Trends of hybridization in Bangla

Rashid Askari

Artwork: Riana Rahman

Once a friend of Tagore's on his return from England came to see him. Most undesirably the new returnee started speaking in English. Discomfited by his pseudo-intellectual snobbery Tagore reciprocated with a pitying smile: "That you've forgotten Bengali is not regrettable. But unfortunately for you, you haven't learnt English quite well." We do not know what his friend told in reply, but we sure know that there are still a whole lot of mortals in the shadow of Tagore's snobbish friend. To speak the truth, they are far inferior to him. Tagore's friend knew English although not to an expected extent. But these guys today know neither good Bangla nor good English. They speak a weird lingo which is not fully English nor is fully Bangla. It is a grotesque mix of both.

To speak a language pretty incorrectly can sometimes be accepted especially when the purpose is communication, and the mode of communication is oral. But to speak a bizarre fusion of Bengali and English with queer strong accents and intonations cannot be acceptable by any accounts. It is an ugly hybridizationa stupid mule born of a horse and a donkey.

But many a youth of our time seems to be taking great interest in speaking this strange hybrid language mockingly called 'Banglish'. It could have done no harm for us if it had remained confined to the domain of a particular group of a snob subculture. But it becomes a cause for concern when it comes into public domain. These ultra-fashionable youths are not using this language in heart-to-heart talk so that it can be looked on as dispensable. Some of them are giving currency to it on the electronic media. They are presenting different entertainment shows in which they are indiscriminately using this queer language. And the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young folks are taking huge fancy to it. These mock-smart presenters speak this heady Banglish brew as quickly as chanting incantations to ward off evil spirits. It is difficult to make out what they speak. They trill their r's artificially vibrating their tongues which sounds very discordant on the Bengali ear. But they, perhaps, do this to show off as ones out of the ordinary.

Some of the actors and actresses of the long-running TV soap-operas jauntily use this hybrid language. They seem to be sick of the time-worn and clichéd use of traditional Bangla, and hence want to spice it up. These people exert a tremendous impact on the impressionable youths who try to mimic their language with interest.

Apart from these freakish performers, there are a good many talk-show hosts and guests on different TV channels who are greatly distorting the language. Their political dissent sometimes gives rise to such angry altercation that they start shouting abuse at each other which continues even after the camera is shifted from them for commercial breaks or the close of the show. They, too, do a great deal of abuse of their language. These sorts of formal public appearances also give the impression of a quarrelsome people which may not be unexpected to the seasoned elderly, but it must be disgusting to the ingenuous youths who are growing with the great vow of tolerance and mutual respect. They want to watch their role models on the television, or listen to them on the radio.

The hybridization is also noticeable in the glitz and glamour of our music scene. With scant regard for our glorious musical legacy, some hipper musicians are composing offbeat songs by blending Bengali lyrics and Western rock, and spreading them throughout the young generation via satellite. Most surprisingly, they are rocketing to stardom overnight. We do not mind if these 'extraordinary musical talents' keep themselves confined to their newfangled musical trend. But it becomes insupportable when they encroach on the sweet Bengali melodies by fusing hard rap with it. In addition, this mongrel music cannot have a complete delivery without varied accompaniment and large orchestra. The singers sing (or speak fast) with a frenetic pitch of awkward body movements which they call dance. It is difficult for the audience unaccustomed to this sort, to make out if it is song with dance or dance with song. Singers of this kind wage bloodless homicide against our time-honoured traditional music when they twist their tunes to hybridize in the name of updates. They have every right to suicide by way of generating this type of musical mule giving their own names to it, but they have no right to homicide by way of corrupting the lyrics and tunes of our popular songsmiths.

Every literature has a great contribution to the development of the language it is written in. In the long way of the development of modern English languageranging from late Middle English author Geoffrey Chaucer to contemporary Ted Hughes a series of authors have enriched the language through creative exploitation and new coinages. We notice similar process in the advancement of modern Bengali language too. Most of the Bengali men of letters had a wide knowledge of English language and literature which exerted a strong influence on them that found expression in their writings. But that was neither a mindless mimicry nor an absurd fusion.

But what do we see in what we call present day literature in Bangladesh? The main stream of literary pursuits (judging of course, by quantity) has degenerated into junk due to the substandard writers who are spending a mint on quickly making their name. They feel an irresistible urge to appear in print in the shortest order regardless of whether they are going to have a flash in the pan. They usually take their chances on the occasion of February Book Fair. They are loath to allow much time for their publication, and hasten to give birth to children by a Caesarian. The baby born premature is usually left with physical and mental handicap. But it is not worth bothering with it. The point is to multiply the number.

The synthetic hybridization in the use of Bangla is posing a threat to the practice of its standard form. The subliminal effect of this multifaceted hybridization is a deterrent to the proper methods of learning language. This is not only incumbent upon the concerned teachers and the prescribed texts to teach standard Bangla. The print and electronic media can play a pivotal role in this regard. Through numerous programmes and shows they can indirectly instruct millions of people in the right usage of language. But everything hinges on how well we understand the importance of a state language, and how seriously we preserve the dignity of a mother tongue.

As far as linguistic abilities are concerned, Bangla is not a language to be sneered at. Tagore did not have any problem with it in winning the Nobel Prize. Bangabandhu found no problem with it in delivering his UN address. Satyajit Ray did not find it impossible to take his Bangla movie to the heights of Oscars. Our historic Mother Language Day (21 February) was not disqualified from gaining the ' International Mother Language Day' status. So, why feel inferior? Some callow youths may think Bangla unfit for their eccentric taste, and therefore may like to take the responsibility to raise its standard by oddly injecting English ingredients into it. But we do not want to indulge their every whim. This clumsy blend resulting from a callous disregard for their mother tongue and a high fascination for the international language and Western culture is nothing but an outcome of a petty-imperial mindset. This sort of colonial hangover is always a big problem for free development of our own language and culture which is a pressing need in this post-colonial era.

We want to learn both the languages. But we do not want to learn any distortion. Those who corrupt the language do not know it very well. Doctor Mohammad Shahidullah knew somewhere around seventeen languages, but his vast linguistic skill did not prompt him to distort his mother tongue. The great pillars of modern Bengali literature from Madhusudan , Bankim, Rabindranath via 'five Pandavas of the thirties' and 'two Banarjees' of the post-thirties down to Syed Waliullahall were well versed in English language and literature. But they produced pure works of Bengali literature. Although there are telltale signs of English influence on their writing, their language has not been infected by the germs of hybridity.

However, we are not meant to walk along the path traveled by those great masters of our language and literature. We would have our own sweet ways to look after our mother tongue. But we must have sincere love of it.

Dr. Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University.