Wednesday, 11 January 2012

"Speak in English da"

How many times do you hear your friends ask - "hey, where are you going da?" Or have someone exclaim - "we will have so much fun da.."

When I hear it, I sometimes wonder - why do I do it? I certainly don't do it while I'm writing. In fact, it was with much difficulty that I placed "da" in the above sentences. Why do we do this here in India?

I actually googled the term "da" and didn't find much other than the usual suspects - Dearness Allowance and the unit of measurement, popularly known as 'deca'. That's how far Google was ready to go. Or, rather that's how far I was ready to go with Google - a few seconds of search.

My train of thought regarding the state of affairs in the English language in India started one night when I was reading Hitch - 22 where, in his memoir, Christopher Hitchens talks about his friend Martin Amis's love of the English language.

"Martin never let friendship take precedence over his first love, which was and is the English language. If one employed a lazy or a stale phrase, it would be rubbed in (there, I have done it again), no, it would be incisively emphasized, with a curl of that mighty lip and an ironic gesture."

This had me think about the level of importance we ascertain to the phrases we use in our conversation. Of course not everyone needs to be the genius Amis is, but do we take our speech for granted? We are usually very careful about the clothes we buy; certainly in shopping for gadgets. Also about our food, our home, our pens, and certainly our drinks! Then why is it that we choose to ignore our incorrect use of the English language. I'm a co-conspirator, too, mouthing off da whenever I find the need to connect with another person at the same level. I don't use da when it comes to conversing with people who don't use it. But then, that's a social trait. There is a need in all of us to connect, and in the process, we mutter things we don't want to and utter thing we don't wish to.

To continue further into the memoir,

"If one committed the offense in print - I remember once saying "no mean achievement" in an article - the rebuke might come in note form, or by one's being handed a copy of the article with a penciled underlining."

When I read this, I was struck with a sudden awareness of how we borrow phrases from every where else and use them, or almost molest them. Like Hitchens's use of "no mean achievement," we borrow a number of such phrases over and over again not being aware, even for a second, that we are stifling our creativity and squandering it. I think it is the age-old classic of die before think that gets a man to use stale phrases. Let me quote Bertrand Russell,

"Most people would sooner die than think; in fact they do so."

The all-pervasive aversion to thought is no secret after all. All you need to do is to climb down the ladder of history a bit, and you'll find the enlightenment thinker repeatedly being tortured, kept at a distance, and condemned in very many cases, in spite of his thought sowing the seed for the growth of the scientific, political, national and industrial revolutions. I have from a very young age adopted the method of the thinker and love to bring forth a spirit of inquiry into all things important to me. Socrates himself put it so powerfully with a wisp of inspiration,

"The unexamined life is not worth living."

It is in fact in Socrates's or Russell's spirit - of inquiry - that I write this post. Hitchens closes in on the paragraph saying,

 "He could take this vigilance to almost parodic lengths. The words "ruggedly handsome features" appear on the first page of Nineteen Eighty-four and for a while Martin declined to go any further into the book. ("The man can't write worth a damn.") He was later to admit that the novel did improve a trifle after that. Years later, when I gave him the manuscript of my book on Orwell, he brought it to our next rendezvous at a Manhattan bistro and wordlessly handed it back. He had gone through it page by page, painstakingly correcting my pepper-shaker punctuation."  

Such was the tenacity of Amis over the English language. Now, most of us, whether in India or else where, speak more in English than in any other language. It is only fair that we, to begin with, stop taking our words for granted, and further, learn to have a deep-rooted respect for the words we choose to use - be it in print or speech. For it is you who is the creator of those words, and it is your personality that is reflected in your speech.

To finish up and gather the argument in one place, I think our choice of words, in any language whatever, needs to have its place rightfully beside our choice in shopping, clothing, buying, reading, so on and so forth.

Happy Speaking!




sneha said...

I think we all must indeed "climb down the ladder of history", not only to witness the atrocities that thinkers were subjected to but also learn from them... I recently read that whatever scientific inventions we are making today are actually just reinventions... if you go through history you will find references to all our theories that we claim to have discovered today , had actually discovered quite early in past...
Regarding language... I'd like to add - It makes no difference what a person's nationality is. The truly international person is one who can share, as a fellow human being, the sufferings and sadness as well as happiness and joys of others, and unite with others to promote common human interests.
I believe everyone should read English, speak English... Every language is endearing...

Karan Kamble said...


I disagree that the present-day inventions are just reinventions. It is true that the process of invention and discovery is one of evolution. Many of the ideas were present in the past, but they weren't truly scientific. For instance, many attribute the discovery of Gravity to Aryabhatta. But it can only be considered a rough, incomplete hypothesis. It took decades of theorising and experimenting in the present day to convert that idea into a full-fledged theory that actually works.

About language and being an internationalist, I agree with you. Well said.

Anonymous said...

now I am going to watch my English very closely and hope to improve!
what you said is true, we tend to slaughter it while speaking and are equally careful when putting it on paper. good one