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HindustanTimes Wed,20 Aug 2014

Divided by the Vindhyas, united by the Raj

Rishabh Kochhar, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, June 24, 2014
First Published: 09:17 IST(24/6/2014) | Last Updated: 09:22 IST(24/6/2014)

When the British quit India more than six decades ago, they left behind two spectacular things: the railways and the Queen’s language. But the language they left behind was divided in the north and the south as the dissimilar cuisines of the two halves.

Indian English (Hinglish, besides north and south versions) is more than just a language. In my three years in the educational town of Manipal near Udupi in Karnataka, I observed keenly that while there are many similarities in the local dialect and the Hindi we use in north India, there are as many differences in the English we speak.

To start with, in the south they say “What man!” when you do something wrong, like drop a glass; and you hear an aggressive question next. In the north, we just use expletives that are better left unsaid. “What man!” isn’t perfect by the rules of English grammar, but it conveys the meaning without hurting. Engineering in the south revolves greatly around “by-hearting” derivations and formulae. That is learning something by heart or rote. Grammatically, “be-hearting” makes no sense, but that’s the beauty that it’s open to interpretation and conveys the meaning, apparently.

“Tell”, perhaps the most misused English word the south of the Vindhyanchal, is put instead of “say” in common usage. “Don’t say this” becomes “don’t tell this”, and “as I was saying” becomes “as I was telling”. “What did you say?” is rephrased as “what you told?” Even people educated in some of the best schools in the country carry on making the mistake.

Pronunciations of different words are different in the lower half of the north-south barrier. The south pronounces circuit as “sir-cute” instead of “sir-kit”, speaks letter ‘h’ as “hech”; and the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ as “yum” and “yun”, respectively.

In spite of the differences, south Indians speak good English. Their number of people conversing in English is far more than we have in the north. The reason is that even in schools not so good, English is given importance, unlike schools in the north, where we have reduced the language to status symbol.

South Indians take their languages seriously, and English to them is just another tongue. In the north, it is a sign of class, familiarity with which is something to brag about. This is the big difference between the south Indian and the north Indian English, a language otherwise a unifying factor.

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