The Hijacking of 'V'
afternoon I was briskly cruising the TV channels, suppressing
a yawn with one hand and pressing the remote control with
the other when I passed a Bangla channel with a programme
titled 'Mama Vagne.' Vagne? Vaguely vexed I went back to it
wondering if I had read it right. Was it a German uncle? A
Mama called Vagner perhaps? Interesting! I selected the channel
and found that 'Vagne' stood for the Bangla word for nephew
'bhagney' or 'bhagna.' My mouth remained half open and the
question that trembled on my lips was: how come the Bangla
sound 'bho' was not represented in English as 'bh' but with
the totally unrelated and vibrating sound 'V'?
I started to read the internet edition of the Daily Star and
came upon an article under the name of someone called 'Shuvo'.
I thought perhaps he was Czech or Russian. Then I opened an
email in which my husband was addressed as 'Vai.' That stopped
me dead in my tracks. I retraced my steps, groping towards
partial enlightenment. If 'Vai' was 'bhai', then 'Shuvo' must
be 'Shubho' and …Oh! My God!
Language Police? I would like to report a crime. Some misguided
users of Benglish in Bangladesh have recently hijacked the
twenty-second letter of the English alphabet. They have kidnapped
'V,' then siphoned out its lightly tingling, vibrating sound
and at gunpoint have forced it to represent the closed aspirated
Bangali 'BHI'. These violaters (who would read this as 'bhiolaters')
are not only going unchecked and uncorrected, rather their
mistaken notion that 'V' and 'BHI' are interchangeable sounds
is being quietly accepted by everyone, even the media, making
it common currency.
Are there no minimum standards for the written English used
and taught in this country of ours? I can cringe but bear
the confusion of 'J' and 'Z' sounds in spoken English. I mean,
when a Bengali brother calls a zoological garden a 'joo' and
a member of the Semitic faith a 'zoo' it is after all a confusion
of pronunciation (horrible though it is). At least, he does
not insist on imposing his mistaken pronunciation on the written
form, that is, he doesn't actually write: 'The traffic ZAM
affected the pedestrians on the JEBRA-crossing.'
to laugh at the Indians and the Pakistanis when many of their
less polished English speakers would pronounce the 'V' without
it characteristic vibration and instead produce the sound
'wee'. I remember laughing at my Punjabi friends for saying
'Nowel' for novel or 'wictory' for 'victory' and 'lowe' for
'love.' I knew that some of my compatriots had their own weakness
about this letter, and that these same words would be pronounced
in a heavily aspirated way as 'nobhel' and 'bhictory' and
'labh'. Still, it remained only the oral quirk of a few.
so ingrained has this notion of interchanging the English
'V' with the bangla 'Bhi' become among students and teachers
(who, through no fault of theirs, never hear English being
pronounced correctly, and learn or teach English as if it
were a Bangla dialect), that they are actually borrowing the
symbol V as shorthand for the Bangla letter 'BHO' in Roman
English! Thus 'Bhai', 'Bhumi,' or 'Bhat' is being written
as 'Vai', 'Vumi' and 'Vat'!! So, the BHI sayers are not only
assaulting English with their faulty pronunciation, but are
perpetrating this misconception in writing. Soon a generation
will grow up to believe (beliebh?) that V is indeed BHI and
learn to hear and speak English wrongly.
the media can do something about it right now by editing and
correcting this immediately wherever it occurs. After all,
it isn't as if Bangalis cannot differentiate between certain
sounds and pronounce them. It isn't like with the 'flied lice'
eating Chinese who have their tongue twisting battle with
'R' which they pronounce as 'L.' Their hurdle is not the same
as the Bangali's problem with 'J' and 'Z', since the latter
can pronounce both sounds, only in the wrong locations. This
could be easily mitigated by introducing a new letter to the
Bangla alphabet which could be designated for the 'Z' sound,
instead of the two 'JO's we have. Similarly, we do not have
any genetic predisposition for not being able to pronounce
'V' either. It's just lack of correct learning at the foundation
level compounded by teachers who themselves never learnt English
properly to be taught to hear the difference between 'never'
and 'nebher'. (Even here, the introduction of a new letter
for 'V'in Bangla would help).
I am appalled
at the levels to which our teaching of English has sunk in
the last generation. In my grandfather's time, most educated
and cultured Bangali gentlemen, invariably wrote and spoke
graceful English as well, and most started their education
in the village and district high schools, learning the basics
from educated and dedicated schoolteachers. Thus their transition
to famous and higher institutions all over India was smooth.
Today, even if I overlook the Mufassil high school graduates,
I am saddened by the University graduates in Dhaka who can
speak and write neither English nor Bangla with polish, grace
need to fine-tune not only our education in general but also
our approach to teaching English, and I mean not just the
written aspects but also ORAL or SPOKEN English. For this
we first need to educate and train our teachers. And this
requires us to think of the English language not as an extension
of Bangla but as a truly foreign language like French or German,
that is, an unfamiliar tongue with alien sounds that need
to be learnt from scratch and not conveniently and lazily
Banglazed. We should have proper language labs in schools
with audiotapes in English-mother tongue speaker voices. We
need to invest in our teachers, send them for training abroad
or give them crash courses with language experts.
to teach English to our students, as it deserves to be learnt
and respected, not picked up sporadically from Hollywood films
on DVD, spawning slang and street-smart speak. Educated English
is the language in which the professional, technical, business
and diplomatic world operates, which provides the 'open sesame'
to doors of opportunity. It is not just the language of the
British or the Americans; it is an international language,
a global tool. If we do not learn to articulate and SPEAK
it properly, no one will listen to us.
on the streets of India's major cities speak fluent English.
The Dutch speak it like their mother tongue without compromising
their own language. In Rome, where a generation of Italians
are learning English from non-Italian, English speaking teachers,
they are not only mastering English but also losing their
typical accents and tones. If others can do it so can we.
crucial we learn English and that we learn it VERY well, not
'bhery' well. We must not think of English as a homegrown
'bhasha' that can be erroneously written as 'vasha', but a
foreign language like French. Let us not learn 'Benglish'
or 'Hinglish' and treat it like 'daal-vaat.' In the media,
we should be alert to any linguistic atrocities. It is the
duty of the educated few to guide those who are not aware.
To start with: the Bangla word 'bhai' cannot be transcribed
as 'vai' because the English word 'vote' is not pronounced
'bhote'. Let us pay the ransom of education to release the
V from the captivity of 'captibhity.' Let the V in Victory
WEEK: 1-Saluting Film Makers Govind Nihalani and Rakesh
Sharma; 2-Meeting Activist-Actress Nandita Das.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004