Socio-Economic and Political processes
is so familiar to us that it is difficult for us to get to know it
really- that is, to understand its nature systematically and objectively.
Most of the time we look upon language merely as an instrument, something
to be used and left behind , so to say .It is only when we become
conscious of difficulty – say, the speaker is at a loss for words
or listener stumbles against some word or construction – that we consciously
think about language. Even so we are most intent on setting the matter
right. Once we have done that , we have no further interest in language
. No, we needn’t be apologetic about this reluctance on our part to
take notice of language. It is as natural as a healthy person’s reluctance
to pay any medical or for that matter any cosmetic attention to his
is an exception to this rule. Indeed there are two. There are those
of us who take an intrinsic interest in language. There is the literary
artist, especially the poet, who loves to play with language even
as a child does (doesn’t the poet “nurse the child in himself ”as
Keshvasut the Marathi poet
said?). What sets the poet apart from the man of sensibility, for
that matter from an artist working in another medium, is that he has
fallen in love with language.( falling in love with language is ,
of course quite different from falling in love with one’s own voice.) And there is the philosopher, the perpetual worrier
about the language, who nurses in himself his maturity .His concern
with language is naturally quite different from the poet’s, but that
he cares for language mustn’t be in doubt. Enjoyment and concern are
but the two sides of caring. The poet revels in a language, systematically
cultivates his dependence on that language – he’s not the one to feel
ashamed if the rhyming pair comes first and the rest of the lines
grows around this happy accident. The philosopher has no loyalty to
this or that language- he is quite different from poetry which notoriously
resists translation. Both the poet and the philosopher, however, are
at one in recognizing that language that language is no more medium
for expressing or evoking feelings or for seeking or imparting and
instructions but a medium for organizing And shaping our thoughts
two exceptions we have set up—the literary artist and the philosopher—are
of course ideal types that may be approximated more or less in actual
cases. Literary art and philosophy turn out to be relevant to any
critique of society and culture, of agencies and activities. When
a disciple asked Confucius what the master’s first step would be if
he took over the administration of the government of the states of
Wei, he said (Analects 13:3:2,5)— “What is necessary
is to set names straight. If names be not correct (he goes on) language
is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language is not
accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on
to success.” Language is part of the patrimony a society has inherited.
“Railways are our national property, don’t damage or destroy them,”
says the Indian government to the people and rightly so. We have to
keep reminding one another that language too is national property.
A damaged railway can be set right, but reviving a language that has
been choked to death, restoring it to a state of health is a most
difficult thing. Language is more than a tool, it is a nurturing power.
One can enact laws against pollution of food, water air. But who’s
going to lay down the law against pollution of language?
And what is language pollution? One swallow doesn’t make a
summer; an unsuccessful linguistic transaction doesn’t make language
pollution, but it could be the harbinger of it. Repeated linguistic
miscarriages may lead to a focus of pollution; and such a focus stands
subsequently in the way of successful linguistic transactions. The
fable of the shepherd boy who cried wolf once too often is the parable
of language pollution. But I am anticipating. Before we try to understand
language pollution, we must understand linguistic failures, or rather
the conditions of successful linguistic communication.
Under what conditions is a communicative transaction in language
successful? Under what conditions is a linguistic message apposite?
A communicative transaction between a sender (speaker or a writer
as the case may be) and a receiver (listener or reader).
These two are of course part of a large communicative situation, the
given state of affairs in which the message is embodied. Let us call
this whole domain the Pragmatic Domain (P for short). The message
is at the same time about some thing, it relates to some topic in
some universe of discourse, the chosen domain. Let us call it topical
domain (T for short). Finally, the message is but one out of a great
many messages that confirm to the same linguistic system. In order
to send or receive the message, we must know the language system.
(L for short).
successful communicative transaction is that in which the message
fits appropriately all of these three (listing the last mentioned
The Language (L)
The Topical Domain (T)
3 The Pragmatic Domain (P)
other words, the message should be apposite in all three respects,
it should be L-apposite, T-apposite, and P-apposite. If it is L-apposite,
it will be well- formed according to grammar, phonology, and semantics,
i.e. grammatical, pronounceable, and usable. If it is T-apposite,
it will have a acceptable reference i.e. will be taken as true if
it is a statement, acted upon if it is a mand. (we are using
the term mand as a cover term
for requests, commands, demands, and the like). If it is P-apposite,
it will be felicitous in expressing the speaker’s intent and impressing
the receiver. Thus, if some one successfully communicates with another
by saying “The fuse has blown”, the listener “gets” it, i.e. he figures
out that something is being reported and also what that is, he then
spots the blown fuse and accepts the message, and finally, he comes
to see the point of this report and sets it right. (The point of the
report will of course depend in part on the relationship between the
speaker and the listener. With a different relationship, the
listener may come back with “I see , set it right then” or
with “Yes sir, shall I set it right ?”)
What if the message fails to be opposite? It can do so in either
of two quite different ways—it can be straight off in opposite or
worse it can be vacuous. The logical relationship between opposite,
in opposite, and can best be exhibited as follows:
in Significant----------- opposite
Vacuous In opposite
So, before a message can be opposite (or in opposite for that
matter), it must be significant.
