01 September 2006

English just grew bigger - an insight

One of the most popular languages across the globe, English has a peculiar characteristic of assimilating the local languages into its fold, adding flavours to it ever expanding vocabulary. Call it the effect of colonisation, or the Internet, English is something that is felt necessary and important almost everywhere, sans a few special cases. Such being the case, an addition of a local language into the English dictionary always evokes a kind of excitement and awe among the people who contributed it.

There are two heavyweight points to be noted here. Does addition of new words from a foreign language really mean a sort of 'consideration' to the popularity or usage? While the veterans might argue in favour of it, there could be a flip side to the coin. One might as well see it as a marketing gimmick. Very recently, when a few Hindi words were added into a popular dictionary, a journalist took all the pains to fly to the Press. Standing at its gates, he expounded about the contribution made by the language to English. Truly speaking, it added marketing value to the new version of dictionary. How? The logic is pretty simple. It is a constant effort of the marketing folks to keep people in awe about their product, be it a car or a dictionary. Adding a word or two to a dictionary, that are hardly used anywhere does not cost much. But it definitely enthuses the people speaking the local language to go in big numbers bying their copies of the dictionary, thus adding to the revenues. And the hype created by the media just as elucidated adds to it.

The second point to be made here is on the 'purity' aspects of a language. Old languages, that have stuck to the philosophy of 'purity' slowly find themselves waning out of usage. The very classical example is that of Sanskrit. In contrast, a language like Hindi, which is a mixture of many languages such as Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian, Turkish and more recently, even the Dravidian languages is a language growing at its best. Similarly, English exhibits this feather in its hat at the global level, assimilating vocabulary from various countries. The more a language keeps its doors open for new things, new ideas to enter, the more is it acceptance. The more is its popularity. But there is a catch. There is a direct analogy to the process of globalisation of the language, which mainly involves two elements: internationalisation and localisation. While the internationalisation results in global acceptance, the localisation results in an entirely new problem. Overaddition of local words to the language might localise it to such an extent that people may not be able to understand the other 'versions' of the language. And the time it happens, the very purpose of globalisation is lost.

While it is a great feeling to include words from as many languages as possible, thus spreading the sphere of influence, too much of 'chutney-fication' it is good neither to the lovers of English nor to the language itself. And yeah, the next time your favourite word is added to the English dictionary, do give a second thought to the market gimmick.

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