Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Why Worry About Small Small Things?

Why worry about small
small things?

Because English and Indian languages differ widely in behaviour, some of our ways of expression can newer be recreated in English. Indlish sounds ludricrous when we recreate the reduplication that all Indian languages permit either for musical effect or for emphasis:


• chhoti chhoti baaten (trivial issues/trifles)
• chori chori (stealthily)
• baaton baaton mein (in the course of a chat)


• chhoto chhoto katha (trivial issues/trifles)
• choopi choopi (stealthily)
• kathay kathay (in the course of a chat)
• kaanay kaanay (whisper)
• mookhay mookhay (by word of mouth)


• bada bada katha (big talk)
• kahu kahu kahidela (in the course of a chat)
• astay astay kar (take it easy)


• chinna chinnaa asai (little dreams)
• vanna vanna pookkal (colourful flowers)
• odi odi va (run here)
• parandu parandu po (fly there)


• kochchu kochchu karyangal (trivial issues/trifles)
• kayttu kayttu mathiyayi (my ears are stuffed with it)
• vegam vegam pokaam (let’s go fast)


• chala chala bagunadi (very very good)
• ekku ekku ga (more and more)
• pitchi pitchi ga matladaku (don’t rant like a madman)
• daba daba ga panichayandi (work fast)


• hannu hannu muduka (grand old man)
• chikka chikka makkalu (little children)
• bega bega ba/odi odi ba (run here)


• chotya chotya goshti (trivial issues/trifles)
• kadhi kadhi (sometimes)
• khare khare sang (come out with the truth)

All those expressions are idiomatic and lend music to our regional languages. The translation alongside each is inadequate: it carries neither the music nor the effect, and almost nothing of the connotation. No translation can convey the flavour of any of those expressions.

English does not permit reduplication for meaningful effect. The few examples that English does permit achieve little more than meaningless sound – effects in:

finger rhymes for babies (this little pig said wee wee wee)
animal sounds (baa-baa/moo-moo/meow-meow/quack-quack)
nursery rhymes (twinkle twinkle little star/hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle)
light songs (in a gilly – gilly house . . .)

English permits the replication (not reduplication) of a sound – effect (hickory dickory dock . . . / . . . and there in the wood a piggy – wiggy stood), or the close repetition of words in songs (in a tiny house by a tiny stream, where a lovely girl had a lovely dream).

In some poems, words are repeated for heightened effect (In vain I weep to him that cannot hear, and weep the more because I weep in vain: Coleridge), or a whole line is repeated in refrain (For I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep: Robert Frost). In English, the closest to reduplication would be those few rhyming pairs used in informal adult speech to emphasize an idea, usually derogatory. Unlike the Indian expression that repeats the identical word, the English word pairs with:

1 word that replicates the sound of the first, but with a change in the initial consonant (argy – bargy; fuddy – duddy; fuzzy – wuzzy; harum – scarum; heebie – jeebies; helter – skelter; higgledy-piggledy; hoity – toity; hotch – potch; hurly – burly; itsy – bitsy; miminy – piminy; namby – pamby; niminy – piminy; nitty – gritty; razzle – dazzle; roly – poly; teeny – weeny).

2 a word that begins with the same consonant sound, but changes a vowel within (dilly – dally; flip – flop; flim – flam; hee – haw; hip – hop; mish – mash; see – saw; tip – top; tittle – tattle; whim – wham; wiggle – waggle; wishy – washy).

Often, only the first word may carry the meaning intended; the second may have no meaning or existence independent of the combination (fuzzy – wuzzy). With a few, neither of the pair may have a meaning, and neither is used along (fuddy – duddy; hoity – toity; niminy – piminy). Others may retain the sense of neither when each of the pair has an independent meaning (hip – hop; hurly – burly).

Readers will at once recognize that all Indian languages have such imitative rhyming pairs too, made with similar changes in the initial consonant or vowel sounds: such a term for things around you, for instance, would be aas paas (Hindi); aashay paashay (Bengali); pakha pakhi (Oriya); sutta mutta/akkaa pakkaa (Kannada); ikkada akkada (Telugu); akkam pakkam (Tamil); aviday ividay (Malayalam); aazu baazu (Marathi), etc.

But Indians often recreate in English the reduplication they are accustomed to use in their languages, and this has led to what Englishmen consider a comical feature of Companion to the Indlish. In its list of features of Indian English, the Oxford Companion

1 comment:

reasonable robinson said...

What an amazing post - I love language and thsi is great - (only French german and very little Mandarin)