To begin with, the message should be L-significant. Other wise
it will lack coherence and won’t be tenable for the sender or intelligible
for the receiver. Many a conscientious teacher of English in India
has often wondered how to go about “correcting” a pupil’s composition
because it is little better than L-vacuous gibberish. It does not
deserve to be called even ungrammatical or grammatically in opposite.
Secondly the message should be T-significant. Otherwise it will lack
correspondence or relevance to the chosen domain, the universe of
discourse, whether it is a statement calling for verification or a
mand calling for implementation. If someone asks you to clean the
window and if the window is already clean, what can you do? By not
proceeding to go through the motions of window- cleaning you won’t
be disobeying the mand, because the mand is T-vacuous in the first
place. Finally, the message should be P-significant. Otherwise it
will be pointless and not even infelicitous. It will simply lack any
relevance to the domain given. This is why a dialogue between two
hard- of- hearing persons often becomes amusing.
Now, although we are neatly and philosophically separating
L, T, and P demands of significance and oppositeness, in the actual
traffic of linguistic communication they are not always so separated.
Thus ‘getting’ the message may cover any or all of the three modes;
‘truth’ may refer to internal coherence (especially of long- drawn
message of several sentences), external correspondence (especially
of a short, snappy one sentence message), or even pragmatic felicity
(especially as based on truthfulness on the speaker’s part).
At the same time it is also open to us to refine further upon
the basic three- way distinction. L-oppositeness, as we have already
hinted at, can be split up further – into phonological pronounce ability,
grammatical and lexical admissibility, and semantic usability. “Colourless
green ideas sleep furiously” fails for example, on the third count,
but not the first two. T-oppositeness, again as we have hinted at,
has to be defined a new for statements and for mands. In interpreting
statements like “he’s bald” or mands like “make him look bald” we
may have to move from two- valued logic (so, not so) to a three- valued
logic (quite so, not quite, not so) to handle its T-oppositeness.
P-oppositeness cannot be the same obviously for a love letter and
a love poem though a sentence like “I can’t live without you” could
appear in either of them. Moreover, the felicity conditions that we
lay down for each kind of communication may be of varying degrees
In setting up this rather elaborate conceptual framework aren’t
we giving up the appealing simplicity of the law of the excluded middle
(“either p#or not-p”)? Hardly. If someone says, “The moon is round
the earth is flat”, nothing that we have said so far permits us to
say that the statement is true in its first half but false in its
second half. Given that ‘and’ guarantees the truth (T- oppositeness)
of both the partners, the message of endangered even if one of its
two corollaries (namely, “The moon is round” and “The earth is flat”)
is in danger. So the statement held together by ‘and’ is false (T-
Again, consider the use of ‘bald’ in ordinary English (and
not in some fancy medico- legal jargon defining ‘bald’ as, say, “With
less than 5 square centimeters of occiputal surface covered by hair”).
Such an ordinary use of ‘bald’ demands, let us say, 2 degrees of in
oppositeness (not quite, not so). This does not mean that as applied
to a given case (i.e. in a given topical domain) the statement “He
is bald” is neither opposite (“quite so”) nor in opposite to the lower
degree (not quite) nor in opposite to the higher degree (not so).
Given that ‘stopping an action’ presupposes a previous performance
of it statement that “he has not stopped beating his wife” as applied
to a hen- pecked husband or, worse a confirmed bachelor is not T-
in opposite but T- vacuous. But then can’t we say “He has not stopped
beating his wife, because he never beat her” (OR, ‘…because he hasn’t
got a wife in first place’). If we say those things, then at least
in saying those things we are using the words “stop” in a sense demanding
a weaker pre supposition. ”He stopped it”, then, presupposes here
not “He was surely doing it earlier” but “He was presumably doing
it earlier”. Granted this reassessment of the proper use of ‘stop’
(its L-apposite use), the bare statement of “He has not stopped beating
wife” (without any continuation introduced by a “because”), when made
of a hen-pecked husband or a bachelor, is not T- vacuous, but only
fatuous (i.e. P- vacuous) even as “The moon is made of cheese”will
be a fatuous in adult company. (“The moon is not made of cheese” is
perfectly felicitous coming from or to a child.)
Consider now the following exchange between a boy going out
for his Divali shopping and a father.
“How many crackers shall
“You can fill this basket
at the minimum cost”.
OR: “You can buy the maximum
with this much money”.
OR: you can buy the maximum
amount of crackers after spending the maximum amount of money”.
A little thought will show the boy with some head for bargaining
and some diligence can obey the first mand. (minimizing cost given
the amount of goods) or the second mand maximizing goods given the
amount of money), but cannot obey the third mand. No matter what he
does, he is open to reproach. The mand is ultimately T-vacuous. (And
a T-vacuous mand cannot ordinarily be P- opposite or felicitous.)
And yet we cheerfully swallow the slogan of promoting “the
greatest number” (usually ending up with greatest good of the given
A linguistic transaction is P- opposite or felicitous if what
the message proposes as topic-relevant is indeed also relevant in
the given pragmatic domain. The following exchange is by no means
inconceivable or even improvable in an Indian village.
Greetings! My cow has gone astray. Have you seen it?
What colour is your cow?
Is it possibly lame- like?
Yes, she’s lame in the foreleg?
Is it the left fore leg?
O, yes where did you see it?
Ah no, I haven’t seen any cow.
If we find this dialogue a little odd, that’s because it has
a very poor fit with the communicative situation. The opening question.
