All of us know that when Julius Caesar went to the senate meeting for his tryst with death and Brutus, he was warned by a soothsayer, thus: ”Beware of the ides of march” – But did he ACTUALLY say this?

William Shakespeare has immortalized the lines of Caesar for posterityso well, that it is accepted as history. But what exactly did the soothsayer say, or did he say anything at all, is anybody’s guess. Forall we know, the soothsayer might have said something like, “O Caesar,you will inspire a writer in England several centuries later, if you go inside the senate now and receive Brutus’s stab” or maybe, “Hi Caesu, be wary of Brutus! – check if he has got a knife on his person!” etc etc – One’s imagination runs haywire when you think of all possible things that the soothsayer could have said.

But even today, when someone says, “Friends, Romans, Country men, lend me your ears” – something stirs up deep inside….The love, of/for the language.

The evolution of human language dates back to so many million years ago, from 2.3 million years ago, when Homo sapiens first started inhabiting the earth. Even before that, if one were to study the Pan age of 6 million years back, one can always draw some conclusion like,how the dinosaur spoke to the brontosaurus, in which grunt, etc, and how these grunts have migrated to the tennis arena of today, millions of years later, etc. But all these can only be assumptions and presumptions, and cannot be verified with visible evidence for the simple reason that we are far, far, separated from the actual time of these evolutions by many million years. When we are but a few hundreds of years away from the actual time of an event itself, we are unsure of so many things. And what to talk of millions of years? The evolution of communication and language is linked to the evolution of the species, and the various developments can be traced through the evolution of Homo habilis, Homo erectus and the Homo sapiens. A study of glottogony would be more apt for the avid seeker.

Whether the evolution of language was gradual or sudden, the evolutionary aspect itself, is very fascinating for some languages.They say that Sage Viswamitra could see the Goddess Gayatri as well as the formation of the Sanskrit syllables in LIGHT and SOUND when he heard the Gayatri Mantram for the first time.

But the evolution of any language, also invariably traces the evolution of the culture of that language. Tamil, for instance, has evolved so much that the original Tamil, almost looks like a foreign tongue now. But the Tamil grammar rules found in Tholkappiam, is unmatched for its almost mathematical precision for various usages.They say that Tholkappiam was written by Tholkappiar. Lord Siva and Lord Muruga, are linked to the development of the Tamil language at various stages of the development of the language. Many of the 18 ancient saint siddhars like Agasthyar, Thirumoolar, Bogar etc, were well versed in Tamil.

The development of language has been confined to regions, mostly due to geographical reasons of travel. But today, language can be exported right out of one country, to another, by air! All the same, language, HAS, evolved over the years, into a very fine medium of communication, such as this English that we are sharing – between the writer, and the reader. But right now, with the advent of computers and cell phones, this very language as we know, has undergone a certain and subtle change, and many languages are under pressure to change to a more adaptable or acceptable version for the computer user, threatening the existence of many usages and terms as we know today.

Today, technology is dictating terms to language – Today, technology seems to be telling language, “Conform, or else perish!” – Today, technology rules language with an iron fist of cold logic where once ink quills ruled with love and emotions.

Thank God that when Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address there were no computers! – Or else the computer techies would have encrypted his address over the years, and after so many years, it would have now read something like this:

4 scor & 7 yrs ago our 4fathrs broght 4thon dis continnt a new ntn, concvd in librty, & dedictd to d propostndat all men R created eqal …… & dat govt of d ppl, by d ppl, & 4 d pplshll nt perish 4m dis earth.

Perhaps the Shakespeares and Lincolns will have to be born again in the new world of computers, to ensure that what they had originally written, does not become extinct….

