The Hindi Dominated Bangla-speaking Society – A SOCIOLINGUISTIC IMPERIALISM
(Written on 20-12-2009)
 Asif (a boy of sixteen to his friend): “Khiday pet cho cho korchhe, dost!”
 Arif (a boy of sixteen to his friend): “Khiday pet e chuha dourachhe, yaar!”
The difference of expressions or vernacular of the teenagers sheds sufficient light on the topic I shall elaborate and explore. Yes, I shall conduct an exploratory study on Hindi’s intrusion into the contemporary Bangla language and the sociolinguistics aspects behind the phenomenon.
If we alert our observatory organs it will be crystal clear how Hindi words and expressions are replacing an enormous number of Bengali words and expressions. These are not limited to mere words and expressions but it has also spread its wrath on several other linguistics items ie. syntax formation, morphology etc.
This overall phenomenon can be defined by the terminology – “Sociolinguistic Domination.” I use this in context to refer to the domination of Hindi over current Bangladeshi linguistic trends (mostly the verbal trends). In exploring this, we shall not only cross paths with linguistics but other extra-linguistics disciplines such as economics, communication media, fine-arts, fashion etc. These extra-linguistic disciplines come into play because the change in the lingua franca of Bangla is not an independent incident; on the contrary it has diverse effects on the overall psychology, thought and culture of the Bangladeshi contemporary people especially the youth.
Even though this occurrence is yet to alter the “Standard Bangla” or the intellectual community, it is mostly observed in the contemporary youth. And since the youth are the future intellectual community, it is imperative that we sneak a peak at this transformation of Bangla.
“Sociolinguistic Domination” – Definition and Concept
Even though I, myself coined the term – “Sociolinguistic Domination” in order to define the changes Bangla language is facing as a consequence of Hindi’s exposure, this concept is not utterly new. There are several other terminologies and theories that are similar to what I define as “Sociolinguistic Domination.” Such theories include “Cultural Imperialism” and “Socio-lingual Hegemony.” In order to fully comprehend “Sociolinguistic Domination” it is important to have a brief introduction to these two theories.
Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture of one society into another. It is usually the case that the former belongs to a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter belongs to a smaller, less important one. The term is usually used in a pejorative sense, usually in conjunction with a call to reject foreign influence.
Another theory close to this is “Socio-lingual Hegemony.” Lenny (1998) defines socio-lingual hegemony as the philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled (dominated), by one of its social classes or an external force. It is the dominance of one social group over another via the tools of cultural elements such as language.
Therefore, it is clear that the terminology that I coined – “Sociolinguistic Domination” – is quite close to these concepts but it is not effectively a blueprint of any of the two since it deviates from the two in some minor points.
I define “Sociolinguistic Domination” as an act of a particular language community exerting influence over another language community intentionally or even unintentionally. The result of this phenomenon is the relinquishment of originality in the language of the latter group (in this case – the Bangla speakers).
Sociolinguistic Domination of Hindi over Bangla
Hindi – one of the state languages ofIndiahas made its way far and wide across the world mostly on the vehicle of visual media. Being a neighboring land,Bangladeshhas felt its presence and effect more that any other nation but that does not necessarily mean that it is exclusively a vice for the Bengali culture. Then again, if this influence causes a loss of originality in the language and the overall culture of the Bangladeshi people then that is reasonably unwelcome.
This phenomenon is not as alarming yet so that the authorities will be on their toes since most of the policy-making is done inBangladeshby the intellectual community or the bureaucrats as this occurrence is felt by the youth of the nation rather than seniors. On the contrary, it is the youth that carries the torch of culture, therefore a shift in the youth vernacular will definitely shift the course of culture and the overall world view of the Bangladeshi youth.
As I already suggested, if we observe closely to the vernacular of the contemporary youth of urban Bangladesh we shall notice that a lot of Hindi has made its way to the tongues of the youngsters. It can be argued that if English is permissible then why not Hindi? I shall come to that gradually but now let us look into the signs and paradigms of the shift in Bangla due to Hindi. The effects can be categorized in two parts – the effects on Bangla speech (vernacular) and the effects on other cultural elements. I shall discuss them separately.
Hindi’s intrusion into Speech (Bangla Vernacular)
Even though Hindi has not made its way up to the dictionaries of Bengali or the “Standard Bangla” but it is dominant in the contemporary vernacular of the Bangladeshi youth. It is quite typical to find Hindi words (and expressions) in the speeches of teenagers ofDhakacity or any urban region ofBangladeshfor that matter. The effects of speech can be seen through some common theories of sociolinguistics such as code-switching, code-shifting and borrowing of words.
