Friday, October 30, 2009

Mallu and the English Language

I got this forward today.

We Malayalees will never grow up; never shake off that colonial hangover.

This video juxtaposes Sreemathi Teacher, the Honourable Minister for Health for Kerala addressing the press in English, with a clipping from the film Achuvinte Amma, in which Urvashi is shown trying to learn English by practicing speaking the alien tongue at home when she talks to her daughter. The ‘subject’ for the forward was “You’ll surely laugh”. Well, I did laugh – at the clipping from the film. But I did not find Sreemathi teacher’s English outrageously funny.

For goodness sake, where is written that one should speak convent English to become a minister? Good enough if a minister can communicate well in the regional language. Definitely, competence in English is a bonus point – but not an imperative. Lack of competence in English is not a reason to make an Indian feel inadequate or feel that he is a lesser being.

I thought the minister communicated pretty well. So what if there were hiccups, or slips in grammar, syntax etc? Have we Indians entered into some contract with the erstwhile colonizer to protect the sanctity and correctness of his language?

Nothing gives me more pleasure than mutilating and distorting the English language and getting away with it. That’s my way of getting back for four centuries of oppression.

Come on, let’s slaughter the English languag but make sure that we get away with it. One way to do this is to care two hoots for the language, and treat it merely like a utility object.

If India becomes a super economic power which calls the shots in world affairs, our English will gain the respectability that Australian and American variety have. It’s only money and power that make different voices heard in this unfair world.

In the meanwhile, I hope Hon Minister Sreemathi Teacher will continue to use English the way she knows, the way it suits her, showing scant respect to the rules made by some stuffy grammarians in England in the eighteenth century, and to the rules of pronunciation that cannot always be accommodated by the genius of the our mother tongue.

My post on Mallu English:


  1. I am so glad that you wrote this post.I have been seeing this video as forward and i guess I saw it one of the channels as well! Seriously, whats the big deal?

  2. Initially, I thought you were going to criticize Sreemathi teacher for trying to speak in English. But as I read further, I was pleasantly surprised, more so because you are an English teacher yourself, when I realized that you were actually defending Sreemathi teacher.

    Three cheers for that! :)

    PS: Take some raw English language, put some spicy Malayalam words, add some da s and yaar s for flavour, mix with a thick paste of local accent..
    Then kaduvara kaduvara kaduvara...
    Simple.. Manglish ready.. Go!!!

  3. Malayalees are one group in India I think are more open to cross-cultural understanding than others. Afterall, almost all families in Kerala have someone in another country somewhere. It's good to try to learn another language. I wish Americans had to do such things! Also, it's better than your neighbors of Tamil Nadu- I don't know if it's still going on but converting all schools to Tamil Medium is just a bad idea, for everyone. Even America, we'd suffer if next generation we don't get fresh Indian Tamil blood here sharing the wonders of another aspect of South Indian culture!

  4. The point is that she could have spoken in Malayalam. But she chose to speak in English, a language she does not know. You missed the point here.

  5. @ bombaydosti
    yes, what's the big deal?

    i've always been disheartened by the terror the English language holds for my students. so i never let go of of an opportunity to say, what the heck, it's only a LANUAGE, & that too not ours - -

    @ jennifer
    i agree with you. the english language should be encouraged in India. its utilty value is high. all i am saying is we should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by it.

    @ anonymous
    i dont know the context. whatever it is, if for some reason she chose to sppeak in english, she should not be ridiculed like this!is the ability to speak english well the ulimate achievement in life?

  6. She was talking to a gathering in Kerala. What was the need to speak English? She could have shown some laguage pride by talking in Malayalam. She was trying to show off and ended up with mud on her face.

  7. If she spoke English to a non-malayalam speaking audience,I dont find anything wrong in her trying to communicate her ideas across. But if it was in Kerala, why didnt she just stick to malayalam?????

  8. From someone who follows all your blogs:
    The point is she did not have to speak in English. Have you seen the French, Italian, etc speak their own language? They take pride in it!Any language need not be destructed in order to take revenge on the people who speak it. Isn't that teeny weeny bit silly? You seem to have missed the point here. I think the point is that she was not ridiculed for her english,she was ridiculed for trying to speak somehting that she did not have to.So does this mean that you have not been true to your profession all these years?I agree that English is not the be all and end all of language but when you speak try showing a little respect for the language! For that matter any language!!

  9. @ anonymous
    'So does this mean that you have not been true to your profession all these years?'
    :-). anyway, thanks for giving me a chance to talk abt it.

    AS a teacher, i have tried to teach the rules of the language as faithfully as possible, but have done everything in my power to make the students feel that they should not be intimidated by the CONCEPT of english.and as for those who use the language creatively, i impress upon them that they can use the artist's licence and break the rules, knowing fully well that they are doing it. it is inevitable that an alien language cannot always capture the nuances of our sensibilities. hence, the duty of a creative writer is to be faithful to her sensibilities rather than to the language.i try to impress upon them that violating the rules of the english language is not a crime that calls for capital punishmnt.
    i encourage indianism which are commonly understood by indians, used in the indian media and make sense to indians. what if the Guardian newspaper chooses to ridicule them? why in god's name should we care if the usage is good enough for us Indians? it is this attitude that i have tried to inculcate in my students - to get rid of the mortal fear for the english language that grips our students from the vernacular medium.

    unless they are teachers of the english language, a slip in te language or the use of indianisms dont really matter so long as they communicate effectively. and to communicate effectively, they must, absolutely must get rid of this fear of the devil they have for this language.

    reg Sreemathi teacher, well if she felt like speaking in english, let her. what's anybody's problem? & what if she becomes a central minister tomorrow- this practice will help her then.

