My com­puter get­ting hung and other ev­ery­day fun stuff

The shades of mean­ing in the some­times frac­tured in­ter­pre­ta­tions of lan­guage give pa­tois its lo­cal charm

Khaleej Times - - BETWEEN THE LINES - Bikram Vohra

Chalta hai (fa­tal­ism at its best, the phrase ‘it hap­pens,’ won’t even come close to salut­ing cen­turies of sur­ren­der to the caprice of kis­met)

Iwas teach­ing a class the other day and shar­ing with the stu­dents my favourite ‘–isms’ from back home. Like, ‘I am not re­mem­ber­ing it.’ Be­cause ‘it is not com­ing in my mind.’ Maybe be­cause ‘sleep is com­ing.’ Sleep isn’t com­ing any­where, dar­ling, you are feel­ing sleepy. Yet we still do it. Has Karama ar­rived? No, it hasn’t moved an inch, we have… ar­rived, that is. Many of us frac­ture the lan­guage in so many won­drous ways with­out re­al­is­ing it. Add to this de­li­cious mix mal­a­prop­ism (us­ing sim­i­lar sound­ing words that are in­trin­si­cally wrong) and clichés of the worse kind and you get into even deeper wa­ter. I have heard peo­ple say ‘this does not jive’ with the oc­ca­sion when they ac­tu­ally mean ‘jibe.’ You have heard folks say ‘It is be­yond my ap­pre­hen­sion,’ when they mean com­pre­hen­sion. It is a long list.

The cherry on the cake then be­comes the il­lib­eral spray­ing of ar­ti­cles like ‘the’ and ‘a’ as if from a salt cel­lar. Ei­ther that or miss­ing them out en­tirely (she works in shop. He is hold­ing ham­mer).

The hap­pily stilted us­age of gram­mar and the in­sid­i­ous fash­ion in which it has per­me­ated speech and the writ­ten word makes for a colour­ful pas­tiche of the Queen’s English.

Today I had good ex­pe­ri­ence. I met Mr Ravi, he is a gem of a per­son (take your choice, di­a­mond, pearl, ruby, what­ever) and he asked me my good name which I said, ‘My­self Arun, your good name?’

He asked me to ‘do one thing.’ Try ex­plain­ing, you can­not do a thing. An­i­mat­ing thing is an ac­cepted ad­di­tion to In­dian English.

I told him not to men­tion it and that I would do the need­ful, any­way. If he isn’t go­ing to men­tion it, it doesn’t ex­ist. Me when­ever my com­puter got hung.

He told to me that I had very good com­mand of lan­guage skills but I am not un­der­stand­ing th­ese days why peo­ple not writ­ing good. Too many di­ver­sions, no? The in­ter­rog­a­tive neg­a­tive is an In­dian em­pha­sis. But it is not un­com­mon. In the UK, ‘in­nit’ serves the same pur­pose, as does ‘aint’ in the US. In Aus­tralia, they feed it into the sen­tence (it’s a good match in­nit mate?)

Even na­tive English speak­ers who might in­tu­itively pick up gram­mat­i­cal nu­ances lose out now to the writ­ten word. They find it very hard to write good English and get away with id­iom. That is be­cause they have very lit­tle prac­tice and are no longer taught gram­mar. Since they also be­lieve they have an edge in a group where English is the com­mon lan­guage, they tend to mo­nop­o­lise the con­ver­sa­tion and ride roughshod over the rest. Ergo, their lan­guage skills stay static.

Now, since the rivers of English have dif­fer­ent cour­ses de­pend­ing on which part of the world you rep­re­sent, the chasms in the con­ver­sa­tion in such a meet­ing of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties speak­ing English di­alects can lead to con­fu­sion, mis­un­der­stand­ings, to­gether with a re­luc­tance to con­fess ig­no­rance. Also, in­ter­pre­ta­tion is up for grabs es­pe­cially when us­ing id­iom and metaphors. Imag­ine a na­tive English speaker say­ing, ‘Got to see a man about a dog’ and leav­ing the room. Try ex­plain­ing to three In­di­ans, two Filipinos, one Chi­nese, two Nige­ri­ans and four Arabs that he has gone to the toi­let.

Again, the shades of mean­ing do cause con­fu­sion. A re­port given by a staffer might be seen by a Brit as ‘rather novel’ or ‘un­usual.’ His way of say­ing it is aw­ful and will not see the light of day. Oth­ers lis­ten­ing in might read this as a green sig­nal. Hm­mmm, he said it was good. No, he didn’t.

Try ex­plain­ing to a non-na­tive speaker that ‘cheater’ is not a word and cheat is enough. A cheater cheats so how can a cheat be a cheat, makes no sense.

English is so fluid that the re­gional ‘isms’ can be baf­fling. A sec­re­tary say­ing the boss passed this morn­ing or has gone could be as­sumed to be a mat­ter of deep re­gret and sor­row ex­cept that he will be back af­ter lunch.

Yet, what is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to oth­ers is crys­tal clear to peer groups.

We pass out of col­lege not grad­u­ate. We are out of sta­tion, not away or trav­el­ling. Like I meet­ing this pretty girl, telling her to meet me back side of the build­ing. I say­ing we share tif­fin to­gether. But she not agree­ing my in­vite so I am think­ing maybe I mak­ing lit­tle mis­take. Now she telling on me. But at least we win all the spell­ing bees.

The Great In­dian Nod (GIN) is a lan­guage in it­self and only fel­low In­di­ans can un­der­stand the sub­tle vari­a­tions. The ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ shakes of the head have their own elo­quence.

In­dian English, by virtue of its vast spread and the in­flu­ences ex­erted upon it has been made a lot more colour­ful by home­made ad­di­tions. My favourite is, ‘Time pass.’ It has such an in­do­lent, self-in­dul­gent ca­dence to it. (I saw the movie for time pass).

Words like ‘bindaas’ (care­free doesn’t cut it), bandh (the In­dian ver­sion of a close­down strike), gherao (protest in which the VIP is sur­rounded), chalta hai (fa­tal­ism at its best, the phrase ‘it hap­pens,’ won’t even come close to salut­ing cen­turies of sur­ren­der to the caprice of kis­met).

What if you have two-two TVs in your house and three-three dogs. We know what we mean but does the world?

let­ters@khalee­j­times.com

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