Wednesday, 23 May 2012

'Re-learning' English

CALL IT A SORT OF COMPLEX or call it a crisis or call it an awakening. Whatever. I am unlearning English. I am no longer the confident speaker or writer that I used to be. Today I know that confidence can spring out of ignorance or knowledge.

Unlearning English? Yes. It is looking at your English again to find out what is standard, what is not standard, and what is Indian.

I was surprised to know that major dictionaries did not list the word decoction. In South India decoction is black coffee.

A medico in Delhi is a medical shop, and I smiled at the way the word has been used to communicate with the people of the city. I thought that a medico was a medical student, which indeed is correct, but there was another surprise in store; a medical practitioner can also be a medico.

My mother is an employee. He is an employee. I realized that this is an awkward way of talking about someone’s profession. The word employee is used in a general sense meaning people who work in an organization or a company. Here is an example from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

The company also offers substantial bonuses to senior employees.  
Common words that we take for granted can cause problems. For instance, the word take in the sentence 

What do you take in the morning? I take coffee.
The right word is have and not take.

What do you have in the morning for breakfast?
Do you have coffee?
I have coffee in the mornings.

How many more such words, expressions, phrases or idioms that have escaped our attention?

What kind of English do we use? And with whom do we use English? Surely a great deal of things have got to be considered before we begin to use English suitable to contexts.

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