Thursday, October 27, 2011

The family tree of a mongrel language.

Indian English

WHILE Americans and Britons squabbled last month over who's doing what to whose language, English-speakers in India could only wonder what the fuss was all about. Indians - and indeed Britons - have been mangling the language ever since it was introduced to the sub-continent. 

In 1886, Henry Yule and AC Burnell compiled Hobson-Jobson, the first dictionary of Anglo-Indian. It consisted of words from Hindi and other Indian languages that had slipped into the speech of British soldiers and administrators posted on the subcontinent. ("Chutny: A kind of strong relish, made of a number of condiments and fruits... the merits of which are now well known in England.") 

Once the British left India, Anglo-Indian died a natural death. In its place came a chutnified Indian English that mixes American and British versions of the language with vernacular words and syntax and direct translations of phrases. 

A glimpse of the breadth of influences in contemporary Indian English can be found at the delightfully-named Samosapedia. A cross between Hobson-Jobson and Urban Dictionary, the website modestly describes itself as "the definitive guide to South Asian lingo" and invites users to "catalog and celebrate the rich, diverse and ever-evolving landscape of this region's shared vernacular". Over 2,500 words and phrases have been added since Samosapedia was launched at the end of June. {Read on}