The Long Process Of European Decolonization English Language Essay

According to Helen Tiffin, “Decolonization is a process, not arrival… it has been the project of post-colonial writing to interrogate European discourses and discursive strategies from a privileged position within (and between) two worlds” (Tiffin 95). At the moment of decolonization there are two kinds of responses to the imposition of imperial language: post colonial writers either choose rejection or subversion of the imposed tongue and the empire by writing back in a European language. As part of this the Indian English writers thrive hard to project the hybridity of post colonial realities and the use of English as a linguistic expression of that hybridity must be accepted. Writers including Raja Rao, Rushdie and Roy were aware of the fact that the subversion of English is the only strategy that recognizes the influence of the colonial experience while, at the same time, dismantling its supporting biases. Therefore “nativizing and acculturating it” (Kachru 294) is the device these post colonial writers adopted, thus transforming standard English into many ‘englishes’ as are the diverse post colonial realities.(Ashcroft 8) These englishes allow the post colonial writer to voice his particular experience while exploiting the advantages of using an international language. Salman Rushdie comments on how working in new englishes can be therapeutic. In the essay “Imaginary Homelands”, he explicates that, the English language is not something that can simply be overlooked and disregarded, but is the site where writers should try to sort out the problems that challenge emerging or recently independent colonies. He believes that by conquering English we can conclude the process of making ourselves emancipated.

What we find in the writings of these novelists is a resistance to the dominant language-culture which is facilitated through a naturalization of it and stretching it to contain some authentic Indian expressions. Thereby they are invested with a power to appropriate and dismantle metropolitan discourses and to assert post colonial difference from Europe. The linguistic hybridization which results from the manipulation of English as the normative linguistic code by the emerging post-colonial voices as an act of subversion and a necessary step in the direction of cultural liberation, becomes the source for new strategies of writing which have generated “some of the most exciting and innovative literatures of the modern period” (Ashcroft 8). These hybrid linguistic practices are a reliable sign of an authentic articulation of indigenous voices. Linguistic hybridization results in syntactic flexibility and rapid enrichment of vocabulary. The Indian English writer challenges and redefines many accepted notions of language and indulges in creating different versions or constructing a new language in our multilingual contexts. These are the ‘in between’ languages which occupy a space ‘in between’ and seeks to decolonize themselves from the Western ex-colonizer and subverts hierarchies and brings together the dominant and the under-developed.

The Caliban- Prospero paradigm can be seen as an illustration of resistance enacted by postcolonial Indian writers where Caliban practices what he calls the language of the torturer mastered by the victim. His appropriation of Prospero’s language rather than his rejection of it, is an appropriation that extends and enriches the possibilities of the English language in ways that are, perhaps, no longer possible for the English themselves.

As Graham Huggan suggests, Indian writing (especially in English) is to a large extent “a transnational, diasporic phenomenon, the product of complex collisions/collusions between East and West” (66). Therefore, the term “postcolonial” nowadays has a wider definition and it denotes “an index of resistance, a perceived imperative to rewrite the social context of continuing imperial dominance” (Huggan ix).

Post colonial Indian writing showcases a number of linguistic tensions and any interrogation of the experiences involves a simultaneous interrogation of language also. Indian English liberates itself from the parent language and tries to be on its own surpassing its hyphenated status. The deformations, deviations and irregularities found in Indian English is part of an attempt by the writer to master the texture of the original while amending and altering it considerably to suit the local conditions leading to the birth of a brand new English. In its reinstatement as Indian English, it certainly shakes off its colour and becomes heteroglossic, true to what Bakthin opined as another’s speech in another’s language. English turns into playful manipulation in the hands of these writers. As a form of self-assertion Indian writers playfully manipulate the language and relates them to the roots and culture of one’s own and introduces circumstances for their self-expression.

