A different mirror:
a history of multicultural America
The history of Chinese Americans from 1900-1941
The mother tongue:
English & how it got that way
by Bill Bryson
This fascinating book is not only the story of English language but also story of the people who contributed so much over the centuries and explains why it survived and thrived to become the premier language of choice in most parts of the world.
With the decline of the once mighty Roman Empire and departure of Romans from their English colony in 400 AD, left the British Isles vulnerable to foreign attacks. Over the next several centuries tribes like Frisians, Vandals, Saxons, Jutes and Angles attacked arriving from Germany. These were savages and against their brutal attacks, law-abiding educated Celts living in England at the time were no match. Many of them were killed and the rest were assimilated, some fled to France where they settled and named the area Brittany.
It is not clear why the language came to be known as English (after the tribe Angles) because Angles were neither the strongest nor their language any superior to other tribes. Around 850 AD Vikings from Denmark attacked and yet again influenced English language. It is remarkable that Celts for almost 1000 years and Romans for almost 350 years left no impact at all.
The final cataclysm on English language came with conquest by Normans from Normandy in France. Normans were Vikings who had settled in 800 AD in France.
Just as the case was in India where for almost 800 years the rulers did not speak local language, courts and scholarship was done in Persian or Arabic or English depending on who ruled India. No English king spoke English for 300 years!!
Norman French and the Germanic tribes made lasting impression on the English Language. Normans were the ruling class in England which is reflected in French words used in English for high fashion, government and courts while humble trade names tend to be Anglo-Saxon words like baker, miller, shoemaker while more skilled trades had French words like mason, painter, tailor etc.
English is heavily influenced by old Norse, Danish (Vikings), German (Tribes like Angles,Frisians, Saxons), French (Normans).
English is part of Germanic family which consists of North Germanic (mostly Scandinavian), West Germanic (English, Dutch, German, Frisian, Flemish) and East Germanic (Gothic, Vandalic, Burgundian) which died off one by one. In 1783 William Jones came to India as a Judge and as past time taught himself Sanskrit and made a sensational statement that all classical languages like Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin and Gothic.
There were hundreds of dialects in England but over time dialect of London became the English language just as Florentine dialect of Florence became The Italian language.
English language is full of bobby traps – ‘ I could care less’ means the same thing as ‘ I couldn’t care less’- ‘items not on sale’ does not mean that every item is not on sale but rather that ‘only some items are on sale.’ There are a large number of negative words inept, ruthless, unkempt for which positive form is missing! Some argue that English has plethora of needless words. A penny less person can be called Poor, needy, deprived, underprivileged and disadvantaged! English has tendency to load up a single word with galaxy of meaning making it difficult for foreigners to learn. Word ‘fine’ has 14 meanings! Fine art, fine gold, fine edge, fine hair, feeling fine, court fine etc.
The army tank has nautical words like hatch, turret, hull, deck because it was developed by British navy rather than the Army! Sometime old meaning is preserved in a phrase Neck was once used for parcel of land hence nick-of-the-woods. Tell once meant count which is reflected in word bank teller. Some times two forms are used meaning the same thing- flammable and inflammable, iterate and reiterate, habitable and inhabitable, ravel and unravel.
Pronunciation spelled same way with totally different pronunciations
‘God-be-with-you’ became good-bye,
whole-be-thou became Hello,
fortnight was fourteen nights.
In Baltimore (pronounced Balamer) water is wooder, orange juice is Arnjoos, Orals are the baseball team Orials.
In the 18th century custom arose of pronouncing words like bath and path with broad ‘a’, in Boston this fashion was embraced so much that people used broad ‘a’ sound for words like Saturday,apple, hammer.
Italians tended to say ‘be-agg’ for ‘bag’ or ‘be-add’ for ‘bad’.
Jewish settlers would say ‘doo-awg’ for a dog or ‘coo-awfee’ for a coffee.
Sometimes spelling was changed to match its pronunciation Hertford was changed to Hartford.
Well into 19th century ‘chemist’ was ‘kimmist’, ‘negro’ was ‘neggar’ (hence insulting term nigger!) In Boston a soft drink is ‘tonic’ If you stone rather than a rock, you are a New Englander, If you stand on a line rather than stand in line, you are a New Yorker.
Word ‘colonel’ is a classic example why spellings and pronunciation in English are unpredictable. Italian word “colonnade” became “coronelle” in French which became “colonel” in English but it kept French pronunciation but adapted Italian spelling!!
