Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"In America, they haven't used it for years!"

"Happiness starts with healthiness!!" crooned a lady extolling the virtues of a pet supplies shop. I was startled. My ears rang so loud, I thought I was in the bell tower of Notre Dame. The transformation of 'health' into 'healthiness' was akin to a bad dream. How in the world does one keep track of the ever changing English?

I have only just begun accepting the strange world of chat/text message language. It took severe steeling of my nerves to learn it. I mean, I would have rather learned Spanish or French or German in as much time. But I had reached a point where I could not decipher emails from my teenage students, or middle aged aunts trying to keep up with the teenage Joneses. I could excuse such merciless slaughter of spelling when one is sending an sms in a huge hurry on a device not meant for typing. But such language in an email? Err...talk about confusing technological components. I mean, when one types on the keyboard, how much difference does 'the' and 'da' make or 'that' and 'dat' in terms of time, omitting merely one alphabet?  It took me a while to learn that that 'omp' stood for 'on my period' and that 'cibat' stood for 'can i borrow a tampon', very convenient indeed. txtese was here to stay. gr8.(One of my pals has a wonderful comment on this subject: http://barnalisahabanerjee.blogspot.com/ ) I am not complaining. I guess all languages are so affected, as the French would say, Ko29 (quoi de neuf, what's new) and maybe 'cibat' is 'pjeunt'.

Oh, I know that language is not a static medium of expression, it evolves over the ages. The fact that The Book of The Duchess appears in English translation is a statement on the evolution of language. Chaucer's English was very different from Shakespeare's. Re-reading Pride and Prejudice, I noticed how different the Queen's language has grown since the days of Austen, the English of late 1800s.  "His behaviour to her sister was such, during dinner time, as shewed an admiration of her.." Today, any sentence written thus, may be instrumental in the student being shewed the door.

The mutation of English into a communication medium such as the sms lingo, is very different from the evolution of the language. However, the healthiness issue gave me altogether a totally different and unhealthy jolt. It was not about communicating with limited time or vocabulary. People on this side of the Atlantic did throw out more than tea at the Boston tea party. The transformation of favourite to favorite and colour to color are just simple examples. My latest pet peeve is the ubiquitous Californian-valley-doll 'like'. Sitting in the cafeteria at school, I was usually subjected to an attack of the 'likes'. "...and then I was like, totally, wierded out! Its like crazy! Who'd be like going to this like class? Especially with like a fest going on? Hell-lo?" A few minutes of this and one would be "totally wierded out" and the word harakiri takes on a new and inviting meaning.

Professor Higgins' lamented on improper English usage:

Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks have taught their Greek.
Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning.
And Hebrews learn it backwards, which is absolutely frightening.
But use proper English, you're regarded as a freak.

Ofcourse 'hello, how do you do' has become 'hey, how you doing', the correct response to the latter being, 'good'.  But other than the 'likes' and the like, I've had several experiences with people here confusing between 'there' and 'their', 'your' and 'you're'. I cannot imagine how one can err this way, but then again I was taught by non-native English speaking teachers very proud of their Wren and Martin grammar texts, and was rapped on the knuckles for making such mistakes 

As I listen to the different dialects of English developed over the time and space, I fear I am caught midstream in a raging torrent of change.

The change gets faster as the world grows smaller.

I wonder: Quo Vadis?


  1. Spot on, Sister!
    It is well known that Americans don't speak English... They speak Americanese (Excuse me while I gag). I don't buy - as you can tell - the entire 'evolution of language' argument as a means to justifying the destruction of whatever is beautiful with the language. But you know what worries me, though? The spread of Americanese amongst our desi brothers and sisters...

  2. As Amitabh's character would say in the movie Namak Halal, "Engliss is a phunny language!"

    Well, I've "gotten" used to it by now...

    Do take a look at this site. It's interesting. http://www.vivquarry.com/wkshts/usavuk.html

  3. Yup K, no justifying any destruction of language. But language does change with time.
    American is like the flu, spreads quickly.

    Thanks, Geeta, interesting website indeed!

  4. Engliss is indeed bery phunny and getting phunnier! And its phunniness is infectious! I have stop myself from saying 'I'm good' when someone asks 'howz you' :((( What happened to our pristine grammar?? Imagine what Rukmini Kutty would say!!

  5. Hi SK, great post and it comes at a perfect time for me-- I was just about to post something on reading and writing on my blog and I'm going to reference your post. Do check it out later today.
    I often remember all those times you and I would spend in the Barfiwala library going through great novels during the recess-- sounds terribly nerdy now, but at least we can put a sentence together :)

  6. LOL. I meant I am laughing out loud as I read your spot on observation. Have you heard not just the teenagers but adults over here prefixing every sentence with "like". It amazes me when they say borrow for lend and borrow as well. Back home, it is a mystery to people how someone who is born into the English language can not speak or write proper English. But who are we to judge? How many teenagers in cities know correct Hindi, spoken or written?
    Hoped on from Vaishali's blog. Enjoyed your rant.

  7. Thanks, Uma (birds on the brain) yes, I often wonder what Mrs Kutty would have said!! :)

    Thanks Vaishali, ofcourse I remember all the wonderful hours in the library with you. That and reading makes us put together a sensible sentence, I guess.

    :) Jaya, my biggest surprise came about when I heard the indiscriminate use of 'like' not just in the US but also in India. Oh I am just commenting. I have grown up confusing between 'take an exam' and 'give an exam', so am not in any position to judge. :)

  8. This hinglish is berry difficult.
    seriously , had to unlearn the language and learn americanism !

    Loved "Omanas simple peanut curry"
    got to try the recipe definately.
    it is beautifully composed , I was doubled over with laughter at the descriptions, you painted an eloquent picture. Simply put it is a masterpiece


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