R.K. Narayan advocates writing in a genuinely Indian way without being self-conscious about it;

English has proved that if a language has flexibility, any experience can be communicated through it, even if it has to be paraphrased sometimes rather than conveyed, and even if the factual detail … is partially understood … All that I am able to confirm merely after thirty years of writing, is that it has served my purpose admirably, on conveying unambiguously the thoughts and acts of a set of personalities, who flourish in a small town located in a corner of South India. (Press 123)

The Indian writers communicate the Indian sensibility and consciousness to dissociate themselves from the subtle nuances of the language and its flexible idiom in an instinctive and effortless manner through narrative structures associated with the ones prevalent in Indian oral and epic traditions to vindicate the spirit of India and its quintessential unity. According to Rushdie, the moment the Indian writer tries to shed the insular mentality of exclusion and to use English as his own without any anxiety or self-consciousness the language of the other becomes his property on which its first user will have no substantial claim. This approach invests the Indian writer with a freedom to articulate which they aimed to achieve it. Indian English can be seen as a distinct variety whose body is correct English usage, but whose soul, thought and imagery is Indian in colour, and an Indian idiom which is representative of the unique quality of Indian mind while in compliance with the exactness of the English usage.

Linguist Braj Kachru argues,

using a non-native language in native context, to portray new themes and characters and situations is like redefining the semantic and semiotic potential of a language, making language mean something which is not part of its traditional ‘meaning.’ It is an attempt to give a new African or Asian identity, and thus an extra dimension of meaning. A part of that dimension perhaps remains obscure or mysterious to the Western reader.

The process of creating new meanings in English, for those who write in two languages is a process of transcreation (Kachru 48).The creation of new meanings accompanies the creation of new identities. Meenakshi Mukherjee claims that; “The Indo- Anglian writer should be allowed the freedom to experiment with the language for his own artistic needs rather than be heaved into a system of linguistics in search of that elusive medium; a standard Indian English” (214).

Indian English literature is replete with experimental language which includes forging new words, new idioms, new turns of expressions, new syntactic structures and new rhythms, Indianisms, violating the syntax and grammar of English to echo the regional speech and to recreate an Indian consciousness and also to induce better linguistic results. R.K. Narayan comments that the presence of Indianisms are unavoidable in their situation as all writers are experimentalists, not attempting to write Anglo-Saxon English. The English language, through, sheer resilience and mobility, is now undergoing a process of Indianisation in the same manner as it adopted U.S. citizenship over a century ago. The process of transmutation is to be viewed as an enrichment of the English language or a debasement of it. These writers, says Mulk Raj Anand, aim at “consciously reorienting the language” and “synthesizing Indian and European values in contemporary India”.(20) “Indians have found a sense of peculiar intimacy with the English language, making it a second natural voice for the Indian mind and sensibility. He sees realized in it “the power of Indian inheritance, the complexity of Indian experience, and the uniqueness of Indian voice”.( Walsh 65, 71) Indianisms can be accepted as ‘permissible violations’ of the English language if they are introduced ‘for the sake of reflecting cultural overtones and undertones’.(Verghese 181) Shaking off the traces of foreign acquisition, the language is moulded today as anew idiom. “The language has to be broken to it, as it were, and made new”. (Kantak 223) The process of adaptation has been gradual and pervasive. Kantak rightly points out; “Everything depends, of course, on the intimacy of the adoption, the level reached in the process of naturalization”. (224) Most linguistic innovations are purposive and have an authentic ring about them. “And it is not mere reproduction; the transformation of language takes place at a high artistic pressure”.(235) Commenting upon the contextualization of English on India, Kachru observes: “Indian English has ramifications in Indian culture(which includes languages) and is used in India towards maintaining appropriate Indian patterns of life, culture and education. This, in short, we may call the Indianess of Indian English, in the same way as we speak of the Englishness of British English.” (Kachru 282) He again remarks;

… the distance between the natively used varieties of English and Indian English cannot be explained only by comparative studies of phonology and grammar. The deviations are an outcome of the Indianisation of English which has, gradually, made Indian English culture-bound in the socio-cultural setting of India. The phonological and grammatical deviations are only a part of this process of Indianisation.(85-86)

