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English as she is spoken and written

April 21, 2012

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me an email “forward” depicting what were listed as a few “Indianisms,” like someone asking you your “good” name. I thought the language of the “forward” appeared disparaging and made a protest; that there was nothing wrong in having idioms different from what could be Standard English, with or without a capitalised ‘S’; that “Indianisms” are as legitimate as Americanisms, West-Indian-isms, etc.

And then again, where do we look for Standard English? Especially after World War II, English has become the dominant language in international commerce and communications; to such extent that a few years ago Orly airport made English mandatory for communication with its tower even for Air France pilots. It is another matter that it drew a sharp reaction, “There should be a limit to the arrogance of the English language,” from the minister for culture – I have a vague recollection it was the minister in the Canadian province of Quebec – when she learned of this.

Okay, where do we look for Standard English? Even as I write this, the WordPress software has already drawn wiggly red lines below the words “capitalised” and “Indianisms,” but not “Americanisms”.  And to think that so much time and effort were spent when in my early youth I was drilled on the difference between “practice” and “practise,” including the difference in pronunciation between them! WordPress is now screaming at me that I have made a spelling error in the word “practise”.

Standard English – with its orthography, pronunciation, syntax, idioms and the like seems to be as elusive as the God Particle elementary-particle-physicists are trying to find, spending so much time, effort and money, in places like CERN. It must be there somewhere. So should Macavity, that super criminal cat created by Eliot.

I predict Standard English will never be found. She died long ago, if ever she lived. As did the practice of hyphenating compound words, even erratically as I do. And the reason is the mongrelisation of the English language, something that is the ultimate consequence of the European search for pepper, colonialism…

But it is not to say that some of the regional variations are not amusing. We were greeted by establishments that declared they had “fooding and lodging” in Dimapur when we de-trained there once at the ungodly hour of 11:30 in the night, in pouring rain. And I can see autorickshas in Chennai that carry the (compulsory, if you have to get a permit to ply) messages, some of which read like “Use Tipper at Night”. I had once saved the instructions for making palada from a packet of ready-made ada that was so hilarious one enjoyed it more than the payasam.

These are not caused by legitimate variations but by the use of the language by inexperienced users.

Therefore Chinglish, which is the result of inexperience and confusion with the syntax of Mandarin and Cantonese (or is it Guangzhou-ese?) is hilarious, but not necessarily Chinese English. My friends’ daughter, born and brought up in Singapore, also acquired the disdain for “Singlish” like some Indians do for Indian English. But that was before she moved to Nottingham and found that there are so many variations of the Anglo-Saxon tongue in its homeland, too.

To get your laughs, I give below a couple of links for Chinglish by the respected newspapers, Daily Mail of the UK and The New York Times, USA.

My favourite in this compilation is: “When old man’s child go up hand ladder temporary need the family to accompany”

Tailpiece: Although I really am confused and ambivalent about it when they call an ATM a “Cash Recycling Machine”, it is not Chinglish when they mark recyclable waste bins and non recyclable ones “Can reuse” and “Can’t reuse”. Please don’t take your Large Hadron Collider to it.


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  1. Induchoodan permalink

    Your language like your attire is an instrument to classify you. If Indianisms are look down upon, it means that Indians are ranked lower in the hierarchy. In earlier days if you had an Oxford accent, you could walk through any placement interview. Now possibly, the sought after accent is the Midwest accent. In our own culture, the importance given to Sanskrit is similarly most ludicrous. If somebody utters the most mundane statements in Sanskrit, he will be considered as very learned. Sometimes I feel that the basis of Indian educations is not acquiring knowledge, but acquiring such
    mannerisms. May be that is the case with every culture.

  2. Thangam permalink

    Welcome back. I agree there is no such thing as Standard English, though I still remember my 8th standard English Teacher, an Irish nun, trying to instil this into our unwilling heads. I can’t forget the rap on our knuckles if we pronounced “awry” as awe-ri , instead of a-rye. Ha! You didn’t know that, did you? I squirm when the midwest accented guys pronounce the word wrongly, so Sister Olive must have given us something after all.

    When I spent a year in Glasgow University, I was surprised to find the locals couldn’t spell. Or maybe the Scots were just being cussed, as they hate the English and resent having to study the language.

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