Random Thoughts

English and...all that.

Many Indian languages have generously contributed to the English language vocabulary. Words such as “Pundit” and “Guru” have their origins in Sanskrit, but have become part of English. However, we Indians tend to translate directly from our mother tongue (whatever it be) into English. This often leads to humorous situations. No, no. I do not mean to say that it is wrong to speak bad English. In fact we often (sadly!) ignore when one makes grammatical errors in Hindi or Telugu… However, as has become part of the Indian urban psyche, speaking good English is synonymous with good education and all the nice things that go with it. Well, here are a few phrases that can tickle your funny bone. The intention is not to make fun of any Indian language or its speaker, but only to reflect on the satirical sense evoked when a person tries to translate literally (or transliterate?) from an Indian language. Well, well, ignorance is never to be laughed at and every attempt at learning that is missed counts only as a lost opportunity.

At one of my past employers, there was this colleague who arrived late at office one day to find a group of strangers huddled and fixing wires at his work place. He immediately turned and asked “Who this all are?” Apparently our friend’s intention was to ask “Who are all these people?  I have never seen them here before”. Well, they turned out to be electricians who had been called in by the management to attend to a problem.

An oft heard phrase is “… that and all I don’t know”. Sample this – “I know he goes to office early and returns late, but about his work… that and all I don’t know”. As you would have guessed, the intent was to say “I know he goes to office early and returns late, but I know nothing about his work”.

While waiting for the bus, the other day, I chanced to hear a conversation between two youngsters. “You did not attend the interview, what and all they were asking…”. Well, the person was apparently trying to elaborate on the degree of complexity, depth and variety, of the questions that the interviewer had posed.

We also tend to ask questions rather passively. Perhaps “Do you have a pencil?” appears more aggressive (impertinent?). “You have a pencil…” in a meek tone seems more humble (respectful?). We try to end sentences in substitute-Indian-language-of-choice: “You are going to a cinema ah? (Or cinemawa?) ”.

“Caw-lay-jee” takes the place of “college”. “Iskool” takes the place of “school”. All this is only in spoken language.

“Put (park) your motor bike there and come here quickly ya …”

 This is a never ending list. No?


More by :  Raajesh Adivaragan

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Comment When I was in college in Mumbai over 50 years ago, Air India used to put up funny ads about Indian English on a big billboard near Opera House and changed them every month. They even published a pamphlet titled, "Foolishly Yours" which was a nice satire and had occasional Indian English double entendres. If I am not mistaken, TOI published a book titled "Are Bhai". One quip, I remember is that of a person being invited for dinner at another coworker friend's house and as the loving woman of the house served the food, the host meaning to say - Don't feel shy- quipped "Eat shamelessly". The not to be outdone guest who meant to say - I am full and have had more than enough- quipped, "I am fed up". The beauty of our provincial languages is that the tone often signifies whether it is a request, order or assertion and thus even "eat shamelessly" and "I am fed up" when spoken by a Hinglish speaker, signify by tone, that they are not meant to offend or insult, but expressions of concerned graciousness and equally concerned grateful appreciation. Wodehouse in his funny stories brings out the same dichotomy between "Oh yea! and Oh Yea?? in the accent of native English speakers, but this subtle distinction is neither available nor understood by the British or Americans in their conversation for most phrases and sentences..

Gaurang Bhatt

Gaurang Bhatt
29-Oct-2011 14:03 PM

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