Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka
by Tasneem Amirally Akbarally
Paper V – Standards & Varieties of English
Dr. Manique Gunesekara
1st November 2001
Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka
Just a few centuries ago English was only spoken by about five to seven million people on Britain, which was merely one, relatively small island. The language at that time only consisted of dialects spoken by monolinguals. But the story of English is quite different today. There are more non-native than native speakers of English, and it has become the linguistic key used for opening borders. It is now a global medium with local identities and messages. It has truly come of age. Spoken by at least 750 million people. ?English is by now the world language.’ (Rushdie, 1992: 64) It is more widely spoken and written than any other language, even Latin, has ever been. It can, indeed, be said to be the first truly global language being the dominant, ?official or semi-official language in over 60 countries and has a prominent place in a further 20.’ (Crystal, 1987: 358)
The main aim of this research paper is to trace the development and emergence of a variety of specific English, in this case the variety known as Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka. Basically anywhere that the language is spoken has its own variety and history. This paper will focus on the Daudi Bohra English an off shoot of Hindustani or old Indian English, but more significantly as it is spoken in Sri Lanka. The focus is going to be on all the aspects of the language. This includes the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and other special features that the variety of English may possess.
Review of literature
There is very little published literature on the Daudi Bohra community and especially on their usage of English and their contact with the British Raj. What material there is, is not really accessible to those outside the community. A lot of the historical date for this research paper has been gathered by way of interviews with the older generation and from sermons preached at the mosque. These sermons are preached to give a sense of the continuity to the community and give the younger generation an understanding of their heritage. These sermons are not published nor are they open to the outside public. But the other literature used in this paper is to do with Indian English and for this Tom McArthur’s The Oxford Companion to the English Language proved invaluable. So too were the writings of Braj B. Kachru and Salman Rushdie. Main Bhai Mulla Abdul Hussain’s work too gave a fairly accurate though not totally accepted introduction into the history of the Bohras. Thus most of the material is based on personal narration and not written or published literature. This is one of the shortcomings of this paper ? the fact that much of the date cannot be reviewed. Only parties inside the Bohra community can verify some of the information for lack of published sources.
Sri Lankan Daudi Bohra English influences
Daudi Bohra English has been influenced by many different varieties. Initially the influence was British English and subsequently the influence has been by Indian English, Pakistani English and of course Sri Lankan English, Sinhala and Tamil. Further Arabic as spoken in countries like the UAE and Yemen have influenced the variety of English spoken by the community as well. Today though, with large-scale migration into different regions of the world like the United States of America, Canada, Australia and African countries like Kenya and Tanzania the national and regional languages of these areas too have influenced Daudi Bohra English. This factor is important because it has also affected the Daudi Bohra English spoken in Sri Lanka as well, because of cross boarder travel and marriage. One key feature in the community is that marriages are made with Bohras living all over the globe. It is not considered unusual to bring a wife for a son from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or indeed from any part of the world where there are Bohras. Similarly girls get married to boys resident all over the globe. Hence this phenomena means that the English spoken by the Bohras in Sri Lanka is constantly being influenced by different varieties of English from all parts of the globe. Migration and travel are key features of the community, which has to a large extent continued its basic fundamental practice of being a community involved in trade and business.
The Daudi Bohra community traces its history back to Persia when the first wave of Arabian Islamic conquerors invaded Persia. In the subsequent battles, the Persians lost to the Islamic princes, namely Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed. After this defeat Hussain married Princess Sherebanu of Persia. This was a tactic used to unite the warring factions and bring peace and reconciliation. The reason for the Islamic wars being not only the advance of their political and military rule but mainly the advancement of their new faith. Thus the Persians converted to Islam. These Persian Shias became the bulk of the Shia Muslim population that followed Hussain to Karbala [in modern day Iraq] and fought with him in the battle that led to his martyrdom along with the rest of the male population of his caravan. The only male to survive the massacre in Karbala was Hussain’s very ill son Ali Zain-ul-Abedeen who eventually took the caravan back to Medina in the UAE.