The appropriation of English language by Indian English writers results in innovations that enrich English. They also use the text to construct a world of difference, separation, and absence from the metropolitan norms which arose from the experience of colonization and a compulsive necessity to write in response to the imperial powers by asserting their differences from the assumptions of the imperial centers. The writers resort to many strategies or specific postcolonial literary techniques like fragmentation, plurality, and language to subvert Western-colonial constructs of identity and culture. It is also projected as a retelling of individual experience as against the colonial representations of history, language, and textuality. True to what Salman Rushdie famously remarked, that in post-colonial culture, the Empire writes back to the centre, these writings create a challenging discourse as against the dominant Eurocentric discourse facilitating a re-imagining and restructuring of it through breaking down certain colonial assumptions and grand narratives.

Indian fiction in English can be read as a counter-discourse, as a response, in part, to earlier universalizing Western texts of English colonial writers. The Indian writers write using English vocabulary but indigenous structures and rhythms which goes in line with Chantal Zabus’s theory of relexifcation Those who utilize this technique use English to simulate another language and therefore are not merely using English but also modifying it. In this process the expressions of the postcolonial are functioning as an “interlanguage,” mimicking “neither the European target language or the indigenous source language” (Zabus 315). To personalize and to correspond to a particular national or regional identity, Indian writers parade their mastery over language to nativize and indigenize English. Diverse ways of nationalizing English is used as an effective tool to demarginalize the postcolonial experience. This takes many forms and the most prominent of which is linguistic demarginalisation which leads to what Brathwaite calls a ‘nation language’, a need felt by a host of post-colonial writers. At the moment of decolonization, the imperial language which was an instance of the cultural baggage that restrained and smothered the natives was destabilized. The Indian writers uses the English medium to convey hitherto unknown and unfamiliar roles like a whole new set of customs, social objects, and relationships, universal responsiveness, which goes into the creation of a new culture. This represents the conversion of the weapon of the colonizer as a linguistic blade where it is redirected back at the colonizer thereby liberating the enslaving medium into a revolutionary weapon with Indian message. It helps the writer to indulge in self-reflexive narrative as a counter-discursive strategy to strike against the totalizing colonialist literature and also to erase the dominant universalist canon of Europe and endorse the marginalized canons of various local cultures. An expression of culture-specific experiences and sensibilities through English, undermine the totalizing notion of one standard literary English language that can include all human experiences. As a result, Indian English cease to be regarded as postcolonial, but rather as an expression of uniquely Indian identity.

The contemporary Bengali writer and critic Amit Chaudhuri, in his seminal anthology of 2001 The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, comments on the way English is used in India. Though used by a small but substantial group, English is now an Indian language, English is not an Indian language in the way it is an American language; nor is it an Indian language in the way that Bengali or Urdu. English is not an Indian language, but it has served so many useful and essential purposes of a developing society, this for so long that it has now become a kind of linguistic habit with us and cannot be easily discarded without a proper substitute. Writers like Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Amitav Ghosh, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Anita Desai and more recently Kiran Desai, Shashi Tharoor, Pankaj Mishra and Amit Chaudhuri get gushing reviews and are the propagators and ambassadors of Indian writing in English. The following comments of Gokak present the recent assessment of Indian English writers; “Indo-Anglian writing is direct and spontaneous- like creative writing in any other language. It is conditioned in many ways by the peculiar circumstances of its birth and growth”. (162) The use of English in India for almost two hundred years has naturally nativized the English language and it has also caused the entry of new words into the language which truly represent our culture and traditions and which is also used in non-Indian settings. The Indian linguistic and cultural context is flourishing everyday with new set of lexical items and typical Indian collocations. Srinivasa Iyengar is of the opinion that “Indian writing in English is but one of the voices in which India speaks. It is a new voice, no doubt, but it is as much Indian as others” (3)

Indian writing in English “has come a long way from that teething stage, developing a diversity of themes, a variety of forms and techniques, and, not the least, an authenticity and idiomatic expressiveness.” (S.N.Sridhar 292)

