The English language has been around us for as long as I can remember. The British passed on this legacy to us and that is how we know English. English was the language of business when they presided over the country and found its way into all our institutions ranging from Educational Institutes to Administration.
Our society’s flirtation with English has continued over the years. Here are some points that summarize it:
- Primary Education in English Medium
Having an education in English was and is still a sure shot to announcing to the world that you have arrived. Getting an education in English has been the recipe for a lot of folks to have got themselves jobs that their earlier generations in the family would not have imagined and thereby paving the way for rising out of their economic difficulties. This is not a guaranteed method of success but there is no lack of evidence to prove that English was the vehicle used to move ahead.
- Jobs that require English as a written and spoken skill
Each one of us has come across several jobs that have clearly mentioned that the candidate must have fluency in written and spoken English. English is whether we like it or not, the language of Business and having a command over it is still considered an advantage in many jobs. The IT revolution in my opinion would never have happened had it not been for our familiarity with English. We are one of the largest English speaking population in the world and at the same time we continue speaking our other languages too.
- The Humour in English – the Indian way
English is a funny language no doubt. And it has provided us with a lot of humour in the form of jokes too. Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, Words, Articles, Puns, etc. have been used so freely with an Indian touch to it that it is entertaining at best. The most confusing part of the language is at times that two words sound the same. For e.g. Hair and Hare. Now consider a fun pun given here : “The magician got so angry with the crowd that he pulled out his hare”. And many such examples.
A complete book has been written on the subject by Binoo John titled “Entry From Backside Only” – Hazaar Fundas of Indian-English. It is a wonderfully written book that goes into the history of Indian English and some of the examples are hilarious. No one can forget Amitabh Bachchan giving a commentary in English in Namak Halaal. I reproduce just a section of it to remind you :
“I can talk English, I can walk English, and I can laugh English because English is a very phunny language. Bhairoñ becomes Byron and Byron becomes Bhairoñ because their minds are very narrow. In the year nineteen hundred and twenty nine, Sir, when India was playing against Australia in Melbourne city, Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare ………”. Read the rest of the dialogue (strongly recommended) over here.
I now wish to focus on a couple of other high level areas and my comments on them:
A) The movement against English
This is completely unwarranted and is purely political in nature. Several pseudo (no pun intended!) English haters have surfaced of late and promote regional languages while blindly attacking the English language. At the same time these folks never blink an eyelid before reading English newspapers, appearing on English News Channels, sending their kids to an English medium school, etc. I think they will never succeed. And I give 3 reasons for that (readers can add the other reasons):
1. English is the international language of business. No one can deny that.
2. Just look at the rush of parents getting their kids enrolled in English medium schools even if they have not gone to an English medium school. The reasons are clear to these parents and they care a hoot for the political class and language fundamentalists who wish to say otherwise.
3. India is a not a homogenous society. It has given all sorts of things to the world and in return absorbed several outside influences too. A few zealots will remain just that i.e. a minority.
B) The lack of correct and proper English in Work Places
This is more disturbing because we need to understand that whatever we may say, English is the language of business in the global world. You are living in a fool’s paradise if you wish to bet against that. Given that it is all the more important that if you are working anywhere that requires the use of the English language then every attempt be made to get better at it both in the written and verbal form. Just hearing the kind of English being spoken today is enough to give an English language purist a heart-attack. More shocking is the inability of these folks to write anything in English. English like any other activity cannot be mastered in one shot. You need to work on it, you need to practice it more, learn to correct yourself, etc. Without an effort of that kind, you end up with a form of English that is ‘sorry’ and not ‘funny’ to hear and read. Grammar and punctuation has anyways died a slow death in the English language due to a proliferation of SMS-style messages. The last man standing in the English language is its spoken form and I wish that it continues to thrive.
I hope the English language continues to survive and I am sure it will. And by the way, if you still harbour some ill-feelings towards the English language and would like to get it replaced, let me remind you in my own humble way that this blog and its posts are in English and you just read it.