One of the first one to study of dialects was JRR Tolkien, then professor of English at Leeds, the same guy who wrote Lord of the Rings!!
English grammar is so complex because it is based on Latin, it is like playing base ball using the rules of football!
Sometimes inappropriate use of a word can be telling – when George Bush told a TV reporter that he could not believe the enormity of what just happened, only if he had known primary meaning of enormity is evilness!!
The strength of the English language is that it is evolving, changing all the time. About 20,000 words are added every year and almost 66% of existing words are revised every 20 years!!
In 1884 masterly work of OED (Oxford English Dictionary) was started and managed single-handedly by Henry Murray and work was continued by others and completed in 1928, It recorded every word used in English since 1526 AD. One of the most prolific contributor was Dr. Minor, an American who resided in a hospital for criminally insane! (he had committed murder) He became insane after his horrific experiences in the civil war where he worked
as Army Surgeon.
The word ‘dollar’ comes from old English word ‘daler’. in 1782 Thomas Jefferson asked word ‘dollar’ be used for our currency as ‘ (spanish) dollar was a known coin and most familiar to minds of all people’.
The name America comes from Amerigo Vespucci who made 4 voyages without ever once seeing North America but a contemporary mapmaker mistakenly thought he had discovered the new continent and named it America and took the name off as soon as error was discovered but the name stuck ever since. (poor Columbus!)
western union= no wire unsent
funeral = real fun
schoolmaster = the classroom
mother-in-law = mother Hitler
Madam, I’m Adam.
A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.
Amphibology- To intentionally construct sentences that have two meanings, for example- Benjamin Disraeli wrote to an aspiring writer – ” thanks so much for the book, I shall lose no time in reading it ” Samual Johnson said something similar in spirit when he said to a writer
” Your work is both good and original. Unfortunately the parts that are original are not good, and the parts that are good are not original”
The future of English:
In 1880 Henry Sweet predicted – in another century England, America and Australia will be speaking mutually unintelligible languages but of course nothing of the sort happened and will not happen. Movies,TV, books, record albums, businesses tourism – all these are binding influences which will keep English a dominant global language.
If we should be worried about anything to do with the future of English, it should not be that
the various strands will drift apart but that they will grow indistinguishable. And what a sad, sad loss that would be.
Vijay Joshi ‘word hunter’ 11/19/2011
Two wars––the 1857 Revolt in India and the American Civil War— seemingly fought for very different reasons, occurred at opposite ends of the globe in the middle of the nineteenth century. But they were both fought in a world still dominated by Great Britain and the battle cry in both conflicts was freedom.
Abraham Lincoln apparently knew of the Indian revolt but elected not to say anything publicly, probably not wanting to antagonize the British.
Mr Gandhi narrates story of five extraordinary inhabitants of India—Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Jotiba Phule, Allan Octavian Hume and Bankimchandra Chatterjee. For reasons not quite understood only Jyotiba Phule from Maharashtra elected to support the efforts to free slaves.
The reasons for the failure of the revolt were many – this was not a united national revolt, it was based on personal reasons not on any national agenda, participants were mostly lower caste Indians, intellectuals were not sold on this idea, it was limited to northern part of India.
At one point Mr Gandhi said that he studied in detail entire history of 1857 revolt and learned a great deal about opposing the British which he later implemented well in India’s struggle for Independence. He said that his grand father in 1905 while in South Africa, described Abraham Lincoln as the person he admired most.
Westwood expansion by the Americans was based on manifest destiny, same way as it was for East India company and its point man Dalhousie. A teenager Edvin Blood from Boston who went to India to work as clerk has stated in his journal that applying his ‘doctrine of lapse’ took over Jhansi, Satara and Nagpur around 1854 because these rulers did not have a biological heir, hence their right for an independent state ‘lapsed.’ He also annexed Avadh along with its elegant capital Lucknow and this did not sit well with most sepoy army. One off-shoot of Avadh annexation was discontinuation of his pension for Mirz Ghalib from King of Avadh and put him in financial hardship.
Dalhousie in 1855 was soon scheduled to return to England and believed he had achieved many accomplishments during his term in India, he founded Indian Railway,Indian post/telegraph, Universities were established, roads, canals and bridges were built.
The reasons for the 1857 Revolt.
