Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August 15: Words from India Day

Today is the anniversary of India's independence from the British Empire in 1947.

The British began their influence in India in the 1600s with the British East India Company which set up trading posts throughout India. From 1757 to 1947 the Raj, the term used for British rule over India, commanded India. Despite periodic insurrections and mutinies, the British were able to maintain control of India until the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as leader of the independence movement. Through Gandhi's policy of civil disobedience and the shrinking of the British Empire after World War II, India finally gained its independence. Prior to the official declaration, however, the British had to decide which of India's religious groups, the Hindus and the Muslims, would receive power. To ensure that chaos would not ensue when they left, the British decided to partition India by creating a Muslim nation, Pakistan, and an independent India ruled by Hindus.

Unfortunately chaos did result as 10 million people scrabbled to relocate, resulting in violence between Hindus and Muslims. Violence continued after independence between India and Pakistan as the two nations fought for control of the northern region of Kashmir (1).

Although the English left India in 1947, English has never left India. Originally the plan was to supplant English, the language of the oppressor, with Hindi, the language with the highest number of speakers in India. This plan failed, however, because although there were more speakers of Hindi, there were also at least 14 other competing languages spoken across India, not to mention over 200 dialects. As a result, English became a neutral, stabilizing language, and because it was already the language of government, the legal system, science, economics, and education, the Indian Parliament determined that it would maintain English as one of the co-official languages of India (2).

In the 21st century, India has clearly benefited from its decision to continue its relationship with the English language. Its burgeoning economy probably would not be possible without English, and in India today, an education in English is a prerequisite for upward mobility.

Just as the nation of India has benefited from English, the English language has benefited from its exposure to Indian languages and culture. One example of a common English word borrowed from India is the word pariah. A low-ranking caste of southern India, the Pariahs served as drummers for religious festivals. The British mistakenly used their name in a general sense to refer to low castes throughout India, even the lowest castes of untouchables. As a result, the word today is used in English for any person who is rejected socially or politically (3).

Today's Challenge: Cheetahs, Nabobs, and Juggernauts
Given the clues below, see if you can identify the common English words borrowed from India

1. 10 letters - A broad sash worn with a tuxedo

2. 7 letters - to wash the scalp and hair with special soap.

3. 8 letters - A one-story house or cottage.

4. 4 letters - a strong-arm man hired to kill or beat up.

5. 7 letters - a sleeping suit.

6. 6 letters - a tropical rain forest.

7. 5 letters - a rich or powerful person.

8. 6 letters - a rowboat or sail sailboat.

Quote of the Day: Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will wake to life and freedom.--Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India on the eve of Independence Day in India.

Answers: 1. cummerbund 2. shampoo 3. bungalow 4. thug 5. pajamas 6. jungle 7. mogul8. dinghy

1 - Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction. New York: McDouglal Littell, 2005.

2- McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

3 - Reader's Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

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