature. Such outlandish guests grew more frequent 120 years ago, when, soon after the middle of the last century, the numbers of Englishmen in the Indian Services, civil and military, expanded with the great acquisition of dominion then made by the company”. Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell in their legendary glossary Hobson Jobson published in 1886.
When the East India Company entered the Indian sub-continent nearly 400 years ago, its prima facie interest was trade and commerce. But the officials and clerks of the company could not think what treasure their mother-tongue did bring, let alone foresee that this English will remain rooted in this sub-continent mostly as a second language fulfilling an esential role in national life and international purpose. The year was 1615 when Jehangir was the Mughal emperor and Delhi was the capital of his empire; East India Company started spreading its imperialistic tentacles through trade and commerce used as smokescreen. Apparently, they were shop-keepers to begin with. We guess, there must have been a handful of English- speaking people in Delhi coming with the ambassadorial train of Sir Thomas Roe. But who, among Indians, was the first speaker of manageable English is only a matter of another guess, The lesser known English poet Samuel Daniel must have been far-sighted as is evident in the following lines of his poem ‘Musophilus’ in 1599 : ‘And who in time knows whither we may vent / The treasure of our tongue, to what strange shores / This gain of our best glory shall be sent / T’enrich unknowing Nations with our stores ?’ English is now the official language of the Commonwealth, lingua franca of the world and--with special reference to India with diverse regional languages and dialects, culture and religions, English is a link-language and a second language for a huge number of schools and colleges.
The proliferation of English medium schools specially in urban India is an eye-opener that English comes to stay in India. There has always been a controversy whether or not English is to be retained in India as a second language. And it was painfully noticed that those who opposed English opted for sending their children in English medium schools. This is a double standard.
Yes, English in India has come to stay and in the context of this historical truth, a discussion may now be broached as to how proficient our students in schools and colleges are in English. If ‘proficient’ is too high a word, let me redress the expression. How far can our students speak and write English manageably ? With multi-lingual and multi-cultural population, our country cannot afford to a uniform English. But there has been a steady progress in the teaching and learning of English at schools and colleges. For our conversational English the gravitational pull of mother-tongue appears to be the cart before the horse. The difference in pronunciation of words and usage of English in sentences results from the inherent infulence of our mother-tongues. There are as many as five obstacles in teaching and learning of English in Indian context : (i) English is taught and learnt in English medium schools in unilingual method i.e in English. But linguists opine that in learning a foreign language and-- for that matter English here--the approach should be bi-lingual i.e a student should learn somebody else’s mother tongue through his mother-tongue. The unilingual approach in most English medium schools appear a barrier. To know and understand the shades and sub-shades of a thought, a student had better get the initiation through his mother -tongue which, according to Tagore, is another ‘breast milk’. Tagore made this unique comparison in Bengali and in making a translation I have stumbled into ‘breast milk’a word in Indian English. The matter of the fact is that a breast-fed child [breast-milk naturally sanitized] is better-fed than a bottle-fed child (ii) The absence of a living model. Till 1960s there were handfuls of English and Anglo Indian teachers as living models in metropolitan cities. But now it is Indian teachers taught through Indian teachers teaching in English. The end result is that our pronunciations are mostly spelling-bound e.g. the name of the English poet Wilfred Owen should be pronounced as Wilfred Aowen. But we pronounce according to how it was pronounced by our Indian teachers (iii) Understandably, with all the mastery in English language, we are forced to think in our mother-tongue and translate later in English like the T.V news-readers prompted by an auto-cue (iv) There is a section, though microscopically small, of English-speaking Indians who can pronounce words as an Englishman does. But they are forced to pronounce the English words in an Indianized way lest they be branded as high-brow or un-understandable to the average Indians. As in Rome, do as the Roman does! The actual pronunciation of words like Wednesday, forehead, housewife, tier, chassis, recitation and invitation are different from how an average Indian pronounces them (v) Another difficulty for an Indian is to understand the intrinsic difference between British English and American English.
I have been an English teacher for more than three decades. But let me confess that I did never dream anything in English. Gravitational pull of mother tongue! But one advantage I had. My learning English was through a bi-lingual method. We started English alphabet as late as in class IV standard when an average English medium school student can speak English tolerably well. My deliberation of Indian English will be in the backdrop of the afore-said obstacles and also of Nagaland where I have been teaching to learn English.
‘I want to take admission’ and ‘I took birth....’ are two sentences we hear students utter and we are utterly dismayed. I tell them that in matters like admission and birth, we have a passive role and we cannot as a rule make sentences in these areas in the active voice. So we get admission/are admitted and were born. But mother-tongue is the real rogue and the ‘falcon’ does not hear the’falconer’. When we ‘get over’ the difficulties, the classes cannot get over after such and such period. But many schools in Nagaland use this group verb ‘get over’ mistakenly. Mutual influencing of language is natural but in the context of English as an international language the excesses of localization is to be guarded against. Sit na is a straight translation from Nagamese. So is wait ne.
