Nuances Of Englishes: Teaching English in Nepal

Published On: March 30, 2024 09:30 AM NPT By: Amar Bahadur Sherma

Amar Bahadur Sherma

Amar Bahadur Sherma

The author is a Ph.D. scholar at The University of Texas at Arlington, USA.

Words refuse to obey the rules

What, then, are the basic tenets of writing for TV and radio news? The main objective is clarity. The sole purpose of mass communication is to communicate factual information succinctly, with no chance of misunderstanding or ambiguity. 

It is obvious that English holds the distinction of being the most widely spoken language globally, encompassing both native and non-native speakers. This is due to its status as the official language in numerous countries and its prevalence as the lingua franca in various domains such as international business, academia, tourism, and technology. With approximately 1.452 billion speakers, English leads the list, followed by Mandarin with 1.118 billion speakers and Hindi with 602 million speakers, respectively. Despite its uniformity across different varieties such as American English, British English, Australian English, Canadian English, Indian English, South African English, and others, the distinguishing factor among them often lies in their dialects or accents.

The Usage of officialese and journalese

In addition to the varieties of English in terms of countries, English is further divided into journalese and officialese, forcing non-native speakers to have difficulty attaining a natural English style. Some people say that peculiar words for headlines in newspapers attract the eyes of the readers. An attempt becomes a bid; an inquiry or investigation, a probe; a difficulty, a mystery, or a blow. A reporter or a freelancer is indirectly brainwashed into writing his/her story with colourful adjectives like miraculous, charismatic, mesmerizing, etc.

Newspaper writing is hardly ever heard in normal spoken English, and CNN and BBC editors are engaged in a long-running campaign to keep it in its proper place—on the page and off the air. ‘The situation remains tensed’.., ‘.Hunger hits least developed countries....’ ‘He suffered a massive heart attack…’ It’s rare that familiar phrases or expressions in a layperson’s term find their way onto the air. At best, they demonstrate a poverty of original ideas; at worst, they can lead to the fatuous.

A few examples of unnatural expressions or gaffes that often take place in the broadcast are: ‘His hopes are hanging in the balance’; ‘S/he’s in two minds’; ‘Oil-price rises are falling.' The police, in my opinion, seem to be fond of jargon and media persons reinforce it by frequently using it. So, a police officer may tell an inquiring reporter that ‘the suspects appear to have gained access via the rear of the premises.' Doesn’t it sound humourous? The natural sentence could be ‘The thieves got into the back of the shop.

Some traveling journalists or editors of newspapers are resigned to the fact that the branch of journalese is to establish and endorse English as a subtle and striking language. In contrast, it’s no longer good spoken English, and the best sports commentators use a much wider range of original descriptive language. What, then, are the basic tenets of writing for TV and radio news? The main objective is clarity. The sole purpose of mass communication is to communicate factual information succinctly, with no chance of misunderstanding or ambiguity.

Both the broadcasters and newspaper publishers supply information to the audience and readers. Then, what’s the difference? Confusing, subtle, metaphorical, and connotative phrases and sentences can be re-read by the readers but the information telecast must be understood at once. In other words, while listening if a word is missed, the game is finished. It proves that simple colloquial sentences work much better than polished language or long constructions full of subordinate clauses.

Clarity is a must to avoid misunderstanding. Even more important is accuracy, in the use of English as well as in the journalism itself. Sloppy use of words cloud or obstruct comprehension and irritate many people who believe that correct grammatical English is to be established. The polarization among Englishes has been making situations worse. There are a host of loopholes in English. Do we know the exact difference between happy and merry, avenge and revenge, quick and fast, sickness and illness, slow and steady, carefully and attentively, etc.?

Impact of India’s homely English

It is evident that India is the only country in South Asia that has granted English the constitutional status of the second official language (alongside Hindi). Ferguson claims that despite differences in official language policy in South Asia, the sociolinguistic profile is almost similar.

It is true that a few schools, colleges and universities in Nepal have prescribed English textbooks written by American and British writers. However, the fact is Nepal’s English heavily relies on Indian English as most of the books published in India are imported and used. The words ‘prepone’, ‘fooding’ ‘love marriage’, ‘joint family’ and ‘tiffin’ don’t exist in other English-speaking countries. Nonetheless, it’s widely used and spoken in Nepal. Some terms that are now considered old-fashioned or rather humorous in other Englishes are still current in Indian English. Additionally, there are also a few words of Indian origin that are commonly used in Nepal; for example, higher dearness allowance instead of 'a higher cost of living allowance;' someone expires instead of 'someone dies;' an academic in-charge instead of 'in charge of academics;' talk in English instead of 'speak English;' and stood first instead of ‘came first.' I vividly recall those prolonged debates with my seniors about this Indian-based English.

Side-splitting translation and blunder

Anyone who has strived to speak a foreign language without really understanding it knows the very meaning of humiliation. Non-native speakers may re-state an idea either by closely following one word by another with a word whose meaning is already encompassed within the broader definition of its mate. Such a blunder is understood to be a fault in redundancy. For example, a teacher of English in Nepal said, ‘Return back after your visit is over.’ ‘Work hard for a new invention.’ In these two sentences, the words ‘back’ and ‘new’ are unnecessary. In Nepal, most people tend to say ‘Students give exams.’ The right sentence is 'Students take/sit exams.'

When you walk down the street, take a careful look at the hanging hoardings. ‘Abroad study’ is commonly seen. The word abroad is an adverb, not an adjective to precede a noun. One of my students sitting behind me on a bus once said, ‘Finally, Koteshwor arrived. Let’s alight from the bus.’ I sarcastically asked him if he reached Koteshwor or if Koteshwor walked towards him. His face flushed. I felt to be in his shoe.

One day, I was teaching my students that ‘bury’ is pronounced /beri/, a co-ordinator interfered and pronounced ‘boori’. A well-reputed school hung a banner at the gate, which read ‘Congratulations!’ I consoled myself thinking that there was no room to accommodate one more letter—‘s’. One cold morning, I was still under the blanket; a student said over the phone ‘Sir, today is a holiday!’ At first, I was confused. Was it a piece of information or a query? A guest of mine, one day, asked me to open our TV. Imagine, if it weren’t me but a native speaker, what would s/he do? The guest was bound to miss his/her favorite program on TV.  

To sum up, the dissemination and popularity of English are on the rise. Some countries are trying to own English by both adopting and adapting standard English to produce a unique and distinctive form. The meaning of language is a mysterious subject, which fills scores of academic tomes each year. Language isn’t universal and as exact as science: words refuse to obey the rules; accepted usages develop and undergo various modifications over the years. Whatever logic is presented, whatever concern is expressed, and whatever outcome is shown by research; English must be appropriate to an individual program’s style, it must be modern and relevant—but above all, it must remain the voice of accuracy, precision, and authority—and get rid of such nuances. 

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