Spreading the word

Spreading the word

As languages evolve over time, dictionaries have also been adding to their compendiums.

A recent news report spoke of the addition of new words of Asian origin to the Oxford English Dictionary. Words like “yum cha” meaning a type of Chinese breakfast and “wah,” an expression of delight, have found a place in the latest updated version of the dictionary. It appears, both are commonly used words on the streets of Hong Kong and Singapore.

The second word, however, strikes a familiar chord with us Indians used as it is in the same context – a vocalisation of satisfaction, contentment, appreciation and happiness. Aficionados of Hindustani classical music and ghazals are particularly fond of this expression. Remember the famous advertisement for a popular brand of tea where the tabla wizard Pandit Zakir Hussain, after an energetic display of his musical acumen, sips from a cup of the steaming brew with the Taj Mahal in the background and exclaims “Wah Taj”?

Phrases like “dai pai dong” or an open-air food stall and “ang moh” or a light skinned person have also found their way into the dictionary. Come to think of it, it seems quite natural. Just as languages, cultures and habits have evolved over time, absorbing elements from alien systems to forge newer identities, dictionaries also have been adding to their compendiums. It is as it should be.

The Queen’s English has morphed over the centuries, taking in words from Latin, Greek, French, Roman, Sanskrit and innumerable other world languages. It is all in line with the laws of nature, where, to be static means stagnation and death, while dynamism stands for activity, life and volution.

Now let’s look at namma Kannada! It has also quietly taken in words from English, Hindi, Tamil and other Indian languages and dialects. Just listen to the banter on the streets or in a public bus. “Time yeshtu?” is the phrase used to ask  “what’s the time?” “Lecture madathare” or “super agittu” are also commonly heard. May be, in more formal gatherings, precise words such as ‘vele’ or ‘bhashana’ might also be used.

“Exam pass” is more familiar than “parikshe tergade.” “Mental” is used in a derogatory sense to refer to one who is mentally unsound. “Dictionary” is used more than “nighantu” or “padakosha.” “Carpenter” is heard more than “badagi,” while “principal” is more common than “pramshupalakaru.” Of course, too much formality in language in everyday usage would not be practicable.

“Dil” and “dushman” are some of the Hindi words that have merged into Kannada. “Sapad” is Tamil’s contribution to it. Movies have been the most important contributors to this imperceptible etymological migration, a sort of literary national Integration. So we have ‘Kanglish’, ‘Hinglish’, ‘Tanglish’ and so on. Who knows, one day some word from our own Kannada might find a place in the Oxford dictionary! G P Rajaratnam, Bendre, Kuvempu and other stalwarts would surely smile from high above.

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