Evolution of Telugu Colloquial Language – Perspectives

Written by: Chandra Sekhar

Any language is an integral part of a culture. When a culture comes into contact with other cultures, one language ends up influencing the other. There are many examples to this, in history. In a way, the beauty of a language, the greatness of it, comes from such evolution by mutual influence. For instance, because of the rule of Nizams, many words from the Urdu language became popular among the commoners and entered the daily Telugu usage. Eg. Parvaah (ఫర్వా), Kharaab (ఖరాబు) and others. Since the Nizam’s rule was centered in Telangana, the influence of Urdu on Telugu is most pronounced in the dialect of that state.

There can be other causes that trigger the evolution of language. Eg. 21st century Capitalism. 40 years ago, a prominent newspaper in Telugu declared war on formal usage of Telugu and created a sensation with its use of colloquial Telugu. Today, the language used in the same newspaper is considered archaic and formal to the point that, its sales have been affected for that reason. Only those who are accustomed to reading it have continued reading whereas the younger generations have rejected it. A minor reason can be that there is a diminishing habit of reading in the 21st century with an associated drop in attention spans. The major reason remains however that the tone and style used that newspaper is completely different from the tone used in Social Media. As a result, youngsters are looking for information in a language they can understand quickly and that they can relate to.

Similarly in the Telugu electronic media industry, the TV channel TV9 brought a new era of language with its establishment in 2004. Unlike the language that was used before, TV9 broadcast a style of Telugu that was spoken colloquially in the middle of a commoner’s home in Telugu states. They transliterated many English terms – such as ‘ad’, ‘owner’, ‘latest sensation’ etc – and made news easily understandable to every single viewer. Now, 17 years later, most of the Telugu news channels except ETV use the simple and colloquial tone established by TV9.

Quite often, many people object to this trend. They would argue that, going for transliterations even when Telugu translations are available, would fasten the disappearance of Telugu language which otherwise would have been at least limping along trying to survive. This view point is not entirely incorrect. This is because, as the usage of Telugu words decreases day by day, they might completely disappear from public memory (like Sanskrit) and would live only in dictionaries, gathering dust. That is why, a trend such as this deeply pains those who love the Telugu language.

However, usage of a language changes with time. Either for employment or for academics, English has become almost compulsory. As a result, just like in other states of India, people in the Telugu states need to read, speak and write English. In such a scenario, it is natural for English to influence the daily usage of Telugu. It should be remembered that any language can live for long only if it evolves over time. On the other hand, if academics and linguistic experts unilaterally dictate linguistic standards on to the general public, it is bound to be counter-productive. The masses would assume Telugu to be a formal and archaic language and not one that is spoken naturally at our homes. This eventually leads to resentment against the language itself. Generally speaking, the older generations as well as those that are in love with traditions and customs would not be willing to accept the changes that occur naturally in any language. But, it is not advisable to swim upstream against the current.

In fact, this problem is not unique to Telugu. It affects English too. Owing to a rise in internet usage, there have been significant changes even in the usage of English. Eg. There is arise in the usage of acronyms like lol and xoxo due to their popularity in Internet Chat Lingo. When a question arose whether to include them in the Oxford Dictionary, since their usage has gone to such massive levels that can’t be ignored, it was decided to add them to the dictionary.

Evolution of language is a vast topic to dive into. Let’s end this post with a brief discussion about the usage of English alphabet in Telugu. We all know that acronyms are very popular in the English language. But, they are not so in Telugu. Unless they are widely used (Eg. ఐరాస, శ్రీశ్రీ) it would be difficult to create them and/or pronounce them. For instance, the abbreviation USA is written as యూఎస్‌ఏ or యు.ఎస్‌.ఎ. While it is simple for short abbreviations, longer ones are particularly difficult. Eg. UNHRD will need to be written as యు.ఎన్‌.హెచ్‌.ఆర్‌.డి. or యూఎన్‌హెచ్‌ఆర్‌డీ. This is very difficult for the reader to peruse and pronounce. To address this issue, people who prefer simplicity and ease of understanding in Telugu have begun to prefer that these acronyms be left in English itself. Eg. PIN, SMS, SIM etc.
We have seen above the objections raised against transliteration of English words. Then, one can imagine the outcry if one is suggesting that English alphabet be used as is in Telugu text. One should always remember that this is not a matter of personal preference but the reader experience. The written text should be simple and easy to understand, as the saying goes – as if a banana has been peeled and given to eat. This needs to be the ultimate goal of authors as well as all those professionals who deal with Telugu text. How much ever effort we put into preparing a Telugu text, it would not serve its purpose if the reader couldn’t grasp it easily and quickly.

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