WITH THE LANGUAGE INTERFACE
should be useful. I think, to bring together for consideration both
of the following:
Indian writing in English
Indian writing in English translation.
reader may well ask this question: Isn’t the latter a special case
of the former? Or isn’t the former a special case of the latter?
answer to this question will surely depend on what our conception
of language happens to be. There are basically two alternate conceptions,
d. Language is a man-made means of communication
that enables man to understand
the people around him.
Language is a nature-given medium of understanding
that enables man to see some order in the world around him.
the West (d) has been the common sense view dating from the 18th
century Enlightment and (e) has been the non-confirming view proposed
by Humoldt, the anthropologists, and, lately, Noam choksy. It appears
that (e) may come to be the common sense view in the 21st
Be that as it may, let us now examine the link between (d)
and (e) on the one hand and the two alternate ways of bringing together
(a) and (b), namely –
Indian writing in English translation is a special case of Indian
writing in English.
Indian writing in English is a special case of Indian writing in English
If one accepts that (d) is the case, then surely Indian writing in
English casts Indian content directly into an English-language form,
while Indian writing in English translation casts Indian content made
available in an Indian-language form .Therefore both (a) and (b) consist
in Indian content being cast into an English-language form. Therefore
(f) is a correct representation of the situation. On the other hand
, if one accepts that (e) is the case , then surely Indian writing
in English translation presents an English understanding of Indian
reality while Indian writing in English also presents an English understanding
of Indian reality. Therefore (g) is a correct representation
of the situation.
Whichever view, (f) based on (d) or (g) based on (e), one
accepts, one can see the usefulness of bringing (a) and (b) together
for consideration. I happen to hold the view that both (d) (and therefore
(f)) and (e) (and therefore (g)) are correct provided that (d) and
(e) are taken in their more moderate versions.
In the interest of rendering any further discussion more
down to earth, let us substitute ‘Marathi’ for Indian and so examine
the interface between English and Marathi in respect of syntax, vocabulary,
and overall stylistic register in discourse.
Marathi syntax and English syntax differ in two respects:
1. Relative balance between constituency and dependency
2. Placement of the
nucleus relative to the margin. If we examine the structure of the
sentence in any language, we find basically two kinds of relations
between the constituents: constituency relations and dependency relations.
Let us consider the following two sentences in English
which are paraphrases of each other.
I gave the wrong books to my friend.
I gave my friend the wrong book.
In going from (1) to (2) we are maintaining the dependency relations
1. ’wrong‘ depends
2. ‘the book’ depends on ‘gave’,
3 ‘my friend’/ to my friend’ depends on ‘gave’.
4 ‘gave’ and ‘I’ depend
on each other.
the constituency relations undergo a major shift as one moves from
the first to the second sentence. Making use of parentheses we could
indicate this in some such fashion.
(I) ((gave the wrong book)) (to my friend)
(I) ((gave (my friend) (the
in the first sentence, one could place a pause-like break after ‘the
wrong book’ without placing such a break after ‘gave’, but one could
not place a break after ‘gave’ without placing a break after ‘the
wrong book’. Analogous observations could be made about the second
Now consider the
following two sentences in Marathi that roughly translate English
mī mitrā-lā bh¶lte-pustak
mī bh¶lte-pustak mitrā-lā
The dependency relations
are about the same as in English. But the constituency are quite different.
(I) (to the friend) (the wrong book) (gave)
(I) (the wrong book) ((to the friend) gave)
the difference between the two languages could be described as follows:
In English constituency is more salient than dependency.
In Marathi dependency is more salient than dependency.
An Interesting consequence
of this difference is that it is easier to say things like the following
in English in which constituency wrenches the dependency relations
than in Marathi.
English accords more saliency to constituency than to dependency.
Dependency yields to constituency in saliency in English.
comparable effects by simply playing with the word order or the pause-like
(I) (to the friend) | (the wrong book) (gave) ||
(I) | (to the friend) (the wrong book) (gave) ||
((to the friend) gave) | (I) (the wrong book) ||
These are some of
examples of the changes one could ring on the first Marathi example.
If we focus on dependency relationships we notice the relationship
between the nucleus and the margin; Very broadly speaking, one could
say the following:
In English the nucleus comes first, the margin if any follows.
