Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mumbai's Muslim patriots carry signs in English?

NYT journalists observing a demonstration of patriotism by Mumbai's Muslim community quote some banners ...
Muslims in India Put Aside Grievances to Repudiate Terrorism -

... The cluster of banners all around him, held aloft by marchers, seemed to bear out his point. Some read “Our Country’s Enemies are Our Enemies,” others, “Killers of Innocents are Enemies of Islam.” A few declared, in uncertain grammar, “Pakistan Be Declared Terrorist State.”..
The journalists don't seem to find it remarkable that the signs are written in English (note grammar comment), and use English acronyms. I'm guessing that's not unusual.

This Mumbai tourist site provides some linguistic context ...
... Marathi is recognized as the official language of the Mumbai city of India. It is the most widely spoken language in the city. Apart from Marathi, there are many other languages that are spoken and understood in Bombay. Mumbaiya or Bambaiya Hindi is the slang language of Mumbaikars. This colloquial speech is a blend of Marathi, Hindi and English. Mumbaiya Hindi is extensively used on the streets of this Island city. The literacy rate in the city is above 86%, subsequently people have flair of education and culture.

Hindi, English and Marathi are counted amongst the major languages in Mumbai, spoken by the common masses. Hindi, being the national language, forms the dialect of 30% of the people. English, nevertheless, enjoys an associate status and is used for national, political as well as commercial communication. English is largely spoken by the people. Infact, it is the major language of the professional and managerial personnel in the city...
Wikipedia has a great overview of Marathi, but it doesn't tell us if there are religious/ethnic determinants of which Mumbaikars speak Marathi. (A friend of mine is a Mumbai native; I'll ask her and update this post).

Given the many languages and language blends of Mumbai, and the likely cultural implications of using one or the other, it seems plausiable that written English could be the universal language of protest signs.

Of all the places I visited in my well spent but callow youth, I though India was the most fascinating and complex. Still do.

Update 12/16/08: My friend explained this to me, but I'm not sure I've got it right. Elite Mumbaikars commonly speak 4 languages - Hindi, Marathi, English and Gujarati (sp?). Marathi is the regional language and would be used by both Muslims and Hindus. Muslims prefer not to use Hindi. English is neutral ground. The signs could have been written in the script form of Marathi though, so the English was probably for foreign consumption as well as local use. Although Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati are different languages they are structurally quite similar.

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