Krazzy 4

25 06 2008

On Bollywood movies, the English language, Argentine billboards, little black dresses, strip malls, the Fathers of the Church, and the role of language in religious discourse

One of the vices that AG has introduced me to is the joy of Bollywood movies. Since India is a poorer country and movie-goers have to get more bang for their buck, Bollywood films have to be over-the-top spectacles that boggle and overstimulate the mind into a complete entertainment stupor. The story lines are contrived, the plot twists barely worthy of belief, the dance sequences long, the women pretty, and everyone has a good time doing what they do best: dropping everything to dance and sing (or more often than not lip synch) at a moment’s notice. Here is an example from “Dhoom 2”, that AG and I recently watched:

 
(No, seriously, this movie is way cool. You should watch it.)

AG was turned on to Bollywood movies by an Indian woman who worked in a lab with her in Chicago. AG was fascinated by how the dialogue in these movies is interspersed with English phrases and words.  Often, they will even have English words in the title, like the new Krazzy 4 that AG and I are now looking forward to seeing once it comes out on Netflix. Her friend confirmed that this is often how Indian people speak even when Hindi is their first language.

Being Americans, we don’t realize how iconic and dominant our language has become with people in the developing world. People learn English to get ahead, advertisers use it to make their products more “sexy” and modern, and kids use English to make themselves look cool. Imitation indeed is the best form of flattery, but it is also the best form of distortion. The English in Bollywood movies is always a little off when used. In many other cases, words are used that are grammatically correct, but we as native speakers would never use them in those circumstances. Often the result can be a bit unsettling, even a little racy.

When I first arrived in Argentina, one of the first billboards that I saw was for a chain of hardware stores. The advertising was simple: it was a giant yellow sign with the word: “EASY!” scrawled across it in red letters. Now, for some reason, what came to mind was a woman sitting at a bar in a cocktail dress who is not particularly picky about whose bed she spends the night in. Maybe that is just my dirty mind, but most Argentines would have no idea that the word “easy” can also signify the quality in a woman of having loose morals. For them, it is just a translation of the word, “facíl”, and the store is meant to make your job “easy”.

Other interesting English words used in Argentine Spanish are, “un shopping” (strip-mall), “un smoking” (a tuxedo), and “el country” (a house in the country). So you could totally say, “Fue del country al shopping para comprar un smoking para ir a la boda”, and it would make perfect sense. An American, however, wouldn’t know what the guy was talking about. In Argentina, I saw how often English words were fetishized in themselves, how they were idealized to represent a more glamorous reality that we more often than not take for granted.

 So what does this have to do with anything? Well, briefly, I think I have found in my intellectual travels that people perform this rite of fetishizing in many other quarters. We often forget that words we take for granted as Christians, “arete”, “virtus”, “pistis”, “gratia”, etc. all had other meanings in their original contexts. We automatically assume that we know what is being spoken of and we run with it, often right over the backs of people we consider stupider than us.  In truth, however, we might just be using a word the way they use an English word in a Bollywood movie, or be putting up on our own billboard a phrase that might just be a little off when it comes down to it.

 

In the Church’s ancient language of tradition, we are not native speakers. Even with the help of the Holy Ghost, there is a lot that we are probably getting wrong. So it would be best if we thought twice about throwing around words and phrases that make us look intellectually cooler. The foolishness you could prevent could be your own.

 

Krazzy!

 


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3 responses

15 12 2011
goku

would dare say prettier than Ukrainian women, these women are hard to top). Although I never got into the Bollywood thing, Hindi sounds too

25 06 2008
Anonymous

Can’t stop looking at those Indian girls. But if you want to date a Brahman woman here in Indiana, you need at least a BMW. I don’t think I want to visit India, afraid of getting really sick. When your uncle tells you have he has a Nicaraguan co-worker who went to India expecting it to be as poor as Nicaragua and he found out it is way poorer than Nicaragua, you will probrably get some awesome disease.
I think I will just stay with Eastern Europe, Ukraine is poor and the people are not nice, especially if you look Arab (they haven’t figured out that Mexicans don’t have money), but I don’t feel that I am going to get some strange parasite. But darn, Indian women are beautiful (I would dare say prettier than Ukrainian women, these women are hard to top). Although I never got into the Bollywood thing, Hindi sounds too funny to me.

25 06 2008
MCH

The same is true in the Philippines too. Most students from private schools here speak in a Spanish-English-Tagalog hybrid language called ‘Co*o English’ (yes, after THAT word), where samples from (sometimes) all three languages are used to voice out a thought not very easily expressed in just one; for example ‘Tae pare did you hear that inano ni Enzo yung novia niya?’ Ese maricon!’ Loosely translated: ‘Shit dude did you hear that Enzo whatshisfaced his girlfiriend? That “alternative lifestyle individual!” ‘ Particularly interesting is the word ‘ano’ which can mean practically anything; thus the verb ‘inano’ whose meaning always depends on the context in which it is used; or it can have none at all and still mean everything.

It’s true, especially in the Third World, that English can be a very stratifying thing. I can’t enumerate the number of times I’ve met people my age who speak flawless English complete with American accents but don’t know a lick of Tagalog. English is practically sacred around these parts, case in point, I know of a university that allowed the Vagina Monologues to be shown in campus, but when a Tagalog adaptation came out a year later, it was banned, under the excuse of ‘lewd language’.

Ultimately the thing about the language is that it’s always lost in translation. Especially these days when fads come and go at the speed of light, even linguistic ones. I hard to learn my lesson the hard way when I once asked my uncle, who worked in Spain for nearly a decade: ‘So uncle, how’s your querida?’ I was asking about his newly-born daughter, but forgot that ‘querida’ means mistress in the Philippines.

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