By Arati Nair:
The restaurant down the kerb, Gymkhana, won the prestigious 2014 National Restaurant Award. The highlights of its delectable menu include samosa papdi chat, pulao rice, chicken tikka masala, tandoori gobi and chole bature. Well, chicken tikka masala in particular, for it is also the national dish of the country.
Which country, one might wonder bemusedly.
These accolades for a desi restaurant and an equally desi dish, in fact, belong to Great Britain. Gymkhana is the newest Michelin star eatery in London and chicken tikka now shares the high mantle with good old native fish and chips.
Before proceeding further, let me disclose at the outset that all words used in this article are purely English, approved by the Oxford dictionary even. The colonial invasion of India inevitably paved way for intermingling of cultures, the most perceptible being culinary exchanges. Today, with a booming Indian diaspora the world over and English being their lingua franca, colloquial words and phrases from the subcontinent have also wiggled their way into everyday English speech. We have overtaken much more than their collective palate.
The angrez rani of the last century just turned over in her grave.
But the indignation of the Queen would be misplaced, as the modern avatar of the English language has imbibed much from foreign tongues. In the 11th century, England was the only European country to have developed a native standardized language to challenge the hegemony of Latin as a written tongue. This attempt failed after the Norman invasion denigrated English to the ‘mongrel’ language of the lower classes. Subsequently, refined words such as ‘hath’ and ‘doth’ were pronounced with a lisp and became ‘has’ and ‘does’ respectively. Over the centuries, similar lingual overtures precipitated changes in the Queen’s prized language.
Similarly, the etymology of several Anglo-Indian words can be traced back to a period prior to the British Raj exercising control over its colonies.
The words ‘ginger’, ‘mango’ etc. have their roots in Malayalam and were accepted globally before the 17th century, after spice trade between India and Europe expanded significantly. The influence of Persian and Arabic is quite evident with words like ‘shawl’, ‘kiosk’, ‘kurta’, ‘lemon’ and ‘orange’ becoming common. Sanskrit has also contributed its fair share with ‘juggernaut’, ‘karma’, ‘mantra’ and so on.
While all these words underwent modification from their native roots, several others have retained their indigenous form while switching over to English. For example not much has been done to spruce up ‘arey’, ‘yaar’, ‘churidar’, ‘dhaba’ or ‘bhelpuri’, which are being used as they are. The Oxford dictionary has officially accepted these words as English, thanks to Indians who are slowly enmeshing the English language with Hindi slang, making the two inseparable on numerous fronts. Interestingly, Punjabi swear words have quite a few takers among the English youth. Apparently, cussing in a foreign language is a common habit among humans everywhere.
Jeremy Butterfield, the ex-editor-in-chief of the Collins dictionaries, feels that this trend of amalgamation is set to continue over the next few decades. He rubbishes claims of English losing its purity with the invasion of multi-cultural words. As long as global interactions continue, more words are likely to be imported from the subcontinent.
External influences including Geek-speak and internet dialects are reshaping English everyday. Just as words like ‘face-palm’, ‘selfie’, ‘google’ have been easily accepted for standard usage, Indian words have also seeped into the linguistic discourse of the language. This assimilation elevates English to a higher pedestal of global integration, rather than maligning its superior image as perceived by a minority. That should adequately allay all fears of Chaucer, Victoria and their living acolytes.