English “Conversion”: The Funny Side of Spelling in Delhi, India
Arun Ganapathy, India
Arun Ganapathy is a teacher trainer with the British council in India. He also writes, mainly feature articles, for a few newspapers and magazines in India.
The spelling tour
The influence of the vernaculars on spelling
The substitution of vowels in spelling
This article takes a look at spelling (or misspelling), in Delhi and Northern India. Much of this misspelling is due to the influence of regional Indian languages on English, especially on the way words are said. (Yes, words here are written they way they are pronounced). The misspelling was evident in the hoardings, banners, advertisements and roadside signs that I saw everyday around me, so I picked up my notebook and walked around making notes. The result is hilarious, as you will see for yourself.
One of the most amusing -and indeed cheapest- ways of amusing yourself is to look closely at the spelling on advertisements and banners in Delhi and in Northern India.
Like this one near my house, advertising English conversation classes.
“British English speaking. English Conversion classes. Contact ____”
I was curious, so I walked to the institute, and asked to see the owner. What do you teach? I asked. “English grammar, speaking, conversion---.” You mean “English conversation, don’t you?”I interrupted, “Hum hum English conversion, public speaking, sub kuch,” he went on, ignoring my attempts to correct him. “How long does this conversion take?” “45 days grranteed” he said, stressing the last word, and dropping the vowels to make the assurance sound threatening. “Dekko poora details board mei likka hai”.(All the details are on the board) .Sure enough, on the board, was this:“British English speaking. English speaking and conversion in 45 days granteed.”(guaranteed)
In Delhi it seems you can spell anyway, as long as it sounds remotely English.
Shammi printing press, Acharya Niketan
Bill book, Letter paid, visiting card, Pumplet
I think you know what “letter paids” and “pumplets” are (pads and pamphlets), but the point is this; words are often misspelled because of the way words are pronounced ( In a sort of roundabout manner, the vernacular languages affect the pronunciation which in turn affects the spelling.) The lanes behind my house are crammed with signboards advertising small businesses, Motor driving schools are popular. One such school called “Royal”, advertises his school as “Royal motor driving collage.”(College) A ride in his car will take you across East Delhi, but be warned not to park outside the shopping complex because the police have put up a sign that says:
“No parking on the road. Violaders (violaters)will be prosecuted.” By order Police
Still in the shopping complex:
If you are searching for something for your child “Fun –N-Joy gallery urges you to buy his baby prams, Try cycles and Hi chairs.(Tricycles and High chairs) If you are hungry try the confectioner behind the complex. He has a wide selection of sweets and offers free home delivery on a minimum “purchage” (purchase) of Rs 100.
The influence of the vernaculars on the spelling also often changes the meaning completely. The result is hilarious. Devendra steel furniture, a furniture store, near my house sells: Aluminum trunk,folding bads, (Beds) and kitchen racks.A fashion store next to him advertises ladies undergarments, (and no offence is meant here) nighteyes and froks.( Nighties and frocks). A visiting card slid under my door, from a new taxi service, eager to advertise his services, reads:
Vashnavi Tours and travels
Marutis, A/c Indicas, ford Ikon,
4 and 8 Shiters (seaters)
Direct Costomer to Costomer service (customer).I am not going to say anything more about him!
One would think that the effects of the vernacular wouldn’t affect the spelling of big corporations whose employees usually have a reasonable level of English. But that doesn’t seem to be the case as the following examples show. Eureka Forbes, the home products giant, erects tents across the city regularly to advertise their latest products:
“Vacume Cleaners” and a“Water Purifires.” (Vacuum Cleaners and Water Purifiers)
Funnier still, in banners strung across east Delhi, Hindustan lever, the FMCG Company (now Hindustan Unilever) is advertised as Hindustan liver. At one stroke, the multinational has become an organ in the abdomen.
The last error (above), you will recognize, is due to a substitution of one vowel for another. In Delhi and parts of Northern India, E changes to I very often and E to A (and vice versa).A banner advertising a beauty clinic offers ‘50 % off on complition (completion) of course.’ and the blurb on the packet of home made chapattis I order regularly says – “Chatto chapattis “Hyginically made.” (Hygienically)
Near the Deputy Chief of Police’s office in East Delhi is a men’s saloon called the -“The Mane saloon.” I asked the owner if he meant men’s saloon. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘manes saloon,’ pronouncing the vowel differently, and giving me a clue to his sloppy spelling. I made a note of the change; men to mane, thinking you couldn’t do much more damage than this. I closed my book, wishing to turn these notes into an article. I had come to the end of a lane when I looked up and read:
Complete range of “Man’s wares.” I am sure you know which vowel has changed and I am sure the pun is not intended. I am also sure you know what it means. So have a good laugh.
Please check the Improving English through Humour course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Pronunciation course at Pilgrims website.