After many changes of residence with the shifting of the caliphate of the Islamic State from Cairo the centre of the Daudi Bohra community became Yemen. This destination too was eventually made unsafe for the governance of the community. One of the mail reasons being ?on account of the political troubles due to the success of Turks in Aden (1537 AD)'(Mulla Abdul Hussain, 1920: 43-4) Thus, the centre shifted to state of Gujarat in central India where the Moughal emperors proved kind and benevolent sanction. From here on the Daudi Bohra community slowly spread to other parts of the nation and integrated itself with the local communities throughout including large populations in all the major trading centres including Surat, and Mumbai. Currently the official centre of administration of the Daudi Bohra State is in Mumbai in India with its two centres for religious study being based in Surat and Karachi respectively.
The official language of the Moghul courts was Persian. Thus the new Bohra migrants didn’t really have a cultural, religious or language integration problem The Moghuls, like other residents who lived to the west of the Indian sub-continent named India ?Hind’ or ?Hindustan’, after the river Indus which flows in the present day Pakistan. The language spoken in ?Hind’ they called Hindi or Hindustani. This language and its script were based on an ancient Indian language called Sanskrit and its script called Devanagiri.
Some of the Moghul family members were great patrons of poetry and music and slowly there developed a ?Hindustani’ poetry, based on Hindustani language, which used words from Arabic and Persian and was written in Perso-Arabic script. This language was called Urdu, which replaced Persian as the language of the Moghul courtyards. Thus, there developed two languages with different writings but were actually one language when spoken except for their higher vocabularies. After the collapse of the Moghuls the British became the rulers of north India introducing English to the nation while continuing to use Urdu for official purposes.
?The use of English dates from the trading ‘factories’ started by the East India Company: Surat (1612), Madras (1639 – 40), Bombay (1674), Calcutta (1690). European traders at that time used a form of Portuguese, current since Portugal had acquired Goa in 1510.’ (McArthur, 1992.) With the British Imperialist rule, the Daudi Bohra community, which was a community by tradition of traders and merchants became exposed to English ? in this case British English. This lead to the community slowly commencing to speak the more subservient varieties of English known as Babu English and Boxwallah English.
Babu English emerged in the late 19th century from the word babu, a mode of address and reference in several Indo-Aryan languages, including Gujarathi, Hindi and Urdu, for officials working for rajahs, landlords, etc. It became a generic term during the British Raj for Hindu and especially Bengali officials and clerks working in English, and was often disparaging. It was generally a variety of South Asian English used by middle-level bureaucrats and associated with a flowery, extremely deferential, and indirect style of writing and speaking. Boxwallah English on the other hand comes from English box and wallah, someone involved with or in charge of something, from /Gujarathi/Hindi/Urdu wala, an owner, Sanskrit pala, a protector]. This was a South Asian Pidgin English used primarily by boxwallahs, peddlers who carry a box or bundle containing such wares as shawls and jewellery. Their English is mixed with other languages and has a simplified syntax.
Bearer English had an uncertain date and came from bearer, applied in the 18th century to a palanquin carrier in India, then to a domestic servant who has charge of his master’s clothes, household goods, etc., perhaps from, or influenced by, Bengali behara, from Sanskrit vyavhari. The use of the term then extended to a servant in the kitchen]. A term for the English used by (and sometimes with) servants, shopkeepers, etc., in South Asia. And although the Daudi Bohra community’s occupation ever led to them being bearers or servants [this was not their line of work] they were definitely some of the small time shopkeepers. And so Bearer English, like Babu English and Boxwallah English demonstrate how the community slowly began using the language in their day to day activities as merchants and traders.
It is interesting to note that at this point in history the English language was mainly used by the male population, as most females did not deal with the speakers of English meaning the British Colonialists. Thus this form of English used was marked by the omission of auxiliaries, pronouns, conjunctions, and plural endings, and articles. There was extensive code mixing with Hindustani or the individual’s native language, in this case Gujarathi and Dawath-ni-zabaan.
But with the rise in the wealth of the community they began to travel to different parts of the British Empire as traders. So the India became a base for those who wished to make their fortune. Many moved to Africa and its different states like Madagascar with its English/French speaking colonies, and to other places like Singapore, Sri Lanka and Arabia. This meant that the language they spoke as traders i.e. English or French was heavily influenced by both the native host language and the languages of their former homes.
