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A Case for Hinglish

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on October 13, 2011 No Comment

Picture 2A new circular from the Department of Official Language, part of the Indian Home Ministry, encourages the use of popular English words in place of difficult Hindi terms in official Hindi communications. The circular states that Hindi words such as “misil” (for “file”), “pratyabhuti” (for “guarantee”), “kunjipatal” (for “keyboard”), and “sanganak” (for “computer”) will no longer be needed to be used-they may now be replaced with their popular English counterparts.  Few people-apart from those conversant with bureaucratese or literary Hindi-could claim to know what these words mean. Seriously, “kunjipatal“? And what exactly do you do with a “kunjipatal,” if not “taip“?

Why the sudden change? The circular states:

“Whenever, during the official work, Hindi is used as translating language, it becomes difficult and complex. There is an urgent need to make changes in the process of English to Hindi translations. Translations should carry expression of the original text rather than word-by-word Hindi substitute.”

The circular also notes that the use of such “pure” Hindi terms leads to “disinterest among masses.” The policy change also encourages the use of other languages; the suggestion is that “Pure Hindi should be for literary purposes while practical ‘mixed’ version for work purposes”:

“Foreign words which are now popular in Hindi like `ticket’, `signal’, `lift’, `station’, `police’, `bureau’, `button’, `fee’…and Arabian, Turkish, Farsi words like `Adalat’, `Kanoon’, `Muqadma’, `Kagaz’, `Daftar’…should be used as it is in Hindi correspondence.”

Going by the comments posted in response to the various articles linked to it this post, responses-so far as the Internet is concerned-are mixed. In my opinion, this is a good thing. The use of obscure Hindi terms does not help make the language more popular; it takes away from its popularity. Because I grew up in Delhi, a very linguistically diverse area, I always thought of Hindi as a language that freely soaked up other languages-in my case, English, Punjabi, Urdu, and Bengali. It wasn’t until I began teaching Hindi at U.C. Berkeley that I was struck by how many words I didn’t know the Hindi equivalent of-because I’d grown up using English or Urdu or other substitutes. And that’s not because I wasn’t ever exposed to literary Hindi-I was. I’m now also often astonished when my husband-with no prior background in Indian languages-correctly guesses the meaning of a word I’ve always identified in my mind as “purely” Hindi-because of his knowledge of Turkish or Arabic. The language has been alive for me in engagement with other tongues, thus, sometimes in ways I’d never even known of, and I think that’s a good thing. This is not, however, to say that this official shift doesn’t pain me a little. I appreciate encountering “pure” Hindi (as the notion is popularly understood) every once in a while-in neta‘s speeches, government forms, or overheard conversations between my father and some of his friends…it is a sweet, rich language. But I’m confident that Hindi’s staying power lies in its ability to absorb new words, its own and those of others.

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