Sunday, 23 December 2012

India sings in Punjabi but comments in English

I just happen to notice something wonderful, the YouTube statistics for 2012 on the Google India blog. The numbers show us the most watched film trailers, songs and television programmes in India in 2012.

The most watched song on YouTube India in 2012 is Brown Rang (Brown colour). It's in Punjabi, which is spoken by less than 3 per cent Indians. As if that wasn't surprising enough, both the top comments for this video are in English. A quick glance at the first 30 comments shows English even rules here, with merely four-five in Portuguese and one comment in Punjabi.

The next one is Gangnam Style. I don't have anything to say here because the comments are appearing so fast that they would be gone before I finish writing this post.

The third is Mashallah. It's in Hindi/Urdu but most of the top 30 comments are in English. 

Now I won't go through each of them, here is a chart for reference: 

2012 YouTube India rank
Language (comments)
Percentage of people who speak the language
1 Brown Rang Full Song HD- International Villager Yo Yo Honey Singh Punjabi English < 3%
2 PSY - GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) M/V Korean NA ~0%
3 Mashallah - Song - Ek Tha Tiger - Salman Khan & Katrina Kaif Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*
5 Jism 2 Yeh Jism Song | Sunny Leone, Arunnoday Singh, Randeep Hooda | Exclusive Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*
6 Saans - Song - Jab Tak Hai Jaan Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*
7 Chinta Ta Ta Chita Chita - Rowdy Rathore Official Full Song Video Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Mika Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*
8 "Abhi Abhi Jism 2" Official Song | Sunny Leone, Arunnoday Singh, Randeep Hooda Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*
9 Ishq Wala Love - Student Of The Year - The Official Song | HQ Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*
10 Challa - Song - Jab Tak Hai Jaan Hindi/Urdu English > 47%*

*The figure is a big underestimate and could be as high as 70 or 80 per cent. I am relying on the Government of India Census which was carried out in 2001. (The figures from the 2011 census have yet to publish.) I have counted both Hindi and Urdu speakers as at this level it's impossible to tell them apart.


(1) No English, no Tamil, no Telugu, no Bengali in the top 10.
(2) Irrespective of the language of a song, most comments are in English.

I had a casual look at the most watched film trailers and television programmes. All of them are in Hindi/Urdu but once again it's English that rules in the Comments arena.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Modi wins, addresses the nation in Hindi-Urdu

The results of recently held elections in Gujarat were announced today. Narendra Modi of the rightist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) wins for the third time. That's an achievement that doesn't come by easily in a democracy. That's an interesting story in itself, but for me what's more interesting is that after his win he is currently (at the time of writing) addressing the nation and his state Gujarat in Hindi/Urdu instead of English.

The news channels, including NDTV 24x7 and other English ones, are broadcasting his speech without any simultaneous translation or subtitles.

Here is a little background: 

I want to include his victory speech video but I can't as he is still speaking. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Colloquial Hindi/Urdu - still the most suitable lingua franca in South Asia (1)

There was a power cut here yesterday night. It lasted for 11 hours. When the electricity was back today morning, I immediately checked my mail. There was a link to a Google Docs file in there from my company. I immediately clicked on it but it wouldn't open. I was a little confused. So I phoned another and the only fellow Indian colleague in Bombay and we talked in Hindi; colloquial Hindi/Urdu to be exact.

His mother tongue is Marathi. He has been to the US and Germany and has worked for several English speaking clients. So it wasn't that his English was weak, still we chose Hindi over English.

This isn't the first time I have talked to fluent (at least for me) Indian English speakers and they invariably turn to Hindi. 

A year ago I met a boy from Himachal in a bus. We talked in English for an hour and then he said he was tired and switched to Hindi. I gladly followed. 

A couple of months ago I was in Chandigarh for an interview. While the whole interview was conducted in English, when it was over, the interviewer was joking, and talking to me about languages and culture and Asia in Hindi. 

My younger brother (cousin) works at a restaurant. There are several Nepalese immigrants working there. And they don't talk in Punjabi (local language), Nepalese or English, they almost always go for Hindi.

I can count several more incidents but the point is, colloquial Hindi/Urdu remains the best choice for a lingua franca in South Asia. 

I was so wrong in thinking that English has already established itself, and that it's already too late for Hindi.

Punjabi is my first language. So it's not that I am from a Hindi speaking area who is trying to convince others that his mother tongue is the most suitable language for this region of the world that's home to one-fifth of the world's population.

It's just common sense. I may be wrong again but at this point of time I really think that colloquial Hindi/Urdu is the best choice as the bridge language in South Asia.

First of all, the vocabulary (the biggest headache) is already similar to most Indian languages. Even Tamil, that claims to be the most distant from Hindi, shares at least 40-50% (a hunch) vocabulary with Hindi.

