August 27, 2005

Slang Sighting: Thumbs Up

Illiterate, uneducated. A reference to the Hindi idiom 'angootha chhaap', which describes illiterate individuals who place thumb impressions on documents in lieu of signatures.
"Most of these people including me are 'thumbs up' (uneducated)," said a 37-year-old Gujarati trader. (Hindustan Times, August 26, 2005)

August 24, 2005

Asian Voices in the UK

Voices is an ambitious BBC project that maps changes in regional accents and dialects in the UK. There's a wealth of material on the website, which includes over a thousand clips, links to many radio shows based on the BBC surveys, and a mini-site on the Asian Network, which deals with the languages of the Asian community. Here, you can contribute words to a Desi Dictionary or listen to Southall Punjabis talking about Pinglish, a cross between Punjabi and English. There's also a breakfast series called Out of English, which explores how Asian words are slipping into common English usage.

Elsewhere on the Voices site, there's an interesting article about the speech of the East End. I've written about Benglish earlier: the BBC's research shows that this dialect is replacing Cockney in parts of London.

Speaking in an interview for BBC Voices, Sue Fox, a socio-linguist at the Queen Mary College, University of London says that a new dialect is emerging to replace Cockney and that it's a mixture between English and Bangladeshi... Fox's findings are the result of her research into the way that Cockney is being influenced by the speech of Bangladeshi and other communities in Tower Hamlets. In the interview with the BBC Fox says: "This is very exciting for linguists - the language of London is changing. The majority of young people of school age are of Bangladeshi origin and this has had tremendous impact on the dialect spoken in the area.

"What I've actually found with the young people in Tower Hamlets is that they are using a variety of English which is not traditionally associated with cockney English - it's a variety that we might say is Bangladeshi-accented. And in turn what I've found is that some adolescents of white British origin are also using these features in their speech as well".
David Crystal sees this phenomenon repeating itself in cities across the UK, as foreign languages and regional dialects mix and influence each other:

For example, in Liverpool as well as the traditional Scouse accent you will hear distinct Caribbean-Scouse, African-Scouse as well as Indian-Scouse accents. In Cardiff I've heard a number of accent mixes that weren't previously heard before such as Cardiff-Arabic and Cardiff-Hindi. This pattern is repeating itself in many urban communities across the UK, people are especially keen to develop a strong sense of local identity.
Fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, there aren't any recordings of Cardiff Hindi or Indian Scouse on the site, though I did find this clip of Lancashire Urdu...

August 11, 2005

Two Tongues

I've been experimenting with Indic IMEs, software that allows you to use the English QWERT keyboard to enter text in Indian languages. I thought I'd try my hand at an unfamilar script, so I downloaded the Gujarati IME and typed up an excerpt from Sujata Bhatt's bilingual poem, 'Search For My Tongue', which mixes Gujarati lines with English transliterations. The task was surprisingly easy, though I must admit that the script isn't difficult to grasp if you're familiar with Devnagari. Anyway, here's the excerpt, which describes what it's like to have 'two tongues in your mouth'.

You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place where you had to
speak a foreign tongue--
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,

મને હુતું કે આબ્બી જીભ આબ્બી ભાષા
munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha
મેં થૂંકી નાબી છે
may thoonky nakhi chay
પરંતુ રાત્રે સ્વપ્નાંમાં મારી ભાષા પાછી આવે છે
parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay
ફુલની જેમ મારી ભાષા મારી જીભ
foolnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
મોઢામાં બીલે છે
moddhama kheelay chay
ફુલની જેમ મારી ભાષા મારી જીભ
fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh
મોઢામાં પાકે છે
moddhama pakay chay

it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I have forgotten,
I think I have lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.
If you can't see the Gujarati text, here's some help. You may also need to download a Gujarati Unicode font.

August 10, 2005

Is your Hinglish up to speed?

That's the question asked in the press release for the revised second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, published today in the United Kingdom. The new edition includes several common words of South Asian origin, like desi, lehnga, Lollywood, masala, mehndi, tamasha, and of course, Hinglish, defined as 'a blend of Hindi and English, in particular a variety of English used by speakers of Hindi, characterized by frequent use of Hindi vocabulary or constructions'. There are a few surprise entries in the list:

Kitty party noun (chiefly Indian) a regular gathering of a group of women (usually over a meal) in which each member contributes to a central pool and lots are drawn to decide which member will get the entire sum as well as who will host the next gathering.

adjective (Indian informal) carefree, fashionable and independent-minded.
You can find the complete list of new words and phrases here.

Alexander McCall Smith on Indian English

'Indian English has got this gorgeous dignity still, and the rhythms of the language and the correctness, the structure is still there,' says the creator of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in the Hindu Literary Review .

August 05, 2005

The Night of the Gutters

Today is the last day of the month in the Hindu calendar, from tomorrow begins the month of Shravan, during which many Hindus abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food. It's a day of indulgence for many people, a last chance to drink yourself silly till you fall into a gutter. That's why it's called Gutteri Amavas, the night of the gutters. Happy drinking!

August 04, 2005

Luck by fuck

In Mumbai street talk, things don't happen by chance, they happen 'luck by chance'. And now in Bandra, the locals have a new spin on this colloquial expression: over here, things happen 'luck by fuck'.

August 03, 2005

Swalpa adjust maadi

Libran Lover warns outsiders off this supposedly quintessential Bangalore phrase, which means 'Please adjust a little'.

You are using that phrase because you have either already done something that requires you to apologize to a Bangalorean or you are about to impose on him/her. Don't make it worse for the poor Bangalorean by throwing in that phrase in your pathetic accent. Hearing that phrase coming out of your clumsy mouth would induce Bangaloreans to have reactions ranging from simply smiling at you in their sweet indulgent way to grabbing your head and bashing it against the nearest electricity pole.
You can find the complete rant here.