In the process of Indianisation and thereby to ‘decolonize English’, writers express every modes of feeling and thinking peculiar to the cultural milieu through words which are culture bound to describe everyday objects and convey the Indian sentiment. Strategies like vernacular transcription, loan words, syntactic fusion and use of rhythmic patterns and social conventions of Indian languages helps to bridge the “cultural gaps and makes the use of the alien medium more acceptable to the non-native speakers themselves” (Sridhar 298). English has been re-built to reflect the clarity of thought and shades of feeling to the extent they can realize within their own ecosystems. The Indian novelists in English have accelerated the process of desired linguistic deviation and according to Kachru, the process of Indianisation of English is a “linguistic and cultural characteristics transferred to an adopted alien language”.(19) In an attempt to disengage language from its socio-cultural roots and to make it conducive to the new user, the Indian writer liberates English from the precision and accuracy of its usage and disintegrates the stereotypical language functions to accommodate the native feel of the life. This leaves the language with a better freedom for the writer to exploit. Only a gradual and wider usage of the language to contain the burden of our local context and experience can lead to a complete decolonization of the language rather than a deliberate attempt to Indianise it. According to Gokak Indian English should represent “the evolution of a distinct standard- a standard the body of which is the correct English usage, but whose soul is Indian in colour, thought and imagery.”(3)

As from all these illustrations we can conclude that the reappropriation of the ex-coloniser’s language, within a postcolonial frame of mind is a crucial thrust in terms of style for postcolonial writers. The writers I have chosen illustrate how one can authentically represent their native culture through Indian English which, at the same time, abrogates the Standard English as well as appropriates it for local discourses, thereby re-structuring deconstructing and decolonizing the English language to liberate it from within and to remould it for the purpose of dismantling the power structures of English grammar which are symbolic of the hegemonic controls implemented. The English used by these novelists, is a distinct English which is idiomatic, using a colloquial register that will certainly be familiar to a British reader but which contains an unmistakably Indian reference. It represents the new varities of englishes that are relocated, resettled and reincarnated language and indigenized to perform culture-specific functions. Rao has tried in his novels to conform the English language to Indian literary style and rhythm, and to make it express local myths and ideas. These writers are of the opinion that the subversion of English is the only strategy that recognizes the influence of the colonial experience while, at the same time, dismantling its supporting biases. Thus, on the Indian continent the English language was put to a revolutionary use by Rao, Rushdie and Roy. There works are clear illustrations of their efforts to completely relinquish the habitual linguistic practice and the formulation of an innovative, unrefined, critical and radical syntax. Another way of decolonization ably achieved by Indian writers like Raja Rao, Rushdie and Roy are through the Indianisation and acculturation of English language. Hence they are capable of formulating a new english which defies the western canons of power and controls and one which suits their requirements and which opens up spaces for creativity in Indian English. All these approaches are for redefining the medium, and contextualizing English in yet other socio-cultural and linguistic framework.

Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Shame and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things where the writers uses a multiplicity of indigenizations, is an exemplary illustration of the trend, which has plenty of language rooted in local Indian culture. The Indian narrative of resistance begins with Raja Rao whose nativization of English is the best approach to avoid confined by Standard English structures and usage. He expressed his resistance to the language of the dominant discourse by rewriting its given structures. Writers like Raja Rao, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy are involved in a process of indigenizing English. Language in its decontextualised way serves to denaturalize and decolonise thus subverting, diverting and twisting into new shapes and transformed into an alien material in order to express new realities. These writers exhibit a more intentional and calculated linguistic experimentation at several levels the outcome of which will lead to a decolonization of English. This decolonization of the language goes hand in hand with a desire to make it a more penetrating tool of artistic exploration. Post colonial writers like Raja Rao, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy have contributed to the discourse of hybridity through their works of dissent, challenge or subversion. It can be efficiently wrapped up that the practitioners of Indo- Anglian literature wield a ”decolonising pen” (Rushdie). Rushdie’s prediction that Indians were in a position to conquer English literature seems justified.

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