Secondly, the Hindi/Urdu grammar is certainly more intuitive and more familiar to the people here than the English grammar. 

Thirdly, even according to the most conservative estimates, at least 422 million people speak Hindi in India. Given the popularity of Bollywood in non-Hindi speaking states (including my own), it's not difficult to imagine at least as many people should understand Hindi.

Fourthly, the Indian Census counts Hindi and Urdu as two different languages. So that figure of 422 million doesn't include 51.3 million Urdu speakers in India. 

Add to that millions of Urdu speakers in Pakistan and hundreds of thousands of Hindi speakers in Nepal, and it becomes evident colloquial Hindi/Urdu is the nearest we currently have to a common language in South Asia.

I am making it too long. So I end here. In the next post, I will write on why Hindi/Urdu isn't the lingua franca it ought to be.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Arabic characters (Xiao'erjing) for Chinese

From Afrikaans, Swahili and a host of other languages in Africa to Chinese, Hindustani, Indonesian and others in Asia, there was a time when Arabic characters ruled the day. Even some European languages including Bosnian and perhaps Russian were once written in an Arabic based script. So bad that it's no longer true.

I wonder what it would be like if from Indonesia to Central Asia and Africa, Arabic characters were still popular. They were used in many countries for almost half a millennium and then, there was a sudden switch to a Latin based script in the 20th century.

No, I don't hate the Roman characters. I merely wonder how different the world  would have been if only... 

Anyway, let's stop imaging an alternative history and read this: 

I haven't created an alternative, Arabic character based script for Chinese. It already exists and some, unfortunately their number is declining, use it in China. It's called Xiao'erjing. 

This is something damn interesting, isn't it?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mission Persian (1)

Have done four lessons. Here is all the new vocabulary. This is less than a quarter of the total vocabulary in the first four lessons. The remaining was either the same as in Punjabi, or too similar.

It's not a cakewalk. It's not too difficult either. I hope I can create a small (100-word?) article in Persian on 1 January, 2013.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Mission Persian

I always pick up a difficult language that takes a long time to learn. I have tried French, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili and a whole bunch of others. Every time I lose interest after a while. I am surprised at myself that I haven't given up Chinese even after more than ten-eleven months. I don't study Chinese everyday. I have slowed down to merely two lessons a week. I feel so bad. But I have an idea which I think will give me confidence and I will be able to learn Chinese with a renewed vigour.

I am going to put Chinese aside for a month and focus on the easiest language for Punjabi speakers. Hindi/Urdu is the easiest language for a Punjabi speaker. Both Hindi/Urdu and Punjabi share lot of vocabulary and the grammar is more or less identical. I already speak and read and write Hindi and Urdu. So I have to find the second easiest language!

The contenders for the second easiest language are:

(1) Bengali 
(2) Oriya
(3) Gujarati
(4) Nepali
(5) Persian

Of these five, the first four show a great deal of Sanskrit influence. An upside of this is that I will pick up vocabulary really fast, thanks to Hindi/Urdu. They are Indo-European so grammar will be familiar. There is but one problem: I am not interested in either of these

I can always find someone who speaks English or Hindi from these states or Nepal. I don't think there exist many books in these languages and they aren't even used in universities.

That leaves Persian as the sole candidate. Persian shares a lot of vocabulary with Punjabi. In fact, so much so that of all Persian words on this page only جا, بسلامت and مرسی should be foreign to an average Punjabi speaker. 

Persian is Indo-European so the grammar shouldn't pose much difficulty. It's used in universities in Iran and I will be able to read some of the greatest poets in the world in original. 

Until the middle of the 18th century, Persian had been India's official language for over five centuries. A lot of Indian writers and poets of that era wrote in Persian. The famous letter of Guru Gobind Singh, addressed to the Indian emperor Aurangzeb, is written in Persian. Even in the 20th century, Allama Iqbal was writing in Persian (in addition to English and Urdu). And to top it all, I am interested in Persian more than the remaining four.

To tell the truth, Punjabi food and culture still shows a lot of Persian influence. Thanks to Sikhism, the caste system is weak and people are liberal. Moreover, I want to see the look on my silly sister's face when she will shout "Ki farsi boli janda?" (What are you speaking? Greek?)

The Frenchies say 'It's Chinese to me.', the English say 'It's Greek to me' and Indians and Pakistanis show their astonishment on hearing a new language by 'It's Persian to me!'

Enough of the propaganda for Persian! Here is my plan: 

Plan: Focus only on Persian during December
Aim: To create a Wikipedia article or a blog post in Persian on 1 January, 2013
Current status: Did two lessons today