Saturday, August 24, 2013

We are happy if you understand what we say...

I came across a very funny post on Facebook about the craziness of the English language. English has united a great part of the world and ensures that you can communicate with some reasonable effect in many areas of the world. It is a flexible language where it has allowed itself to be modified, misused to suit the local sensibilities and every other day new local contributions are being added to the English lexicon.

English may have its advantages and personally I prefer the Queen’s English having grown up with it, I realize that the English language has one flaw. Well it may not be a flaw it may be that the culture does not permit it to be so. English is not a respectful language and you will notice the only hint of respect is when the Queen says “We are happy…”.  As with some of our Indian languages the first person plural is used to signify respect in the English language, with “We”, “our”, replacing the commoner’s I.

We are usually respectful people and so our language also ensures that people who merit respect get it like parents, teachers, elders, leaders etc. Again the use of the plural for the same is more common and it becomes a challenge when you translate to English and usually loses the effect. When we see an elderly relative: “Eppidi irrukeenga?” seems much better than “How are you?” and likewise for many other phrases. Hindi also has “Aap” which seems to be the normal way to speak. I suppose the use of such respectful phrases comes from the cultural background and the upbringing but to see it in action can be quite interesting as an incident comes to my mind.

During my MBA days the only co-educational course I studied the boy girl ratio was 3:1 and some girls were really boisterous but it was all in good spirit and there was a lot of good camaraderie during the course (some of us still have it). There was this girl, an engineer, the youngest in the family, two brothers before her, used to compete equally with her brothers so for her a fight with a boy was commonplace (not the fist fights). As with MBA courses fate intervened and a bulb shone for another class mate (like in the movie Mozhi)
 and the eventual happened. So after a long courtship the parents agreed to the match but nothing much had changed or so the rest of us thought. On the day of the engagement during the normal banter as it seemed like a family get together the girl was liberal with her usual “dai”, “da”, “erumai” etc when suddenly she turned and said “Ennanga…” for a moment there was a stunned silence when we realized that she was calling the guy, our class mate another “erumai” till some time ago. When the realization hit the girl seeing a few dropped jaws around her in true fashion she blushed beautifully. I am not sure if it was the tutelage of her mum, aunts and the whole entourage or if it was natural but it was simply beautiful.

My story is not very different, D may call me by name and sometimes other names also but before others it is never “avan” it is always “avanga” though the difference in age is not much and we knew each other for over a decade before marriage. At home English is freely used and in the workplace it is the official language but whenever we need to address someone respectfully we switch to Tamizh if the other person understands it. Today when we speak to our daughter in Tamizh it is usually in the second person plural, “inga vaanga”. Respect they say begets respect.

Sadly this facet of the language seems to have got lost in some dialects, at least one that is commonly used. I am not sure if the vocabulary if limited or it is omitted by the users but I have observed that respect seems to be absent in the use. It may be commonplace to the user but it is offensive to others but that is another post.

Images courtesy Google Images

1 comment:

Susan Deborah said...

On a different note, English gives equality to everyone irrespective of age, gender and social hierarchy.

Liked the wee anecdote. Sweet. My mom also nudges me to refer to my husband respectfully but I can't get over calling him 'idhu' and 'adhu' much to the displeasure of my mom.

Joy always,