  10. wow I have never thought in that light before. And ashamed to admit, used to flinch slightly when I recognise wrong English (recognise cause I may not know half the time either)
    And as a relief, I could start feeling less tense about speaking wrong English now - cause we do it to get back at 'em British Bowbows - err Babus - rite?

  11. Great article. I have approved your comments on my blog,

    Best wishes


  12. Seems as though the Malayalee's proficiency in the English language has served them well. How many Malayalee's work abroad?? I agree if she wants to speak English, French, Spanish, whatever, let her. Isn't the ability to speak more than one language (whatever language, even with mistakes) a sign of intellect? It's not a sell out to the western world, how many westerners can speak more than one language??

  13. When I hear comments on English accent and pronunciation, I wonder how many Indians speak Queen's English. Those who say 'wonly' for 'only' teases someone else saying 'kolage' for 'college'. It's our baggage!

  14. I am all the way with you when you say, 'Good enough if a minister ca communicate well in the regional language.'

    But, for goodness' sake, where is it written that a minister should speak in English at all? Particularly when the audience she is addressing knows the language she is comfortable in.

    Frankly, I found both the components of the forward supremely hilarious - as mirth-provoking as the several scenes where characters speak a language they are not proficient in - like in 'Gandhinagar II Street' where Mohanlal, pretending to be a Nepali/Gurkha, tries to speak Hindi.

    If I am bent upon making an ass of myself in public, who can stop me?

  15. Yes, knowing English is not a criteria to become a minister in Kerala. But, what was she trying to convey through her speech? She could have very well spoke in a language known to her. If she was trying to practice and learn, could have very well done it at home, like Urvasi.

  16. We give respect to teachers and if a teacher talks like this,it is not an acceptable norm in any society. The tag of Sreemathi'teacher' is very important in this issue.

  17. We discuss about Sreemathi teacher speaking English because she spoke or tried to speak English. But the ones who find this funny don't realise that there are ones who don't speak English because they don't know anything in English. And it may be for a reason that the audience had non-malyali people (ok that's just a personal assumption!)

    I'm not defending her for speaking erroneous English. If you do something, you have to do it perfect. That's why translators are in high demand in Europe, Japan etc. We feel bad that if they know that we don't know English, they'll ridicule us. That's a notion, only a Malayali will have in this entire world.

    And English is just a minimal thing for an Indian politician. After all he/she doesn't even require the English speaking Indians' vote to get into power as they constitute for nothing in the mainstream India. :)

  18. Yes, you are right. I must admit, I would have been tempted to ridicule her too, but your post has made me think. I do not know what prompted her to speak in English, but, in the end if she has managed to communicate what was in her head, then all is fair. Would have been good if she could speak fluent English, but we didn't elect her for her English.

  19. accents come with the territory. The grammar and the syntax are the same , but the phonetics vary while English is spoken and broken. - The battle of the accents, - i wrote a post on this some time ago. In reality, there is no war or battle. but today if i write on this again, i would do that a little differently.

  20. To be honest, it was not so bad. I think the Channel guys made it look worse.

  21. Does it really matter how you speak? How many of the English can speak Malayalam properly?Have any one given a thought about it? I remember how our English teacher at SB College used to twist and twirl his tongue and mouth to imiatate Queen,s English!Any language,is someones mother tongue,and they speak it naturally, properly.And do we have King,s Malayalam to compare?Speaking English with the correct phonetics, shouldnt be a criterion to assess one,s capabilities.With all the knowledge in English could Shashi Tharoor make others understand what was in his mind?

  22. She was addressing a dentists/doctors conference in Kerala. She could have easily spoken in Malayalam. I understand that everyone may not have access to or afford English medium education. I think the fact here is that this person who is a minister has several qualified people (IAS officers) on her staff who could have written and given her a proper speech if only she had the common sense to think of it. What is the harm in using a speech writer. Even an Obama (who's a native speaker of English)uses a speech writer. She chose instead, to air her ignorance.

  23. ppkusumam:

    …… till recently, English was a cursed language (of the capitalists) and anyone who tried to learn/ use it was made fun of and abused by the comrades.

    Net result – the standard of English in Kerala becomes pathetic and Keralites develop a fear-complex towards using this highly useful tool.

    This pattern can be seen across the board – politics, education, IT, industry, government services, arts, development…….

    That is why Kerala is steadily going backwards while many of the ‘backward’ states are marching forward.

    ……. today, the emasculated malayali “looks from comrade to capitalist, and capitalist to comrade, and from comrade to capitalist again;
    but already it is impossible to say which is which.”

  24. ithenna paniyaa ente kochuthresyakoche ee kaanichu vechekkunne?...
    its a pity you wrote this nonsense!
    its your likable,lucid language that lured me to follow you backwards from your celebrated 300th post.
    i agree to disagree with you totally on this.
    out of respect for your profession, i desist numbering your silly assertions and commenting on each!
    @Criss: only you could've responded thus.'rite'?
    @wannabe:yeah, so true. who can stop an ass from revealing itself!
    @ anonymous. there are one too many anonys here. the 1 who started with "from some1 who follows all..." me too have similar questions!
    well said the 3 of you.

  25. The words most murdered by Malayalees are:
    Mascot Hotel,
    kangaroo (the worst offended word)
    bear (Malayalees pronounce this as ‘beer’), mixed, fixed (another worse case pronounced as miksed, fiksed),
    form (they say ‘farum’),
    heart (pronounced as ‘hurt’),
    Australia (never pronounces 'o' for the letter a even by the print and other media!!!),
    All r’s which are silent are pronounced by malayalees


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