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Friday, June 11, 2010

Revisiting English, Globish, Hinglish, and Loves's Last Madness (book reviews)

Update 6/11: another great blog post on the different Indian English accents! Not to be missed! Since Indians speak so many different languages, of course the accents are different, and Minai nails the issue. At the bottom of this post, you can find the video this favorite blogger produced, giving examples.

Update 3/11: great blog post I just found, by Jabberwock, on a lecture he attended, "The Future of Englishes"

This is the post formerly known as "New season, new look, new language," revised and expanded, updated six months later, on the other side of the year. And I have a new look for winter.

Maybe I'm just spinning my wheels waiting for summer to arrive in the southern Oregon mountains! Until my own brain starts working again, here's something amusing from someone else's:a short New Yorker review of Robert McCrum's new book, Globish , with attention paid to the role of English in India.

I think I'll have to read that book. [Update: I just read it - or rather, heard it, in excellent audiobook format. It's a very entertaining survey of English language history and fun to revisit that, though I was a bit disappointed that the material on actual Globish was rather brief, and I was surprised that a lot of things seemed to be left out about why English adapts itself so readily to other cultures. He did a lot of backgrounding there, but never quite followed through to the extent I'd have wished. Maybe that's because the subject has been covered extensively already by others. There's a lot of information about Globish out there that I, an English major but only a casual observer of Globish, have come across, that he left out. Maybe I'll follow up on that with another post.

I've also come across some interesting articles lately on the various forms of English developing in different countries - something that's been happening for a long time but has been coming into its own very fast recently with the opening of global culture.

All this reminded me of an enlightening incident from several decades ago, one which prepared me for this brave new world of global language, probably. We were living in India but hadn't been there long yet; my mother, who was there in part to teach English at the college, corrected her dear friend Sujaya (Professor of Astrology), not for the first time, on some point of usage. Sujaya evidently decided she wasn't going to put up with a whole year of this, and gently corrected my mother: "But this is Indian English. This is our language as we speak it here, just as you speak American English in your country."

That was a revelation for my mother, and she made sure the whole family took Sujaya's gyan to heart. I think it delighted her because it taught her something new about English's complexity, fluidity and flexibility. Everyone in the family (but especially my mother and I) read voraciously, absorbing the flavor of the wonderful and extensive body of literature written in English by Indians, and it's been a lifelong pleasure for me ever since to read novels written in English by Indians -- a literature now as global as it is Indian. It's a diverse literature as innovative and vital in the new generation of desi writers circling the globe as it was in the time of the more provincial (but universally human) Malgudi and Kanthapura, the iconic villages created by Narayan and Rao.

We were first exposed to South Indian English, as it happened, and when I lived in New Delhi later I regret now that I brought the Southie prejudice against Hindi with me and learned very little about it at the time; but from what I'm reading, a combination of (the North Indian language) Hindi and English is becoming quite prevalent throughout India these days. Click here for a good New York Times article on Hinglish.
That author quotes from a delightful book I happen to own:
"In The Queen's Hinglish, another recent book on the theme, Baljinder K. Mahal writes that more people speak English in South Asia than in Britain and North America combined, with India alone accounting for more than 350 million English speakers....

"Hinglish, as this modern blend of standard English, Indian English and South Asian languages is popularly known, could soon become the most widely spoken form of English on earth....The purists - as they always do - have lost the battle," she writes. "Hinglish, once seen as the lingo of the uneducated masses, is now trendy - the language of the movers and shakers."
This book is in the standard little-novelty-book format and it is indeed very amusing for the Bollywood fan. But the info in it is good and it's been very useful to me as a dictionary several times. I just wish it were bigger and longer. Wonder if I'll ever get back to my Hindi studies. Even the little bit that I did last year keeps paying off.

Yesterday I picked up again a book on the Urdu poet Sant Darshan Singh, Love's Last Madness: Poems on a Spiritual Path (written by Barry Lerner and Harbans Bedi, a wonderful man and gifted writer I was once fortunate enough to work with at the library; I would treasure the book for that reason even if it weren't so fine), and I'm amazed at how much better I understand it all now, thanks to a new smattering of Hindi (which has so much in common with Urdu) and a few more years more of life-experience to hang the content on. The book's small section on the history of Urdu was a bit of a revelation from my new vantage point... Hope I can get together a post on this book but that might not belong here in this blog.

And here's a really interesting blog post I just came across, about Hindi poetry in the 20th century, with nice translations: http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/006242.html

Anyway - back to Hinglish, Globish, and all the other language changes happening - all I can say is Shabash! The only thing that's surprising to me about this is that people over here (and England, too) still seem surprised that they're expected to accept other national forms of English as equally righteous usages - chi! - when Indians have known this all along and people like my mother and I never had a problem with the idea, we embraced it with masti. Maybe it's about truly understanding what English is: it's never been just one language, and there's never been just one pukka way to speak it. It's always been a global language - first incorporating the languages of firangis who came to the Isles, and later spreading outward from there and changing as it gained from exchanged with other cultures.

Maybe it's time to revisit Robert McCrum's earlier The Story of English, the Emmy-winning series from the Eighties, with its companion book by Robert McNeil and Robert McCrum. It made many of these points 25 years ago, but with more emphasis on English as we use it, and less of Globish as others do. Netflix has the videos.

Meanwhile, thanks to several years of infatuation with Bollywood movies and related Internet sites I finally started learning some Hindi, and actually studying it. That makes mixing it all up it even more fun, haina?

Oh, and this is too good - Thanks to @allusirish, I just learned that Twitter has a trending hashtag, #IndianEnglish . Check it out - some of them are wonderful and Hinglish speakers are obviously having a lot of fun there. 

And here's Minai's wonderful video, which I mentioned earlier. It shows the diversity of Indian English accents, identifying the locations of origin -- for, after all, Indians speak many different languages in a greater diversity of root languages than Europeans.

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