In Marathi the nucleus comes last, the margin if any precedes.
Thus, English places
the qualifiers after the nouns, the adverbials or the like after the
verbs, the complements after the adjectives or adverbs. Marathi does
things the other way round. Just one pair of examples:
Within a line of poetry.
Kavite- čā eka-oļī madhe.
English places the subject and finite verb first sentence, Marathi
sandwiches the rest of the sentence between the subject and the finite
Examples have already
been given. Thus difference in the relative placement of the nucleus
and the margin applies even to stretches longer than the sentence.
In English one tends to start off with the nuclear thrust of the argument
with supporting marginal elements trailing behind. In Marathi one
tends to gradually build up from the margins to the main nucleus of
the argument. If the English listener may find the Marathi speaker
too slow in coming to the point, the Marathi listener may find the
English speaker too brash in thrusting the main point without due
Moving on to vocabulary, we find that both the
languages offer a historical layering of the vocabulary. Of course
this is folk history, and not scholarly history of the language.
The Native Germanic layer:
The Norman Romance layer:
The Renascence Classical
layer: bovine, amicable
The Imperial Exotic layer:
yak, holy cow|
dešī layer: gāy, bhalā
Sanakrit layer: maitrī, durbal
layer: dostī, garīb
layer: rikšā , ka∙bū
The sāhebī layer: race, fee, (res, phī)
As one might expect, there are many parallels
in the handling of the layers-thus, the classical and the Sanskrit
layers are both associated with learning, ceremonial, and pompousness.
But there are differences too-thus, the classical layer remains a
borrowal in English while the Sanskrit layer is felt to be ancestral
property; again Marathi is much more reluctant than English to mix
layers unless it is being done for some special poetic or humorous
or tactical effect.
When it comes to word-building, English is more productive
on compounding and suffix-derivation, but Marathi is more productive
on suffix-derivation, reduplication, and sound symbolism. When it
comes to sense-building, English is strong on metaphor, Under-statement,
slang-like playfulness, but Marathi is strong on metonymy, sarcasm,
and socio-cultural ambience.
we come to style register in discourse. It is a question selecting
a version of the language appropriate to a particular genre of discourse.
A legal document , a political harangue a friendly leisure –time conversion
, an intellectual debate, a scientific paper , a lyric outburst, a
spicy story, a serious play—all these and others will each demand
one or two out of a whole gamut of style registers. These
registers could be looked upon as so many departures from ‘neutral’,
genre-less discourse of ordinary talk – the zero point, as it were,
of language use.
-1 Casual 0 Ordinary
+1 Casual Prose
Exchange +2 Literary prose
+3 Rhetorical prose/poetry
+4 Literary poetry
+5 Musical poetry
Marathi style registers are analogous to English style registers but
with two important differences. First, there is a certain sliding
of scales. What may sound adequately Impersonal (-3) or literary prose
(+2) in Marathi will respectively sound consultative (-2) or Rhetorical
(+3) to the English listener, and analogously with other registers.
Secondly , Marathi offers a further choice for the artistic registers
(+1 to +5) between the following :
Greater formality , decorum , overstatement , ornamentation, and involution
Greater informality, casualness, understatement, sparseness, and resolution
Note: (a) is associated with a more traditional,
ceremonial or cultivated ambience and the latter with a more modern,
businesslike, or rustic ambience.
It will be interesting to test out
the implications of this interface between English and Marathi with
reference to Marathi –speakers writing in English and Marathi in English
translations. This should especially revealing in the case of writers
like B.S. Mardhekar or Arun kolatkar. Both have written poetry in
English and Marathi; Mardhekar’s Marathi poem have been tranalated
to English; and so also kolatkar’s Marathi poems—quite often the poem
being his own translator. Such a close examination of language and
style could be related to Indian content/reality on the one hand and
of the English–speaking reader’s and the Marathi speaking reader’s
response to the poetry. (for example , Marathi-speaking readers tend
to be less enthusiastic about Kolatkar’s Jejuri poems than English
speaking readers.). The response of English –knowing Indians other
than Marathi- speakers is something else again.
Any critical response to the creative
writing in English by Indians would stand to gain by considerations
of the kind presented in the last two sections of this study.