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E-Pao! Opinion - Manipuri English

Manipuri English

By: Sushitra *


I like to react to Mr. Ranjan Yumnam's article "Mend your Language." Before I give my opinion, I like to say a few things about language.

The function of a language is to communicate with the rest of the world. One should avoid and correct those sounds that are unintelligible to the hearer because the hearer should be able to understand the message you are conveying.

There is nothing as such that one language or an accent is more expressive and beautiful than the other. Language is something very organic. It grows and dies of its own, just as any living organism. In other words, I would say survival of the fittest.

In linguistics, fittest would mean the language that would bring economic progress. Economy has a great impact on language. Any language that would hinder economic progress will die, e.g., Sri Lankan Malay, which is going to die after a few decades.

Languages change from time to time, over the centuries. If you take a look at an Old English text, you would not understand a single word because Old English was one of the Germanic languages. Now, we can hardly see any features of a Germanic language in Present Day English.

English had a very different grammar, morphology, phonology, and vocabularies. In the course of time, it has lost almost all its inflections, and the meanings of many vocabularies have changed.

For example, the spelling of the Present Day English word king was cyning, and it was pronounced as kuning. Forget about the Old English, if you read Victorian literature written by Jane Austen, which are just one and a half century old, you will find several adjectives, which we do not use anymore. For example, the word gay once meant nice, but now it means homo.

Languages around the world, including the languages spoken in the jungle of Amazon and the languages of the Inuit, are as expressive as any modern languages, such as English, French or German.

However, these languages of the Amazon and Inuit may not have certain vocabularies, such as computer or any electronic gadgets because they do not need these words. Words do not exist if they are not needed. For instance, the word racism did not exist in the English Dictionary until Hitler's Nazi Germany.

5-6 centuries ago there was no Standard English as such. When they started Satandarization, they did not have enough vocabularies; therefore they coined several words, and borrowed from other languages.

The Standard English spoken in the United Kingdom is called RP (Received Pronunciation) or BBC English or Queen's English. RP is spoken by less than 3% of the entire population of the United Kingdom, and the rest speak dialects. RP became the Standard English because it was spoken by a few elites in London, but not because it was the most beautiful English dialect.

Similarly, le français standard (Parisian French) became the Standard French because it was spoken by a few elites in Paris, who had political power. These Standard languages were once dialects, just as other dialects of English and French at present.

If these standard languages were not spoken by elites or economically advanced people, they would have never become the Standard languages. In that case, some other dialects, such as Liverpool English or Patois of Vendée would have probably become the Standard English and Standard French. This shows how politics and economy play games with language. Everything revolves around economy.

Most Manipuris speak both English and Hindi with Manipuri accent, and nothing is wrong with that. Non-Manipuris must be laughing at our accent, because we are economically disadvantaged group, and we are minority group.

However, do not forget that we can laugh at their accent, too. They, too, speak English with their native language accent. Speaking English very well does not mean that you have to speak like a British or an American because we can never speak like a native tongue, and we do not have to speak like them.

There is no original English as such. As I have already explained how English language has transformed in the course of time; it is constantly changing like any other languages. So, originality does not exist.

Today English is a global language, and there are varieties of Englishes around the world that have emerged after the Colonial Era, and these Englishes are known as Postcolonial Englishes. Mr. Ranjan says to Manipuris brush your language which means Manipuris need to speak like other non-Manipuris or, in other words Mayang English.

Well, let me use the International term "Indian English." Indian English is one of the Postcolonial Englishes, just as South African English, Nigerian English, Singlish (the English spoken in Singapore), Hongkong English, Tanzanian English, etc.

These Englishes have different syntactic systems from American and British English, and many native vocabularies have penetrated into these Englishes. There are countless varieties of Englishes around the world, so why can't Manipuri English be one of the varieties?

Talking about Indian English, there are again several varieties within Indian English itself. Listen to a Bengali, Punjabi, and a South Indian speaking English; you will hear enormous difference in their phonology. Now, tell me who is speaking the Standard English?

Manipuris speak English with Typical Manipuri accent, therefore many articulate and smart Manipuris suffer from the syndrome of tongue tightness outside Manipur, as Mr. Ranjan puts it. I do not understand who these smart and articulate Manipuris are.

If you are a smart and articulate person, you will fit anywhere in the world. Probably, Mr. Ranjan is talking about those Manipuris, who have fake degrees and diplomas, or who got their degrees from Manipur University by using unfair means. Then, Mr. Ranjan has used here wrong adjectives.

I have known many Manipuris, who have successful carrier in different parts of India and abroad, but I have never come across any smart and articulate Manipuris, whose tongues are tight during job interviews.

He mentions, "Most of the times your problems have their origins from your flat nose." I must say: give me a break. What an ignorant conclusion he has made! As I have already mentioned that politics and economy have great impact on language.

Look at Standard American English GA (General American) which was once regarded as vulgar and harsh has become more popular than the British English because of the American economy. Europeans are now learning Chinese because of the growing Chinese economy. This has nothing to do with our outlook and personality.

Coming back to Indian English (Mayang English). Indian English is not an International English either. When an Indian goes to the USA or Europe, Whites make fun of Indian English because Indians speak English with Indian accent.

Why don't the Whites make fun of a German or a French speaking English with a strong German and French accent? Simply because Germans and French are white Europeans; and they are economically more advance than the Indians.

Another reason of Manipuris finding it difficult to speak another language is the integration problem. Manipuris always have their own groups, and they do not like integration to other culture. This makes them docile and afraid when a long nose and big eyes approaches them.

I want to say to Manipuris: change your attitude, and integrate to the culture wherever you live. Do not look upon the Indian English, and do not try to speak like them because their English is not an International English either. Correct your unintelligible sounds, and try to speak International English.

I also like to react on e-pao chat-room. E-pao website has provided us a platform for discussion and debate. Some prefer to discuss something productive, and some prefer nonsense. This is an individual choice, and e-pao team is not BIG BROTHER. So, it is better to mind your own business.

Last but not the least; let's focus on political agenda and the attitude of Manipuris, but not on our personality and accent.


* Sushitra is currently doing Master in Education at Amsterdam as well as teach English in Kollege in The Netherlands. She has worked as a PE teacher at a school in Delhi for 6 years. This article was webcasted on August 08th, 2007.


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