Monday, 1 November 2010

Word forword

Emirates Parent Plus. November 2010.

The vagaries of the English language have always been fodder for much entertainment. While non-native speakers continue to cook its broth most relentlessly, only those who have had personal experience with the in-house battering of this phonetically challenged dialect, mother tongue, or not, can understand that the murder spree of Queen’s English is a heritage that is as old as the very origins of its speakers.

History not-withstanding, the scope for sheer variety underscores the speaking fraternity of its faithfuls, where strong accents make for individual languages in their own right. So while there is the Geordie or the Brummie from its lands’s own, we heb our own ramifications, that stand proud, as far as the empire stretched then and as rampant as its influence has spread since.

Compounded by phonetic similarities between words among these languages, while they hold no semantic parity, the results of their combinations become epics in themselves.

Hold that in your mind while I relate this rather unfortunate event. Someone declares at a wake, inde naak vurrk ille (“Today I will have no sleep”). It is but natural to wonder, even aloud, why someone not even remotely related to the deceased should go without sleep prior to the funeral. Turns out, the exclamation was a classic dual language utterance, where “vurrk” was actually the English word “work” used as itself, but articulated in his typical accent. After much confusion among the guests, when the situation got quite out-of-hand, someone was kind enough to intervene and clarify what that sentence originally intended to convey. It goes thus: inde naak work ille, meaning, quite simply and unpretentiously, “Today I do not have (to go to) work”.

Can you imagine how foul uncontrollable guffaws would have seemed with the head of the family lying in a coffin two teak chairs away? Let us not even venture into the predicament of the mourning widow and the distraught children.

So you see, language mutilation is not obliged to protocols of any sort and in the wake of habit and opportunity, anything vurrks.

And. It is always very sentimental.

The enthusiast will plough on. And you dare not interrupt. Especially on a busy road when the only one available to ask for directions is a modest enough youth revving a 1985 converted van, loaded with live chickens. He will vigorously point left and insist that to get to where I need to be in less than 15 minutes, I should go striiiiightu.

Decode time. Going ‘straight’, would take me along a road that allows no turnings for a good two kms on that traffic-heavy road. Going ‘right’, would steer me out of the city. Instinctively, I know that in going with his hand gesture, ‘left’, I will be at least 45 minutes late for my appointment. So, gingerly, trying my diplomatic best, I enquired again. Enthusiastic, confident and persuasive, the reply came promptly, “go to Striiiiightu, Medem” . There was no way I could break his heart but experience told me to seek a second opinion, urgently. I shot a jolly “thanks” and as fast as the bumper-to-bumper traffic would allow me, I made for a getaway.

While I drove away relying merely on the compass of instinct and sheer commonsense, the bridge (breeze) rand (ran) through my airs (hairs). The chaos outside, tasted my resolve and I hated the test of the orange-flavoured water, a friend had most kindly forced upon me on another such mercurial day.

Was I flummoxed, though? On the contrary, it was tremendously heartening. It was another testimony to why progress will make its way.

For, in spite of my valiant efforts to connect on a local level, speaking in the regional language, there is this rank of greater valiants that dare to dream. They know that prosperity rides on cultural amalgamation. They have seen it happen and they are part of that wave. So while no one can take away from them, their staunch roots of identity, they are forever eager to adapt and adopt every semblance of a prosperity that makes them more one with the rest of the world.

Above the underlying determination to rise beyond a day’s wage, these light moments of comic relief, make every bead of sweat, worth the while. The local vernacularisation of a language from a land far, far, away, and the localised diction and usage of it ̶ more far-fetched the better ̶ makes it worth the while. In this very common situation, where education, aspiration and resolve come together, every time you come across a deflection, grammatical or phonetic, it still gets you. It is worth the vile.

You cannot beat it. And it will always survive. Word for word.