Thursday, June 02, 2005


I managed to twist my ankle yesterday en route to the book shop. It was fine for a bit, but I had to leave (yet another) farewell dinner for Diplo 1 halfway through when the pain teetered in the red area between excruciating and unbearable. It hurt so bad I thought I would cry. But then I thought of the emotional scars that would leave on the Beast. So I popped six painkillers instead and felt lightheaded, if not better. The pain's down today and the brain is working. I tried watching some TV today. Through the maze of Hinglish/Engdu I got to thinking about the quirks of English/Urdu that we speak. What makes us be us, as opposed to others speaking the same languages. Here are some of my favourites:
1. The double adjective: This is the double use of an adjective to emphasise the point. Such as : "The black black man had thin thin arms." I think this is an Urdu device which translates into English. See see.
2. The vague adjective: The suffix "ish" allows us to any word and make it "sort of". It can be added with gay abandon to just about anything. My two favourites are "The weather is chillish today" and "That guy is so feminish."
3. English for emphasis: Here English words are used to underscore the key points of a sentence. The all time classic is "Merey father kee death ho gai hai." (My father has died.) The key words "father" and "death" appear in English. The unimportant grammatic joiners appear in the original Urdu. Another classic is "Woh bohut nice man hain." (He is a nice man.)
4. New Wine in Old Bottles: Some English words take on new meanings or nuances altogether. "Aged" just means old ...not very old. "Healthy" means "fat."
5. The death of the article: "A" and "the" have got to be the two most difficult words for a Pakistani to get right. Half my life is spent inserting or removing the definite and indefinite article into a sentence. The reason is simple. Urdu lacks articles. "Cat is sitting on wall" is perfectly correct Urdu formulation. I am waiting for someone to invent a hotkey which will insert articles into the right place in an English sentence.
6. Connectors: Some Urdu words act as "joiners" and creep into any reasonable English conversation. These include the ubiquituous "acha" (OK/alright), "leykin" (but) "aur" (and)and "phir" (then). To wit:"Acha, you're cute leykin I'm attached aur phir Mummy wants me to marry the virgin next door. "
7. Familial Matters: "Uncle" and "Auntie" (never the English "Aunt" or the American "Ant") can generically refer to any older person. One of the worst things about crossing 40 is having complete strangers refer to me as "Uncle" or (in the Punjab" "Ankill." ) I usually respond with a filthy glare or (if it comes from a child) trip it while it walks away.
8. Slang: One could write an essay on slang and street language. Some English words have totally localised meanings. Take "burger" for example. A TV show of the 80s assumed that a burger was the apogee of western sophistication. Today a "burger" refers to any westernised Pakistani (like me ?) in a derisory but humourous manner. My local radio channel has a show where anyone using an English word becomes a Burger right away.
9. Pronunciation: Although Urdu is one of the most versatile languages in the world with a profusion of sounds, some words just don't hang well on the Pakistani tongue. "Government" is "Gormint", "Olympics" are "Olumpics", "ask" is "aks", "law" is "lah" (and lawyers, therefore, liars), bomb becomes "bum" and so on.
10. Juxtapositions: As with German some words are just added on to others to create a complex noun. "Damnfoolnonsense" featured in every Pakistani film of the sixties. "Happybirthday" is another. ("When is your happybirthday?")
11. Anachronisms: On arriving in London to study ("fresh off the boat") I soon discovered that the Brits didn't use some words we did. "Thrice" is one. ("Twice" and "Three times" I was corrected.) It also took me four years to figure out the difference in pronunciation in a "v" and a "w". I still have to pause before I can talk about "Virginia Woolf's varied works." I try avoiding such sentences altogether.
12. Numbers: Double Two, Double Four Double Six Five. Very Desi. Oh yes, Double O. Oh oh!
Ofcourse all of these quirks just add to the charm of the language and its use. Some cultures just pick up some words which half lost out in English. The characters in Naipauls "Mystic Masseur" are "vexed" all the time- a word which rarely crops up in conversational English any longer. I wish more Pakistani writers wrote employing these quirks. Actually, I just wish we had more Pakistani writers.


Blogger s said...

loved the post - SO true.

i can't believe the 'thrice' bit is true! a socttish guy i was dating was shocked when i used it and said 'WHO THE HELL USES THAT ANYMORE?'. he used to keep on trying to take away my desiness while i taught him rundee, kutay, gora bastard (what he was affectionately called) and chutia (i think i have done more for urdu slang than any human being - every gora i have ever run into has been taught at least one bad urdu word). so anyway, i thought he was just being an idiot, can't believe they actually quit using it and now make fun of US for using it, when they invented it in the first place!


and don't even get me started on the v's and w's - i fixed mine a few years back after dealing for weeks with hysterical laughter each time i opened my mouth at work where all the co-workers were non-pakis but i still have a hard time getting wenus villiams right!!

1:22 pm  
Blogger s said...

oh and i hope your ankle is all better now...

1:24 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Brilliant (as always) Sarah! The foot is now much better. I can walk - as opposed to hobble - pretty anywhere i want to go.

11:46 am  
Anonymous Shafeek said...

Interesting use of the word 'burger'. In Chennai, India anyone who speaks excessively in English is referred to as 'Peter'. I wonder if one has similar terms in other parts of the world.

3:11 pm  
Blogger Blogistani said...

Agree with everything you've written.

"Ya, I think so that was a nice nice fillum."

11:18 pm  

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