Tag Archives: English language

Inside the OED: Can the world’s biggest dictionary survive the internet?

In February 2009, a Twitter user called @popelizbet issued an apparently historic challenge to someone called Colin: she asked if he could “mansplain” a concept to her. History has not recorded if he did, indeed, proceed to mansplain. But the lexicographer Bernadette Paton, who excavated this exchange last summer, believed it was the first time anyone had used the word in recorded form. “It’s been deleted since, but we caught it,” Paton told me, with quiet satisfaction.

In her office at Oxford University Press, Paton was drafting a brand new entry for the Oxford English Dictionary. Also in her in-tray when I visited were the millennial-tinged usage of “snowflake”, which she had hunted down to a Christian text from 1983 (“You are a snowflake. There are no two of you alike”), and new shadings of the compound “self-made woman”. Around 30,000 such items are on the OED master list; another 7,000 more pile up annually. “Everyone thinks we’re very slow, but it’s actually rather fast,” Paton said. “Though admittedly a colleague did spend a year revising ‘go’”.

Spending 12 months tracing the history of a two-letter word seems dangerously close to folly. But the purpose of a historical dictionary such as the OED is to give such questions the solemnity they deserve. An Oxford lexicographer might need to snoop on Twitter spats from a decade ago; or they might have to piece together a painstaking biography of one of the oldest verbs in the language (the revised entry for “go” traces 537 separate senses over 1,000 years). “Well, we have to get things right,” the dictionary’s current chief editor, Michael Proffitt, told me.

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How English soaks up words from other languages

By Martin Rubin


By Philip Gooden

Head of Zeus/IPG, $24.95, 359 pages

For many people across the world, the dominant role of English has been a problem. Back in the 1960s, President Charles de Gaulle was so concerned that French was being contaminated by such an infusion from across the Channel, that he fought a largely unsuccessful rear-guard action against what was known as “Franglais.” If words like “le weekend” or sound-alikes like “rosbif” instead of the correct French words “boeuf roti” were unstoppable, the words engendered by the American computer-related technologies of the late-20th and early-21st century only made for a truly global tidal wave. Yet even here, there is cross-pollination rather than one-way traffic. Consider the French word menu, long a staple in English food terminology, which now has a whole new connotation.

Rather than focus on the back-and-forth dynamic between languages, British author Philip Gooden has chosen to concentrate on the English language as a sponge that soaks up foreign words from many languages, a list of which he usefully provides. His book is organized charmingly as well as practically, providing in chronological order a multitude of foreign words purloined and then firmly ensconced in our language. His justification for this is characteristically humorous as well learned:

” ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal,’ Picasso said or is supposed to have said. English is a great language by any reckoning, and so it must also be reckoned as more of a thief than a copier yet to steal words from a language does not deprive that language of its own words; rather it is to share the original expressions more widely, in the process often giving them a different spelling, another shape and perhaps a meaning that has strayed some distance from the one in the source. English is adept at this. The language is a great borrower, a practiced thief.” Read more

Source: Washington Times

No place for language chauvinism in India

”Is English really an Indian language?” Does this need a debate?

Many believe it does not, for English has been part of life in India. Some still dub it as the language of the elite while many find English as a language of opportunity. To cut the long story short, English’s place in India, after 70 years of Independence, continues to make for riveting discussion. That’s exactly what happened when an elite panel at Odisha Literary Festival (OLF) 2016 took up the topic and dissected it on the first evening of the two-day festival.

Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, with his rich experience as a teacher of comparative literature and years with Sahitya Akademi as well as National Book Trust, put things in perspective by saying the official position of English in India is confusing. Constitution does not recognise it as an Indian language though Sahitya Akademi gives away an award every year in English language. On the other hand, two of India’s top literary awards Jnanapitha as well as Saraswati Samman keep English out of their ambit, he said. Read more


Mind your language: the fightback against global English

English is the language of business and science. The government in Rwanda, and many people in Tunisia, prefer it to French. Singapore makes sure every child is fluent in it. It is the world’s lingua franca, the key to success for every ambitious parent and a central part of the curriculum of every sensible school.