* A spurt in Christian religious activities in Delhi displeased many Muslims and Hindus alike. (Under pressure from English clergy,
East India company reluctantly agreed to allow missionary work.)
* The suspicion in Bengal army that gun cartridges were tainted with beef and or pig blood. This was taken to assume that the British were trying to pollute entire Hindu and Muslin population. In order to use the cartridge, it had to be bitten off by mouth. A Sepoys (soldiers) were caught between hard place and a rock. If he disobeyed, he would be dismissed, if he did not, he will be polluted.
* ” A doctrine of Lapse” was implemented by Dalhousie in 1850 which enabled him to take over any princely state lacked a biological
male heir. Adopted son was not accepted by British as heir. This policy infuriated many princes, especially in the state of Jhansi where prince had died and an adopted heir by warrior princess
Laxmibai was not accepted by the British. Although all these states were governed by the princes, the de-facto rulers were the British
who provided protection to these states (sounds like Mafia to me!)
* Reforms like abolition of practice of “Sati” (a widow would kill herself on their husbands’ funeral pyres), reforms allowing widows
to remarry. These went against the then strong religious beliefs.
* “Avadh” a territory between Delhi and Bengal. The ruler had signed a treat in 1837 with the British not to annex the kingdom and acted as a buffer between hostile Delhi and British controlled Bengal in addition to supplying a very large number of Muslim and Hindu soldiers to the British army. In spite of this Dalhousie annexed it in 1856 alleging that king Wajid Ali Khan was unfit to rule. A majority of Muslim and Hindu soldiers from Avadh who served in the British Army did not like it.
The annexation hit “Talukdars” the hardest who were mostly Muslims or high caste Rajputs whose control over peasants was curtailed. The most of the sepoys were also of the same high social status as Talukadars and were also very unhappy.
This was the British excuse for westward expansion towards Delhi (sounds familiar it should because same excuse of christian manifest destiny was used by advancing Americans into westward expansion.
* In Maharashtra, Nana Sahib had asked for most of his adoptive father’s pension but was denied.
* In 1856 a vernacular school was founded which included 2 girls.
Affluent community leaders were forced to pay for the school. A school for low-caste children was founded by Jyotiba Phule who himself belonged to low-caste community and was honored by the British which did not sit well with the Brahmins.
There were several reasons why the revolt of 1857 failed.
* Mostly it was local with local grievances and reasons.
* There was no national guidance or leader.
* Sheikhs in Delhi were unhappy with rebelling Bengali solders who had fought for the British during earlier comparing against Delhi
clan Cchiefs. During the revolt (or Mutiny as the British called it)
they helped hunt down rebels and helped British army.
* The rulers of Maharashtra, Hyderabad and other parts of India,
elected not to take part sensing that eventually the British will be winners and did not want to jeopardize their relation.
* Many high-caste soldiers did not want to fight side-by-side with other low-caste ones.
Aftermath of the revolt.
* Queen Victoria signed a proclamation pledging not to impose christianity. (Idea behind this was that any move to push Christianity would only unite Muslims and Hindus which was the last thing the British wanted)
* Annexation was forsworn, adoption of heirs was allowed.
* The idea of levelling Indian society was given up.
* Respect for customs and rights of Indians were upheld.
Vijay Joshi ‘word-hunter’
river’s drinking water
now she is thirsty!
7 colored arch
In the sky
The last war
Fight it alone
Is it Half full
Or half empty?
Only the glass knows!
some one else
wrote my fate,
Suffer I must?
Even a blind person
Dreams in his sleep!
you should change
vijay joshi ‘word-hunter’
Welcome to my blog. I am pleased to invite you to share some of my own creations
and my thoughts on creations of others I love.
vijay joshi ‘word hunter’
Here are a few of my Haiku. Usually written about nature in 3 lines
with two ideas or images juxtapostioned. I hope you like them. In addition to writing
comments on books, I will be adding new Haiku periodically so please
track this blog regularly.
Why waste it
With a sigh!
Moon stayed late
Went for a walk
Ran into Sun!
Blue sky blue earth
Blue every where
Leaves in yellow pajamas
Fall gently down
On yellow bed below!
Shower of stars
Moon celebrating tonight
4th of July!
Mountain is taking
Hot golden shower
Poor spring flowers!
Earth is no more
am I dead or alive?
Rain keeps coming
Drops become a brook
Leaves sail Downstream!