July 30, 2005

Benglish

Recently, I've been intrigued by mentions of Benglish in the UK press. It sounds quite unlike anything an Indian would call Benglish or Bonglish: this new variety has been described as a London vernacular that crosses West Indian patois with the Sylheti dialect spoken by East End Bangladeshis. That's about all the information I've found, apart from a review of Tony White's Foxy-T which quotes the following passage, supposedly written in Benglish.

Couple a well fit girl make straight over where Shabbaz and Ranky is wait at the bar. Them two was dress up init and Zafar find him cant take him eye off them behind and how them G-strings show through them white trousers. Them G-string is disappear right up there arse. Easy now Zafar. Shit man them two girl was lean over and say something in him spar ear and touch them arm and laugh init but Zafar just watch them behind like he never seen a girl before... Him no figure how some fit woman like Foxy-T aint make the most of herself is it and just wear them trackie bottom and polo shirt.
Not much Bangla there, innit? If anyone out there has any more information, do let me know.

9 comments:

fdfs said...

Yes, I fail to see how this is Bengali-flavored rather than just general warped British slang. But then, I don't know Begali. Is the grammatical construction akin to Bengali usage?

You have a great blog, btw!

Saif said...

I'm afraid I've heard similar constructions. Sylheti has always been difficult to follow for Bengali speakers and now that Sylheti speakers are claiming it is a language separate from Bengali it may become more so. In any case the example quoted illustrates what is spoken by a generation that is horribly mixed up - unable to speak Bengali, Sylheti or even English properly; claiming to be muslim in everything but personal behaviour -and not realising that Goodness Gracious Me was intended to be a parody.

Builder said...

To someone who's never been to the UK that sounds an awful lot like Ali G.

Saif said...

Builder, I'm afraid you're right. It's Ali G without the wit or the irony.
I left the subcontinent as a child of 5 in 1960 but have taught myself to speak grown up Bengali (BBC Bengali!) and have acquired other European languages since.
I should not, but cannot help myself from despising people who cannot master the language surrounding them let alone a second one...

R Devraj said...

Uhmm.. that's quite harsh, Saif. Mixed varieties arise when languages adapt to a new environment. That's how Urdu developed from a mixture of Persian and Indian dialects. It was regarded as an inferior, mongrel tongue by those who wrote in Persian, but eventually it evolved into a sophisticated literary language. Who's to say that today's Hinglish and Benglish won't evolve along similar lines?

Saif said...

Possibly, but we have to distinguish between languages that develop as a way of letting people communicate across boundaries. What is under the spotlight is a 'language' that seeks deliberately to perpetuate isolation...

Anonymous said...

"...people who cannot master the language surrounding them..."

Well, those young Brit Bengalis ARE mastering what's spoken around them, in a sense. Working-class brown kids seem to mostly speak in West Indian patois because it's street-cool. As an American, I can't understand what teens in the East End are saying half the time. There was a documentary a few weeks ago featuring this full-on bearded and robed radical Asian Muslim, talking about "batty riders" with a Jamaican lilt. You can't escape it.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I remember watching the programme you mention, and the young man's obsession with 'batty riders'!

Rajarshi Som said...

I am a fluent speaker of real Benglish.

My mother tongue is pure Bengali but I have been educated in English. As a result, I can read and write English far better than I can in Bengali.
I find it very hard to write or speak pure Bengali and at least 20% of my words in a "Bengali" conversation are English words........that is Benglish.

The passage mentioned here is just horrible English, without an ounce of Bengali.

I feel fortunate that I am Indian - I had the opportunity to learn proper English in a controlled atmosphere without exposure this so-called "street English". It seems that kids brought up in London are learning some sort of grammarless hybrid through over-exposure to multiple languages at very early age. Any English-speaking Indian would be shocked at the quality if English being spoken in this passage.