“Have you seen it?” gets appropriate response at the very end—“ I
haven’t seen any cow” –which pulls the rug from under what goes in
between rendering it infelicitous or P- in opposite. But now consider
another distinct possibility:
Greetings! My cow has gone astray. Have you seen it? Won’t
you sit down and chew some betel leaf? New-one. Certainly. But have
you seen cow? Here you are. I suppose you’re done with the threshing?
But tell me if you’ve seen a cow or not?
If the dialogue took a wrong turn in the first case, it is
wholly off the track in the other case, wholly pointless or P- vacuous.
And yet, you might remonstrate, what is so infelicitous or pointless
about these exchanges? They are quite representative of the Indian
countryside where we have set them. Even the man looking for his cow
may not find reason enough for feeling annoyed. True, a city- bred
man in his place may take a different view.
Now, setting whether a piece of discourse is L- opposite or
not isn’t too difficult. (Writing a grammar to account for the judgment
is quite another matter.) Deciding about its T- oppositeness is not
an easy task but not ordinarily a hopeless one, at least one can propose
tests for the purpose. But a unanimous and straight- forward answer
to a question about P- oppositeness or even P- significantness is
a near- impossibility in many cases. In the first place the very criteria
of felicity will depend upon the given pragmatic domain. A given dialogue
will score differently is sorts of communicative situations. Even
in the same there may not be any unanimity. Of course it is quite
possible that our city- bred innocent finding himself Indian village
may get wise to the village ways. After a few week’s stay, he may,
for instance, be able to time his beating- about- the-bush beautifully.
He may even get completely reconciled to the new felicity norms. But
then he may not become of the village. In spite of his surface skill
he may say to himself or to another city- bred man or even to the
villagers are really nuts. In sum, instead of possessing a single
set of norms like the other villagers or village- assimilated persons,
he’ll be in possession of a double standard: he’ll judge a piece of
discourse according to the village norms (other wise he can’t operate)
and then he’ll judge these norms themselves by another set that he
feels are his own.
Before we move on to the question of language pollution, we
must remind ourselves that the three kinds of oppositeness and significance
can and need to be distinguished from each other. Thus, an ill- formed
and infelicitous (a white lie), and so forth. At the same time, they
are certainly not unrelated to each other. An L- vacuous piece of
gibberish will automatically be T- vacuous also. Persistent T- in
oppositeness may end up in P- in oppositeness and even P- vacuousness.
Something strongly condemned as obscene or inauspicious may become
lost to the language, I. E. become obsolete and, therefore, L- vacuous.
A someone has very shrewdly pointed out, that children learn language
at all is tribute to the general truthfulness of adults in their hearing.
linguistic in which the message is in opposite in one or more ways
is a faulty transaction. If such faulty transactions are persistently
tolerated, in opposite discourse is in danger of being re-categorised
as opposite. Indeed an opposite. Indeed an opposite message is in
the danger of ending in a failure (nobody responds to “Wolf” even
though the wolf is there). That is where pollution begins. Bad money
has managed to drive out good money.
Let us now begin with an example that is somewhat less simple
than the ‘crying wolf’ parable. A book or a stage performance or a
film is reviewed in the newspaper. The review may be favourable or
unfavourable. At the same time the review may be careful, Knowledgeable,
and responsible; or this may not be the case. If an action is performed
with care, knowledge, and responsibility, we call it a good action.
If not, we call it a bad action. A good review is presumably one that
is careful and so forth: often we hear people calling a review good
or bad and mean respectively a favourable or unfavourable review.
What is even more disturbing is that the listener makes the same mistake
and no good misunderstanding results. The final upshort is that some
one who calls an unfavourable but responsible review good and a favourable
but irresponsible review bad stands in a minority of one. How ever
can such a mess come about and persist? Well, if the reviewers can
be careless, uninformed, irresponsible, so can be their readers. But,
to go deeper, the displacement the L- in opposite use comes about
in the first place probably because of some such logic what is bad
is not liked, what is unfavourable is not liked, so what is unfavourable
is bad. But the damage done does not end there. It is quite human
for the author of the book to brand an unfavourable review as a bad
one. But even others who cheerfully equate the two haven’t wholly
forgotten the L- opposite use of good/bad in relation to reviews.
Consequently, a timid reviewer feels reassured that if he makes his
review favourable it is less likely to be thought of as bad review
and be disliked by its readers. This is language pollution.
such examples are by no means rare. Some malapropisms casually gleaned
from the Marathi press in recent months are “disappointing” for “disappointed”
(nirāshājanak for nirashāpūr´a), “distinctive” for “discriminating; analytic”
for prithakkaraņashīl), “unproduced“ for
unproductive (anutpādit for anutpādak), “impracticable
“ for “unpractical” (avyavahārya for avyavahāri).
Indeed such carelessness is likely to cause permanent damage to some
useful words – “existentialist” (astitvavādī), “rhythm
“ (laya), and “phoney” (bhankas) are cases in point.
This last (bhankas) was Marathi slang for “discourse deemed to be
significant but in reality vacuous”—certainly a badly needed and forceful
tool. Now it is being used fashionably as an objective for anything
that the speaker dislikes. The other two are what Fowler calls vogue
casualty to language pollution is the word “informal” (anaupachārik).