The localization of English in Hindi belt is Hinglish, that in West Bengal is Benglish and that in Tamilnadu Tamlish. These terms are jocular. Shall we call the localization of English Naglish in Nagaland where teaching and learning is done in English somebody else’s mother-tongue ? And for that matter, can Indian English forced by Indian inventiveness be called Inglish ? Sometimes I tell students in the class room that the English people left India not because of Gandhian struggle through non-violence, nor because of Netajee Subhas’ struggle through violence. They left India because they were scared that their mother-tongue suffered a threat not of extinction, but of unwanted metamorphosis in case they overstayed their welcome. The English people are generally conservative and in spite of their attempts to closely guard the Kingdom of Queen’s English, the outlandish guest such as calico, chintz and gingham already intruded into the citadel 230 years back. In recent past cricketing term like googly and ingredient of Indian cooking like ghee entered proudly into the lexicons of English compiled according to historical principles.Two terms from Hindu religion - avatar and guru are found in usage for the conceptual brilliance in their meaning. Avatar is the visual manifestation of something abstract e.g. avatar of laziness.Guru is a person to whom people go for advice e.g president’s foreign policy guru By the end of first decade of the twenty first century, the penetration of foreign words like Indian ones will be galore. After all, the world is a global village now.
Indianization of English now. Loose, your phone, ‘no’ as a question tag select, elect, marketing, pass out, backside, play-back singer, all in all and a myriad of such English words and phrases are being used by us with the exception of ‘a few careful’ in an Indianized way. ‘Loose’ as an adjective is pronounced similarly as the word’lose’ which is a verb. The sameness of pronunciation misleads many of our boys and girls and they write sentences like ‘don’t loose heart’. ‘Writing’ is occasionally misspelt as witting ‘Your phone’ instead of ‘your phone call’ is a case of gravitational pull. The question-tag ‘no’ after a statement is another-a native speaker of English will, however undersand the spirit of the sentence for in such expression an Indian will also throw a body language. We were told at schools that the verb like elect select, appoint and consider do not take ‘as’ and ‘the’. But gone are the days of Mr. Grammar. A green grocer will go to the market with his marketable commodities and is pronounced similarly as the word’lose’ which is a verb. The sameness of pronuciation mislead our boys and girls and they write sentences like ‘don’t loose heart’. Writing is occasionally misspelt as witting ‘Your phone’ instead of ‘your phone call’ is a case of gravitational pull. The question-tag ‘no’ after a statement is another-a native speaker of English will, however undersand the spirit of the sentence for in such expression an Indian will also throw a body language. We were told at schools that the verb like elect select, appoint and consider do not take ‘as’ and ‘the’. But gone are the days of Mr. Grammar. A green grocer will go to the market with his marketable commodities and is pronounced similarly as the word’lose’ which is a verb. The sameness of pronuciation mislead our boys and girls and they write sentences like ‘don’t loose heart’. Writing is occasionally misspelt as witting ‘Your phone’ instead of ‘your phone call’ is a case of gravitational pull. The question-tag ‘no’ after a statement is another-a native speaker of English will, however undersand the spirit of the sentence for in such expression an Indian will also throw a body language. We were told at schools that the verb like elect select, appoint and consider do not take ‘as’ and ‘the’. But gone are the days of Mr. Grammar. A green grocer will go to the market with his marketable commodities and occasionally misspelt as writting ‘Your phone’ instead of ‘your phone call’ is a case of gravitational pull. The question-tag ‘no’ after a statement is another -- a native speaker of English will, however, undersand the spirit of the sentence for in such expression an Indian will also throw a body language. We were told at schools that the verb like ‘elect’, ‘select’, ‘appoint’, and ‘consider’ do not take ‘as’ and ‘the’. But gone are the days of Mr. Grammar. A green grocer will go to the market with his marketable commodities and when we go to buy vegetables or articles of clothing, we go shopping, never for marketing and not for shopping either. In schools students by heart a poem to pass out. On being asked a student will say reading only and not ‘just reading’. Spelling of ‘occasion’ is often ‘occassion’ and being corrected, he will perhaps say ‘please repeat it again’ to his reputed teacher of English. The word ‘hi-fi’ is shortened form of high fidelity used to mean a high quality stereo sound. But the impressive sounding of the word forces many to use the word meaning ‘the high life of a play boy’. Proudy and timely are another two words mistakenly used for ‘proud’ and ‘in time’. From the cue of an English phrase ‘talk of the devil’ we coined our own think/talk of the angel and this will baffle an English speaker.The words ‘disinterested’ ( not influenced by private feelings, clinical) and uninterested (not interested) are often confused and we say I am disinterested in the this matter instead of ‘I am uninterested....’. “The disinterested judge listens in an unbaised way to the evidence of both sides. An uninterested judge falls asleep while the trail is in progress.” The slang ‘murrow’ in Hindi speaking areas is used as a verb to mean ‘misappropriate money’. One thing interesting is that we use such words and phrases wrongly not really realizing that we do so. And the saving grace is -- in India we speak in English with our compatriots perhaps wth different mother tongu. The blind leading the blind! And the blind-spot remains.
