Saturday, April 18, 2015


About a year ago on Odisha TV (OTV), a popular television channel, there was a panel discussion on Odia language which had just received the classical language status. One of the panelists spoke in some pious fury in favour of initiating a Suddha Odia Abhijnana (Pure Odia Movement). This may not have anything to do with the classical phase of the Odia language, but the celebration event was the right place, he must have thought, to remind everyone that the language would be in real trouble in not so distant a future, unless using pure Odia becomes top priority for the Odias. He was concerned with the English-mixed Odia that people freely use these days.Some other articles I read subsequently on the subject expressed the same concern. However a non-resident Odia expressed a different concern in an Internet piece, namely that insistence on pure Odia would exclude people like him. 
As a non-resident Odia for eleven months a year, I too felt uneasy. Thousands of non-resident Odias like me have strong roots in Odisha, have been educated in Odisha, have our parental homes in villages and cities of Odisha, read Odia newspapers on the Internet and listen to Odia news and bhajans on TV channels. But I, like others I know, use mixed Odia in conversation in the above sense. For a moment I felt low; I felt the panelist almost branded us as linguistic offenders.
I soon recovered from that sense of uneasiness and failure and started wondering when I and for that matter, all my teachers both at high school and college, friends and colleagues in Odisha during my education and lectureship days did not mix. Members of the faculty of Odia language and literature copiously mixed English words while speaking in Odia in informal interaction, but of course they spoke unmixed Odia in the class and on formal occasions. In urban areas mixed Odia was not just a phenomenon restricted to the educated class. “Government Press ethara nische champion haba (Government Press will certainly become Champions (in Cuttack Football League) this time)” was not an utterance restricted to any particular class of the football crazy people of Cuttack in the late fifties and early sixties.  Now of course go wherever you like, towns and cities and villages too, you find people speaking mixed Odia. One feels that these English words are now a part of the Odia language. And come to think of it, where in the visible India people speak unmixed language these days?
It is and has been different in the case of the written language, be it Odia or any other. Talking about Odia, except in plays and conversation in fiction where the writer tries to capture natural speech, English words are not used often. And in these texts the English words are generally written in Odia script. There is always that gap between natural speech and written language, which is edited and refined, and to that extent, constructed language. But if this is the situation in written Odia, what would Pure Odia Movement target? Odia speech?
I do not think ordinarily people really like to mix. Does anyone mix while singing a bhajan (prayer) to Lord Jagannath? Would a mixed bhjan be accepted by the Odias? Barring exceptional cases where one might be mixing either to show off (there were a few in my college days in the late fifties and early sixties but these days no one is likely to be impressed) or to make fun of someone’s linguistic habits, etc. people mix when they feel there is a communicative need. They use English words when there is a “lexical gap” in their own language with respect to those words, to use the language of the linguists; that is when their own language does not have popular words for the non-native words that they use, as sat (shot) and pas (pass) in sat kahinki marilu, pas deluni (Why did you shoot (literally, kick a shot) instead of passing) in the context of a game of football. Often they use mixed language when the borrowed words have become almost part of their language because of wide use over a period of time, as in e bisayare diskasan  kari ame amara matamata janaidebu (After having a discussion over this matter, we will let you know our decision). Odia has more than one word for “discussion”: alochana, perhaps the somewhat less common charcha or the colloquial expression katha barta. But these days many in informal speech tend to use a popular English word in preference to a tatsma (Sanskritized) equivalent: niuj peper (news paper) is more commonly used than sambada patra. In writing of course everyone would use alochana or katha batra depending on whether the discourse is formal or informal. Many English words have become part of informal talk and the mixed utterances containing such words do not sound odd. For the lexical gaps in Odia, speakers are not responsible; for various reasons (but hidden agenda, a charge that is sometimes made against them, is not one of them) our writers and intellectuals have not been able to create discourse in Odia in many subjects, in particular, the more technical ones. In any case, as for the speakers, so long as communication takes place, why worry about whether their utterances are mixed or unmixed? It is different in the case of writing because writing is not for communication alone. It is certainly the most important means to get connected with the past.
In any case, all this is not to say that there is no need for intervention in some form, such as the Pure Odia Movement. It is a matter of which areas of language this intervention must target. We must not forget that intervention must not lead to prescription; that is, it must not be in the following form: it is directed that such and such structure is grammatical, the rest are not or only a certain style is acceptable, others are not. The exception to this would be in the more conservative areas of writing, such as spelling and punctuation.
People are often casual about spelling, let us hope that the problem of spelling is not more serious than this. In quite a few sub-episodes of its interesting and successful programme” niuj feuj (News Fuse)”, OTV has brought to our attention unacceptable spelling of Odia words, among other linguistic failures. Spelling and punctuation problems may not excite linguists, but one must not forget that appropriate punctuation improves intelligibility of the text and wrong spelling is irritating. These demotivate the reader. Another area to pay attention to is the use of words. Appropriateness of words, use of the exact word: “right word in the right place”, as the wise have said. General sensitivity to words will increase if we have dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms, descriptions of use of words, not just meanings of words, etc. In this connection, Geoffrey Leech’s excellent book Meaning and the English Verb comes to mind. There is nothing equivalent to this in Odia. In sum, we do not have resources like the ones just mentioned in our language. An initiative like Pure Odia Movement could contribute significantly to the creation of these and similar valuable resources.