Perfectly formal occasions are so impudently and so regularly being
dubbed as “informal” that one is at a loss for a description appropriate
for the genuinely informal occasion. Some consolation can be found
in the fact that most people have sense enough to avoid like plague
the expression “on this informal occasion today”. When the occasion
is genuinely informal. They obviously realize that it will be infelicitous.
A self-consciously informal gathering will be about as convincing
as a beggar shouting that he has lost his speech. But then what gives
them the gumption to call formal occasions “informal”? Well, it is
probably borne out of a native assumption that some of the favourable
associations of “informal” in a modern society will rub off to the
formal occasion that they are so keen to get over with in a lacklusture
issuing of cheques in the absence of the requisite bank balance is
wide-spread. Who says language is a means of conveying one’s thoughts?
It is more means of concealing thoughts or, even better, a means of
concealing that there aren’t any thoughts. (For this last, here are
two prize specimens—“Ladies and gentlemen, we have gathered together
in this great hall. You all know very well the occasion that has brought
us here. The occasion is…..” Here’s another from a research paper—“The
student whose mind is wholly engrossed in a mathematical problem is
not aware of what is happening around him.” Reports of inquiry committees,
ofcourse, specialize in this kind of discourse.)
There are variations on the theme of
linguistic smoke- screening. Indians accept as ancient wisdom “nabrūyāt
satyam apriyam” (speak not the unpalatable truth). (It is interesting
that the next hemistich is hardly ever cited---‘nasatyam ca priyam
brūyāt’. And speak not the palatable untruth.) Concealing
one’s true mind in favour of what will be palatable to the other person
and to oneself; leaving message at the level of an implied presupposition
or entailment if it wouldn’t stand the light of the day; skillfully
floating a statement for which one has no evidential support, working
the clichés harder when one has nothing really to say; following the
maxim “Never use a four letter word where a fourteen-letter word exists”
in order to impress the audience; imitating Yudhishtira’s policy in
the Mahabharata episode where he said “could be an elephant or a man”
in answer to a query because he didn’t wish to let out that the warrior
bearing the same name as the elephant was still alive; preferring
convenient ambiguities to inconvenient perspicuties; preferring mystification
to a confession of ignorance. (“I don’t know” is one of the hardest
sentences to utter.) It is surprising how many different ways there
are when one isn’t too particular about finding the shortest distance
between two points. I am not suggesting that in public places have
the prerogative of using these ways. The father describing his marriageable
daughter as “gavhaļ” (wheat- colour, tawny) when she’s dark;
the advertiser trying to clear off second—rate stuff; the advertiser
for a film, or a stage production, posing as a reviewer; the lawyer
fighting a weak case; the insider in law, government, scholarship,
religion, art criticism intent on impressing the layman; the poet
or the journalist who has
nothing to say; the leader or the god-man seeking control over the
minds of men and not wanting to lose that control—all of these look
upon language as an instrument and are anxious to blur distinctions
between T- opposite and T- in opposite and between T- significant
Sacrifice T- oppositeness, and P- oppositeness
also becomes a casualty. And of course we want to consider P- oppositeness
or felicity here at a different level. We have already seen that the
criteria of felicity/ infelicity, relevance/ pointlessness are multiple
and variable according to the context and the level. Broadly speaking,
at the superficial levels what for the speaker (or the listener as
the case may be) is to be regarded as felicitous or P- opposite. Consider
the following exchange.
How do you
had a little temperature this morning, even now I have a headache.
we know the first reply may be T- in opposite and the second T- opposite.
Yet there can be no doubt as to which is P- opposite and which P-
in opposite. Of course there are those who will go in for the second
reply, not realizing that “How do you do” is not a question comparable
to the doctor’s “How are we this morning?” but rather a signal comparable
to gestures of greeting. It seems to say something like the following—“I
know you, we’re members of the same society, can’t see why I can’t
show interest in your well-being.” We may greet a postman with this
question not when he comes to our doorstep on his rounds but when
we recognize his familiar face in a public park.
once we decide to get to the bottom of linguistic transactions we
have to leave his notion of P- oppositeness behind. We would rather
define as felicitous that communication which promotes the welfare
of the sender and the receiver, which helps to bring about a harmonious
relationship between the sender and the receiver and their shared
environment. Once we accept this notion of felicity we feel like raising
basic questions: Why does the bride’s father feel the need of making
light of her dark complexion? And why doesn’t the groom’s father want
to gloss over his son’s dark complexion? What is a Marathi- speaking
clerk trying to say by calling himself a “klark” and his wife “vaiph”
rather than use the plain Marathi words? And what does he gain there
from? And what about the Indian villager who would waste the time
of the owner of the stray cow or who would think of nothing of pointing
the wrong way to a stranger who has lost his way? But to raise these
questions is to mount a radical critique of the health of society
and culture in the manner of G.K. Chesterton. I have in mind here
one of the father Brown stories where the amateur detective wouldn’t
take “Nobody” for an answer to his question “Who passed through this
door in this interval of time?” It turns out that those who said “Nobody”
in good in faith left the mere postman out of account was a “Nobody”.
Quite a sermon to hang by an ordinary “manner of speaking”.
