Tag Archives: Hindi

India’s new leader favors the Hindi language, which is a problem for the country’s 50 million Urdu speakers

Indian street sign in four languages: Hindi, English, Punjabi and Urdu. (baklavabaklava via Flickr)

Indian street sign in four languages: Hindi, English, Punjabi and Urdu. (baklavabaklava via Flickr)

Here’s a post from California-based reporter Sonia Paul.

I spent several months in Lucknow, India, studying Urdu.

I knew that it would be a daunting task. But I had a leg up — it wasn’t going to be completely new. Several years ago, I’d studied Hindi, which the native tongue of about 25 percent of Indians. The country’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, appears to favor Hindi, which has alarmed speakers of India’s many other languages.

To the untrained ear, Hindi and Urdu sound similar. They share a lot of the same vocabulary. But they use different scripts. And they have different connotations.

In India, Urdu is generally associated with the Muslim population.

“I come from a Muslim family, and since we were kids, we were supposed to read Urdu,” said 21-year-old Nusrat Ansari.

Nusrat Ansari practices her Urdu writing skills. (Courtesy Nusrat Ansari)

Nusrat Ansari practices her Urdu writing skills. (Courtesy Nusrat Ansari)

I met her in Lucknow, when she was auditioning to perform Dastangoi, an ancient Urdu storytelling art that’s being revived. She said that as a child, she spoke mostly Hindi.

“At that point in time I wasn’t that interested in Urdu, so I didn’t take it up properly. But once I went to college and I had a bit of cultural thing,” said Ansari. “I thought, okay, I should learn Urdu,” Nusrat said.

“What do you mean by ‘cultural thing?’”I asked her.

“I started engaging in all sorts of … cultural revivalism activities.”

Hindi and Urdu are so similar that when Ansari was listening to the lines she had to memorize — which were in Urdu — she wrote them down in the Hindi script. Similarly, when I started learning Urdu, I also started out by writing in Hindi.

Writer and performer Mahmood Farooqui, who has been reviving Urdu storytelling, says reciting Urdu is a sign of prestige in India.

“Our radio anchors like to use Urdu, our television anchors like to use Urdu, parliamentarians like to use Urdu poetry, political leaders — even Modi recites a couplet or two,” he said.

But you won’t find India’s new prime minister giving a speech in Urdu. Because he’s such a staunch advocate of Hindi, many people are wondering whether his new language policies are part of a larger plan to wean out languages like Urdu.

Urdu’s origins are different from that of Hindi’s: Hindi’s script stems from Sanskrit, while Urdu traces its roots to Persian. It came into being in India around the 15th century, when Persian began to mix with local north Indian dialects. And by the 18th century, Urdu was an important literary language in India.

“It’s like English is now, in the sense that it was the language of prestige,” said Mehr Farooqi, a South Asian languages scholar at the University of Virginia. “It was considered to be the language of educated people. So everybody studied Urdu, and therefore they spoke Urdu.”

But about a 100 years ago, Urdu started to decline in India. The British wanted a common language for the country, and more and more people wanted Hindi to be that language. Hindi and Urdu — even though they were so similar in spoken form — became symbols of religious difference.

“It became like Urdu equals Muslim, Hindi equals Hindu,” said Mehr Farooqi.

This is why the new government’s promotion of Hindi is so controversial. It puts a spotlight on India’s postcolonial division into India and Pakistan. And it was another setback for Urdu, said storytelling artist Mahmood Farooqui.

“You had a lot of Hindu nationalists and Hindu fundamentalists saying Urdu created Pakistan, so let’s ban it, said Farooqui. “There was a lot of discrimination against it in schools, the government did nothing to propagate it, or to help its cause. And that continues to be the state of affairs today.”

And while some people, like Nusrat Ansari, are motivated to learn Urdu, she admits the language is struggling.

“I have met a lot of people who are really interested in this language and who would like to learn it,” she said. “But I wouldn’t say that it’s very popular and everybody understands it. Most people haven’t been that exposed to it.”

This exposure will be harder to come by if the new Hindu nationalist government keeps favoring Hindi over India’s other languages. That would only compound the problems Urdu’s already facing. But there are about 50 million native Urdu speakers in India — and others, like Ansari, who are rediscovering the language through its cultural heritage. So while Urdu may not have the same dominance in India it once did, it looks like there might still be a place for it in the country.


