A case for Indian grammar of English
I presented this paper on 23 January 2006 at an International Conference organized by Sona College of Technology, Salem, Thamizhnadu.
In the next few moments, if I don’t shock you, should I be pleasantly surprised? If your thoughts ran parallel, should I be pleased? If you think my this communication ‘thinkable’, should I be happy? You tell me. I’ll thank you even for your silence. For silence can be louder than words.
When I say, “she described about her bizarre experiences,” I’m corrected. When I say, “did you discuss about my promotion?” I get a lesson. When I ask, “What’s your good name, please?” I’m told the enquiry should do without the adjective. When I pronounce “walked” as “walked”, you may look at me pityingly. When I say, “he went, no?” or “he saw you, isn’t it?” you may be tempted to teach me the right tag. When I say ‘I also’ as a short response to ‘I like Sania Mirza’, you may raise your eye brows. Don’t draw any inferences other than those within the context, please! When I say, “he has come yesterday”, your face may wear a worried look.
When I say any of these or other similar ones, ELT experts—both the brown ones and the White ones—might patiently but knowingly declare: “Well, these result from mother tongue interferences.” They might also take a step forward, lay their arm across my shoulders and soothe me placatingly: “Now, now, not to worry. There’s the bilingual method and there is the Communicative Language Teaching!”
But there is no pity, no condescension, no pain, there’s only nodding, understanding when the educated British pronounce cut as /kut/, when the educated Americans say ‘laboratory’ or ‘secretary’ very differently from their British cousins, when Americans utter “figure eight” instead of “figure of eight”, “be in difficulty” for “be in difficulties” or “speak with” in place of “speak to” or “interfere with” instead of “interfere between”, or when they deviate from “different from” and say “different than”, or when they quantify “a half dozen” instead of “half a dozen” or when the former hear “meet with” from the latter. Or when an Australian counts /seventai/, if I’m not misinformed.
What has caused such variations? What interference has brought about these acceptably distinctive features? Is it because a few Britishers a few centuries ago and a few Europeans later chose, for whatever reason, another land as their homeland? Wasn’t it a strong desire to be just different that caused the ‘interference’? So that they could twiddle with English and make it distinctively different? Here I’m not questioning, I’m doing some loud thinking.
The English language is as much yours and mine as it is the Britishers’, the Americans’ or the Australians’. It’s no longer the sole property of those communities or nationalities. History has seen to that, hasn’t it? This is not a tall claim, only a tall fact.
You might shake your heads yet. You might think India is not England, nor America, nor Australia nor for that matter New Zealand. You know the majority of these nations are as multilingual as we are. In their case, unilinguality with distinctive flavours happened naturally as a matter of history. In our case, English with distinctive flavour should happen as a matter of intent. For after all, the very multiplicity in using English argues for a model. We hear ‘school’ pronounced as /isku:l/ and /saku:l/. Should we, then, going by tradition, continue with the British? Or should we, going by today’s youth, go with the Americans? If the Americans can roll their r’s and if the British can silence them, can’t we pronounce them? Shouldn’t we put our heads together and come up with an Indian model?
If you’re hard to please, I’ll have another try. A language can be a meaningful means of communication only to the extent that it contains in it and reflects the thinking and the expressing of its users. There can’t be or at least shouldn’t be ‘nativeness’ or ‘nonnativeness’ about it. Anyway as we all know, if English is what it is today it’s because innumerable words, inflections, affixes foreign to it have become English.
Let’s not construe ‘Indianisms’ as mother tongue interferences but see them as meaningful mother tongue influences. I repeat: Let’s not construe ‘Indianisms’ as mother tongue interferences but see them as meaningful mother tongue influences.
If you thought me mad, you could be right. From your perspective. If you thought me mouthful, you could be right. Again from your perspective. And if you thought me meaningful [sensible], you’d be right from my perspective. Could we at least leave this as a legacy to posterity? I rest my case. Thank you for your time.
A note: On one occasion, I did talk to a faculty at the D.C.C. at CIEFL during my stay in 1990
at the Campus about the Institute initiating an attempt to formulate a standardized grammar and pronunciation for learners in India for after all the Institute is the premier institution in the country.