At the movement, however, we have a more limited concern---
the health of a language. In the Marathi novel Sushīlechā
dev by V.M. Joshi a self- proclaimed atheist uses the expression
“God Knows”. On being twitted about it, he quite reasonably defends
himself by pointing out that it was only an idiom and not to be taken
as its face value. At a deeper level, however, one can question the
wisdom of carrying this dead-weight of rejected pre suppositions for
an indefinite length of time. Are we really sure that the faded metaphors
and worldviews have faded out of any hold upon us? Once we reject
the practice of description “untouchable?” Gandhiji suggested harijan
(God’s people), S.M. Mate a social worker from Maharashtra suggested
“untouched” (in the past), more recently dalit (oppressed,
downtrodden) has recommended itself to some. Each of these alternatives
implies a certain view of the matter, so the choice is hardly a mere
linguistic choice. The subjection of women, untouchability, status
differences and tensions between castes and religious groups, fatalism—each
of these has left deep traces (some would call them scars) on the
face of our language. If we reject these ways of life, we have to
embark on a new sort of purification of language. Reformers have inveighed,
and rightly so, against the standard. “The applicant’s caste and subcaste”
on printed application forms. They should be equally active against
expressions like lāņ·ā (the curtailed one, an oblique sneer against the
circumcised Muslim), rāņ· , (a widow) (to begin with), a
whore, (finally) (any woman), a·ānī kuņabĭ dupā rabe (the ignorant
kuņabī works twice-a proverb criticizing someone who
foolishly wastes his labour and comparing him to a member of the farm-worker
caste in Maharashtra). True, such a linguistic purification is by
no means sufficient, but it is a precondition for the healthy growth
of the next generation. In recognizing this we are simply recognizing
that language after being a victim of pollution may itself become
an insidious pollutant,
purification is only a negative goal. In positive terms, we must also
seek to preserve expressions of values that we wish to preserve and
promote. Much has been said bemoaning the threatened loss of many
expressive and forceful turns of language from non-standard urban
and rural dialects before the juggernaut of literacy, industrialization,
and urbanization. It has also been said that such expressions ought
to be accepted and assimilated into the standard language through
belles letters school texts mass media. We shall, therefore, do no
more than remind ourselves (at this point in the argument) of the
above avenue of linguistic enrichment.
language itself is undergoing some socially significant changes. It
doesn’t take a student of linguistics to notice the redistribution
of the three second person pronouns in Marathi-t,ū , tumhī, and āpaņ.
Their use can be plotted against two axes- the axis of social status
as governed by age, sex, education, honour, competence, power, caste
and the like and the axis of social nearness as governed by kinship,
friendship, neighbourliness, shaped occupation, play, and the like.
The emphasis on social equality has led to the attribution of the
first axis. English underwent a similar process and ended up with
a single you. Hindi seems to be heading in the same direction, I have
heard parents in the white collar or bābū class addressing
each other and their chidren with the honorific āp and
the children using the same pronoun with each other and with mammījī
(the affected substitute,
for the native word) where the intimate tu once reigned supreme. Do
we really ant to follow suit in Marathi and thus rob ourselves of
gestures of intimacy and affection, honour and regard? English is
feeling the loss only now. Shakespeare effectively rings the changes
on you and thou to convey the changing relationship between two characters.
Present-day English is now framing elaborate conventions governing
the choice between, say, Mr. Joseph Smith, Mr. Smith, Smith, Joseph,
are an obvious case. Even the innocuous numerals reflect the cognitive
habits of a culture. Where the scientist has to have “plus or minus
5 percent” to convey approximation, the layman is content with “three
or four”, “thirty to forty”, “three to four hundred” (that is 14%)
So far, so good. But about the Marathi expressions “hundred to fifty,”
“five or fifty,” to the rather rural “few/ many o’clock” that distinctly
take us back to the age of the bullock cart!
language pollution and language purification are more apt to make
us think of indulgence in or avoidance of grammatical solecisms or
lexical borrowings, of the characteristically French worry about “tolérances” (grammatical
deviations “permitted” by the Académic francaise) and “franglais”
(the inundation of contemporary French with English loanwords). In
short, we are apt to confine attention to L- oppositeness. I think
we have succeeded in showing that the health of a language (and by
implication of a society) has far more to do with T- oppositeness
and P- oppositeness, with truthfulness and felicity of expression.
failure can cost an Individual heavily as it cost the shepherd boy
of our parable. But what is more to the point is that its evil effects
can cost many more than the individual concerned. Here is another
revealing parable related of a saintly Arab who possessed a very fine
horse he wouldn’t part with. After failing in his attempts to buy
it from him, a man poses as a crippled wayfarer and looks for the
horse- owner’s help. As soon as the saint compassionately puts him
on the horse, the other all but makes off with the horse when the
horse-owner shouts after the rogue. “Tarry a while, my friend. I have
only one favour to ask of you now. Don’t you boast of the ruse you
used in getting the horse from me. If you do that, nobody is going
to help a genuinely needy wayfarer in future.” A bad deed casts its
shadow over a wide area.
pollution is an extensive phenomenon. I can but give broad hints on
the symptoms of this disease, the extent of its spread and predisposing
factors, and the consequences that one has to guard against. It could
be the topic of a whole symposium. Limiting ourselves to the Indian
scene, we can indicate three main sources of language pollution in
of pollution are bound up with the traditional, older way of life.
