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Updated: May 15, 2012 10:28 IST

‘Osum' Shakespeare and the ‘mincemeat of English'

S. Subrahmanya Sarma
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William Shakespeare.
AP William Shakespeare.

If Shakespeare were to live now, he would perhaps add one more piece of work to his dramatic oeuvre by introducing the English found in the NET.

People tend to express anguish and anger at the way English is used in the Facebook. An attempt is made here to examine whether or not such ‘English' is acceptable and why it is used in the Facebook.

English is not monolithic or monochromatic in its structure. Its polyphonic nature lends itself to experimentation. Even in the period of Old English (500 AD to 1100 AD), people indulged themselves, coining new words which were then called ‘kennings.' - [Ofer ‘hronrade' hyran scolde — translated into Modern English as “over ‘whale-road' (kenning for ‘sea') hear should…” (Beowulf)]

In India, the educated elite is mostly familiar with only one form of English that is ‘Standard English' and is not familiar with other dialects, for example cockney which writers like Shaw and Eliot explored. We are not familiar with the dialectal variations of English, their pronunciation or syntax. For example, an Australian's answer ‘I came here to die' to a question ‘when he arrived in India' makes one wonder why he came all the way from Australia to India to die.

So any deviation from ‘Standard English' makes us feel that English is being ‘butchered' though such variations and deviations are viewed as inevitable processes.

Even in the Old English period there were four main dialectal forms, Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish and West Saxon, of which West Saxon slowly acquired supremacy thanks to the great King Alfred. During the Middle English period (1100 AD to 1500 AD), the dialects were Kentish, Southern, Northern, East Midland and West-Midland, of which the West-Midland seemed to have acquired greater currency. Later, several factors led to the evolution of ‘Standard English,' which gained global currency though other non-standard dialects such as Cockney, Dorset and Scottish do exist.

However, as Peter Trudgill says, “Standard English is simply one variety of English among many and it is a sub-variety of English.”

One writer who is known for his extensive inventions, deviations, coinages and making contractions is Shakespeare.

His words came largely from a manipulation of the then current language. He coined many words by switching words from one part of speech to another. He turned nouns into verbs, adjectives into verbs, verbs into adjectives, adding prefixes and suffixes. The following is one such example of an adjective being modified as a verb.

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red (Macbeth 2-ii)

The word ‘incarnadine' was used as an adjective only in Elizabethan days and Shakespeare for the first time used it as a verb.

David Crystal, talking about ‘The Language of Shakespeare,' refers (quoting Shakespeare) to one of his coinages thus:

Can this cockpit hold

The vasty fields of France- (Henry V-prologue)

‘Why did Shakespeare coin a new word ‘vasty'… To have written ‘the vast fields of France' would have caused an unwelcome jerkiness. (In) ‘The…fields of France' we need a two-beat adjective to fill the gap, expressive of great size; ‘vast' is the obvious choice but it has only one syllable. Large, huge and great are available but they have wrong rhythm… adding an adjective-forming suffix — y is an attractive way of solving the metrical problem.'

Even when English was restricted to Britain during Old English, Middle English and the early stages of Modern English, there were several dialectal variations. However, when English acquired an international dimension, its dialectal variations such as American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, Indian English and South African English present a global stage for people to interact, which fact initiates an inevitable process for a common dialect.

And this inevitable process leads to a uniform approach in the Facebook, maybe omitting the vowels or using shortened forms such as ‘osum' for ‘awesome' or introducing numbers for spellings (4 for ‘for', ‘gr8' for ‘great', ‘2morrow' for ‘tomorrow' etc) . All this might create a new dialect, (NETLINGLSH?). Only the future can answer.

No doubt, it is clearly deviating from the ‘Standard English'. However a dialect is generally not treated with derision, simply because it is non-standard. This is also a sub-variety of English.

If Shakespeare were to live now, he would perhaps add one more piece of work to his dramatic oeuvre by introducing the English found in the NET.

(The writer is Professor of English, Arba Minch University, Ethiopia. subra12@

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thank you sir for your interesting and informative findings of the replacing NETINGLISH.It was a debating topic when viewed from both the sides.On one corner we have the unification of English of various countries into a single dialect.Whereas taking the other,we have to view the breaking of Standard English.Anyway I don't think the mincemeat of English isn't harmful until it is of a range which could be understood and not create problems of misunderstanding.

from:  R.sri Rohith
Posted on: Apr 25, 2012 at 10:22 IST

I really liked the article.It relates past(the dialets we used to have),current(Netinglish)and future scenario, probably the sort of deviation we can expect from standard english.Writer has brough up very good point here.Ofcourse facebook is not a sort of book but since every age group is using it , everyone is aware of language trend that has been set among user.Slowly and steadily that may come to standard english.Thats just probability, because people find it more easier writing "osum" than "awesome".

from:  diksha kulvi
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 17:11 IST

Save for French,there are,to my knowledge,
no"The Acadamie Francaise" in any other
language,acting as a custodian.

from:  N.Dharmeshwaran
Posted on: Apr 20, 2012 at 12:04 IST

Facebook is not a book in the real sense of the term; however it is a NETBOOK where people write and comment like they write in their own notebooks Just like the Desktop in a computer which is not a desktop in its real sense but still it is a desktop where you keep all your folders to see and work. In terms of 'Pragmatics', the use of definite article before 'facebook' has got contextual validity too for the whole article is devoted to 'Netenglish'

from:  Radcliffe
Posted on: Apr 19, 2012 at 20:40 IST

There's no such thing as "pure language"... Language is dynamic, constantly
evolving... The so-called pure-language rhetoric of Linguistic Fundamentalism is indeed abhorrent and non-charming; but, could we draw a balance between massacring language in the name of vogue and stifling variety & evolution by the Puritanical obsessionists.

from:  Chinnu
Posted on: Apr 17, 2012 at 03:17 IST

Prof Sarma has made an interesting observation in his article. However, I wish Prof Sarma had taken more care when writing this article. It is sad that I must point out to a Professor of English that it is not "the Facebook", but just "Facebook". Facebook is not a kind of book.

from:  Sriram Iyer
Posted on: Apr 16, 2012 at 13:41 IST

An interesting article, though ironically, the comments section forbids us from using the new contractions!

from:  Vasu
Posted on: Apr 16, 2012 at 07:35 IST

Excellent article. The Shakespeare scholar Vivian Salmon wrote about some typical patterns in Shakespeare's word coinages. She gave "disparked" as an example-- it means to turn a private park into public land. As it happens, Edward de Vere coined a closely related word, "disparking," with the same meaning, in a 1572 letter to Lord Burghley.

I mention this because it's one of what Orson Welles called the "hundreds of coincidences" you have to explain if you want to deny that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, wrote the Shakespearean canon.

from:  Richard M. Waugaman
Posted on: Apr 15, 2012 at 17:41 IST

The subject language is forever language since it has words along with gadgets and for example cellphone for the signal transmitted are multidirectional in the form of biological cell structure and so is called a cell phone but it is mispropagated as "cellumidathillelaam eduthusellapaduvadhaal adharkku peyar cellphone " like wise English has capacity to absorb from various corners of the earth and resultant is projected in the form of language and for that matter any language which is supported by NEW INVENTIONS AND DISCOVERIES will have everlasting lustre and of course language supported by materials will have its coloration of the time and NETENGLISH is the style of the day and shakeperian days are unlike SANSKRIT OF OLDEN DAYS Which thrive till date without any material out put except for stage enactment and solely passed
on from generatin to next by rhythmic musical texture.

from:  Rajasekaran.S
Posted on: Apr 15, 2012 at 11:47 IST
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