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Silicon Valley gets linguistic enlightenment from India

Dancers relax after performing during a Diwali Festival in Silicon Valley (Photo: Alison van Diggelen/Fresh Dialogues)

Dancers relax after performing during a Diwali Festival in Silicon Valley (Photo: Alison van Diggelen/Fresh Dialogues)

Here’s a guest post from Silicon Valley-based reporter Alison van Diggelen

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, will be celebrated around the world on November 3. In Silicon Valley, where Indian engineers make up one third of the tech workforce and have founded many successful startups, Diwali is an integral part of the culture and celebrations start early.

I went to a Diwali Festival in October in Cupertino. Silicon Valley’s Indian community was out in force.

On the main stage, Indian boys and girls danced; around them, vendors sold vibrant clothes and crafts. The smell of aloo gobi, chicken tikka and naan filled the air. Most women wore dazzling saris. Some elderly men wore embroidered kurtas, or tunics. But most wore the classic garb of Silicon Valley: jeans and T-shirts.

I chatted with Jasho Patnaik, a software engineer from Odisha state, in Eastern India. He said Diwali is much more than a festival of lights.

“It’s a festival of spreading love. Love is not specific to India, not to America, not to British, not to anybody.”

Patnaik added: “Love is love, light is light.”

For Patnaik, Diwali and other Indian traditions like meditation inform his view of technology. Take the word avatar, a Hindu concept popularized by the blockbuster movie. It pops up all over the place: in computer sciences, artificial intelligence and even robotics.

“Avatar is actually a Sanskrit Hindi word, it’s a spirit taking a new form for something,” said Padmasree Warrior, chief technology and strategy officer at Cisco Systems in San Jose. “Every time I see that word, it instills a sense of pride.”

This spiritual influence from India has become embedded in Silicon Valley culture. Of course words like guru and mantra have been around in America for decades but in tech boardrooms and coffee shops, expressions like coding guru and fail-fast mantra are now part of the Silicon Valley vernacular.

Junglee is a Hindi word meaning wild or ill-mannered. It was used by a Silicon Valley startup (founded, of course, by a team of Indians) that was acquired by Amazon.

Then there are the cultural differences. In Indian culture it’s hard to say “no.” Instead, according to Raj Oberoi, CEO of software startup Talygen, Indians obfuscate, often using what he calls the “bobblehead” gesture.

“A bobblehead is a unique Indian artform,” said Oberoi. “Indians have the unique ability to move their heads from left to right and it looks just like a bobblehead…on your car dashboard.”

I asked him if it always means no.

“No, it can also mean a yes. Which is what’s so confusing,” he chuckled. “Is that a yes, is that a no, is that a maybe, or are you having neck issues?”

During India’s colonial days, the English language absorbed many words from Hindi: words such as jungle, juggernaut and pundit. These words have migrated from India to Britain to America, but some well-educated Indians in Silicon Valley still talk in a stilted English of centuries past. Raj Oberoi shares some examples: Phrases like ‘do the needful’ or ‘I beg to stay.’

This old-fashioned talk sometimes leaves American colleagues in the IT world scratching their heads and seeking explanations.

Oberoi explains that it’s a rediscovery for Americans of a language that, even in Britain, is basically dying out. It’s more archaic, very formal, very flowery and it harkens back to the days of the Raj.

Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior shares an example of Hinglish, a Hindi-English mingling that adds Hindi suffixes to English words.

“Hey did you go to the Gym–shim yesterday?” Warrior said. “That means did you go work out?” Some, like me, consider Hinglish delightful. Others worry that people who use it too much will never properly master Hindi–or English.

Growing up in India, Warrior described how she was taught to conform. In Silicon Valley, her words and the way she thinks have changed.

“Close your eyes and say what words come to your mind…risk taking, entrepreneurship, out of the box…” she said. “In the [Silicon] Valley, we want talent that breaks the rules, creates disruptive innovation. These words have been added uniquely to my vocabulary.”

Silicon Valley’s Diwali Festival is a home from home for many Indians. It made Jasho Patnaik think about Indian concepts and how they may relate to his adopted home. Enlightened thought, he said, is the key to both computer programming and changing the world.

“It’s the way you think. That’s where it starts, ” he said.

It’s true: Enlightenment is coming from multicultural, multilingual India. But an American version of enlightenment is also rubbing off on the Indians who now populate multicultural, multilingual Silicon Valley.


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Indians, Indian-Americans and Spelling

Here’s a guest post from Kavita Pillay. Listen above to a spell-off I moderated between Kavita and Big Show host Marco Werman.

