Posts Tagged dialects

Postscript (How Indian is my English?)

The number of e-mails the earlier post on Indian English prompted inspires this postscript. 

If speaking a language means speaking a culture, then what culture does Indian English reflect? Probably that of the elite, western-educated, upper classes.  Not very nice baggage for a language to be carrying, is it?! (This language-culture nexus, by the way, has its roots in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.)

Indian English  is our Aunty tongue, as Probal Dasgupta calls it. Nobody’s mother tongue and yet important enough to be a part of the family of Indian languages. 

Then again, there is now another subculture of Indian English –  that of the call centres and BPOs.  This entire industry hinges on the accent neutralization/reduction business.  So Indian English speakers have a global market; it’s just their accents that are problematic and therefore have to be “neutralized” or reduced!!  (Susan Sontag’s essay on the subject -The  World as India – claims that call centre India, with its operators who live as Indians by day and American/Europeans by night, donning and doffing names and accents at will,  is a metaphor for today’s globalized world. The article appeared in the TLS, July 2003; not available online unfortunately. )

It’s not all bleak. The defenders of Indian English and indeed of all other varieties of English are nothing if not vociferous.  While there are those who claim that Indians and people with different accents should be proud of their accents because of the colour and liveliness they add to everyday conversation, others (like David Crystal) suggest that the stupendous number of speakers of English in India  will probably compel the world to learn Indian English.  

I doubt it. Sheer numbers mean nothing. Especially when pitted against the power politics of the standard, rooted as it is in the strength of education, political and social power, and literary merit. Obstacles far too formidable for the “varieties” to overcome. In India, too, there is clear bias in favour of people who speak “convent English,” the equivalent, I guess, of standard British English. 

Steven Pinker raises this very interesting point  – that the different Englishes of the world are actually similar, if you look at the way the educated, upper classes speak/write.  Which really hammers my point home. If the educated classes are speaking the standard, or nearly the standard, what hope is there for the “varieties”?  

And finally, to return to that point about language and culture, there are some aspects of our culture that English simply cannot convey. Here’s an example:

And I don’t normally do this – advertise blogs. However, honourable exceptions always abound:

Meena Kandasamy’s blog – No comments. Just read.

And this one is by a former student – 

More friend than student now. Promising stuff.



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