A feature of the Daudi Bohra community is that it is their belief that whatever part of the world they inhabit becomes their home. So their allegiance is to that country and state ? this means that integration is done. Thus although traditional values and beliefs and lifestyle patterns are maintained at home, with the usage of Dawath-ni-zabaan or the dialect of Gujarathi which is spoken by the Daudi Bohra community they do not attempt to stand out as separate but instead try to blend in with the mainstream. This has been one of the reasons for the community’s survival over time and distance because although they have moved their religious and administration centre, it still functions as a State of its own. The boundaries of the State are not based on geography but religious ideology. Further, ?following the traditions laid down by their ancestors, the Dawoodi Bohras in Sri Lanka have eschewed politics and devoted themselves to the peaceful pursuits of commerce and trade.’ (The Island, 14 March 1982: 60)
Once the community stated migrating to the different out posts of the British empire and increasing in prosperity they started educating their children to join the ranks of the elite of the countries they inhabited. And because there were no restrictions in any way on the issue of male and female education the more prosperous families educated both offspring equally. This move to give their children English education lead to many of the younger generation growing up to speak the variety of English known as Convent English. In Sri Lanka for example such schools date from the 17th ? 18th centuries They were originally intended to provide a Christian education but became in recent decades increasingly secular. The model of Convent English is not specifically British English or American English, nor has the usage of school staff ever been homogeneous. In the past, European teachers were recruited not only from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but also from Belgium and other countries. A ‘convent-educated’ person was and is expected to have a Westernised outlook, and is generally comfortable with and fluent in English. Extensive code-mixing with local languages occurs. In middle-class circles, Convent English is equated with modernity and so the Daudi Bohra community soon became a very modern community with westernised outlooks on life.
Women especially began to yearn for higher education and this remains a feature of the community even today. Most women do tend study further and are likely to be better qualified than the men. One reason for this is that a lot of the men join the family business or firm once they finish their O/Levels and A/Levels while the women tend to go on with their education. The other is that women are more likely to pursue education for education’s sake, while the men tend to focus on their careers. And although things are changing career women are still a minority within the community with many women preferring to stay after married despite their education and qualifications. ?However, during the last five decades many Dawoodi Bohras have taken to the learned professions ? law, medicine, accountancy, engineering etc.’ (The Island, 14 March 1982: 60)
Especially in Sri Lanka the Daudi Bohra community became very multi-cultural. This not only resulted in the change of outlook in the younger generation but also resulted in that populace using English instead of their mother tongue Dawath-ni-zabaan a dialect of Gujarathi which instead of Devanagiri script used a Perso-Arabic script that is similar to Urdu in their homes. What this meant for Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka is that their version of Sri Lankan English became infused with words from Hindi, Urdu, Gujarathi and Dawath-ni-zabaan, which also relies heavily on Arabic and Persian as well as the local languages of Sinhala and Tamil. Thus the Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka has became a variety of English that is truly representative of their cultural heritage and identity.
Daudi Bohra English is rhotic /r/ being pronounced in all positions, tends to be syllable-timed, and shares many features with northern Indian English, which can be a source of comprehension difficulty for those used to a stress-timed variety especially when speech is rapid. Also highly distinctive are the alveolar consonants /t, d/ which are retroflex plosives [AKA retroflex, or domal, stops] t. and d. [dots go underneath the t and d; some assembly required –] though these are often replaced by alveolar plosives [like those in American and British English –] in educated speech. Similarly, the traditional use of /r/ after vowels may these days be avoided by younger educated people, especially women. The fricatives /[theta], ?/ are aspirated /t, d/, so that three of those sounds like ‘three of dhose’. The distinction between /v/ and /w/ is generally neutralised to /w/: ‘wine’ for both wine and vine. Similarly they sometimes tend to use /d3/ for /z/, so that zed and zero become ‘jed’ and ‘jero’.