Religion, farming, the caste system, the village set-up, handicrafts,
classical language learning and some of the areas in which older ways
still hold their own—but they do so at a price. A certain coarseness
and loss of nerve has overtaken these. A case in point is the religious
kīrtan or pravachan session of devotional singing
or edifying discourse. One now misses the old fervour and confidence.
Gone is the voice of Tukaram boasting “rātradina āmhā
yuddhā prasi´ga” –we (servants of God) have to do battle every day
and night. In its place we hear the hard sell- salvation is now within
easy reach, thanks to the way of bhakti all that you need to do is
repeat the name of God. Tradition, then, is the first breeding ground
of Indian language pollution.
brought up in these ways finds it difficult to adjust himself to the
modern scene and the modern mode of life. Inevitably urban has a certain
provinciality, a rural dullness and crudity about it and rural life
stands invaded by the urban rootless ness and ruthlessness. The net
result is a total loss of faith in linguistic communication itself.
A bus conductor does not condescend to change the misleading destination
sign on the bus. An official sticks a flag “Immediate Attention” on
the file and cheerfully consigns it to the dusty shelf without so
much as a by-your- leave. A doctor minimizes talking to the patient.
A debator doesn’t even pretend to attempt conversion or illumination—he
does his bit in the seminar lime- light, and goes back to sleep when
the next man comes in. A series of disconnected harangues passes for
a symposium and nobody objects. The tyro poet or critic is anxious
to prove that he knows the ‘in’ thing—modernist style. The political
worker lives with the schizoid reality of professions of democracy
and socialism and practices of a refurbished feudalism without any
sense of travail. (I have in mind here not only politics in the narrow
sense but any sort of politics—group politics in a university or a
firm or a co-operative, for instance.) So much for the second breeding
ground of language pollution— the hybridization and corruption of
the newer ways of life.
But we mustn’t
forget that the newer ways by themselves are also sources of pollution
in the third place. For evidence we have to look at large cities,
offices, colleges, newspapers and other mass media, the performance
of popular speakers and writers, god men and artists, and the minority
culture seeking to express newer sensibilities. The new poetry and
the new fiction in Marathi and other Indian languages have made us
conscious of the dangers and pitfalls of the Machine Age civilization.
We are going to sample three problem areas.
question of public obscenity.
(Private obscenity and carnival obscenity are of course nothing new.)
I was intrigued for a long time by a question.
There was a good deal of obscene suggestiveness in the speeches and
writings of the late P.K.
Atre and it was steadily on the increase. Now the very same people
who tolerated it, indeed found it delectable, were up in arms against
Vijay Tendulkar’s play Sakhārām Bāin∙ar
(sakharam, the book- binder). Indeed Atre himself took cudgels against
the obscenity seen by him in new poetry and fiction. Now was that
a contradiction in the pure and simple or only the semblance of one?
Now obscenity has been defined in any number of ways; that’s not our
present concern. For my purpose two of these proposed definitions,
(i) Obscene is that which invades your private
world of feelings,
(ii) Obscene is that which titillates your feelings,
inducing you to indulge them for their own sake.
occurred to me that the Erotic (shriņgāra rasa) is not the
only one with an obscene counterpart any of the known areas are liable
to this sort of an obscene extension. Some years ago, there was a
rash of tear- jerkers on the Marathi screen, and, more recently, the
epidemic has shifted to the stage. What is this if not an obscene
version of the pathetic (karuņa rasa)? The horror films
of the West would be the obscenely horrific (bhayānaka rasa).
Make- believe modernist poetry indulges in the obscenely disgusting
(bībhatsa rasa) to be distinguished from the obscenely erotic. The
imagery of filth has nothing to express beyond itself. It does not
make the reader lose his sleep. Indeed it is as much sleep- promoting
as cheap pornographic pulp. People were angry with Sakhārām
for the simple reason that it was not obscene at all. It did not permit
them to sit back and smack their lips. Once we so broaden the range
of the term ‘obscene’ and examine our catch, two interesting things
strike us. First, obscenity is achieved by a specific use of language:
not words, but sentences and sequences are obscene. Secondly if a
word that is habitually used in obscene contexts its power to shock
is gradually lost—even as a term of abuse cases to insult if excessively
used. The law of diminishing returns applies here too.
symptom of language pollution is the clichē. Clichēs are, to quote Fowler,
“such hackneyed phrases as, not being the simple or natural way of
expressing what is to be expressed, have served when first used as
real improvements on that in some particular context., but have acquired
an unfortunate popularity and come into general use even when they
are not more but less suitable to the context than plain speech.”
Harmless examples of this phenomenon occur when someone proposes a
vote of thanks. Advertisement offer another source, though less harmless.
The next step is to let a clichē do the thinking for the speaker
who does not even know “what is to be expressed.” Popular songs presidential
addresses, leading articles, stage reviews are some dependable sources
for gleaning hackneyed phrases. Indeed someone who has the gift for
the happy phrase cannot resist the temptation, after he has arrived,
of lifting from his own earlier writing. I didn’t see why this shouldn’t
be condemned as a form of plagiarism.
The word ‘clichē’
is French for a stereotype printing plate. It has gained currency
in English, from which Marathi writers borrow it occasionally for
want of a ready translation equivalent. Marathi of course has many
translation borrowings from English--- asprishya, for instance,
translating English untouchable. Now why does one prefer a
translation loan like non- violence to a straight loan like
ahimsā? Actually there is a dilemma—the
straight loan may not mean anything, the translation loan may mean
too much or too little. Even if the translation is not wholly wrong,
the expression lacks the contextual enrichment of the original—non-
violence cannot mean to an English speaker all that ahimsā
means to an Indian. Even so a translation loan serves its purpose.
