English Vinglish

There are myriad examples of articles and videos of people expressing their frustration with the discrepancy between the way English words are spelled and pronounced. If ‘to’ is pronounced as /to͞o/, and ‘do’ is pronounced as /do͞o/, then shouldn’t ‘go’ be pronounced as /go͞o/? If we don’t pronounce ‘p’ in ‘pneumonia’, why include it in its spelling? What’s letter ‘w’ doing in ‘answer’? The list is endless.

Well, lo and behold, here’s a 15-year plan to improve English spelling:

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter c would be dropped to be replased either by k or s, and likewise x would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which c would be retained would be the ch formation, which will be dealt with later.

Year 2 might reform w spelling, so that which and one would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish y replasing it with i and Iear 4 might fiks the g/j anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.

Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez c, y and x — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais ch, sh, and th rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Hyperbole aside, I think this satirical passage does successfully wag a finger at the futility of imposing rules and restrictions on a language… of trying to “purify” it. Language is like an ever-flowing river. It has to keep evolving, and adapting. The fact that English has embraced words from many other languages is perhaps one of the main reasons why it is so successful. Yes, there are more exceptions than there are rules, it’s a bitch to spell, and is indeed a very phunny language (video link). But it’s here to stay. We must make our peace with it.


PS: The above passage is attributed to Mark Twain.

PPS: This reminded me of an article written by Utpal Dutt regarding the supposed purification of Hindi language on Doordarshan TV back in the 80’s. I posted an excerpt here.


5 responses to “English Vinglish

  1. all our complications with spelling in written English…blame it all on the great vowel shift..

    but you’re right. english still lives because it always adapted to the changing times. it never allowed itself to be “pure” but to be a hybrid of many different languages and sounds. i guess this is why latin’s a dead language. latin tried to remain pure, and it refused to grow as a language. grammar and standardized spelling exist not to restrict but to act simply as guidelines…

    thanks for your insightful article!

    • Sanskrit is another such example. The language is really well-structured and organized, but it was too rigid, and hence was constrained to academic discourses and poetic reveries — as opposed to being a commonly spoken “kitchen language” (or, “market language”?) that requires flexibility and certain level of casualness. The rigid scientific nature of a language (like Sanskrit and Latin) robs the richness that comes from misuse and abuse of words. To use a quote from my earlier post: “A certain syllable is that syllable only: unflinching in its dull fixedness, invulnerable to the seductions of creative interpretation.”

  2. Well, as things appear, english will continue to be the medium for international conversations for a long time ahead, but i really rue the sharply reducing usage of hindi in our country.. english is taking over it and “hinglish” is becoming more and more of english.. i get that for a language to grow, it should be accommodating and adaptive, but at least it should retain some of it’s core values.. that certain charm and flair that identifies it.. and hindi is certainly losing it.. i mean, hindi has a vast collection of proverbs and sayings, but nowadays, so less people know and use them.. we are forgetting that hindi can also be “fun” like english..
    but, i see a ray of hope when i watch movies like omkara, paan singh tomar, ishqiya etc. they have still retained that rustic element in their dialogues, using local phrases of wisdom, adulation and ridicule. i cannot mention them all here, so i will just mention two of my favorites..
    this one was spoken by naseeruddin shah’s character in omkara,
    “ghode ke pair mein jab naal thuke hai toh maindaki bhi pairr uthaye hai”
    ( when a horse is being fit with a shoe, even a small frog will piss on it)
    and this one by irrfan in Paan singh tomar,
    “baap chalkave jaam, aur beta bandhe ghungroo”
    (i really can’t translate this while keeping the meaning intact)
    my point is, we should also try to explore the various faces of our own mother tongue, which has plenty of depth and wisdom to offer, to anyone who is interested.

    • Hey Pranav,

      I am totally with you on trying to explore and preserve the intricacies and beauty of our vernaculars. Our nation not only has one of the highest number of languages/dialects, but also the highest number of critically endangered languages. Not only the national languages, but local variations too, face the danger of extinction. Movies like the ones you mentioned are doing a great job of making us familiar and aware of the multitude of linguistic expressions in our hinterlands. In addition to being great pieces of cinema, these movies are cultural artifacts of the future.

      I, for one, am fond of linguistic curiosities – and am disheartened by the continual loss of rich Hindi words, proverbs, and axioms. But I also feel that (as you acknowledged) language is like a living, breathing thing, which has to continue evolving, and grow organically, otherwise it will not be the same pristine thing it used to be. I think movies, media and books are great mediums for preserving old/rare dialects. The popularity of these movies are a testament to our penchant for vernaculars. We can only hope that more and more people will continue to be aroused and excited about peculiar phrases and words like the ones you mentioned.

      [By the way, not knowing the true meaning of the “ghode ke pair me naal” dialogue, I had interpreted the proverb differently: The pain is so evident and agonizing that even a naive onlooker – i.e., meindhaki – trembles in fear. I can’t remember right now what the context was, so I am not sure if your interpretation makes more sense in that situation…]

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