Indians are ingenious word-smiths. To us busybody is a very busy person but never a ‘meddlesome’. What is ‘buzzer’ to an Englishman is calling bell to us. The following is a list of such Indian inventiveness. car-lifter (car-thief), cent percent (hundred percent), chaste Hindi (excellent Hindi), soft corner (soft spot), co-son-in-law (brother-in-law), cousin brother/sister (male/female cousin), dearness allowance (cost of living allowance), double fly (fried on both sides), half-boiled/ full-boiled (soft-boiled/ hard - boiled), hold-all (bed-roll), ink-bottle (bottle of ink), welcome address (address of welcome), kept (mistress), lecturership (lectureship), out of station (away from place of work), ownership flat (private flat), torchlight (torch), ticketless travel (travel without ticket), white money (money acquired lawfully), black money (money acquired unlawfully) dishum dishum (fight in Hindi films) ayaram gayaram (turn-coat), Bollywood (analogy of Hollywood), extremist (one resorting to violence, threat), anti-social (showing no respect for people in society).
The list goes un-ending for a vast country like India with so many currents and cross-currents of socio-political happeings will inevitably ential fall-out of idioms and phrases that will be circulated in newspapers and TVs regularly and one fine morning a new cionage will appear. Some such vogue-words and phrases are : achcha (term of agreement) gherao (form of protest), lathi-charge (police attacking the unruly crowd with sticks), airdash (fly from place to place), de-recognise (withdraw recognition), disinterested (uninterested), dissatisfied (unsatisfied) deputant (representative), duck’s eggs, (zero), jack (support), preponement (bringing forward of an event), undertrial (prisoner awaitng trial), eve-tease (annoy girls with offensive words), benami (holding property illegally), rasta roko (protest demonstrated by blocking road) padajatra (travelling long distance on foot, generally with some political mission) and wheat comlexion (fair complexion).
The newspapers and other electronic media have their journalese like abscond, preponement, age-barred, deputant and countless many. They will write, murderer is absconding, not ‘missing’. Thanks to the expansion of telecommunication net-work, sending telegram is a waste of time and money these days. Even then, if constrained to send a message by telegram that somebody’s father is seriuosly ill, he will send the telegram : ‘Come sharp. Father serious’ giving altogether a different meaning that his father is very angry or serious about something. The phrase all in all in India almost always means ‘one in control of an organization’ but hardly ‘on the whole’ which is the actual meaning Mr. Grammar says, the verb avail is to be followed by a reflexive pronoun and then ‘of’ and ‘something’ thereafter. But hardly do we bother and we avail a chance. Backside means ‘buttock’ and when we say to somebody to go to the backside, guess what is comes to. A native speaker will laugh up his sleeves at the expression. Idiomatic expressions like make chutney out of somebody (meaning ‘chastise’), add chillies to boiled potatoes (exaggerate), take somebody’s arse (make fool of somebody), give somebody the bamboo (punish), commit nuisance (urinate in public place) and pin-drop-silence (absolute silence) only bear the testimony to the powerful worth-smithy of Indians. A Sab-ji/Madam-ji, when advised aganist such Indianzation, will say, “What to do (it cannot be helped!) People in our society are the trouble-shooters from whom we picked up such colloquial expressions. Bap re (expression of surprise)! But nothing doing now.” By the word trouble shooter many of us mean ‘trouble-maker’ whereas the word means ‘the mechanic reparing mechanical breakdown and by extension, one capable of dealing with difficult situation’. You enlighten them that the expression nothing doing is an indication of a refusal to a requeast. Subduecd Sab-ji/Madamji will offer a face-saving device, “Jamir uncle (not ‘uncle Jamir’) is England-returned and he also say-so. In the face of such dyed-in-the-wool habits of many, you simply ponder over the Himalayan blunder of Indophile (using the analogy of ‘Anglophile’) Macaulay who introduced the Education Policy of 1835 to make India a cultural colony of England. You will blame Raja Ram Mohan Roy, perhaps the first Indian capble of speaking and writing English effectively, for he championed the cause of English in Indian schools. “Indianization and cultural decolonization go together. “The concept of decolonising the English language teaching in India is nothing new, it has already been established by Russians. When they speak English, they follow the Russian pattern wherein they do not use articles. English as a foreign language will vary according to the mother-tongue of the learners.” (T.M.J. Indramohan in his essy).
In spite of being foot-loose and fancy-free that at times Indian English appears, the fact remains that Indian students are rated first amongst South Asians in speaking and writing in English. A study revealed that the people of China, Pakistian, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are lagging far behind the English-speaking people in India. That is one reason why our students are preferred in techno-administrative jobs in America. That is the bright side; the flip-side is the disproportionate localization. That is the rub! India is only a very small part of the global village.