Monday, November 15, 2004

Koftay and Candy Bars

Let me be very honest about this. While I am very easy to get along most of the time, I do have my pet peeves. And what irks me most are people who are not tasteful with their speech; that is, people that mix languages, and especially those who mix English in Urdu. You know the kind of people I'm talking about. People who would say, "Main wahan jaa raha thaa keh all of a sudden I saw a big truck coming my way. Achha, us truck kee khas baat yeh thee keh it was full of old lumber," and so on. Ugghhhh! Man, Do I barf at that?! I know that it is very common for my countrymen to speak that way, but that doesn't stop me from despising this lingua spurious. I am from the school of thought that believes that when you speak one language, you should speak just that language--when you speak Urdu you must only speak Urdu, and when you speak English you must say everything in English. And my position on this issue is not based on some queer ideas about safeguarding the purity of languages. As a student of linguistics I know that languages are constantly evolving, and that when a language stops evolving it dies. I know that languages become stronger when they borrow words from other languages. I understand all that. I am not against borrowing foreign words into Urdu. My objection is on speech that is just loose-tongued; my annoyance are the people who bastardize Urdu with English without giving any thought to what they are doing.

Occasions to invent words come when people venture into the unknown. When brave souls course through uncharted waters they encounter new phenomena and new entities that need be named. Today, while the rest of the world is lagging behind and seems to be only interested in the innovations that take the developed form of consumer goods, it is the West and especially the English-speaking group of nations that is marching at full speed. From Physics to Astronomy to Genetic Engineering, they are the ones who are tackling the unknowns on a daily basis. They are the ones sending spacecrafts to various places in our solar system; they are the ones decoding human genes; they are the ones going to the depths of the seas and cataloging new species of fish. It is not surprising that outside of the West, linguistic groups, including Urdu speakers, don't have names for the recently discovered subatomic particles or the latest sports rages. We have no choice but to accept the terminology used by the pioneering nations. I am not thrilled when Urdu litterateurs come up with intimidating Arabic or Farsi (mostly Arabic these days) substitutes for English words, to be used in Urdu. To me the Arabization of new English words is a scheme to discredit the inventors: you may have discovered/invented it but we'll give it a name we like (insinuating credit for the discovery/invention). We must definitely use English words for which there is no easy replacement in Urdu. I am all for using words like 'quark', 'nebula', 'parasailing', 'bungee jumping', etc.

But to punctuate your Urdu sentence with 'and', 'therefore', 'but', 'because', 'I think', 'see', etc. is not very smart. Similarly, dovetailing Urdu and English fragments in one sentence smacks of intellectual deprivation. It is my observation that people who do such a hefty mixing of English in Urdu, are, most of the time, not proficient in either language.

I respect connoisseurs who see language as not only a tool for expression but as a vehicle whose intricate beauty should be appreciated; people who savor their own and others' speech; people who use words very consciously, with great taste and discernment; people who realize the power behind each word; people who know etymologies and can trace back the origins of words. These are the people who understand that the best way to enjoy the tastes of koftay and candy bars is to eat them separately. I might agree with that oddball who would argue that by thoroughly mixing koftay and candy bars in a blender you can come up with yet another dish that would have its very own unique taste--but most people who are casual with their language and use varying mixtures of Urdu-English don't seem to have that type of intellectual reasoning behind their action. They are fusing Urdu and English because they don't know any better. They neither have the taste for koftay nor for candy bars.

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