Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Coming to terms with a dialect of English

Perhaps I should call it the national language of USA, and even term it a dialect of English if I felt charitable enough. Or I could coin 'Amenglish' - on the lines of other thriving, 'cross-fertilized' tongues like Hinglish, Pinglish, Binglish, Minglish, and umpteen more commonly heard in India. Here are a few objective, light-hearted notes on the pros and cons of language evolution. You'll agree that they are just(ified).

Long ago, my English teacher had marked "Expression!" in red on the margin, while checking a certain phrase in my shool-level essay. I realised that the phrase did not read quite well, and that's how I learnt about "expression" in written language. Now of course, I go by the maxim "Does this phrase or sentence sound right to the polished ear?", and then continue. And I find that I prefer the language in its form that stayed back home on the east side of the Atlantic!

- You need to be politically correct only in the US, elsewhere simply, sincerely conveyed thoughts in plain language (used to) serve the purpose.
- Do we fill fuel, petrol or gas? - That depends not on the crude outlet, but on geographic location
- There may come a time when the colon, semi-colon, comma and their brethren are talked of as 'period' punctuation marks. (remember the clich├ęd panda who eats shoots and leaves)
- Thank goodness Maria von Trapp accepted the language as is. Remember her plaintive queries when she had to learn the language - "if freeze can be 'froze' and 'frozen', why can't sneeze be 'snoze' and 'snozen'?" and "if the plural of mouse is mice, why can't the plural of house be hice?"

Indian courts are spending years debating laws that may be anachronistic or otherwise. But I am now wary of a few words and their definitions. In the '80s I proudly joined in as my school's choir sang the school song, part of which goes - "the school with children all so gay". (I am sure the song has been overhauled by now). The composer could not have known the other definitions for the word, which have sadly overtaken the earlier, 'purer' meanings.
Also, it is likely that the next generation will wonder what the singer meant when he crooned "I'm happy, gay and contented, why can't you be happy too?". (Perhaps counsel could use this in court to coax a favourable ruling).

I wonder if HL Mencken gave a thought to those thousands of America's native languages and dialects when he wrote his book

English has been doing stylishly well over centuries, without these dandies - AP, MLA, APA, AMA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard, CGOS, CBE, x, y, z... but why should I fret - these are writing styles in Amenglish, after all.

And don't tell me - "Be politically correct, or else!"

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8 Comments:

Blogger RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

Nice one!

English has crept into our lives and languages and is part of our native tongues. My domestic assistant who is illiterate uses Englsih words with insouciance, totally unaware that it is not part of the language she is talking - some of the words she uses are - night, decent, sure, nice...and her usage might be ungrammatical. But to her they are Thamizh words and used thus - May Henry Higgins (and Bernard Shaw) forgive her!

24 October, 2008  
Blogger Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

nice! Haha, they really made you sing that song, "the school with children all so gay?" People would feel revoted now, i guess. :-) Yes, english is a strange language, there is no denying it! One of the most intriguing forms is the SMS langauge...and the shrt frms they use on orkut. Really, 'later' becomes 'l8R' and u'll be wondering what it means! nice post!

26 October, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Thanks, Raji, the likes of Henry Higgins will never be jobless - they'd have to adapt!
Lakshmi - SMS language (the poor vowels!) - I may sound ancient, but the less said the better :)

26 October, 2008  
Blogger Indrani said...

Nice post, Swarna! Made me sit up and read and think!

28 October, 2008  
Anonymous Gopal said...

Nothing wrong a domestic servant using English word like 'insouciance', not worse than Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary then in Bush administration,
using phrases like 'known known, known unknown, unknown unknown' or way back Alexander Haig, the secretary of state in Regan administration when asked about his links with the famous Haig whiskey company, said 'I am related to them by consumption'!
Language and dialects change over the years but nothing worse than the wholesale change of Tamil usage in written or spoken formswithin the last 25 years. The usage of 'zha' has given way to 'la' it is 'valappalam'. To say anything else incurrs the wrath of the whole Dravidian Movement! The written form changed a couple of decades or so ago to a so called truly Dravidian form , with the result that I cannot read the stuff any more. It was the Dravidian movement by a Kannadiga called EVR Naicker who was influential in this change! The newspaper he used o publish contained the funny form, but no longer!!.

31 October, 2008  
Blogger Sal said...

Hi,
Expressions like 'my bad', 'have a good one', 'good. u?', 'howdy', etc are very common in Amenglish.
Cheers,

07 November, 2008  
Blogger Swarna said...

Indrani - thanks
Gopal- Thanks for sharing your views
Salil- thanks for your vote on 'Amenglish'

08 November, 2008  
Blogger magicpolaroid said...

nice post! interesting!!
Luis

20 November, 2008  

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i appreciate that you have some thoughts to share, and are taking the effort to do so.

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