Friday, 4 June 2010

Globish, English and Rubbish

That's what People Like Us in the real world supposedly speak.

A few years ago, when girls in my class were spending sleepless nights in an attempt to score higher in their GRE and TOEFL exams, and twelfth grade students like my little sis were trying to digest the literary insanity that is Shakespeare, this French guy came out of nowhere and proclaimed that none of us speak English the way it's meant to be spoken. So after a grand, fantastic study on how pathetic non-native English speakers destroy English, he came up with a term that he felt was what we really spoke -


So this pretty little word in its real sense described the simplified, mutilated form of English that People Like Us speak, a language that accounts to a little over a 1000 words, and is enough for us to get by and be understood in the world of the Land of High English. I'm sure the word flashed across his mind when he was 'power nap-ping' somewhere in his 'ideating' room or something. But anyway, someone somewhere hit the cosmic button and the entire universe suddenly seems to have parted to two sides - English speakers on one side and the rest of world on the other. Obviously, it attracted more attention than it really deserved - and my American India-Crazy friend IC, came all the way to India to write about the phenomenon that is Globish.

Now, IC is the perfect American journo - absolutely sexy with glasses and books in his suitcase and everything, and he eventually wrote this fantastic piece for the New Yorker - but in the ten days that he spent in India drinking mineral water, teasing me about 'my infamous Indian accent', telling me that I'm too cynical of Indian politics and asking me why I don't pronounce my 'r's', I wondered how much he actually observed about India.

Way back in 2005, when Mary Blum wrote about how 'Nerrière speaks excellent English but switches to Globish if he is not getting through.' in The New York Times, I couldn't help but think, 'Seriously, give me a break. A frenchman who speaks excellent English?' and of course, this video was the last thing I needed to watch. What he seemed to be promoting in the video was not simple English for the common person, but a dictionary for fools. I'm sorry, but that's what it looks like to me, no matter how intellectually anyone tries to explain it.

IC's review is a great analysis of English as a language of influence, a language that was moulded and twisted by generations of people who spoke it, fought for it and read it. But for obvious reasons, it stays within those limits. It never once lets you think of how that People Like Us didn't have a choice when it came to English. We had to learn it. We had to read English at school, and were expected to speak at least two other national languages. English was (as IC writes) our ticket to step up the ladder, to up our social status. English allowed us to walk around with our noses in the air. But in the Land of People Like Us, we think in two languages - we are the kind who are accustomed to bargaining with the regular autowalla in in Tamil or Hindi, and the kind who enjoy spending hours on the phone talking to our friends - in English. We needed English, and we had to stay connected to our roots. So we made English 'local'. What's wrong with that? I would never say that the English I speak is 'Globish'.

Here's why -

Firstly, I don't believe that there can be a single set standard for any language - be it English or any other - because (not matter how you look at it) language is a tool for communication. Any language being a science or an art is secondary. Yes, Dickens, Tennyson and all you people who are buried in Westminster, its true. And Will Shakespeare, I hope you know you were famous not just for your plays, but because we couldn't figure out what drugs you were on when you wrote them. Of course, Thiruvalluvar - Dude, what were you thinking? Have you heard of Madras Tamil? Thanks to you, I nearly flunked high school.

Secondly, who was the clown who said that native English speakers speak great English? Is the famous American 'Whateverrrrr' and the over-use of the word 'Like' (eg. what are you like doing today? I'm like thinking of going downtown' - perfect English? And the average Brit discussing 'Who he 'bonked' today'? It's difficult to communicate in any language without alternating rules with functionality.

So Globish doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes IC laughs and says, 'Speak English, you silly Indian'. Then I ask him if he can pronounce the word 'Bharath' and he pauses for a minute before he says 'Parrot'. I laugh. Seriously, how ironic.

I wonder how it'll be for Native English speakers after the Indian population explodes in another twenty years and Hindi becomes the only known international language. It'd probably spell chaos for those in The Land of High English then - they'd have to switch from speaking Ignoramus-ish to Hin-glish.

P.S - Apologies to folks in Britain. You tried killing us with English, and we just killed English instead.

3 voices:

Vinay said...

Let's finish English. LOL. Nice one, Meera

BCC said...

Nice!!Shakes-boring-peare was definately on grass when he wrote what he wrote? I mean why bother being fancy-schmancy?

farustar said...

this is so brilliantly written!