- Code-Switching and Shifting (to Hindi) in Bangla Speech:
Just to review, let me define Code switching. Code-switching is a linguistics term denoting the concurrent use of more than one language, or language variety, in conversation. Goldstein (2005) suggests that multilinguals, people who speak more than one language, sometimes use elements of multiple languages in conversing with each other. Thus, code-switching is the syntactically and phonologically appropriate use of more than one linguistic variety.
The signs of Hindi’s intrusion can be seen most vividly through situational code switching and code shifting. This can be identified by looking at the differences between traditional Bangla vernacular and the current Hindi induced version of some dialogues of the same content.
|Conventional Vernacular||Hindi Induced Bangla Verenacular|
|– Ki re! Ki khobor?- Ar bolish na! Shamne exam!- Arre chinta korish na.||– Ki re! Ki khobor?- Ar bolish na! Shamne exam!- Tension mat le yaar!|
|– Dekh gari ta ki shundor!- Ishhh! Amar jodi emon ekta thakto!||– Dekh gari ta ki shundor!- Kaash!Amar emon ekta thakto!|
|– Eid e ki korli?- Cousin der shathe onek moja korlam!||– Eid e ki korli?- Cousin der shathe onek mastikorlam!|
|– ekta shanghatik movie dekhlam!||– ekta maska-mara movie dekhlam!|
|– Chinta koro na.||– Chinta nish na.|
From these deviations we can clearly see the shift in expressions in vernacular Bangla. It is also important to notice that these dialogues are most likely to take place between youngsters rather than aged individuals.
- Changes in morphology and syntactic structures (due to the Hindi-effect):
Not only are Bengali words are being replaced by Hindi synonyms but several sentence structures are being distorted to fit the Hindi profile.
This can also be seen most effectively through some examples:
[Conventional] : Amake ekta call korish!
[Contemporary/Hindi Induced] : Amake ekta call dish!
Comment: The first sentence is in regular Bangla vernacular and there the
verb – “call” is followed by “korish” which is traditional. In contrast, the second sentence replaces “korish” with “dish” which is an attempt to assimilate with Hindi.
[Conventional] : Chinta koro na.
[Contemporary/Hindi Induced] : Chinta nio na!
Comment: Even though both sentences tell us not to worry but the second version, once again distorts the regular Bangla expression to replace “koro” with “nio.”
[Conventional] : Ajob toh!
[Contemporary/Hindi Induced] : Ajib toh!
Comment: Even though this is a very subtle example, but to me it is the most important one. This is where a Bengali word’s spelling has been completely changed into its Hindi version (which can also be viewed as a complete word-replacement). Here we see that the word “AJOB” is constantly being replaced by its Hindi version – “AJIB.” This is possibly one of the commonest forms of the Hindi effect.
Hindi’s intrusion into “Written Bangla”
Hindi has created a massive impact on the Bengali speech. However, it is yet to find its way to the formal written Bangla. Even though there are some classically existing Hindi words in the Bangla dictionary but the contemporarily induced vocabulary has not yet been codified to be a part of Bengali. Then again, some modern writers especially informal columnists and satirical journalists, who happen to use vernacular in their writing use these Hindi induced version in their creations.
Hindi’s intrusion into extra-linguistics aspects ie. culture (fashion, music etc)
Thus far I have discussed how the external language has affected Bangla language. But a language is not an independent entity of its own. A language is intertwined with the culture of a society. When we take this cultural aspect into account a whole array of humane elements come into the picture like music, art, fashion, philosophy and the overall world-view of a society. Thus, when an external language alters the dynamics of a persistent language it is obvious that the extra-linguistic elements will deter too.
The situation between Hindi and Bangla is no different. As soon as Hindi language has gotten instilled in the youth ofBangladesh, other cultural aspects of the Hindi-speaking people have been induced into the Bangladeshis as a byproduct. In fact, it will be wrong to call it a byproduct since culture is part and parcel of a language and vice versa.
First I shall look at celebrations and festivals of the Bangla speaking culture. We always had our traditional “Pohela Boishakh”, “Pohela Falgun”, “Nobanno Utshob”, “Halkhata” and many others. It is important to notice that the festivals I have mentioned do not associate themselves to any particular religion or sub-groups of the society, rather they represent the unity of a diverse people.
