Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A meat balti and a pint of Kingfisher, innit

Hinglish - a hybrid of English and south Asian languages, used both in Asia and the UK - now has its own dictionary. Is it really a pukka way to speak?

Are you a "badmash"? And if you had to get somewhere in a hurry, would you make an "airdash"? Maybe you should be at your desk working, instead you're reading this as a "timepass".

These are examples of Hinglish, in which English and the languages of south Asia overlap, with phrases and words borrowed and re-invented.

It's used on the Indian sub-continent, with English words blending with Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, and also within British Asian families to enliven standard English.

A dictionary of the hybrid language has been gathered by Baljinder Mahal, a Derby-based teacher and published this week as The Queen's Hinglish.

“Much of it comes from banter - the exchanges between the British white population and the Asians," she says.

And in multi-cultural playgrounds, she now hears white pupils using Asian words, such as "kati", meaning "I'm not your friend any more". For the young are linguistic magpies, borrowing from any language, accent or dialect that seems fashionable.

And the dictionary identifies how the ubiquitous "innit" was absorbed into British Asian speech via "haina" - a Hindi tag phrase, stuck on the sentences and meaning "is no?".

This collision of languages has generated some flavoursome phrases. If you're feeling "glassy" it means you need a drink. And a "timepass" is a way of distracting yourself. A hooligan is a "badmash" and if you need to bring a meeting forward, you do the opposite of postponing - in Hinglish you can "prepone".

There are also some evocatively archaic phrases - such as "stepney", which in south Asia is used to mean a spare, as in spare wheel, spare mobile or even, "insultingly, it must be said, a mistress," says Ms Mahal.

Its origins aren't in Stepney, east London, but Stepney Street in Llanelli, Wales, where a popular brand of spare tyre was once manufactured.

But don't assume that familiar Asian words used in the UK will necessarily translate back. "Balti" will probably be taken to mean bucket in India rather than a type of cooking, as this cuisine owes more to the west Midlands than south Asia.

Much of the confusion in debates I've seen about multiculturalism in Britain stems from the fact that we use the word ‘multiculturalism’ to mean melting pot, and Americans use it to mean the opposite.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We Brits are notoriously unwilling or unable to learn other languages, so we absorb them instead. We are not proud purists like the French and Germans, but happily intersperse our conversation with vocabulary we've appropriated from our Roman and Norman invaders, our late, lamented Empire and our immigrant population.
I agree that in the past 'multiculturalism' in England meant 'melting pot' but I think that is changing. We now have large immigrant groups who don't want to be absorbed into British culture, enriching it with new language, cuisine and customs. They seem to want to remain separate and distinct.
I hope that 'Hinglish' is evidence that I am mistaken. I want to see British Asian families sharing their culture with the rest of us.