Borrowings from Hindi/Urdu and the regional languages are common:
? bungalow, crore (ten million), dacoit, deodar, dinghy, dungaree, ghee, gymkhana, hartal, lakh/lac (hundred thousand), loot, paisa, pakora, Raj, samo(o)sa, shampoo, tandoori, wallah (a word element denoting ‘one who does something as an occupation’, as with policewallah), atta flour, and ziarat (religious place where a saint, martyr is buried) Eve-teasing (harassment of women), Himalayan blunder (grave mistake), hotel (eating house), anna, cheetah, chintz, chit/chitty, jodhpurs, juggernaut, mulligatawny, pice, pukka, pundit, rupee, sahib
? Arabic, attar, aubergine, caliph, emir, gazelle, genie/jinn, ghoul, jasmine, kismet, Koran, minaret, mohair, Moslem, nadir, sheik(h), sherbet
direct or through Afro-Asian languages
? ayatollah, harem, henna, hooka(h), imam, Islam, jihad, kaffir, muezzin, mujahedin, mullah, Muslim, nadir, Qur?an, safari, sahib, salaam, Sharia, shaykh, zenith
Other words borrowed from Dawath-ni-zabaan have a religious connotation and are associated with the mosque and the traditional home and, therefore, cultural heritage.
? Jamaat, nikkah, janaaza, jaman, paani, paan, chai, Ya Hassan, Ya Hussain, Ya Ali, Ya Allah, Ya Abbas Ali, masjid, shaadi, rotti, kari chaval, jalli, Mola, bass, topee
There have also been heavy influences from Sinhala and Tamil the two languages spoken in Sri Lanka, and like Sri Lanka English, Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka has been greatly enriched by them. These include borrowings like
? Machang, murukku, podiyan, pottu, vadai, parippu, kiri baath, paan, seeni, kiri
(2) Loanwords and loan translations from other languages have been common since the 17th century, often moving into the language outside India:
? Words from Portuguese such as almirah, ayah, caste, peon, lampris, in camera; and from local languages through Portuguese such as bamboo, betel, coir, copra, curry, mango.
? Words taken from Dutch for example shroff, kokis, baas
? Some are later and less orthographically Anglicised: achcha all right (used in agreement and often repeated: Achcha achcha, I will go), basmati a kind of rice, chapatti a flat, pancake-like piece of unleavened bread, goonda a ruffian, petty criminal, jawan a soldier in the present-day Indian Army, masala spices, paisa a coin, 100th of a rupee
? Words from Arabic and Persian through north Indian languages, used especially during the British Raj: dewan chief minister of a princely state, durbar court of a prince or governor, mogul a Muslim prince (and in the general language an important person, as in movie mogul), sepoy a soldier in the British Indian Army, shroff a banker, money-changer, vakeel/vakil a lawyer, zamindar a landlord
(3) Calques from local languages: cook appu, poruwa ceremony, mudukku joint, pirit ceremony, paduru party, Vesak lantern, kadu faculty, pissu bugger, and nikkah ceremony,
(4) Compounds, hybrids, adaptations, and idioms. The great variety of mixed and adapted usages exists both as part of English and as a consequence of widespread code mixing
? Compounds of English and English words are used to make words special to Sri Lanka English in general whose variety Daudi Bohra English in Sri Lanka most definitely is. These include words like love cake, passion fruit, milk toffee, going away, wedding house, funeral house, basket woman, cook woman, love marriage, dining-leaf a banana leaf used to serve food, cousin brother a male cousin
? Hybrid usages, one component from English, one from a local language, often Hindi: brahminhood the condition of being a brahmin, coconut paysam a dish made of coconut, pan/paan shop a shop that sells betel nut and lime for chewing, wrapped in a pepper leaf, policewala a policeman, swadeshi cloth home-made cloth, and tiffin box a lunch-box
? Local senses and developments of general English words: batch-mate a classmate or fellow student, body-bath an ordinary bath, communal used with reference to Hindus and Muslims (as in communal riots), condole to offer condolences to someone, England-returned used of one who has been to England, for educational purposes, a been-to, foreign-returned used of someone who has been abroad for educational purposes, head-bath washing one’s hair, intermarriage a marriage involving persons from different religions or castes, issueless childless, out of station not in (one’s) town or place of work
(5) Words more or less archaic in British English and American English, but used in South Asian English are also still in use in Daudi Bohra English as spoken in Sri Lanka
? such as *censored*y (the boot/trunk of a car),
? needful (‘Please do the needful’),
? thrice (‘I was seeing him thrice last week’)
(6) The many idiomatic expressions
? to sit on someone’s neck to watch that person carefully,
? to stand on someone’s head to supervise that person carefully;
? Do one thing, ?There is one thing you could do?