Snigdha Nandipati gets presented with the 2012 Scripps Spelling Bee trophy. (Photo: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Snigdha Nandipati gets presented with the 2012 Scripps Spelling Bee trophy. (Photo: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

Imagine the scene: a small, Rust Belt town on the shores of Lake Erie, the kind of place where diversity meant Irish and Italian.

It was the glorious era of stirrup pants and gravity-defying bangs, and our mild, midwestern suburb had become the backdrop for a showdown of wild west proportions. At least that’s how it felt when I stepped onto the windswept playground and met the steely gaze of my newfound arch nemesis. Granted that she and I had been friends from first grade through just days before, but those longstanding loyalties now meant nothing. What’s true in the hive was proving true of the fifth grade spelling bee finals: there could be only one queen bee, and neither she nor I were going down without a fight.

It doesn’t matter who won (for the record, it was not her). Our rivalry was superseded by the fact that she and I were the only Indian American girls in our class. There was one other child of Indian immigrants, but sadly for him, he was ousted during a preliminary round by the likes of ‘cauliflower’ or ‘chinchilla.’ He coulda been a contender. In fact, he started out as the one to contend with, because he had won the spelling bee when we were in fourth grade.

Our experience was a far cry from what will transpire tonight during primetime on ESPN, but I like to think that the three of us were were low-level forerunners in a trend that has been well explored and delightfully documented. Much has been made of the fact that 10 of the past 14 National Spelling Bee champions have been children of Indian immigrants, and longtime observers joke that Indian American kids are to spelling what East Africans are to long distance running. At best, the comparison speaks to the intensity of the National Spelling Bee, the endurance it requires, and the years of practice needed to excel. At worst, it perpetuates the myth of the model minority.

All this lead me to wonder about a seemingly unrelated (though potentially parallel) phenomenon that I began noting while I was living in India in 2005-06. Namely, the ever growing number of horrible Indian spellers.

Indian radio station advertisement

Indian radio station advertisement

I expected no shortage of ways to feel overwhelmed by my year in India, but I did not expect to feel overwhelmed by d nmbr of indians who write lyk dis. In case you didn’t quite get that last part, it translates to, “the number of Indians who write like this.” Over the past seven years, I’ve alternated between fury and fascination as I’ve observed friends and young relatives in India whose emails, texts and Facebook posts could easily pass for the most tragic excerpts of Flowers for Algernon.

Consider this email from one highly paid young Indian woman who was trained as a systems engineer and who now works as an IT risk management professional in the US:

    how are you?
    its been along time. i just wanted to let you know its my birthday this friday n i was hoping u could make it.
    i have decided the time and place…
    but it be awesome if u could come.

Abbreviations, poor spelling, faulty sentence structure, lack of capitalization, a dearth of punctuation — the author of this email hits all the main requirements on the text speak checklist (also known as txtspk, chat speak, SMS talk, etc.). Had she thrown in a 🙂 or a ‘lol,’ she’d graduate to grandmaster.

While text speak is growing worldwide, its rapid spread throughout the Indian subcontinent reveals a unique paradox: India attained an edge in software and IT in no small part because it is home to the world’s second largest population of English language speakers, yet the rapid spread of technology in India is also accelerating the transformation of standard English into something many of us may no longer recognize. Robin Danzak is an Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the University of South Florida (and a friend of mine since childhood). She put it this way: “When you’re exposed to more languages — as Indians in India are in ways that we in America are not — you’re more willing to take risks between languages.” Whereas I initially attributed text speak in India to laziness or a deficiency of literacy skills, she views it as the natural outcome of, “An active mastery of multiple languages.”

Still unconvinced of the merits of text talk in India and beyond? American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron has one word of advice: “Relax.”

“Languages naturally keep changing,” says Baron. For instance, she notes that, “English sentences are less than half the length that they were several hundred years ago.” Spoken language has become increasingly informal since the 1950s, Baron adds. In turn, “Writing, which used to be formal in many instances — is increasingly adopting the style of informal speech.”

So how are young, text-talking Indians connected to their super spelling Indian American counterparts? I posed the question to a friend named Ravi Satkalmi. In addition to being Indian American, Satkalmi previously worked as a South Asia analyst for the Department of Defense. Prior to that, he was a Fulbright scholar to India, where he looked at Indians who had immigrated to the US and who had chosen to return to India.

