21st Century : Language evolution

Written by: Shraddha Damle

“ताई मी संडेला येनार नाईये कामाला.. माझ्या पोराच्या स्कूलमध्ये मिटिंग ए..’’  (I won’t be coming for work on Sunday. I have a meeting in my son’s school,” our house help informed. 

I was astonished with her statement. Didi had hardly attended school, that too in a regional Marathi language school. However, use of words such as Sunday, school, meeting had become part of her routine. I started wondering, how these and many other words like TV, mobile, print out, table, gate, book, fan, bottle and many others may have gotten blended in the Marathi language and must have transpired through the socio-economic boundaries.

At the same time I realized that language is a constantly evolving phenomena. It changes its form with the user. Manju’s absorption of new words may have been part of the same phenomena?

We all speak Marathi in Maharashtra, but the dialect is not the same everywhere. We can identify from which region the person belongs, whether it’s Mumbai, Nagpur, Solapur, Kolhapur, Nashik or Sangli, just from the tone of the language. The dialect is different, but so is the use of words.   

Use of Urdu words is little common among people from Kolhapur, so you can find the influence of Hindi in Vidarbha. Mumbai has a mixed influence of Hindi and English. The language does get influenced by the surrounding environment and these are just a few examples of the same. 

Let’s look at another example. 

A woman from Kolhapur got married in Mumbai’s Girgaon area. She went to fetch water from the community tap.  

“Aunty, how do I turn on the chawi (literal meaning is key)?”, she asked an elderly woman in the queue and kept waiting for an answer. 

The other elderly woman had no clue what key she meant. 

She asked curiously, “Which house key are you looking for?” The woman from Kolhapur then pointed at the tap, explaining that it is called ‘chawi’ in her town. All women around her burst out laughing at that moment, putting the new girl in an embarrassing situation. The woman learnt her first lesson, that she will have to do away with the word ‘chawi’ and start using a new word ‘Nal’ instead.   

Earlier in the 80’s, people were using words such as Khatka (switch), diwa (light), dar (door), Batali (bottle), Kapat (cupboard). These soon were replaced with the original English words. People took ownership of these words as if they originally belong to their language. Today finding the original word for many such replaced words would be a task. 

Language is a medium of communication, but we will have to consider that it changes with the time. We have our own language, we use it in our day to day life and we use it along with its changing form. 

Today, even the language of education is changing. Marathi medium schools are fast changing into semi English or English medium schools. While our language for our daily use is different, the academic language remains standard. In entertainment, we are crossing boundaries beyond Hindi and English. We now watch movies in different global and regional languages. We have absorbed many new words from these influences and even they are becoming part of our routine – ‘ciao’, ‘bon voyage’ etc. 

While the language is changing, I must mention that communicating in my own mother-tongue is an elating experience. It is the reason why TV channels, online portals, mobile apps, different websites are striving to match their customer’s needs. Many such commercial entities have realized the value of regional languages and are prioritizing the use of regional languages in a form which will be convincing and interesting for the regional language users.  

Languages changed and so did the commercials and ways of giving information to customers. However, the producer’s intention has remained the same – To be able to communicate with the customer in a simple and informative way. The producer, thus, has to be mindful about the region, customers in that area, the languages they use, and its forms. They will have to develop briefs based on all these factors and change them as required.    

These changes do not simply mean translation. The changes need to be accommodated taking into account the local context and without changing the original intention of the communication. Otherwise, there is a risk of literal translation turning into a laughing stock and there is risk of damage to the brand. 

Another important factor is that use of language should be simple and clear. Thus, during localization, the intention should be to simplify the complexity arising in the translation process. One should not be adamant about the use of the literal translation overlooking the use of certain terms.    

Today’s is an online generation influenced by social media. They do not pay hide to uninteresting contents and simply scroll over. They decide their choices within a moment, any non-engaging content can be easily ignored by them. There is a cut-throat competition to get the attention of the online customer. Therefore, it has become essential to design contents based on the likings of this audience. 

Sending the same message to different language customers through translation is just one aspect. The content shared without the context could invite more trouble. This may overlook minor corners and will dilute the essence of the message. Use of literal words, direct translation will not attract the expected impact of the message. Translation and adaptation are two different processes. For fiction adaptation the translators follow certain rules. The translator is aware of the limitations of the regional context of the reader. However, the same does not apply to adaptation of non-fiction work. One needs to have understanding the words rooted in the language, will have to check them against the references, different use of it among different generations of audiences and to produce appropriate message and brief and communicate is a different skill set altogether. 

We often judge a translation or an advertisement, a content on a website for its readability. If we are unable to use an app in our language, we often shift back to English. If we observe, why do we shift back? How do we judge if the translation is good or bad? If we observe these things carefully, we will easily understand the influence of new words on our language. 

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