My German friend is into Bollywood movies – he’s bit of an Amitabh Bachchan fan. What surprises him are not the ridiculous plots, but the number of English words they use in the midst of their Hindi dialogues. As a German, he simply does not comprehend this.
This phenomenon, where Indians weave English words into their native tongues, is a by-product of 200 years of colonialism. While it is true that the Oxford English dictionary some typical Indian words like Topee and Jungle have been incorporated into the Oxford dictionary, English has obliterated the expression of nuance in our mother tongues.
Proud as we Indians are of our multilingualism, this is a drawback that we suffer when we are educated in English-medium schools. We are invariably more comfortable in conversing in English than our own mother-tongues, especially while discussing complex ideas. Sajith Pai refers to this section of Indians as “English firsts” in his article on “Indo-Anglians”.
Mutli-lingualism rewires our brain at a very fundamental level. When we are multilingual, our brains realize that there are alternative ways to express the same idea. For instance, the German word for safety (Sicherheit) translates to sureness. Hence, when I say safety, I imply something a little different from when I say Sicherheit. It is almost as though we have a second-personality when we speak our second language, and this makes us more open-minded individuals.
However, this is true only if we are truly multilingual. On paper, I can speak five languages, but in reality, English remains to be the only language where I can step beyond saying something transactional and into the land of nuance. In fact, I cannot say ‘nuance’ in any of the other four languages I know.
As Indians, this means a couple of things. Regrettably, we are turning into Indo-Anglians, where our own mother-tongues turn into a foreign language. On the bright side, we have an opportunity to dig deeper into the more complex ideas expressed in our own native tongues, where our grammatical foundation has already been laid, and get in touch with our second personalities – the ones we were actually born into.
Suggested reading: The amazing benefits of being multilingual