“Both the spelling bee and this texting lexicon are related to identity,” Satkalmi says. Indian Americans make up 1% of the US population, so a string of triumphs in the spelling bee serves as an annual announcement to the other 99% of the country that Indian Americans have arrived. Similarly in India, flouting the rules of English spelling via electronically-mediated communication is a way for one-sixth of humanity to assert a newly confident national identity. As Satkalmi sees it, “It’s almost poetic that Indians are using technology to adapt English in a way that’s totally their own.”

The world’s largest democracy remains deeply undemocratic in so many ways. India’s chasm between extreme wealth and desperate poverty may take generations to level out. Yet with text talk, tens of millions of Indians from all walks of life are taking part in a leaderless movement to transform the language of their former colonizer into something less opaque, more accessible and ultimately, more democratic. n dats a gd thng, no matter how you spell it.



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Sugar Sammy: Quebec’s Multilingual Court Jester

Sugar Sammy (Photo: Susan Moss)

Sugar Sammy (Photo: Susan Moss)

Samir Khullar aka Sugar Sammy is the Quebec-born son of Indian immigrants. As a kid, he spoke Punjabi and Hindi at home and French at school. But he learned to tell jokes in English.

Sugar Sammy (Photo: Patrick Cox)

“I’d host all the talent shows at school,” he says. “I’d make all the announcements on the intercoms, and when we had school trips the teachers would let me go to the front of the bus to entertain the kids.” He did all that in French. He had to– those were the rules. But he’d switch to English whenever he could, “just because it wasn’t allowed. As soon as it’s not allowed, as a kid you want to do it.”

That sense of linguistic rebellion has stayed with Khullar as Sugar Sammy. For years, he did shows in French and shows in English. He wanted to do a bilingual show, but people told him it wouldn’t work, that the public wouldn’t want to see it. Last year, he finally started performing bilingually, flipping back and forth between French and English.

Traditionally, Quebec is viewed as consisting of ‘two solitudes,’ one Francophone or French-speaking, the other Anglophone or English-speaking. But Sugar Sammy says that’s no longer the case. “I knew here was a certain demographic in Montreal…who live in French and English on a daily basis without even thinking about it. So I decided to put this show together and try to mix both sides.”

Sugar Sammy’s bilingual show, You’re Gonna Rire, is a raging success. It’s the kind of mash-up that Quebec’s French language charter is supposed to guard against. So you might think that some Francophone politicians, especially from Quebec’s separatist ruling party, may not appreciate Sugar Sammy. But he has become so popular that politicians court him in public.

He appeared recently with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois on French language TV. Quebec’s most powerful politician and its hottest comedian each used the occasion to prod each other linguistically. Smiles all round, of course.

Sugar Sammy now does four separate shows: in French (En français, svp!), in English (Illegal English Edition), the bilingual show (You’re Gonna rire) and a new show aimed at Quebec’s Indian immigrants and their offspring (Indian Edition). It’s mainly in English, with some French, Punjabi and Hindi thrown in.

The Indian connection has developed beyond that: Sugar Sammy just completed a series of sold-out shows in Indian cities. He told audiences there how surprised he was to find himself in a modern society, and how he’d have to tell his Canadian-based parents that they had misled him. “It’s no longer that pure India that they thought it was.”

You could go several ways with material like that. Sugar Sammy turns it into comedy.

There’s more on Sugar Sammy on his website and his YouTube channel. Also, check out this previous World in Words blog post and podcast on Quebec’s latest battles over language.



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Hinglish: A Case of Reverse Colonization?

A sign in Wagah, India, near the Pakistani border (Photo: PP Yoonus/Wikimedia)

English is something of an open-source language: the people who speak it shape it, and add to it. No one has the authority to exclude words.

That affects how English is spoken by its hundreds of millions of native speakers; also, how it’s spoken by those who come to it as a second or third language.

Those speakers are having a profound influence on English. Especially in country as large as India.

Many young Indians mash up English with Hindi, Punjabi or Bengali. The result is known as Hinglish.

Hinglish comes in many forms. Sometimes, you conjugate a Hindi word with an English conjugation. Sometimes you put together a 50-50 sentence—half Hindi, half English. And sometimes you “throw a choice Hindi word into a sentence that without it would lack the right amount of masala,” says Anand Giridharadas, author of India Calling.

If you’ve seen a Bollywood film, you’ve probably heard some Hinglish. Giridharadas believes that Hinglish, in this modern form, reflects India’s new-found confidence.

But what about when English first rubbed shoulders with Hindi and India’s other languages? The British ruled India for nearly 200 years. In 1886, at the height of British power, a dictionary called Hobson-Jobson was published. It was subtitled: “A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive.”