But apparently after the inclusion of the Hindi language and its culture along with it, we have come in contact with several other traditions that are not exclusively our own such as “Rakhi”, “Holi” etc. Again, it is a fallacy to acknowledge these to have a negative connotation on our own culture. Even if this diversifies our culture, it is noticeable that our very own festivals are being ignored and even modified to assimilate the Hindi culture.
After festivities we can look into fashion. Along with the Hindi language, Hindi clothing-lines have come to dominateBangladesh. This is possibly the most vivid signature of cultural domination of Hindi over Bangla. The traditional dresses, ornaments and other attires are under siege due to the Hindi influence. It is also a fact that our very own fashion-line is very original and has the ability to stand out from our neighboring lands. But sadly the contrary is happening due to the media coverage of the Hindi culture.
After fashion, I can refer to music as an integral part of our culture. Anyone with the sense of classical music will realize that the Bangla music contains potential to make mark on world music. Again, it is unfortunate that the intrusion of Hindi has led even the musicians to practice music based on the Hindi framework rather than original Bangla. Then again it will be prejudiced to say that we should seclude our music from outsiders. However if our very own do not practice our own culture, it is unrealistic to expect others to do so. Thus the intrusion of Hindi into Bangla has shifted the concentration of music which results in a decline of quality of our Bangla culture.
Thus it is quite evident that even if we treat this phenomenon from a very liberal point of view, it would be unpractical to acknowledge that this intrusion is having an adverse effect on the original Bangla culture.
Hindi’s effect on Bengali World-View and Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
The linguistic relativity principle (also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) is the idea that the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it.
According to Orwell (1948) elaborates the history of the hypothesis. in his work titled “1984.” He mentions Benjamin Lee Whorf as Sapir’s student. Whorf devised the weaker theory of linguistic relativity: “We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe…” (1940/1956). He also supported, at times, the stronger linguistic determinism. To Whorf, this connection between language and thought was also an obligation not a choice. The idea of linguistic influences on thought has captivated many disciplines such as comparative culture, anthropology, psychology etc.
The situation of Hindi inside Bangla culture partially proves this hypothesis. I base this on the fact that the intrusion in the language is not limited to the tongue but it is affecting the culture and consequently the overall psyche of the Bangla speakers. According to the Whorfian hypothesis, a language shapes the world view of the speakers and if we look into the minds of the contemporary Bangladeshi youth we shall notice that the shift in language has also contributed in the shift in thinking. This has changed the philosophical view of teenagers, if not in a biblical scale then in a subtle way.
As the Hindi effects have made its way into the language of the youngsters, it is noticeable that the teenagers are thinking more like the Hindi speaking society. This can be seen evidently by the way Bengali teenagers (especially inDhaka) are celebrating occasions like “Gaye Holud” or “New Year’s eve.” These festivities are not new since they have nothing to do with the Hindi culture but the point here is the fact that the norms and formalities of the festivals have changed to match the way the Hindi speaking people do it in our neighboring country.
Thus it can be said that the alteration of the Bangla language due to the inclusion of the modern Hindi elements have contributed in having subtle shifts in the thought or world-view of the youth; which consequently partially proves the hypothesis set forth by Sapir and Whorf.
Cause and Effect
The general cause of such cultural and linguistic domination is diasporas. But alarmingly the situation of Bangla and Hindi has nothing to do with diaspora. Since it is not being caused by a “natural” law, the situation is uncontrolled.
Among the causes the first and foremost comes the uneven spread of the Hindi culture through visual and audio media. Therefore the most vivid cause of this situation is the spread of Indian TV channels and their everlasting effects on the Bangladeshi psyche.
It can be argued that due to today’s globalized world, a countries culture can naturally be instilled into another country through television channels and other media but there is more to the story here. It would have been a fair cause and our own responsibility if the spread of diverse media would be uniform and natural. But sadly that is not the case.
is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. is not the case. isPeople in our country (especially the youth and middle aged people) tend to watch more Hindi material than our very own. The reason for this is not the fact that our media contents are not up to the mark, because it is not. The reason is simply the corporate strategies of the media controllers. We gain access to more Indian channels than our own. Therefore intrusion of external language (along with the culture) is natural.
Currently we have twelve TV channels that represent the Bangladeshi culture among which BTV, Channel I, ETV, ATN Bangla etc. are pioneering. But if we look into our access to the Hindi speaking channels then the numbers would exceed our own numbers by a large scale. For instance, STAR Networks (only one of the Hindi networks) have more than 15 channels of their own, let alone the other networks. Therefore it is quite evident how an alien culture is transmitted into our own.
