Monday, October 5, 2009

The language of the dogs

Language is a way of expressing oneself using words and even actions. It is a cultural learning that we are put through, and eventually we will add on to our traditional learning with our own unique experiences. We have the official language that is thrust upon people and the un-official language which is a public outcry and protest. In India too we have Hindi, struggling to assert itself as the national language, English as the most used language across different states largely by default and maybe as a colonial hangover which has turned into an advantage for Indians, and many other languages hustling for space in the Indian sphere with slight similarities and differences at the same time.

There are unique and almost extinct languages which are spoken by small communities and which express meaning to specific groups while being completely strange to others. But what happens when we have classifications within a language which make it confusing to one and clear to the other? The English language despite being a colonial infusion into India, has been absorbed into the Indian fabric which has even made English dictionaries sit up and take notice and add new Indian English words to the latest versions of their dictionaries.

This difference and new way of talking the same language is not just a matter of accent and words used but the way some words are used and perceived. ‘Heh dude’ and ‘heh dog’ in the U.S. for instance would not strike a chord for a majority of Indians. This could have been one of the reasons why the Oscar winning “Slum Dog Millionaire” was seen derogatory by some in India for the use of the word dog, even though it was not meant to be derogatory.

Similarly, there will be sections of the population in India who would not battle an eyelid before saying, ‘what the f##k’, while others would find it inappropriate and in bad taste. We see here a total shift of language according to the perceived culture of a group of people. So even though we speak the same language we don’t understand one another!

This confusion in language can also be separated into a rich, fortunate group’s indulgence or the spontaneous expression of ordinary people who have made the language their own. Which is why I suspect that many heated discussions are due to small confusions. And when it is done in a small space with minimum words like on twitter, the confusion is bound to increase. Which is why it is not enough to learn a language but to learn a culture. Journalists cannot swoop down on single words but need to understand the culture setting in which it is made, thus expressing a new meaning. The language of the dogs then expresses a whole new meaning, a different culture, a whole new world, waiting to be explored.

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