That is one way of looking at it. The other is that English is a “bully, juggernaut, nemesis”, an “unnerving border crosser, criminal and intruder”, an international conspiracy run by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, Nato, the British Council and the massed ranks of Anglo-American capitalism. The worldwide spread of English reflects the “Washington linguistic consensus”, which is the “aggressive promotion of English to serve Western political and economic interests”. The supposed benefits of English to ordinary people around the world — better jobs, higher salaries, access to new technologies — have been vastly oversold. Only national elites and their foreign sponsors benefit from the penetration of English. For the vast majority, “English promises much but delivers little.” Read more

Essay: With Missionary Zeal

By Devraj Kalsi

When parents admit their child to an English medium school run by the Catholic community, the primary objective is to instil in the child discipline and moral values, gain access to the best environment to gain proficiency in English, and develop a liberal mindset that prepares the young mind to face the challenges and complexities of the modern world. The pupil is told again and again that he is here to imbibe the best. But as the young impressionable mind enters the teenage years, the school authorities find an irresistible opportunity to start talking about issues that should not arise inside a secular campus. The missionary institution, though it behaves secularly as much like any elected government in the country, ends up vitiating its professional pursuits with personal agenda.

Although I learned to see God as a more amiable persona in the Catholic school, it wasn’t too long before I realised that this was the beginning of a subtle crash course to preach the merits of their religion. My first awakening happened when I was told to love God more than fear Him. Usually, in traditional North Indian households and many others perhaps, there is a deeply ingrained, though flawed tendency to view the creator as a temperamental dictator who can turn your life upside down any moment. His power is something to be feared all the time.

Here was the first opportunity to view the Omniscient as someone who has created me to enjoy his creations and I should, therefore, be fond of Him all the time – just like a friend to reach out to. From the ivory tower, the creator was brought down to my level – just for me. I did feel an urge to share dreams and desires and wishes without nursing doubts that He would deny those to me. God himself became a temptation for me. The relationship with Him developed along friendly and compatible lines; I saw Him as user-friendly because human qualities were given priority and the complexities and conflicts between believer and provider had been fairly rationalized and sorted out through prayers and monologues.

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‘Aiyoh’ now in the Oxford English Dictionary

Aiyoh! What has the Oxford English Dictionary gone and done now? In its September list of new words, it included entries such as scrumdiddlyumptious (delicious) and yogasana (no explanation needed, one hopes), but also – well, ‘aiyoh’ and ‘aiyah.’

Speakers of South Indian languages who have never uttered ‘aiyoh’ have probably had very uneventful lives. It’s one of the most affectively versatile words in the Dravidian lexicon, capable of expressing – in Tamil alone – a suite of emotions including consternation (“Aiyoh! Why is he wearing that shirt again?”), shock (“Aiyoh! Are you sure he has passed away?”) and – with a slight modification – apprehension (“Ai-yi-yoh..I’m sure my boss is going to fire me for this!”). Read more

The reader is not a ‘customer’: Bernardo Carvalho at DLF

bernardo-carvalhoBorn in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro, Bernardo Carvalho worked in Paris and New York as a foreign correspondent for the Brazilian daily newspaper ‘Folha de Sao Paulo‘ in the early 1990s. His 1993 debut, a collection of stories entitled ‘Aberracao,’ was nominated for the country’s most prestigious literary award. Nove Noites (2007) (Nine Nights) and Mongolia (2003) are some of Bernardo’s most appreciated works.

The reader is not a ‘customer’
Bernardo in his 40-minute lecture revealed and decoded a number of factors and aspects that govern authors’ method of writing, and dictate readers’ choice of selecting books. Unfortunately, today, the ‘market’ defines and decides what kind of literature to be ‘sold’. “Literature should travel well. It must mean more than business. Read more