Bangalore: One day not too far into the future, waking up might be better known as “booting up”, and getting lost in details might become akin to a “core dump”.
Technology—and its jargon-loving workers—have always been at the forefront of changing and moulding the English language. But urban India, seeing an increased pervasiveness of technology amid those workers, has become fertile ground for the spawning of a new idiom, with some phrases crossing over into the mainstream.
Software engineer Mithun Raj is at the vanguard. He says he once had a boss who “booted up” in the mornings. And he sometimes refers to everyday problems as “bugs”, even outside the coding context.
“We are going in a lift, and I can’t press some floor, then we say it has got a bug,” he says.
Already, unwittingly, urban Indians are embracing words with technological roots such as “multi-tasking” and “bandwidth”. In April, an online retailer in Europe called Pixmania claimed that “Nerdic” was the fastest growing language on the continent.
By Nerdic, it meant the technical jargon that makes its way into everyday conversation, with buzzwords such as googling (to search for information on the Google search engine) and rickroll (to click on a link that takes you, as a prank, to the music video for a 1987 song by Rick Astley called Never Gonna Give You Up.)
“People find these expressions useful for the way people like to think about things and talk about things,” says Gautam Sengupta, a professor of applied lingustics at the University of Hyderabad. “In common language, the expressions are not available. Now here’s a discipline where you are exposed to these terms and find some of them are very appropriate in expressing ideas.”
Indians are hardly alone in their adoption of the new language. Techspeak, or Techlish, isn’t the only new dialect to invade India’s subconscious.
Hinglish—an old but thriving combination of Hindi and English—is one of the most popular modes of communication in Indian entertainment and advertising. Mobile phone service provider Airtel tells you SMS a number ringtone ke liye (for ringtone) and pizza delivery chain Domino’s asks if you’re Hungry kya (are you hungry)? Popular movie titles of late include Jab We Met (When We Met), Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (A Little Love a Little Magic) and U Me Aur Hum (You Me and Us).
Acronyms also account for an Indianized version of English, with, for example, every political party in India except for the Congress party identified by its English initials and terms such as “SC” referring to the Supreme Court and scheduled castes. But in some ways, tech-speak has created a more universal, global language. From nouns such as fab—the billion dollar factories in the semiconductor industry—to verbs such as trash—to “trash” something in programming is to expect something but get nothing, and in turn discard it—single words can substitute for entire sentences.
“In certain communities,” says Rakesh Shukla, who runs a technical publishing company called The Writers Block and spent time in the software industry, “it cuts down the time of communicating. For the people in it, it doesn’t mean jargon.”
The art of cutting down communication time in India owes a debt to its teenagers, who are notoriously ruthless in cutting English down to the bare minimum. Blog posts and SMSes rarely have one full word, and instead, “the” becomes “d”, “and” becomes “n”, “said” becomes “sed”, “about”, “abt”, and vowels are designated as pretty much useless. As in: Gud mrng. Hw r u, wat hav u bin up2?
Teenagers have also embraced online chat language, so certain phrases such as FYI (for your information) or TTYL (talk to you later) make their way into the emails and conversations of everyone from grade school students to senior executives. Others, such as the age-old LIFO and FIFO, or last-in-first-out and first-in-first-out, still reside mostly in the technical worlds.
Many of the more ubiquitous terms have migrated from technical jargon to widespread business acceptance. If your home is a mess, you might be schooled in telecom equipment maker Motorola’s approach to management. Software consultant Puneet Goel explains, “If someone is inefficient in house, then one can say, ‘you need to use Six Sigma to make the house stuff efficient.’” Or pipeline, a term that initially referred to how computer processors handled instructions, which now also means things such as deals or sales that are about to come.
And for techies, the most common buzzwords are such as those, at the intersection between business and everyday life. Take Wysiwyg, meaning what you see is what you get. As for that RFP—request for proposal—it just might become the preferred term for matrimonial ads, too.