There are problems, quite a good number of them, with the English language as we practise it here in Bangladesh. For starters, there are friends of mine who keep telling me of the wonderful bondage they share with me. Bondage? I thought the word was bond or bonding. I simply had no idea that those friends of mine were united with me in bondage, in what clearly is a sense of pleasure in being enslaved. You might ask why I do not correct them. Well, I don't and I will not. For a couple of reasons. In the first place, it is for them to discover their mistake. They are adults who can easily reach out for the dictionary on the shelf near them. In the second, they are my friends and I have absolutely no intention of losing them through behaving like an instructor for them. Condescension is a grave sin, if you must know.
'Wow!' You might, I am quite certain, exclaim on hearing me give you that lecture on friendship in bondage. But whatever in the name of the Almighty is 'wow'? Everyone around you seems to be using it, even television anchors and artistes who sing all those terrible songs to spoil our sense of melody day in and day out. There is something deeply irritating about 'wow', something American, something meaningless. As a renowned writer said more than a century ago, when will Americans ever learn English? Good question, and we are not quite sure of when that day will come. But note, for now, the grave damage American English is doing to our sense of language. Don't be surprised if you suddenly hear a strange language, one you might think has its home in some forgotten wilderness somewhere on the earth. And how might you stumble on that language? Simple. There is a profusion of 'likes' in what ought to have been a smooth flow of ideas. Imagine this: 'My friend, like, he was late for class, like, and the teacher, like, punished him, like, for it, like.'
See what we mean? And as you try to make some sense of that 'like' statement, you need to keep calm when a chirpy young man or woman plunges into the nefarious job of humiliating the word 'anyway'. The humiliation is in turning it into 'anyways'. 'Thank you for the invitation but I will be out of the country. Anyways, enjoy the show.' You tend to wonder. If you could, you would cheerfully thrash the man or woman who decided, in the infinity of his or her foolishness, that 'anyways' was a smart term. And how much of smartness do you spot when you overhear two young men tell each other, repeatedly, that they are bosom friends. Bosom? Whose bosom? What bosom? Two men with bosoms? You might split your sides laughing away, but there again is a calculated drive to demonise certain aspects of the English vocabulary. And how do we know that? Well, there once was a beautiful expression, 'gay', meaning happy and cheerful and young. And today? Ah, but you must be socially correct, meaning that you must try not to be gay. You wouldn't want to compromise yourself or draw scandalized attention to certain seemingly unnatural sexual proclivities through telling others that your neighbour is a gay man, meaning he is a cheerful man. Notice the looks on the faces of your audience. Where you have pointed to happiness, they have only spotted homosexuality. Why must language be demeaned in such horrible manner?
But, again, there is always that other side, one which leaves you rolling with laughter or banging your head against the wall when your language student tells you with a straight face, 'I born in 1963'. You correct him, stressing the need for the verb 'was' between 'I' and 'born'. He understands and you think he has been duly instructed, until his response to your next query hits you full in the face. 'Tell me something about your father', you say in something of Buddha-like serenity. And, sure enough, ingenuity in him rushes out and toward you with the force of a gale. 'My father was died.' You are simply floored. How much can a man take? Just think of all the good people around you who in an abundance of self-confidence would have you know that they are Bengalis 'by born'. By born? Wherever has 'by birth' vanished? But you say nothing. Your lips are sealed. And you wince when you hear people like Tony Blair carelessly mangle grammar, the same that your teachers taught you meticulously in school. 'The reason we have framed this policy is because ?.' Why must you have 'reason' and 'because' in such obscene togetherness? Grammar, like the law, slides badly when it is violated with such impunity. Observe all those people around you indulge in such wilfully bad behaviour when they assert, 'We must have to develop the country'. Must have to? Emphasis of a sort you were not aware of?
Ah, well! Such are the ways in which some people flourish the language. Shocked, aren't you? That misplaced use of 'flourish' is deeply agonizing for you, given the nature of the verb in its transitive and intransitive forms. Even newspapers proclaim cheerfully in their headlines: 'President's call to flourish national culture'. The innocent heart in you, battered and bruised, is at breaking point. Yes, of course English is a dynamic language, forever changing course and adopting and adapting to new words and phrases. It moves on, like a happy river winding its way through the valley. It flourishes on its own, in the way it has for centuries. But that insensitive violation of grammar is a desecration of the language. Why must you do away with 'my mother and I' and go for the uncouth 'me and my mother'?
Here's a final thought. Not many years ago, the correspondent of a well-known English language newspaper here naturally wished to let his readers know of the protests voiced in Parliament by the opposition to a ruling party measure. Our correspondent simply got carried away. Here's how he put it: 'The opposition lawmakers stood on their legs in protest'. Notice that they were not 'on their feet'. Must legs and feet have their roles reversed in such odious ways?
You have had enough, I am sure. All on a sudden, you are exhausted, not to say exasperated. Did you hear me say 'all on a sudden'? How on earth did I forget that the expression has always been and will forever be 'all of a sudden'?
Enjoy the remains of the day, my friends.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. E-mail: [email protected]