Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Friday, September 26, 2003  

Am currently racing through a most fascinating book: How to Speak Hindustani, subtitled An Easy Guide to Conversation in that Language, Designed for the use of Soldiers and Others Proceeding to India. Written by one E.H. Rogers, an inspector of army schools and a major (retired), the preface is dated 1865; the book looks as if it were printed in that year—all brown, moth-eaten and wonderfully musty-smelling, brittle pages. The name inscribed in the book is Stollmeyer, and I am reliably informed by the book’s current owner that it used to belong to a sugar estate owned by one of the Stollmeyer families, and was acquired when the estate began taking on indentured immigrants from India.

The book is scrupulously academic, and attempts to confine itself to matters of language. Yet there are invariably some telling bits, shedding light on the machinations of the Raj and their times in dear old Injah. Under “Useful Sentences”, for example, there are commands to servants (sample: “Here, groom, hold this horse” which is sa,is idhar a,o ghora pakaro in Hindustani); there’s also a section on government and politics (“The King is just and wise”—badshah adil aur dana hai); and one on warfare (“The European troops plundered the city”--gora log ne shahr (ko) lut kiya). And, of course, there’s a section on religion (“We worship only one God”--ham-log ekhi khuda ka puja karte).

Perhaps the most illuminating section, though, is “Idiomatic Expressions”:

When addressing superiors, the natives of India use several other words instead of ‘you,’ out of respect—viz.:- ap, ‘your honour;’ sahib, master, sir, gentleman;… &c.

These appellations of respect are also often used instead of han, yes, in the reply of a servant to his master, or of an inferior to a superior, and almost invariably by a native to a European. Similarly, the natives use various words to speak of themselves with humility, instead of the pronouns ‘I’ or ‘we’; such as ghulam, slave; fidwi, ‘your devoted servant,’ &c.

posted by Jonathan | 2:23 PM 0 comments


save boissiere house
Bina Shah
Nicholas Laughlin
Caribbean Free Radio
Global Voices
Jessie Girl
Club Soda and Salt
Caribbean Cricket
Jai Arjun Singh
email me