(7) Affixation ? these features are the same as those that are seen in Sri Lanka English.
? A plural noun from Sinhala, Tamil or Dawath-ni-zabaan and an English plural maker are used: sereppu/s, katu/s,
? The use of ?? fy + ing’ as in kendirifying, rustifying,
? The use of ?? ing’ as in podaring,
? The use of ?? fication’ as in rustification
? The use of ?? ism’ as in cronyism, family bandyism
? The use of ?? ization’ as in privatization
(8) Reduplication used for emphasis and to indicate a distributive meaning: I bought some small small things; Why you don’t give them one one piece of cake?
Also words like beriberi come into this phenomena of reduplication.
? The progressive in ‘static’ [also called ‘stative’] verbs: ‘I am understanding it.’ ‘She is knowing the answer.’
? Variations in noun number and determiners: ‘He performed many charities.’ ‘She loves to pull your legs.’
? Prepositions: ‘pay attention on, discuss about, convey him my greetings’
? Tag questions: ‘You’re going, isn’t it?’ ‘He’s here, no?’
? ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ agreeing to the form of a question, not just its content —
A: ‘You didn’t come on the bus?’
B: ‘Yes, I didn’t.’
Distinctive grammatical features relate to uses of the verb, article, relative clause, preposition, and adjective and verb complementation, are all shared with Indian English and of course Pakistani English as can be seen from the examples above. Features of the indigenous languages influence use of English and code mixing and code switching are common, including among the highly educated.
There is great variety in syntax, from native-speaker fluency, to a weak command of many constructions. The following represents a widespread middle level and is quite similar to non-standard Sri Lanka English:
(1) Interrogative constructions without subject/auxiliary inversion: What you would like to buy?
(2) Definite article often used as if the conventions have been reversed: It is the nature’s way; Office is closed today.
(3) One used rather than the indefinite article: He gave me one book.
(4) Stative verbs given progressive forms: Lila is having two books; You must be knowing my cousin-brother Mohan.
(5) Yes and no as question tags: He is coming, yes?; She was helping you, no?
(6) Isn’t it? As a generalised question tag: They are coming tomorrow, isn’t it?
(7) Reflexive pronouns and only used for emphasis: It was God’s order itself It was God’s own order, They live like that only That is how they live.
(8) Present perfect rather than simple past: I have bought the book yesterday
For many educated Daudi Bohras, English today is virtually their first language, and for a great number of others, who are multi-lingual, it is probably be the second. And while many of the older generation that grew up during the British Raj still use archaic convoluted British? sentences, most of the younger educated generation is very familiar and comfortable with the American usage. This is mainly due to the influence of American TV programming, like MTV; though the fact that most of the Internet’s content is also in American English has also played a part. Other examples are the TV soaps like ?The Bold and Beautiful,? and ?Sunset Beach? which have a huge fan following besides, Hollywood movies and American music. And no one can deny the socio-economic advantages that the knowledge of English brings. Even in the literary world, English bears the mark of socio-economic distinction. ?The English language is a tool of power, domination and elitist identity, and of communication across continents’ (Kachru, 1983)
The aim of this paper was to trace the development and emergence of a variety of English as spoken by the Daudi Bohras of Sri Lanka. This is because language is the key to a culture and therefore understanding the specifics of a variety of English spoken by a distinct group of people is a way of unlocking some of that segment’s culture and identity. Historically most South Asian varieties of English have been influenced by the colonisation and British English, which was brought into the nations along with the impact of the British Imperialism. Thus the main objective of the paper was to unlock the history and heritage of the Daudi Bohra community in Sri Lanka through the tracing of their specific variety of English.