But what about a misleading translation loan which falsifies the original
concept? In such cases one would rather avoid language pollution by
resorting to the direct loan. Thus, it is much better to use tragedy
and romantic in Marathi to use translations that mean “lament- play”
or “beautyist” (shoka- natya or saundaryavadi). A translation
loan in such cases may merely mislead or, as in cases like “chemistry
fitted with organs” (sendryiya rasayam), be merely puzzling.
for the pathology and aetiology of language pollution, what sort of
therapeutics can be proposed? Obviously language pollution cannot
be put on the same footing as environmental pollution—who can lay
down the law for whom? But language pollution originates in faulty
communication and something can be done by the government and other
organizations to check faulty communication.
was made a public concern in France—we have alluded to the Academic
francaise and the activities of the French department of Public Instruction.
The nineteenth century in India saw the standardization of the major
regional languages. Marathi was no exception. Major Thomas Candy,
lexicographer and education officer, played an interesting role. Thus,
he was the one who decided that the completive nonfinite ending ūn
is more elegant than o̤n
and that “Black sea” should
be translated to Kā½ā
samudra but “Pacific” should stay (Hindi regularly translates
it to Prashānt while Marathi has had Pyāsiphik).
Gandhiji inspired the undertaking of a Gujarati spelling dictionary
(jo∙nī kosh) while Marathi
slogged its way through public debate and resolutions to a standardized
orthography. The achievements of Dr. Johnson and Noah Webster for
the English Language are well-known.
T- appositeness is the
concern of a variety of legislations. Price- tags, content-labels
use of copy-right material, trade-marks, brand-names are all subject
to regulation. Brand-names were originally conceived as legally protected
devices to protect the consumer. They can however, be forms of legalized
confidence tricks, as when the same salicylic acid is sold under a
variety of brand-names some of which win out in the advertisement
battle. The consumer gets a comforting illusion of free choice.
Legislation has made P-oppositeness
also its concern choice witness the law of libel, of public obscenity
and abusive language, and of military and administrative secrets.
Is that all that government can do? A government certainly claims
to be able to do more— It is always eager to impose censorship in
“public interest”. The point is not how the government should go about
it but whether. Should the government leave things to other bodies?
And should these other bodies take censorship upon themselves? The
illusion is sometimes created that here we have the difficult problems
of reconciling public good and private freedom of speech in some way
or the other in the given circumstances. But this is not true. Freedom
of speech is not a private luxury but itself a prerequisite of the
public good. The traffic of language cannot remain in a state of health
in its absence. To maintain freedom of speech is not to indulge a
few intellectuals, but to promote T-oppositeness. The conflict is
often between freedom of speech and vested interests, and “the greatest
good of the given few” is certainly not the same as public good.
While we are on the subject
of government action against pollution, we can say a word about government
action to check language pollution originating in government itself.
No one would dispute that the language of laws, government orders
and circulars, official correspondence, indeed the language in use
in the whole administrative machinery, should be precise and definite.
But that is no excuse for obscurity, verbosity, and lack of courtesy.
The important work done in Britain by Sir Ernest Gowers through
his report on and campaign against administrative gobbledygook
will bear emulation in India—especially at a time when Indian languages
are coming into increasing use in government and public life. We must
not permit anyone to disfigure Marathi by pompous and arrogant offcialisms.
The rapid survey should
serve to reveal the essentially limited way in which administrative
action can check and eschew language pollution. But administrative
action is not the same as political action. While the role of the
government can be only a limited one, the responsibility of the politician
is quite heavy. Persons in power or seeking power are as much concerned
with faulty communications in language as thinkers, literary artists,
teachers, and the media people. It is not as if teachers and thinkers
are the sole custodians of language health—though political, religious,
and other leaders, liberated artists, and media people would often
like to think this is the case. The truth of the matter is that teachers
and thinkers have a special stake in preventing language pollution,
their work simply does not thrive on the use of language for concealing
thought and for concealing the absence of thought. But let’s come
back to the literary artist about whom it is said “nira´kušaḥ kavayaḥ” (there
is no goading of poets). Isn’t
the literary artist concerned with coherence, correspondence, and
relevance? With L, T-, and P-appositeness? The use of language in
literature is certainly sui generis, and how to tie in a literary
text with the language System, the Topical Domain, and the pragmatic
Domain is a difficult but by no means insoluble problem in literary
theory. We have no intention of taking that up here. What we do know
for certain is that the literary artist not only can egender language
pollution but is the first to feel its presence and suffer from it.
Caring so much for words, for language, a poet like Auden may even
express his agony –
words like peace and love
sane affirmative speech
been soiled, profanced, debased
a horrid mechanical screech.
