Saturday, January 29, 2011

Plastic English

English as a Second Language  I was bewildered when a young junior colleague handed me an application for leave ‘for attending son-in-law’s marriage.’
“Correct this”, I said handing the application back to him.
“Sorry sir, the date has been finalised, it can not be corrected now,” he protested.
‘Er…I meant this, not the date,” I said, pointing at where “son-in-law” was written on the paper.
Indian English: Language & CultureLooking confused, he said, “What is there to correct, sir? He is my saala, the son of my in-laws”. What I presumed to be a casual slip, turned out to be a matter of conviction for him, backed by what seemed to him an unassailable logic.

Pidgin: Lonely Planet PhrasebookIndians and English: Facing Off in Early America            English language always lends itself to innovative uses by people for whom it is not their first language. But no one employs such ingenuity as do the denizens of Indian officialdom. Consider the predicament of the gentleman, single-handedly manning a remote outpost, when the condition of his ailing wife deteriorated. This was the text of the telegram he sent to his head office, `Wife serious, send substitute.’ Or imagine the shock the husband must have received when he called up the office of his wife, who worked as the head cashier in a bank. After a long wait he was politely informed, “Madame is giving delivery in the strong room, Please call after sometime.”

1984 (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)            These are not instances of Orwell’s `Doublespeak’, nor are they examples of double entendre employed by creative writers.  Forced to use a foreign tongue in a demanding work situation, the effervescent babus unwittingly produce these gems by the dozen.

             But the language does not always get the better of the babus. As the following example will depict, with some amount of ingenuity, the language can be manipulated to the best advantage of the user.

Beating the System: Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies            This was a time when license raj was still a way of life, and not a term of derision. The babus ruled the roost, then. A man came to an office to apply for, what else, a license. The babu demanded his pound of flesh. As the price seemed a bit steep, the man set out to explore other possibilities. The MLA of his area came to his rescue and took him to the minister, who turned out to be still more cooperative. The minister asked for the application and wrote ‘Approved’ on it. When the man came to the babu next morning to collect his license, the babu had already added ‘not’ before the word ‘approved’. Exasperated, the man realized his mistake and asked in a conciliatory tone if anything could be done at that stage. The babu reassured him that
nothing was impossible there, but only the price would be much more than what had been asked for initially. After money changed hands the babu asked the man to come the next morning to collect his license.  The man came the next day, and the babu showed him his application. The ‘Not approved’ now read `Note Approved’. The license was issued without any further delay.

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