 

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27 responses »

  1. Smita Luthra says:

    Om Ji, this is a very interesting and thought provoking writeup. I too belong to the old school and do take it almost emotionally (:)) when people, especially the youth, use the “techified” version of English. They wring all beauty and emotion out of words by warping and obscuring them into silly short forms.
    But the truth is, as you have also pointed out, language has always been a-changing over the years and maybe there is no point in time where we can stop the progression and say, “This is it! This is where it was at it’s most beautiful.”
    We were perhaps fed on Wren and Martin and I am almost sure if Shakespeare had been alive twenty years back, he would have cringed in pain and perhaps have declared our English as dry and almost rude. 🙂
    But are we shrinking language back to the dinosaur grunts and in the process, leaving it devoid of the very wealth of words that conveyed the minutest differences in the near-inifinte range of human feelings? Now, thats a situation I totally dread. 🙂

    • Smita Madam,

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      You have said something very poignantly pertinent in the path of a language’s evolution, when you say : maybe there is no point in time where we an stop the progression and say,”This is it! This is where it was at it’s most beautiful!” – Very, very true – and as you rightly said, perhaps because WE grew up with Wren and Martin, we cannot accuse the younger generation of growing up with wry and martini (just joking) as far as love for the language is concerned. For all we know, they may be equally (if not more) in love with language, (the modern one that is) – only that we are out of sync with it.

      Problems of becoming outdated, as far as use of language is concerned, is staring at people like me, perhaps! 🙂

      Myself and Brocaji had a very lively commentary some blogs back on the usage of “ji” – and I remembered the usage of “ji” when there was a cartoon by Ajit Ninan two days back in TOI – on the 2G issue – if you call me “ji”, then I will have to say, “ji, ji” which might make me, a “2” ji person! so, Madam, kindly address me as “om” and drop the Ji, as I don’t want to be known as the 1ji person! 🙂

  2. Dear Om,

    Language, any language is such a beautiful piece of communication. We create it and we destroy it. We use it as we want. One moment it becomes God, another a spouse or mistress.
    The sad part is when we begin treating it as if it is dependent on us and not we on it. That’s when we lose the love for this beautiful mode of communication.

    A nice reflective write-up.

  3. Thank you, Brocaji – as you rightly said, the colonial cousins (the real ones, that is – not the music troupe) must be turning in their graves on seeing the way the English language is being (mis)used these days.

    I was eagerly awaiting your blog – I have seen your take on Munni in one of your blogs, and was impressed. But somehow, the songwriters and the movie makers are obsessed with Munnis and Sheelas.

  4. J S Broca says:

    Om ji,
    Enjoyed your expose on the art of languages.Yes the present day generation has badly mauled the same with abbreviated forms and expressions used in sms-es and in chats and in e-mails.Queens and Kings must be surely turning in their graves to see this state of affairs of their original language structures.What irks me more sometimes, are the horrid spelling mistakes and equally horrible grammar.
    -J S Broca
    Retired Chief Manager
    Bank of India,
    New Delhi.

  5. Sonal Shree says:

    Your blog echoes my sentiments for English language.Today its considered old fashioned if I choose to write full sentence without molesting any word/expression (‘d’ for ‘the’; ‘howz you’ instead of ‘how are you’ etc.)
    At least we can keep up the spirit of this language.

  6. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;

    Is it my evil mind or Antonio’s brooding speech that echoes even after it’s finish!

    I am greatly attracted to these two lines…………..

    • Geetaji,

      It must be definitely, Antony’s speech that has caught the imagination – What power in those lines? Not only you, countless people, including me, are attracted to these lines!

      Shakespeare has told a great many truths like this in many of his works.

      “To be, or not to be” – Dilemma of life put in the most splendid way – “Nothing is good or bad, thinking, makes it so”, etc. –

      But coming back to Ceasar, Conside this :-

      Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
      This was the most unkindest cut of all;
      —————
      Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
      Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty heart;
      ——–
      and then –
      ——–
      “Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
      And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
      And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
      Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
      In every wound of Caesar that should move
      The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.”

      put a tongue in every wound of Ceasar…..powerful, no?

  7. vimala ramu says:

    I don’t know why part of my letter disappeared. Second para, second line should read “…in Tamil. Why can’t we have one word Chawal as we have.”

    • I understand, Vimala Madam – In Hindi, the word “Chawal” is used for the rice whether it is raw, boiled, etc – whereas in Tamil, we call the Chawal differently during it’s journey from the fields to the factory of the stomach – Nel, Pachhai Arisi, Puzhungal Arisi, Saadam, etc ( North Indians often have difficulty saying Tamil Words – Just imagine a scenario where a bearer in a Hotel by name Hussein, is asked for chawal, IN TAMIL, by one of them- they will simply say, Saddam, Hussein!)

