English has a pride of place in India, everyone wants to impress others by his impressive English. A man passing school exam with good communication skill in English, has far more employment potentials than a master degree holder with poor standard of English. Skill in English knowledge counts and works favorably with job seeker. As on date, because of lack of English skill, many vacancies cannot be filled up. In this context, my article on ‘wrong’ English is relevant.
It is true, learning the rules of English grammar, and a vocabulary connected to the subject, are an essential step, to master English, but being obsessed with these two aspects only, is not sufficient. So long effective communication is not affected, none should interfere. Correctness of a language in use, can be determined from the context only; if a particular use explains the context well, you do not need to wait for anything further–grammar and dictionary included.This finer aspect of a language cannot be drilled into the skull of a primary school headmaster for whom knowledge of English means memorizing the definition of ‘noun’ and ‘pronoun’ etc etc, and nothing beyond. English language should be used as master , not as a slave.
When we speak of English, communication is most important; to make the communication more powerful, if required, you may breach the rules of grammar also, there are examples galore. The main purpose of language is communicating….. I still remember while I was reading the autobiography of Winston Churchill, I was reading his account of how he was fleeing from the Boer controlled area in Boer war in Africa. He was taken prisoner in the Boer war, where he worked as a war correspondent. Luckily he gave a slip to his captor. He hid himself in a goods carriage train , in a difficult stuffy space, every moment there were danger of being caught. Later, in his autobiography, he described his condition in a paragraph, wherein it comprised several sentences—all incomplete!!!!. Many of our English teacher will not approve those sentences, but it is a beautiful paragraph with great expression without any lack of communication in it. Somewhere, in and around this paragraph, in his autobiography, Winston Churchill, was talking of his father, Randolf, advising him to read, ‘ Decline and fall of Roman empire’ by Edward Gibbon, for perfecting his style of English language. I leapt up in joy when I was reading this paragraph drawing reference of Randolf, for, I myself also was reading the same book ie ‘ Decline and fall of Roman empire”, and wondering myself about the beauty of Gibbon’s gift of English language, that too written 250 years back. It was a great coincidence!!! I felt equal to Randolf churchill……………….sorry, forgive me, I have drifted.
Let’s come back to the issue. Right English do not live in dictionary or grammar but in the mind of user. A little bit of vocabulary and a little bit English grammar, fortified with exposure to reading/ writing/listening good English, is an enough pre-requisite to use the English knowledge effectively. Learning of words and grammar has no end and is boring. Grammar is an attempt to coding the pattern of a language, and more akin to arithmetic. Learning from Reading/ listening the language is a much better option, and these will unknowingly imprint in mind the right pattern/setting of words. When such user use the language, he cannot be wrong anymore, because his use will be entrapped in the pattern already set by exposure to reading/listening GOOD ENGLISH. Somerset Maugham, would spend hours in a London library, memorising paragraphs of English, picked up from writing of eminent writers. About obsession with English grammar, I remember an anecdote connected with writer, Virginia Wolf. Once, after writing a page of English she gave the manuscript, to her secretary, to correct the language, at this her secretary meticulously did the job of correcting the language, almost every sentence in the manuscript was touched by her. After reading the corrected proof, Virginia wolf said that her secretary did the job commendably no doubt, but the correction changed everything what she wanted to say. This proves that a language is much more than its grammar, any critic of the language should have a comprehensive idea of the language of which he takes up the charge.
Native elite English speakers, used to Queen ’s English with received pronunciation, do not bother about Indian/ Sri Lankan/Indonesian etc varieties of English embedded with their peculiarities, natural to local culture, to some, appearing ‘ incorrectness’, so long communication is effective. Having had local characteristics, fused in the original native English language, is practical and natural, making effective communication possible in a foreign land, but in the process deviating from the strict rules of English grammar and vocabulary. This grammatical breach is natural, and has to be welcomed, and thus, we will internalise the English language for effective communication. And remember with increasing efficiency in English use your career prospects increases. While some of Indians, are ready to find fault with such English users, native English speakers do not mind it. Such critics do not have an idea of the mechanics of a language in a foreign land, thus, they are only damaging the prospect of English language in India, but fortunately, English is too big for these self- styled English guardians. We have to use the language as a master, not as a servant.
Being taught in a vernacular medium in my schools, my English was not good enough, but there were always an undercurrent of desire within me to learn English well. Shankar was a great Bengali writer famous for his lucid language and characterisation. I had a fond desire to write English with equal lucidity. Every Bengali of my age learnt English from reading The Statesman of Kolkata. Its editorials were masterpieces, for its content, analysis, and use of English language. Every day I would read it from beginning to end. The Statesman, had long chain of English editors, last was Lindsay Nariman retiring in 1972. I would meet people who would often find fault with my English language for grammatical, and other errors, and sometimes without any reason also, but only equipped with dadagiri. I was searching for an identity of some sort of authority on English language. While I was in Sreerampur college, it being a missionary college, there would be a few missionary Englishmen from England , I struck friendship with them, and used their help in my learning English. I regularly read London Times, Manchester Guardian, and many which my friend , Alian Jenkins, brought from England. Then, I passed BUSINESS ENGLISH CERTIFICATE -3 ( test designed for highest Administrative/ Business management level, and recognised all over the English knowing world. The pass certificate was issued under the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, and naturally my pride possession), from Cambridge university, through British council library—an unit under British Deputy commissioner, Kolkata.
Therefore, what I wrote above, about wrong-ness of English language, is from my above authority position. Thanks for reading.