Language as She is Spoke

Any world traveler with an acute listening antenna  will have noticed some obvious, if not entirely mellifluous, linguistic borrowings that assail the ear on a daily basis.

dinnerjacket Consider, for instance, the thoughtful Frenchman, who to this day is put off by the debasement of his classic language with such adulterations as le smoking for the dinner jacket that is neither English nor French, or le water for what across the Channel is called “the loo” or W.C.

No wonder that a French grammarian coined a name for that odious olio as franglais, though perhaps nowadays framéricain would be more à propos.   

Le Smoking (Fr.)

Not surprisingly, the Russians steeped in Pushkin and other great writers of their classical literature have got into the blame game: They pin the tail on the braying behemoth across the Atlantic for their own country’s insatiable penchant for such barbaric terms as playing khokkey, listening to dzhaz, drinking kofe et al as depicted below:

                                                Khokkey (Хоккей) (Russ.)                                          


Dzhaz (Джаз)  


 Kofe (Кофе)


My own roots in India make me, oh, so familiar with the incursion of purely English terms – albeit distorted in pronunciation – in Hindi, Urdu or man-in-the-street Hindustani discourse. But that is understandable, considering the many decades of the British Raj’s influence on commerce and public life.  Indeed, in the subcontinent we have the aphorism born of the Bengali clerk or babu that “Bannerjee writes and Mukerjee replies” – otherwise the wheels of  government under the Brits would have come to a grinding halt if they had relied entirely on the King’s or (now) Queen’s English!

To be fair, linguistic borrowings go back a long way. Witness, for example, that English “pelf” has given way to American “graft”, or “plunder” to the Hindustani “loot”, and so on. Without making this writing a litany of piteous handwringing and whining – or in the colorful British term whinging – let’s cast back for a moment to the time when Rome virtually ruled the world.

That Empire’s highborn citizens, looking down their long noses, must have snorted – if not shuddered – at the way their subject barbarians spoke Latin. But that classic lingua franca spawned the beauteous and multiple ways of expressing the finest thoughts and aspirations of the human race inherent in such modern Romance languages as Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and many other lesser known tongues of the same ilk.

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

16 thoughts on “Language as She is Spoke

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