Then again, it can still be argued that there is nothing wrong with a culture having a lot of media coverage. I do not deny that, neither is it fair to call it an intrusion. But the alarming thing to realize is the fact that the media communication betweenBangladeshandIndiais not mutual. In 2004, the cable operators of Kolkata decided not to telecast any Bangladeshi channel. The reason behind it was that the Bangladeshi materials were so attractive that the Bangla speaking people ofIndiawere more interested in watching them than their own productions. Even though the other state preserved their own material through a reverse embargo, we, as Bangladeshis have acted much more generously to the Hindi culture. From this incident it is quite evident that the cultural and linguistic transmission of Hindi is uncontrolled since the cultural exchange should be a two way street, but practically it is not the case here.
Another cause for this is marketing strategies of Indian products. If we walk into a shopping mall and look for any kind of product, it is absolute that there will be two Indian products beside a Bangladeshi product (for instance in case of Coconut oil our own “Jui-Narikel Tel” will be rivaled by “Parachute” and “Garnier” – two products from India). In order to get those exported products sold, it was imperative for the business owners of those products to create a psychological groundwork in the country they are exporting to. Their media has contributed successfully in laying the foundation for selling the products, not only by advertisement but through sociolinguistic domination.
The causes reflect fully the impressions of the effects. The effects have already been discussed in earlier sections but again to round them up it can be said that the effect of this phenomenon causes shift in the psyche of the youth and the basic world-view. Another more important effect is the decline of our very own Bangla culture.
Elitism and Liberalism in Bangla
Elitism and liberalism are two schools of thought that do not directly associate themselves with linguistics but I shall use the two terms in discussing two contrasting ways of approaching the Hindi-Bangla situation.
According to Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2007) “Elitism is the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite — a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight or those who view their own views as so; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.”
Thus elitism is an idea where any changes go through a supervision of an authority. This is therefore a conservative approach. This is one of the approached that can be used to approach the cultural and linguistic domination of Hindi. In this point of view, authoritative organization(s) will control the spread of any external culture. Organizations as such can be “BanglaAcademy” and/or “Cable Operators Committee of Bangladesh.”
Since “BanglaAcademy” is responsible for the standardization of Bangla language they can contribute to restricting the uncontrolled alteration of the structure of Bangla. On the other hand the other organization that I mentioned has control over the visual media.
Even though this can be accepted as one of the approached by which this situation can be dealt with but there is another approach that is more open-minded which I shall refer to as “Liberalism.”
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2004) defines Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis meaning freedom) as the belief in the importance of individual freedom. Therefore this approach is more progressive but less controlled from “Elitism.”
If we embrace this view then the cultural and linguistic transmission needs not to be altered or controlled since we already know that a language and a culture is ever dynamic and cannot be stagnate. This approach makes more sense theoretically however this increases the responsibility of the common people of Bangla speakers since there will be no overshadowing authority to look over the changes.
Thus, both of the contrasting approaches can be embraced to face this situation even though the outcomes may be different.
Even though the title and some of the contents of this article may suggest a conservative and elitist approach towards Bangla, it is not completely true. It is important to acknowledge language and culture to be an entity that is similar to a river – an entity that will die if held stagnate. Therefore dynamics is not only a good effect but imperative for a language and culture to survive. But the whole idea of the dynamics has to be with the aim of enriching the language (and culture) and not to rid it from its very own originality.
Cultural Imperialism. (February, 2008) . Wikipedia. Wikipedia online encyclopedia, RetrievedDecember 6, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural#imperialism
Lenny, F. (1998) . Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony. Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Marxism, Capitalism, and Their Relation to Sexism, Racism, Nationalism, and Authoritarianism : Red and Black Publishers Limited.
Goldstein, B. (2005) . Speech, language and hearing in developing bilingual children: Current findings and future directions. Language, speech and hearing services in schools, p. 36 .United States of America : Harper-Collins e Books.
Orwell, G. (1948) . Nineteen eighty four, p. 136 .United Kingdom: Penguin Publications.
Elitism. (February, 2007) . Wikipedia. Wikipedia online encyclopedia, RetrievedDecember 9, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elitism
Liberalism . (June, 2002) . Wikipedia. Wikipedia online encyclopedia, RetrievedDecember 9, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism
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