Compiled by Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell, Hobson-Jobson wasn’t just a dictionary. It was a cultural snapshot, with linguistic advice for British bureaucrats and army officers.

It listed words from India that were entering English: shampoo, pajamas, dungarees, bungalow etc. The entry for the term Hobson-Jobson explains that it’s an anglicized version of something very different-sounding.

Hobson-Jobson: My friend Major John Trotter tells me that he has repeatedly heard this phrase used by British soldiers in the Punjab. It is in fact an Anglo-Saxon version of the wailings of the Mahommedans as they beat their breasts in the procession of the Moharram. ‘Ya Hasan! Ya Hossain!’”

“There is a huge delight in language that’s evident throughout the dictionary,” says Kate Teltscher, the editor of an upcoming edition of Hobson-Jobson. That delight in language continues to be contagious. Even Indian-born writers have written about how seductive some of these mixed-up words are. Salman Rushdie wrote that it nearly made him regret the passing of empire in India.

But you just can’t get away from the linguistic power plays in Hobson-Jobson. “There is an almost innate sense of British cultural superiority.” says Teltscher

It’s in the phrases that made their way into English, and even in the use of verbs. For example, the authors note something strange that happens to some verbs when they traveled into English. “They are often in the imperative form, says Teltscher. “They are giving orders.” This often happens with words associated with violence, like the words for to bully, and to lay hold, “usually of a recalcitrant native.”

“All this language obviously relates to British colonial role,” says Teltscher.

Of course, most of the words used by the British in India were English. But they sometimes took on new shades of meaning. Hobson-Jobson sought to explain those words too.

Take the entry for the word home:

Home. Home always means England. Nobody calls India home. Not even those who have been there 30 years or more, and are never likely to return to Europe.”

Javed Majeed of Kings College, London, says the entry reveals that the British “never became a hybridized elite” in India. But he says that other entries in Hobson-Jobson suggest that, despite certain misgivings, India did become home for many British “because of the long periods of service there…and because they’re dealing with India in quite a lot of detail.”

Majeed views Hobson-Jobson as a “careful balancing act.” It captures the colorfulness and the creativity of the slang of the time. But at the same time, “it has to guard against going native and becoming vulgar.”

At times, the authors of Hobson-Jobson complain of undesirable words from India “insinuating themselves” into English—words like calico, chintz and gingham which Hobson-Jobson warned were “lying in wait for entrance into English literature,” as if to impose some kind of linguistic reverse colonization.

No-one called Hobson-Jobson a study of Hinglish. The word Hinglish didn’t exist—which is just as well. In today’s Hinglish, there’s no longer colonial control of the language. And it’s Indians who are selecting the words, and how and when to jump between languages.

But Anand Giridharadas says the use of Hinglish in India—as well the use of much more English—can be misinterpreted. “We tend to assume from the outside that when countries modernize and have growth and get on the cover of Newsweek and Time that they’re becoming more Western,” he says. “My experience in India suggests otherwise.”

English these days is spoken with different accents—American and local. English suffixes, and sometimes whole phrases, are added to Hindi.

“My cousins in India feel more comfort speaking Hinglish and mixing Hindi into their English, and speaking without the British accent that my parents were taught, than my parents generation,” says Giridharadas. “That’s actually about self-belief and self-confidence—which is also part of the fuel of India’s rise.”

Indian English may have its roots in a history of imperial rule but it doesn’t sound like that any more. It sounds light and playful.



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Tourette’s Hero: Changing the World One Tic at a Time

Jess Thom dresses like a superhero. Mask, shiny blue cape, the whole bit. She calls her alter ego Tourette’s Hero.

Whether dressed as Tourette’s Hero or as herself, Thom speaks with an impressive array of verbal tics. She says biscuit a lot.

“Tourette’s is a condition that waxes and wanes BISCUIT,” says Thom. “So it changes over the course of somebody’s BISCUIT life.”

Thom is 31. She remembers having tics from as early as age six, though she wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her twenties.

The tics are more severe these days.

Tics can “change over the course of a day (HAPPY BIRTHDAY).”

Happy birthday is another of Thom’s regular tics.

And then there are the rude things that pop out. Thom is among the ten percent of people with Tourette’s who exhibit Coprolalia, the involuntary blurting out of taboo language: swearwords, body parts etc.

Whether taboo or not, Thom’s tics are often very funny. There’s a reason, after all, there are so many jokes about Tourette’s.

