Chutnefying English: Emergence of a new India with a new language

By Khushboo Tanna , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Last updated : January 13, 2009
The panel discussion focused on whether the use of Hinglish meant the emergence of a new language or the decline of the original languages


second day of the seminar, Chutnefying English, which was organised by MICA, ended with a panel discussion on whether Hinglish was indeed a unifying force.

The panellists were from different fields and included R Raj Rao (writer and professor, University of Pune), Urvashi Butalia (publisher and author), Atul Tandan (director, MICA), Rahul Kansal (chief marketing officer, The Times of India), Devyani Sharma (lecturer, Queen Mary University of London) and Kandaswamy Bharathan (film producer). The session was moderated by Santosh Desai, who is the managing director and chief executive officer of Future Brands.

The discussion started with Desai asking a multitude of questions. To what extent does Hinglish unify? What is the context in which the unification of English and Hindi is taking place? Can Hinglish be a way of communication for market India to communicate with itself? While it includes a lot of people, does it flatten the conversation in terms of language? Does it create new sets of meanings in order to articulate new ideas or is it an inorganic creation of the commercial system?

Butalia said that there was no doubt that in India, it would build a sense of commonality to have a common language. She explained her point of view by giving an example from a book by Salman Rushdie called Midnight's Children. In the book, some Hindi works are not italicised like they are usually, which shows that the language is understood by a global audience.

Rao had a stronger point of view and said that Hinglish doesn't have either the authenticity of Hindi or the purity of English. English is not a living language for us and maybe that's why we don't take it seriously. He gave a personal example and said that when his novel, Boyfriend, was translated into French, there were a lot of Hindi words that had to be translated. He said that Hindi words come subconsciously to us when we are talking in English.

Bharathan said that the topic could be related just as well to films because a film is all about communication or the telling of a story. He said that language is only one aspect of film communication and various other factors, such as cinematography and music, all affect the outcome of a film.

Sharma took over the discussion and said that Hinglish was demoting the positions of individual languages, which means it is unifying. But she added that the language spoken by a person would have traces of his native language as well. There is also the question of whether Hinglish is spoken by privileged people because they have knowledge of both languages, or by lower class people because it their only mode of survival. She said that Hinglish had the potential to replace Hindi if it took over as a popular mode of communication.

Kansal said that Hindi was like a sponge and absorbed words from English quite easily. He said that when he was in college, there were two distinct groups - the English speaking group and the Hindi speaking group, but now he noticed that the distinction was blurring and there was a clear coming together of the two. He said he felt that this was a great development.

Tandan had the last word when he said that he wondered why there was all this talk of unifying India. He said he felt that India was already unified in all senses of the word. As an example, he said that a villager might call his parents Mummy and Daddy without even realising that the words were English. For the villager, it was just a way of naming his parents.

He ended the conference with the question: If chutnefying English is a metaphor, then are there a new India and a new language emerging?

First Published : January 13, 2009

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