Nazi atrocities silenced many German poets—even long after the regime
came to an end. The poets could not see their way to using the German
language—the very language that ordered, reported, and sanctioned
the massacres with a chilling correctness. But then reviving the words,
reviving the language so debased also falls to the artist
with his capacity for a creative and re-creative use of language.
final reckoning, however, maintaining the language in health is everybody’s
concern and responsibility. The deft writer enlivens his writing with
a felicitous turn and certainly such an innovation could be put to
opposite use by others. But then who is it that expresses the last
ounce of juice from it, that uses it in contexts where it is “less
suitable than plain speech”, that deadens it into a clichē? It is the ordinary man. And who is it that suffers the most deprivation
in consequence? It is the ordinary man, once again. The Auden lines
were cited by the Albermarle Report on “The youth Service in England
and Wales” (London: HMSO, 1960, P.39). (May one dare to catch a Maharashtra
Government committee quoting from Mardhekar?) The committee go on
to point out that terms like service, dedication, leadership have
been used in situations that so reek with hypocrisy to the young people
that, even to those young people who reject society’s false values
and even when coming from disinterested and sincere seniors, the words
“now carry a negative significance and promote cynical, if not hostile
responses in the young audience.”
If words are bearers of
values, feelings, cultural meanings, and sensibilities, they are also
bearers of reason, intelligence, logical analysis, sound thinking.
Intellectual sleight of hand, sloppiness, and blubberiness constitute
also a species of hypocrisy. Unfortunately the Indian has looked for
the woman and for the degree. Once the Indian has looked for the woman
and for the gold, he is content. Educating the public on this point
is a sore need. Public connivance helps language pollution.
There is a third route
along with which the problem of language pollution finds its way to
the common man’s door-step. Earlier we pleaded for a novel kind of
language purism, for an alertness
about translation loans. Now any such campaign or movement is not
going to succeed unless every one takes it up, unless every man lends
a hand. “How does it touch me?” is no password to the haven of irresponsibility.
In the small town any quality of stuff sells so long as it is cheap,
nobody can tell the difference. If this is a dangerous feeling to
let the trader develop, by the same token it is dangerous to let the
wholesale and retail purveyors of thought. Knowledge, and culture
think that anything goes in the small town by way of a lecture, a
stage play, a film show, a radio or television programme, a newspaper
column, or a text. Destroying such complacency is open only to their
customers who can show there are no takers for shoddy stuff. A teacher
finds it both heartening and (in a good sense) sobering even if there
are only a few inquiring and alert pupils in the class-room.
The contemporary Indian
public is certainly of emboldening those who ought not to be emboldened
and of disheartening those who ought to be taking heart. The thinkers
who have something of their own to say are in distress. “I certainly
want to be as clear and straightforward as I can”, they seem to plead,
“but shouldn’t my listeners and readers try and meet me half way?
Maybe my thought is different from the prevailing thinking, maybe
even shocking. I should be the last one to expect people to accept
it without tarrying. Indeed a blind acceptance will make me unhappy.
But shouldn’t they give some thought to the new thought?” Certainly
there is no dearth of lecture invitations; the secretary is happy
to oblige by filling the hall and spend the evening; everybody is
happy except the poor eminent speaker this evening who has given a
most “thought-provoking” address. The artist’s plight is no better.
Bernard Shaw wrote two endings for his play Pygmalion—One for
himself and the other for the crowd. It should perhaps not come as
a surprise that the recently staged Marathi adaptation of this play
young writer writes a fine story and leaves the ending artistically
suggestive. Alas, very few catch on to what he has to say. The next
time he is not be caught napping—he blatantly spells things out. This
is not by any means an uncommon scenario. It is precisely the common
man who is responsible in a way for this deplorable state of affairs.
But let no one make the costly mistake of taking him for a sleepy
little guy bereft of sensibilities. There is no telling what will
hurt his feelings. Anticipating the delicate sensibilities of all
possible groups and Interests in the society can be a serious worry
even to the writer of a school history text. This worry is making
all our public traffic in language slick, insipid, and vapid—and nobody
seems to mind. “Budati he jana dekhave nādo½
ā”. ‘These folks are sinking—the eyes can’t bear to see
it’, said Tukaram. If someone were to say it today, pat will come
the response from the folks—can’t you close the eyes?
In the last
analysis, the public has to be educate itself. The thinker may take
the horse to the water, but the horse has to make up his mind. With
due apologies to Hamlet, “ay, there’s the rub”.
A PARTIAL BIBILIOGRAPHY
Dwightl., ‘Truth is a linguistic question’. Language 49.539-50,
1973. Burke, Kenneth., ‘The Rhetoric of Hitler’s “Battle”. In his:
of Literary From, 1941. (Vintage Books, 1957).
Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of modern English usage, 1926.
under Hackneyed phrases; clichē under Technical terms. Fowler was an
active member of the Society for Pure English. In the revised edition
of 1965, Sir Ernest Gowers of Plain words has contributed as
article on Socioligese.)
Leech, Geoffrey, N., English in advertising. London, 1966.
Orwell, George. ‘Politics and the English Language’.
Collected Essays. London,
Robinson, Ian, The Survival of English, London, 1973.
Steiner, George, Language and Silence. London, 1967.
(The Retreat from the word, 1961, ‘Night words’, 1965; ‘The Hollow Miracle’
Thouless, R.H.’ Non-communicating
In: I.J. Good (ed.) The Scientist Speculates, New york.
An earlier Marathi version
was given as a talk in 1976 and is now included in the author’s Marathi
bhaskecha arthik samsar (Aurangabad, 1977). The English version
appeared in contemporary India: Socio-economic and political
processes, Pune: Continental, 1982, 436-57.