Words Stayin’ Alive


Languages have a way of sneaking up on you. Give them some time, and in the worst case scenario you’d at least have your new favourite expletive.

I don’t quite recall learning any of the three Indian languages that I speak. My diction, for the most part, is the product of the places I grew up in; a geo-maker dictates the vocabulary, grammar and also the slang.

English, on the other hand, was more like the result of a routine and harmless indoctrination. And yet, as I grew up, it began co-existing with these other languages: Hindi became Hinglish, for instance. But now as an expat with a shrinking use of those native tongues, and an ever increasing access to English and Dutch, I’ve realized that my eloquence in the vernacular has unsurprisingly slumped. It seems to me that although I may not remember learning them, I’ll certainly be able to slowly losing track of these roots.

But is that a great bother considering the circumstances expats find themselves in? Isn’t that part and parcel of all this wandering about? A new life, being nudged by alien culture and norms, would eventually overwhelm whatever nostalgia keeps the words alive. And if you are like me and don’t really take notice immediately, this already lost battle hastens into a rather early submission.


Now there’s obviously a part of us that feels responsible for keeping the languages alive; I’ve probably got one foot in that boat too. But because of how things have played out in the past, it’s not entirely inconceivable that words that don’t travel distances die out or morph. Just a question of how long it takes.

From my point of view, I feel that there’s some value in trying nevertheless. But one ought to be prepared for whatever lies on the horizon. Trust me, a language wouldn’t pick a scattered expatriate to fight its battles. If we must try though, it ought to be, therefore, with a selfish motive; I’d do my best to keep my head above water on this one just so as to be able to engage in effortless nostalgia.

Following up on that, I’ve essentially tossed one of those three (Gujarati) out, not having had a single conversation in the last three years or so. The remaining two, that had so far been languishing, are now being forced onto friends via social media where I’m oft, annoyingly enough, refusing to switch to English.

Now this may appear rather brash, but I’d argue that if the audience can be persuaded (read coerced) into realizing how badly they also need this ‘therapy’, as is often true in my circle, it is the ends that justify the means. That still leaves out the question if things improve? I don’t quite know because it’s difficult to observe these slow influences. But I’d just be content if this uncertainty on the state of my ‘talen’ can be stretched for as long as possible.

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