Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Language is pointless only

I recently read a very interesting piece about how the common language in India is changing. Perhaps for the worse, or perhaps for the better.


[ quote ]
To me, the language being employed is, at best, a strange cocktail of Hindi, Urdu, English and Bombaiya and some extra-terrestial tongue. The grammar has been done away with.


1. Head lines are plain crazy or idiotic. Take this as an example

"Nahin Zamanat Milegi Sunjay Dutt ko". I fail to understand the syntax. A lot of racking of my small brain has resulted in a conjecture that the headlines are first composed in English( "No bail for Sanjay Dutt") and then translated verbatim to the cocktailish language hypothesized earlier.

Take another one "Mobile ab ban gaya Rupaiya". You can not ( I could not) make out as to which has become what. Subject and object are entirely interchangeable.


This misuse / abuse is not restricted to speech alone, it is endemic and has found its way into writing too. Even in film titles this grave error is regularly committed with impunity. 'Kitne Cool Hai Hum' is one example.

[ /quote ]

Naturally, I had something to say in return... my comments are listed below

---- begin comments ---
A very eloquent and thought-provoking piece. I do agree with you that current trend in the evolution of India's lingua franca is startling if not disturbing. I agree and understand most of the examples listed, and also truly enjoyed the mondegreen of "fees di".

However, and here is where I play the Devil's advocate, I do not think that these are all bad in of themselves. I do see certain positives here, mixed with a touch of inevitability.


1. The evolution of language is but a side effect of a larger section of the population getting a voice

2. With the barriers on correctness going down, a greater section of the population feels empowered to speak up and participate. I believe the artificial hesitation that goes with not knowing the "correct way" to vocalize thoughts and ideas is melting away, and that can only be a good thing.

3. for the longest time our nation has not spoken the same language. If it takes a mash up language to unite across the country, then so be it. it is high time the DMK progeny realized that the North isn't evil and likewise the North make efforts to achieve common ground. Ironically, Bollywood with its populist, psuedointellectual fare offers the most palatable mechanism of unification.


1. The "bad" language is and has been for the longest time the language of the masses. The intellectuals with concern for the propriety of language (or anything for that matter) have always been in the minority (influential or otherwise). Since trends are always determined by the masses, it is no surprise (at least to me) that the "devolution" of lingua franca is along this trajectory. Had this not been the case, we might still be using Sanskrit instead of the easier Prakrit derived Hindi or Latin instead of the robust, modern day bastard language that is English.

2. For the very same reasons that English is a bastard language, it is robust, virile, popular and alive. Unfortunately, Hindi (like other Indian languages) has for the longest time been in the slow throes of death. I believe it is finally giving way to a more amalgamated, stronger, popular "Indian" tongue. We are perhaps now truly beginning to speak "Indian".

3. From a more theoretical, philosophical perspective, this is the Second Law of Thermodynamics in action. Things progress in the direction of increasing Entropy. Often this is misinterpreted as "disorder always increases". I believe a better misinterpretation is "to maintain order, a greater effort (or equivalent forms of energy) must be expended".
4. Taking a statistical interpretation: even if we assume that the number of language infractions each person makes is a small proportion of the total sentences they create/ speak in their lifetime (or without loss of generality in any finite period of time), the probability of at least one infraction being heard across the population (assuming a densely connected population by virtue of ubiquitous mass communication media) is a simple union of individual probabilities. For an increasingly huge population such as India's this number would fairly quickly begin to approach unity, implying that at any point in time, almost all communication sampled would be erroneous.

Bottom line: To me this means that short of Herculean efforts and irresistible incentives towards maintaining language propriety, the language evolution juggernaut will gather steam unabated. It is best to recognize this change as natural, understand it and channel it.

Put another way, “If we will khaali-peeli keep khujaoing our dimaag, nothing will happen. Jisko jo bolneka hai, they will keep saying that. All we care is apne ko samjhta hai ki nahin and if saamne wala understands us or not? Right? Thanda lene ka and fokat ka fight nahin maarne ka!”
---- end comments ---


Chantal said...

You write very well.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Post mourns the death of the English language:


The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

kage said...

Wallstreet Journal's take on the evolution of (rather the demise of) English grammar in the workplace

Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

There's no easy fix. Some bosses and co-workers step in to correct mistakes, while others consult business-grammar guides for help. In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP.