Open Thread: Does Language Really Matter?

Seeing people unable to express themselves coherently is distressing to me. It is cute to see a very small child struggling with language but in adults incoherence is disturbing. Some people’s inability to spell and punctuate properly makes me wonder whether they are inherently stupid or whether their schooling was inadequate.

I think that everyone should know at least one language well. Everyone, that is, who is not mentally handicapped in some way. But many normal people demonstrate that they are either unable or unwilling to write clearly.

Closer to home, I see some comments on this blog which makes me wish that the reader had not bothered to comment. It embarrasses me. I struggle with my policy of not deleting comments unless it is spam or totally abusive.

Language matters. It matters regardless of which language it is. Once I was at a conference where the presenter was mixing Hindi and English. For instance, “ab hamen yeh RED COLOR ko dekhna hai BUT BLUE rang bhi bahut SIGNIFICANT hai. Pur yahan POVERTY kum hotay gaye hai. Jyada say jyada paanch PERCENT hogi…”

I finally lost it. I interrupted the speaker to tell him that he should stop screwing Hindi. It is a perfectly good language with an adequate vocabulary and if he does not know the Hindi words for what he has to say, he better switch to English. Fact was that he did not know English either.

Why the decline in language skills? Is it so or am I imagining it? Are schools failing to teach languages?

Don’t people know that if you don’t have the vocabulary, you cannot think properly? Don’t they know that rather than being at the periphery of our cognitive abilities, language lies at the core?

I believe that it takes effort to express oneself in such a way that one means what one says and vice versa. It takes time and energy. It often takes revisions. It takes care. And it shows.

Reading some of the comments makes me cringe. Like I said, it embarrasses me and I marvel at the writer’s total lack of self-consciousness and willingness to present evidence that he or she is not worth taking seriously.

What says you? Say what you will as this is an open thread.

Related post:

Rajivspeak is Getting out of Hand. March 2008. You must read this. It’s pretty funny, actually.

20 thoughts on “Open Thread: Does Language Really Matter?

  1. yayaver Wednesday December 15, 2010 / 10:14 am

    I have two and half explanations on this issue:

    The language and mathematics are the building blocks of the any education system. To give diversify the syllabus, so much is course cramped in the primary education (Class 5).

    Too much stress on learning English in schools while speaking regional language everywhere causes hybrid of language evolved. This shows perfect combination of gentlemen/women who don’t know either of them.

    Lack in reading habit with the coming of cable tv, twitter and facebook.


  2. SV Wednesday December 15, 2010 / 12:09 pm

    The mixing up of English words with Indian languages has become a norm. In fact it has gone to such an extent that if you avoid simple English words like the ones used in the above phrases you could be mistaken for a fanatic or an RSS guy. I guess we don’t love our languages so much with the need to be competent in English


  3. Armchair Guy Wednesday December 15, 2010 / 12:24 pm

    I don’t have a real explanation. But I think there are several factors. Here are some guesses.

    First, people will care if they are rich enough to take the time for leisure reading. Perhaps we don’t have a critical mass of rich people in most Indian languages (including Hindi).

    Second, there must be a culture of love for one’s language. For Hindi, this is kind of imposed. For most other Indian languages there’s lip service. Only a few Indian languages actually have a fan following. With English, there’s a love-hate relationship: those who are proficient like it, those who aren’t hate it.

    Third, languages need strong literary figures to develop. In India we don’t seem to have too many of these for each language. Why? Perhaps because we don’t have a well-rounded education system. A bad education system reduces both the pool of potential figures and the size of the consumption market.

    Fourth, languages need a bit of standardization, a concept that seems completely alien to India and the ‘jugaad’ system. In at least one language that I know of, many words are spelled in different ways, even in mainstream publications. Hundreds of dialects are fine, but there should be a standardized version that is known to a large majority within each language.

    Fifth, and this is a common rant of mine, I think the hyper-focus on and diversion of funds to Hindi hurts other languages. Since the diversion of funds is captive, it doesn’t benefit Hindi much either (in much the same way that our infrastructure isn’t much improved by increasing spending) because the money isn’t really used for its intended purpose.

    Sixth, poor education most definitely has a direct effect apart from its effects through other mechanisms. Our schoolkids can recite entire textbooks from memory but can’t form a moderately complex sentence by themselves. Teachers often teach incorrect nonsense. This is our fault. We don’t audit teachers or teaching methods.

    I’m sure there are other reasons as well.


  4. Sundaresan Venkatasubramanian Wednesday December 15, 2010 / 2:54 pm

    My opinion (or extrapolation) on why this is the case with Indians (specifically Engineering and Science graduates) –

    The focus of almost all competitive exams (and admissions to institutions) is mostly on the science and math part of the curriculum. Most of the students don’t really bother to be proficient/complete in a language as there is no incentive to be (unless they have other incentives). The language proficiency requirements for under-graduate science/engineering courses are very low. They are in a mad rush to get good grades by concentrating on things that would matter. To have better language standards in a society, the education system should start valuing it by making the students realize that its not just what they express matters, but also how they do.

    It is when you hit a barrier at some point, say when you are writing a Phd thesis in a US university, or when you are dealing with executives in a company, you understand how important it is to express yourself clearly.

    I disagree with your statement that – “Don’t people know that if you don’t have the vocabulary, you cannot think properly?”

    Some people without a good vocabulary can still think and form concepts properly in their mind. It’s just that they won’t be able to express it in a crisp and elegant fashion. Worse, a lot of them don’t realize that language is indeed important.


  5. TiredProf Wednesday December 15, 2010 / 10:43 pm

    @Manikutty: NYT most likely moderates/filters comments, but still, comparing comments on NYT with comments on Outlook makes me jam my sphincter for hours. I have stopped doing so to avoid IBS.

    Atanu is correct: Language really matters, not just as a vehicle of communication but as an instrument of thought itself. A society that cannot speak and write well is a society that cannot think clearly, which explains where even well-to-do middle-class India is going.


  6. vikram Thursday December 16, 2010 / 4:18 am

    I am among those who are neither very good at English, not very good at Hindi.

    However, overtime I realized that mastery over language is very important – for various reasons.

    It started with not being able to impress, and then realizing that I was not fully able to express myself.

    Since then I have been careful to not mix the two, and advice the same to others.

    In 2007, Swami Ramdev got a lot of TV programs made on Veda, Upanishad, Dharshan shastra, Sanskaar.

    In one such program one Sanskrit scholar mentioned that study of Vyakaran is very important, and was essential in olden times (and is still a prerequisite for study of Veda).

    He told that Rishi Patanjali, in his Vyakaran Mahabhashaya, has mentioned 18 reasons of studying Vyakaran.

    Two of those he mentioned are – Raksha, and Ooha.

    I don’t remember very well now, but Raksha is to protect the Veda, to ensure that they are not corrupted. I believe however it has a broader meaning than just protection of Veda. I guess it means to protect the truth, the knowledge.

    Ooha, as I remember, means reasoning.

    I want to mention that in Vedic times importance of language was already realized, and lots of work was done on this.

    Its pity that in present times we have become extremely corrupt, and clueless – of right and wrong.

    I believe that the rule of Mughals, and Britishers, and their evil policies have corrupted us deep (and not to forget the rulers after the Britishers).

    A very large number of us have lost all the good Sanskaar, and are loosing still more.

    Just yesterday I noticed a news about ‘Hazratganj Carnival’ (Hazratganj is one of most important road in Lucknow). It reminded of this language issue. Instead of using Hindi word Utsav they were using Carnival. Reminded of loosing Sanskaars.

    I would like to mention that Utsav is what increases Utsah (Enthusiasm) – whereas Carnival is more related to merrymaking.

    The situation is really serious, and grim.
    We are in deep trouble.


  7. Sachin Thursday December 16, 2010 / 6:03 am

    A very interesting point by Vikram about “Vyakran” being used for “Raksha” of the vedic texts.

    The way I see it is – a language comprises of a vocabulary and a grammar. Vocabulary is collection of words, each of which represents a concept. To express an idea, the words (or the concepts they represent) need to be combined together according to some rules to avoid any ambiguity in the interpretation of the ideas. This set of rules is called grammar of a language.

    In the context of above, it’s very easy to appreciate why Vyakran (or Grammar) is necessary for Raksha (or security) of the Vedas. The wise men who wrote the Vedas understood that the text only has the intended meaning in the context and grammar in which they are written. If the grammar changes (as the language evolves) the meaning of these texts will also change in unpredictable ways. So, not only these wise men created text (or ideas) but they also provided a self-contained context and grammar in which to interpret them. May be, this is one of the reasons why the Vedas are called timeless – no matter when you read them, the invariant grammar ensures you will interpret them in the way they were intended.

    However, I do not believe that languages influencing each other is such a bad thing. Languages rarely exist in isolation. Often, they come in contact with other languages and in the process influence each other. This perhaps is one of the most democratic process – if enough people agree on a certain usage, it becomes norm over a period of time. If not, no one can force it. So, I will not be overly concerned to see a “Hazratganj Carnival”. Maybe they meant merrymaking and not enthusiasm. 🙂


  8. Diwakar Thursday December 16, 2010 / 6:40 am

    We, as a nation, are in a terrible state for many reasons and language / expression is one of them. In our zealousness to be proficient in English, we have truly discarded learning in a manner that makes us not only understand and gain knowledge, but also enables us to spread it as well as apply the knowledge. The native languages are slowly losing their identity and as someone commented earlier, one can be branded an RSS man if ‘shudh’ language is used in conversation instead of the more popular ‘Hinglish’.

    It is hard to agree with the author’s concept though, that one cannot think properly if one doesnt have the vocabulary.


  9. Loknath Thursday December 16, 2010 / 8:22 am

    Vikram, due regards to your views, the mughals and british didnt corrupt us with evil policies,its the govt. of nehru-ghandy dynasty that corrupted us more. In past 40 year we have lost all sanskars, reasoning and sanity. courtesy the success of nehru dynasty to keep the nation clueless and illerate. Were the british not to come to india, we would have still been toiling in the farms of zamindars for 4 annas a day.


  10. Akshar Thursday December 16, 2010 / 1:59 pm

    My schooling was semi-english which meant subjects such as History and Geography were taught in regional language (Marathi) where as the first language was English.

    Despite the “first language” status English had I recall the textbooks as pretty ordinary. The amount of grammar that was taught was abysmal. Except essay writing there was no focus on letting students write their thoughts on paper, how would someone then understand importance of language ?


    • Atanu Dey Thursday December 16, 2010 / 2:31 pm

      Teaching grammar to teach a language is the worst possible way to go about it. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? Most of us are pretty good in our mother tongues. Did anyone teach you grammar before you started fluently talking in your mother tongue? No. You first learned how to understand and speak the language. Later, if at all, you learned the grammar.

      I freely admit that I am not good at my mother tongue. I grew up speaking a hodge-podge of Bengali, Hindi and English. I learned English in the course of being taught in English. Although I had English grammar classes in school, I don’t know shit about English grammar. Yet I can construct reasonably grammatically correct sentences in English. That shows being taught grammar is totally besides the point in language proficiency.

      I have been telling people to stop teaching grammar for years. But if good advice were readily accepted, we would not be in the hell hole we are in, would we?


  11. Chitrakutdesh Thursday December 16, 2010 / 6:37 pm

    Language definitely matters. One major aspect of Indian languages is that they are phonetic. Which means that they are pronounced in the exact mannar they are written. There is no ambiguity between how the words are written on paper and how they are pronounced. If a spelling contest was arranged for an Indian language, every contestant will be a winner. There was an article I read some time ago on this issue. You can read it at:

    Getting into this a little deeper, this is a major advantage for us Indians. What this will mean is that voice recognition will be very effective if implemented on Indian languages. Currently all voice recognition software development efforts are attempted on english which has ambiguous pronounciation. A computer cannot distinguish between “to” and “two”, between “night” and “knight”. No such problem will exist within an Indian language. I am surprised no Indian company has developed voice recognition software for Indian languages yet. We could have computers that will take command only through voice inputs in an Indian language and execute our commands. There wont be a need for a keyboard! I see this happening in the future.

    Actually Indian languages have several features that are very useful and which other languages lack. One feature is that within most Indian languages, changing the order of words within a sentence does not cause the sentence to lose meaning. In fact the sentence with the changed ordering of words will still make sense and will have the same meaning as the original sentence. A person who has only known english will be astonished that a feature like this can exist within a language.

    A good application of this feature would be when a compiler will be developed in an Indian language. This compiler will not need its commands to be in a fixed rigid format or syntax (Like being done currently), but will have the ability to accept statements just as they are spoken or written in real life. The compiler can dissect the sentence and identify all parts of the sentence automatically and process all information. This is where computer science ends and artificial intelligence begins. This cannot be done in english BTW.
    So what is special about Indian languages that make it more suitable for computers than english itself?

    All Indian languages are based on Panini Sanskrit grammar. Through suffixes added to the ending of every root word (Which could be a noun, verb, adjective etc), the meaning of the word changes such that its role within a sentence is uniquely identifiable. No additional words will be required to be placed in that sentence in any particular sequence to explain what that word does (Like in english, which causes major confusion)

    Due to this, a word in an Indian language provides much more information than a similar word in english. A verb describing some action within a sentence in Indian Indian language will also provide information on whether the action is performed by a male or a female, a single person or a group of people, in the past or in the future. A verb in an english sentence does not tell us anything other than the type of action performed. This is also the case with other parts of sentences like nouns adverbs etc.

    Test what I have said here with any sentence in your native tongue. You will understand. It takes more effort and discipline on part of students to learn an Indian language than it takes to learn english. This is the reason why Indians find it very easy to learn english, but people who only learn english from their childhood find it hard to learn an Indian language. Knowing this, it should make us sad that our Macaulay inspired “English” education system has not given Indian languages the attention and importance they deserves within the nation.


  12. Chitrakutdesh Thursday December 16, 2010 / 6:43 pm

    The feature within Indian languages of making the sequence of words within a sentence irrelevant is most underrated. This is something that needs to exploited and used. The benefits can be very significant. How is it so? I will try to explain some of my ideas below.

    Increasing pride in ones language or culture must not mean chauvinism and result in more divisions within the country. We must be able to remain diverse enough to maintain our identity and yet have sufficient common interests to remain united as a country. How could the common structure of our languages help us in this attempt?

    All Indian languages trace their roots to Panini’s Sanskrit grammar. They are similar in structure. The closer the grammar of two languages are to Panini Grammar, the easier and more accurate computer translation becomes possible between the two languages. We know words in an Indian language will consist of a root-word with a meaning altering word-ending (or suffix). Therefore, to convert a sentence in one Indian language to another, one has simply to replace the root-word in one language with the root-word in the other language. Then the word-ending in one language must then be replaced with the corresponding word-ending in the other language. When this is done to all words in the sentence, the new sentence created in the second language will still be a meaningful sentence, and it will have the same meaning as the sentence in the original language. There will be no ambiguity. No meaning will be lost in translation. You could repeat the above process for all sentences in an essay and automatically translate it to as many compatible languages as you want.

    How could a computer translation of such kind be put to use? I think it could be put to use in many many ways. You could get a computer to read a body of text in one Indian language and automatically output text in a different Indian language with no grammatical errors. So a writer of a novel in one Indian language can instantly convert his novel into a novel in 20 different languages. The body of knowledge in one Indian language can quickly be expanded to every language in India. A Webpage in one Indian Language could be translated instantly into any other Indian language with the touch of a button. An Industrial Drawing of a spacecraft in one Indian language can be automatically converted into other Indian language by an engineer by just clicking on a button. This will promote collaboration between teams that speak different languages and maybe hundreds of kilometers apart.

    A source code of a software written in one Indian language could be automatically converted into source code in a second Indian language. This new computer generated source code will get accepted by the compiler in the second Indian language and produce an executable file that will run as intended without any errors.

    You could make submitting any government forms possible in any language at any location. Lets say a Bengali woman moves to kerala. She could log on to the Government website to file her taxes and input information in Bengali. The website will automatically convert her forms into Malayalam and store it after sending her a refund. She does not forget her language. The government of Kerala is happy that it is able to collect all information in the language of its liking. Nobody is threatened. Nobody’s language is threatened. Everyone will be happy.

    When something like this gets implemented, language barriers will become irrelevant. We could take this concept even further. I had stated before that an important feature of Indian languages are that they are phonetic (There is no ambiguity between how the words are written on paper and how they are pronounced). And for this reason, they are most well suited towards voice recognition. We could combine voice recognition with language translation to get very good results.

    We could create a mobile device, that will

    1: Accept voice input in one language
    2. Convert that input into text
    3. Translate that text into a second language
    4. Playback the text in the second language.

    When this happens, for instance, A telugu man on a 6 month work assignment to Gujarat will not need to learn gujarathi. Instead he will carry a device that will let him translate spoken Gujarathi into spoken Telugu. He will also have the ability to translate what he says in telugu into gujarathi automatically. The fact that a common language does not exist in the country will be of no consequence.

    With such a system, everyone in the country will enjoy the benefit of living in a large country (and economy). Diversity of population will be maintained. Every language will have the ability to access any knowledge and information in any other Indian language. People will not avoid a language just because the size of literature in that language is small. No population will feel left behind and find cause to revolt. There is be no loss of communication due to the lack of a common language. Students need not burden themselves by trying to learn 3 different languages. This will free up their energy to become better professionals in a shorter period of time. This will boost productivity and raise peoples wages and standard of living.

    You could tell me that computer translation has already been attempted by many websites and that tools to translate from english to Japanese already exist. But the rate of success of all attempts have not been encouraging. Like I said before, english is a very flawed language. Indian languages with their roots in Panini grammar are very well suited towards computerized translation from one language to another. Language translation between Indian languages will be of much more practical use than between any other languages of our world. (I am not just bragging)

    I believe it is a matter of time before someone starts a company to sell language translation software to translate Indian languages. The people ruling the country need to have such a vision to get this to happen sooner. The current rulers are more interested in IPL matches and making money from outdated 2G spectrum mobile services. I am not very hopeful in the short term. But sometime in the future I think we could see our future this way.


  13. wanderlust Thursday December 16, 2010 / 8:26 pm

    I was/am one of those who couldn’t speak/read/write a single language properly.
    i’m a Tam brought up in Bangalore and went to a peter-type school, which meant all I could speak was a mish-mash of kannada, tamil and english.
    But a few things changed all that. For starters, i ended up with a bunch of friends who spoke very good, very pure kannada. it took me hardly six months to reach that level of proficiency.
    and then i prepped for GRE. within two months, my vocabulary had expanded to an extent i couldn’t even imagine. Instead of simply using only ‘awesome’ as the adjective for anything good, i could now say astonishing, magnificent, overwhelming, formidable…. the change was mind-blowing. till that time, i didn’t quite realize how much having a broader vocabulary could help with broadening your thoughts.

    people are simply not aware. it’s not hard to become proficient in a single language. all that stands in the way is the right sort of exposure. language is a social construct… it depends on society to be shaped. so if you want a wonderful vocabulary, you need to hang around with people with wonderful vocabularies, the papers you read, the television you watch, the radio you listen to should also have wonderful vocabularies.
    back then, we had BBC and The Hindu as our gold standards. Now however, the situation is so bad, i’m at a loss for words to describe how despicable it has become.


  14. LifeMantra Friday December 17, 2010 / 1:19 am

    On lighter note,typical language class from movie: Phas gaye re Obama

    On serious note,
    Language was never considered base subject for communication skill during my schooling and I see same trend today as well.Not only students but schools and teachers consider language and communication as supplementary subjects.

    Did British thieves carefully plan education system which later inspired intellectually blind Indians to open moron generating factories aka present day schools?


  15. Ashish Deodhar Friday December 17, 2010 / 9:08 am

    Hello Atanu

    Just out of curiosity, is “what says you?” correct English? Sorry I don’t mean to be sarcastic or offensive – I simply don’t know!

    I always thought ‘what do you say?’ is a more accurate version.


    • Atanu Dey Friday December 17, 2010 / 9:26 am

      Ashish, ‘what says you’ is a colloquialism, and as such is correct English in informal writing and speaking. I should note that informal does not mean that anything goes.

      I generally consider blogging to be formal communication. But once in a while, I like to break the monotony with deliberate use of informal phrases and incorrect grammar. I like to write, for example, “you pays your money and you takes your chances”.


  16. Abhijat Saturday December 18, 2010 / 10:22 pm

    One of the many posts of this excellent blog that makes me go hmmm :-). And: WARNING: Long comment :-).

    Don’t people know that if you don’t have the vocabulary, you cannot think properly? Don’t they know that rather than being at the periphery of our cognitive abilities, language lies at the core?

    On the dot, Atanu. I’ll contribute my two pennies with some elaboration of the points you raise above. My points are:

    1. From thought processes to Language

    It takes some thought to realise that mental perceptions cannot ever come out into the open unless expressed symbolically through a physical medium. The ‘one’ness, ‘two’ness, ‘three’ness, ‘temper’ or ‘intellectual/artistic/… brilliance’ of a person etc. are perceptions and need symbols for expression. Some perceptions are sharp and some, like temper, are fuzzy. And of course, what the mind does not ‘see’, it cannot express. Perceptions are a consequence of thought. Thinking helps identifying something as distinct from the rest of the mental imagery within. Once such a distinction is performed, the mind associates a (preferably unique) symbol to it to facilitate expression. A language – system of symbolic expression – is a natural consequence of the need to express, and the impossibility of perceptions to emerge otherwise.

    2. From vocabulary to enhancing thinking

    The ability to think has strong survival value. It enables us to ‘run a movie’ of some current state of affairs we find ourselves in and determine the possible futures. The more exactly we perceive the current state of affairs the more accurate is the ‘movie’. Perceptions are sharp when exact knowledge of their structure and behaviour are known. The set of symbols – words or names – associated with the set of perceptions (sharp or not) is the vocabulary. The larger the vocabulary, the more perceptive an individual. There are two main
    effects of a vocabulary. One effect is that the vocabulary continuously pushes the individual towards sharpness. S/He has to keep perceiving sharply to accurately employ her/his given vocabulary. An individual with a larger number of words for various shades of ‘love’ has to keep noticing these shades to effectively employ his/her vocabulary. This leads to the next effect. Anything new is likely to be more quickly noticed by the thought processes. This of course implies that new words eventually get added to the vocabulary.

    Vocabulary and thoughts feed on each other. Language skills are important, and one must know at least one language well.

    Quick aside on grammar

    The basic need is to have a unique symbol for every different perception. One may go on inventing new symbols, or create a systematic generative structure. The first process is initially easy but gets more and more difficult as the vocabulary increases since the new symbol has to be distinct from all others before it. The second – called grammar – takes up a finite set of (arbitrary) symbols – called alphabet. It then creates rules of construction of additional
    symbols. I do not see it as fundamental to the interaction between language and thoughts. The brain of a newborn human child is astonishing, nay miraculous, in its ability to pick up and employ the first language it comes across. We do not teach grammar to a child; just introduce some new words and occasionally correct some mistakes of gender, tense etc. The rest it figures out! Amazing!

    End aside

    At the risk of going away from the topic, but consistent with the theme of this blog, it is tempting to see the above ideas for an individual extended to a society.

    3. From individual to society

    These ideas about individual abilities can be extended to a society. Just as an individual with a larger vocabulary is more developed, so is a society. The notion of development here is about the sharpness of perception of the environment around us. The sharper we perceive the better we can act. A social vocabulary is enhanced when its members enhance their own vocabularies of their individual work and interest. With different groups enhancing different aspects
    of the social vocabulary, the general perceptiveness of its members is enhanced. For instance, I do not know Economics, but with the Atanu’s sharp expression, I benefit as I begin to see better. The key here is that the process must be statistically significant for the society to gain. Given that vocabulary and development of an individual are correlated, then they would be correlated for a society too assuming certain basic freedoms are given to the members. Freedoms of speech, forming associations (groups) for instance. Then the statistical effect is a developed society.


  17. Nina Patel Monday December 20, 2010 / 1:43 pm


    You make the following statement in your post:

    Once I was at a conference where the presenter was mixing Hindi and English. For instance, “ab hamen yeh RED COLOR ko dekhna hai BUT BLUE rang bhi bahut SIGNIFICANT hai. Pur yahan POVERTY kum hotay gaye hai. Jyada say jyada paanch PERCENT hogi…”

    I finally lost it. I interrupted the speaker to tell him that he should stop screwing Hindi. It is a perfectly good language with an adequate vocabulary and if he does not know the Hindi words for what he has to say, he better switch to English. Fact was that he did not know English either.

    Language is not a static entity, it evolves over time and responds to changing circumstances. Hindi itself is a blend of Persian and Hindustani, so I find it ironic that people are now resisting a blend of Hindi and English. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that reflects a blind nationalism, and lack of historical awareness. Furthermore, I am not sure how it relates to your concern that it impedes cognitive ability. The speaker seems to have the vocabulary he needed to “think” through the issues – does it matter that it’s in two different languages?


  18. Straight Face Tuesday December 21, 2010 / 9:17 am


    Yes language is not a static entity. English itself borrows several words every year and is perhaps the best example of this. Please refer this.

    Throughout history words have been borrowed naturally when equivalent words/concepts did not exist. Social and political reasons too have contributed to the introduction of foreign words e.g Mughal/Islamic rule led to Persian, Arabic words being mixed in the local languages.

    However, using a pidgin tongue does not always lead to better understanding or greater elegance in literature. While simpler terms like Red(laal), Color(rang) might be substituted, complex concepts demand the use of a native tongue e.g Dharma does not mean Religion and Deva does not mean god although these are the commonly accepted translations. Hence unthinking substitution of words does impede cognitive ability. You tend to miss the point.

    About expressing oneself in a mish-mash of Hinglish. When it’s not a case of poor vocabulary or lack of fluency, it seems to be rooted in the subconscious desire of being seen as educated or sophisticated. It is neither precise nor elegant. Not everyone is a Rushdie who can sprinkle English with Hindi and still retain pitch-perfect prose. As such it is best left to ungainly and vain newscasters of “YenDeeTV types”.


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