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            Volume 11 |Issue 06| February 10, 2012 |


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An Inevitable Inheritance

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Linguistic purists are often disdainful of languages getting mixed up with one another producing some crass hybrid that goes neither here nor there. Many who have been educated in the English Medium have a handicap when it comes to speaking pure, proper Bengali and have a tendency to insert English words when speaking Bengali. The purists visibly bristle and cringe every time they hear things like: 'Amar kharap habit je ami Bangla English mix kore pheli' (I have a habit of mixing Bengali and English when I speak).

Of course nothing can be more jarring to the ears than the strange lingo of radio jockeys (RJ's): 'Listeners, ebar akta fatafati number shonabo that I know you're gonna like so shonge thakun'.

While it may sound unrefined and upstart-ish and although many such 'offenders' (except the RJs) are quite embarrassed yet helpless, because of this deficiency, the purists could be a little less judgemental.

English words, after all, have crept into Bengali long before the adulteration of the language by English medium school students. Words like 'table', 'chair' 'glass', 'plate', 'pencil', 'hanger', television, and even 'dressing table' are seldom replaced by any Bengali equivalent, if there is any. In modern times it's even harder. Think of a Bengali equivalent for 'Internet' or 'gaming'.

English in fact, has crept into our spoken Bangla in the most insidious ways. When the bua, who has no education at all in any medium, says: 'Eta ar thhik koron jaibo na - akdom discolour hoe gese' (this can't be fixed, it's completely discoloured) or 'Bostite oiy bedir onek power (that woman has a lot of power in the slum) it is a clear indication that English has become part of day to day conversations even among people who have never been to school.

Thanks to an overwhelming colonial legacy not to mention the agents of globalisation, it is practically impossible to avoid the English language.






So much so that we have actually coined our own English words to suit our cultural context.

A 'psychic case' is a nut case - somebody who displays aggressive, irratic and irrational behaviour. It has nothing to do with clairvoyance.

Distup (from 'disturb') means a malfunction, usually of some device: 'Ingin e dishtup' (something wrong with the engine).

If you want to cast aspersions on a person's character the word used is 'characterless' describing someone of loose character or who is promiscuous although according to English dictionaries it means dull and uninteresting.

'Pest Colour' is a minty green which was possibly a common colour for toothpaste in the old days.

'Heby Fire' (from heavy fire) is not describing an intense gunfight between warring armies. It means being infuriated and showing one's ire. It may even result in someone getting fired.

'Heby' it may be mentioned, can be used like 'very' with just about anything like - heby joess (groovy, awesome, cool) heby ghum (very sleepy), heby borolok (very rich), heby testy (very tasty).

While the purists may continue to advocate using sentences without a single English word, in today's world where cultural exchange and even convergence is sometimes inevitable it is difficult to keep out a few words of English from creeping in every now and then. This is probably why someone, a long time ago, predicted this fusion and came up with the famous riddle: If jodi it hoy but kintu what ki?

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