My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The fate of languages

Much has been written about how many languages are disappearing. According to the economist, one language is lost every fortnight around the world. Even a language like French is being threatened by the prospect of existing only as words of French origin that have become part of English, such as “entente”, “bon appetit”, or even horribly as “RSVP”. But this post is about changes affecting languages that are not face any imminent threat of extinction.

On May 15, the government of Portugal will put a proposal before parliament to standardize the Portuguese language globally which would establish Brazilian version as the standard. Not unexpectedly, strong sentiments have been raised in favor and against of this reverse language colonialism. This issue has been faced by many imperial powers wherein the words, spellings and pronunciations for their native languages are replaced by that of their former colonies’ as their population size and economies took huge lead over that of their colonizers.

For instance, the American version has almost decimated the British version for English through the mighty power of “spellcheck” in Microsoft Office Tools. Going forward, this may change in more profound ways as India and China become places with the largest number of English speakers. So will “Australia end up being pronounced as “Ostralia”, or “is” become “iz” as done by many North Indians? Or will the word “Fried Egg” be replaced by “Number 29” as is the practice adopted by many foreigners in China? Will the Chinese “aaaa” be a standard question tag, replacing “isn’t it”? Will such absurd sounding word combinations such as “Fantabulous” or “Mindblowing”, originating from Indian Idol like shows, start getting used by the BBC?

Such issues are affecting even languages in these countries like India too, for instance the Bengali “issshhhh” has become a standard exclamation in Hindi, courtesy its rampant use in Hindi film and television industry. How language used for SMS is changing our communication behavior has been well covered. SMS is also slowly driving away lesser used words into oblivion. However, the most obscure words are being brought back to business through televised Spelling Bee contests. At the same time, a key factor is the effect of mobile dictionaries such as T9 which make it quite difficult to type in profanities. So will the world become rather gentler and polite as people avoid taking the pains to type in profanities and gradually stop using rude words?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

fried egg as no 29 is hilarious