The ‘sin’ and the English babble

Why blame them at all? We ourselves have mimicked people who have said
Express Illustration: Sourav Roy
Express Illustration: Sourav Roy

BENGALURU:  On the first day of junior college, our English teacher walked in and wrote on the blackboard, “Communication skills in English”, and dramatically underlined it for emphasis. That was the subject he was to teach.

He started: “If you do not pay attention in this class, and make a mess of the language...” and then he turned – again dramatically – and deleted ‘s’ from ‘skills’ and removed ‘in’.  ‘in’. What was left was: ‘Communication kills English’. “That’s what you will end up doing!” He then put the deleted alphabets together after an ‘=’ sign in between. ‘Communication kills English = sin’! “It is nothing less than a sin...,” he said, adding, “....only hell will be your destination!”

Nice way to drive in the point of achieving perfection in a spoken language, with a scare that dreaded hell awaits you with a licence in the form of a ‘sin’ committed by messing it up. If that had any truth in it, most of us Indians and more than half the world that was once part of the British empire, would be headed for hell.

The class itself was a microcosm of how English has imposed itself on us: a non-English teacher teaching non-English students how to perfectly speak the English language, without killing it and committing a “sin”. Today, English thrives, even as the “sin” is committed every moment in terms of mispronounced words, poor grammar, questionable diction, and imperfect sentence structuring....both in spoken and written forms.

And yet, why blame anyone? It is our predicament. We are forced to resort to English, leaving our respective mother-tongues – in which we are more perfect in speech than in English – when we encounter someone who does not follow our language. It is common. English binds us, even if we kill it and commit the ‘sin’ as threatened by my English teacher. Doesn’t matter if there is a Russell Peters or other stand-up comedians of his ilk who entertain their audiences by mimicking the way different Indians speak their English.

Why blame them at all? We ourselves have mimicked people who have said “Open the window, let the air force come in!”, or a teacher sending a student out of class as punishment, while saying “I want you to be outstanding the class!”

Despite all the fun-poking, an increasing number of people speak English better these days. In fact, come to think of it, the spread of English in our country has forced us to commit ‘sins’ of killing our own languages. It is difficult to come across people – even rural folks – who can hold their native language without using English words or terms.

I have a friend who had a severe stammering problem when in college. It happened while speaking English, not his native language. It was so severe that he preferred not to speak for fear of exposing his condition. Later, he moved to the USA, and recently on a visit to India, he called me up.  I was surprised to find him speaking English perfectly without stammering.

On enquiring, he said, “In the USA, I started using the American accent while speaking English, and found that by doing so I could get rid of my stammering.” It was a psychological problem that he suffered from trying to speak English, something that made him conscious about pronouncing words, making mistakes and ending up stammering while trying to express himself. By adding a strong foreign accent, he overcame it as it gave him ease and confidence in language delivery.

There is another friend in Bengaluru, unknown to the other friend, who used the same method using the British accent and achieved the same effect. I am surprised at what people try out to master the English language. It is, after all, increasingly becoming a matter of survival, ‘sin’ or not!

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