Chutnefying English”—that is the theme of an international conference scheduled for January at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai. It takes on from discussions of Hinglish that have appeared in the media during this decade both in India and in Britain.
“Hinglish” has been formed on the model of Franglais, made popular by Professor Etiemble who wrote Parlez-vous Franglais. He was referring to Canada, where both English and French are official languages.
The borrowing of Indian words into English must have begun in Elizabethan times through the East India Company; in the days of the empire, administrative matters had to be written about and many Hindi words were adopted for legislation and military communications. Hobson-Jobson is a compendium of these colonial words. Many of the words lie in hibernation in the book and occasionally come to life when some quizmaster uses them in his programme.
But there are some words that have moved out of hibernation into mainstream English. “Guru”is a good example. Spelt “gooroo” in its 1800 entry, the word came to mean mentor from 1940. In its modern sense of expert in some field, it was first used in reference to Marshall McLuhan, the media guru. “Mantra” is another word that has been resurrected and become indispensable.
To understand the contemporary scene, we have to look at Hinglish from at least two different angles. The most widely discussed in the media is Hinglish in the UK. Here, Hinglish refers to the use of Hindi words in daily conversation, especially in cities with a large Asian population. As someone observed, Hinglish grew in the playing fields of England where youngsters mingled and the goras picked up Hindi words. Prime time TV shows such as Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42 were so successful that many Hinglish phrases and accents were absorbed by mainstream English. The best known of these was “chuddies”, Punjabi for underpants.
The criteria for evaluating the Hinglish of India are different. David Crystal recognized that we need to think of Indian English, not just Hinglish. In the south of the country we have Tamlish and in the north Punglish, he said.
Within India, we have people who speak their regional language with a liberal sprinkling of English words and people who are really speaking English but are influenced by Hindi or another native language. The former category is all too common.
FM radio anchors are presumed to be using the regional language, but English words are liberally used, especially nouns, adjectives and other content words, within a skeletal grammatical framework of English.
The spread of Hinglish can, to a considerable extent, be ascribed to Bollywood and its recent movies. When a movie named Shoebite was under production, people asked, “Is shoebite English or Hinglish?” Tamil cinema came up with a series of movies bearing English names such as Youth, Citizen, University, Jeans.
Advertisements on TV have been experimenting with all kinds of effects with two-language copy. Yeh Dil Mange More and Life Ho To Aisa set the trend. We now have slogans that can drive purists into a rage.
Indian English often gets influenced by the grammar and vocabulary of the local language. A politician from the opposition once said, “Until the minister does not apologize, we will block Parliament from functioning”. It sounds odd but translated into Hindi it makes sense. In English, the negative in the first clause has to go. Other typical Indian English constructions are, “Even you can carry the baby alligator in your arms.” “Even” has to go after “can”.
The Grand Hyatt conference in January will have its task clearly laid out. The first task will be to find a definition of Hinglish that encompasses the varieties mentioned above. Priority may have to be given to the emerging variety of TV English. It is creating ripples now but these will soon turn into tidal waves.
V.R. Narayanaswami, a former professor of English, has written several books and articles on the usage of the language. He will look at the peculiarities of business and popular English usage in his fortnightly column. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Also Read VR Narayanaswami’s earlier columns