Thom welcomes the jokes. In fact, she likes to own them. Hence her website, Tourette’s Hero.

The point of Tourette’s Hero, Thom says is to “celebrate the creativity and humor of Tourette’s, and to reclaim the laughter associated with Tourette’s.”

And Tourette’s Hero isn’t just a website just for people with Tourette’s. It’s for everybody. (Though be warned: it may not be appropriate for young children or those offended by strong language.)

On the site, Thom posts tics that she has said in the past two years. She invites people to vote for their favorites:

  • Batman Breastfed my Mum
  • I Love You Chemical Weapon
  • Lucy in the Sky with Pencils

People can also submit artwork to illustrate them.

Thom delights in the poetry of her Tourette’s. Her condition, she says, opens doors. Her tic-filled conversations take her and others to unique places. And the website is part of that conversation.

Tourette’s Hero, she believes, is part of greater movement among disabled people to change attitudes towards disability by means of humor and creativity.

Biscuit. Happy birthday.

Also in the pod this week:

  • An Indian boy’s life changes forever when he is transported on a train to Bengal, where they don’t speak his native tongue, and he can’t figure out how to get home. Detailed article on this here.
  • Morse code signals to and from the Titanic in the days and hours before it sank.  The pod has excerpts. The entire BBC program is here.
  • Renewed interest in a Nazi-era German film version of the Titanic.


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Google’s humanoid translator, accent phobia, and misleading job titles

In this podcast, our monthly top-five roundup of language stories:

5. Why Google Translate rules (and why human translators shouldn’t feel threatened.)  Google, as we’ve come to expect by now, does things differently. And that includes translation. We tend to think of translators as human or robotic. Google Translate combines the best of both. Which is why its translations can be poetic — yes poetic — as well as accurate. Of course, it’s still not difficult to outwit Google Translate, and make it fail. But with each new iteration, it’s getting better. However, it’ll only continue to improve so long as humans keep translating stuff (because Google Translate uses online human translations as its source material). Also, one day, Google may need to clarify that its translation tool,  however ubiquitous and accurate it becomes,  is no substitute for learning a foreign language. Humans live and thrive — and love and make money — by communicating  with each other. And they do that most effectively with their mouths, tongues and vocal chords.

4. Over-egging the job title pudding. The BBC reported that a weight-loss company recently advertized for a Product Testing Associate.  This job would consist of eating an extra 400 calories a day, as well as popping a few of the company’s Proactol pills. That got a bunch of readers of the online BBC article to relate their own favorite misleading job titles:  modality manager (translation: nurse, not to be confused with mortality manager); coordinator of interpretative teaching (tour guide); welcoming agent and telephone intermediary (receptionist); and field force agent (tax collector).  All of a sudden, I’m thinking my job title — language podcast host — isn’t  grand or pretentious enough. So henceforth, I will be known as a digitized philology presentation practitioner.

3. Accent discrimination. As a native English speaker with Brit accent (it’s drifted into the Atlantic after 20+ years in the United States) I think I’ve experienced positive accent discrimination.  Many Americans have told me they’ll  believe anything a Brit tells them — a good, if dangerous, thing for a reporter to hear. However, there are plenty of examples of the other type of discrimination. The latest concerns a US-based native French speaker who’s a senior partner in a global consulting firm. She speaks of being dis-invited to meetings with American clients, because of the fear that her accent would put them off.

2. The rise of Hindi (and English). My Big Show colleague Rhitu Chatterjee told me about an old friend of hers. He was born and raised in New Dehli by a Marathi-speaking mother and a Telugu-speaking father.  Because of the language divide, the languages of the household were Hindi and English; Rhitu’s friend neither spoke nor understood the native tongues of either of his parents. That story writ large is the linguistic story of modern India — multilingual marriages, migration to big cities, a big generational shift to Hindi and English. English has now eclipsed Bengali as the the second-most popular language in India, according to recent census analysis, and Hindi continues to dominate.

1. New French words to replace English invaders. The Académie française (pictured) is the jealous protector of all things French: it determines what can and cannot be said and written, even if people often ignore its pronouncements.  Often, the Académie finds itself with no alternative but to make up new words, usually when the hoi polloi are using one of those nasty English words (like podcasting).  Some officially coined terms stick (logiciel, meaning software); others don’t (frimousse, meaning smiley). Authorities have now taken a new tack: they have turned to the people themselves. Citizens sent in their suggestions for words to replace Anglicisms such as buzz and newsletter. A committee decided which to adopt.

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