  8. vimala ramu says:

    A very enjoyable article, Mr Om. I enjoyed the humour and the sentiments expressed it.
    Once I remember a North Indian lady commenting on Tamil,
    “You have too many words in ? I told her exactly what you said. The antiquity and efficacy of a language is measured by the number of words that have been developed. We have different words for rice, right from the seed and plant stage to where it is expelled from bodies.
    That shut her up !

    • Thank you, Vimala Madam. I feel honoured to know that you enjoyed the humour. Regarding Tamil, kindly see my latest blog in omsmusings on wordpress – where I have given a link to Mr.Gopalakrishnan’s thanini – blogspot – his 40 page thesis traces the evolution of the Tamil language and also offers interersting insights.

  9. beyniaz says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this blog, Om.
    We old timers (anyone over 18 is considered ancient these days) miss the thrust and parry of flowing words and flowery dialogue even in books these days.

    • Beyniaz,

      Thanks for the comment. Hmmm. “Thrust and Parry” – it’s been such a long time since I even heard these words! – and if we tell this to some kid today, he/she might think we are talking about “Parry’s” chocolates! 🙂

  10. Shernaz says:

    A good write Om. I can sense and even empathise with your exasperation and sadness that language as we know it could die out. In my chat and mobile phone messages I too often use some contractions because it makes my work of typing out that much less. Just the few that can be easily understood. But I find the replacement of ‘th’ with ‘d’ irritating. Sounds more German than English.

    • Thank you, Shernaz, for sharing my sentiments. It is precisely the urge to modify for the sake of convenience, that has put the English language at a disadvantage – many children of today have just embraced the American way of speaking, talking and writing that they think that COLOUR is wrong, and that COLOR is right!

      And in some schools, the American spelling is encouraged – My only concern is that it should be uniformly American or British, through out the country.

      • Shernaz says:

        Whether American or English, I am ready to bet that the uniformity will continue to amalgamate the varied hues of our many languages and dialects. It’ll be so different that people of one region will not understand the English spoken by those of another region of our glorious land!! Jai Hind!

  11. One of my friends rang me up and asked me about Mark Antony’s Speech. We all know that the speech is a very long one in ACT 3, Scene 2 of the play written by Shakespeare. On his suggestion, I have posted SOME selected excerpts from that speech for reference :-

    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
    Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
    If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
    And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
    ——————————-
    Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
    He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
    —————————————–
    When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
    Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
    Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
    And Brutus is an honourable man.
    —————————————
    You all did love him once, not without cause:
    What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
    O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
    And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
    My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
    And I must pause till it come back to me.
    —————————————————-
    If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
    ——————————————————-
    Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
    See what a rent the envious Casca made:
    Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
    And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
    Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it,
    As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
    If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
    For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
    Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
    This was the most unkindest cut of all;
    —————————————–
    I am no orator, as Brutus is;
    Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
    And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
    And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
    Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
    In every wound of Caesar that should move
    The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

  12. Thank you, Geetaji. In the computer world, the turnout of such expressions are also very fast – these days, not many use LOL – it has been replaced by smileys – the day is not far when these smileys themselves will be replaced by the actual simulated laughter of the sender/emailer/writer (or whatever) along with a computer generated face of the person!

  13. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    The humour underlying the analysis is unmistakable. Yes, the SMS language is most irritating and mar the beauty of expression and the joy of reading as well. While speaking too, I find the younger generation using abbreviated forms like OMG or BTW – almost a visible assault on the Queen’s English. Once I had written a short para on how we should be language savvy like we are computer or tech savvy but it did not go down well with the readers mostly belonging to gennow!

  14. A.Hari says:

    Thanks OM for stressing the importance of ‘original’ English in our life. Mobile phone & computers have resulted in this shortened form of English which sometimes is difficult for us to understand. As a result students are forced to undergo a course in English just before they try for a job.

    Hari

    • Thanks Hari. As you say, Computers and Mobile phones have shortened not only expressions, (They say, ppl for people, the numeral 4 for four and for, R for are ) but feelings and emotions as well in relationships!

      As you point out regarding the English courses before a job, there is a proliferation of institutes offering spoken English these days – I only hope the day does not come when they offer a course – to decipher mobile langauge! 🙂

  15. nadi says:

    so well-written

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