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PRIBBLES AND PRABBLES
Future of the English language–Baboo English-Blunders in convers
ation-Blunders in translation-Queer Bibles-Changes in meaning of words--Changes in pronunciation-Pleonasm in word-building
Change, a condition of living languages. WHATEVER future may await the British Empire, a very glorious one unquestionably awaits the British tongue-the glory, to wit, of becoming the speech of the majority of civilised men. Already virtually the language of commerce and of navigation throughout the world, what a development awaits it in the mouths of the millions present and to come of America and of Australasia! While venerable tongues like French and German are possibly doomed to dwindle and decline as instruments of speech, our English language is obviously destined to be employed more and more by ever-multiplying millions, and, like the river of the poet,
“ Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum," until, in fine, it shall become almost a universal tongue.
But the medal has its reverse ubi uber ibi tuber-and this supreme consummation will probably be attended by a fatal danger inherent in its own conditions. The very triumph of our speech will engender the seeds of its decay; and the English language is in all probability destined to undergo grave deterioration as the price of prodigious diffusion. Just as the pure Latin of the Augustan age gradually assumed Protean forms of change and distortion in the mouths of the motley myriads of the later Empire, so must the world expect to see a gradual, but sure metamorphosis of the English tongue in proportion as it overspreads the globe.
Already in America can be discerned the beginnings, not perhaps of absolute deterioration, but of distinct divergence from the parent type, both in terminology and in pronunciation, and who can tell when this divergence may amount to metamorphosis, or what may be the cumulative result of a thousand years
of creeping alteration in that continent, and still more so in the future States of the Pacific ? Looking to the changes which have occurred in our language within our own four seas from the time of Chaucer until now, he would be a bold man who should venture to predict, or even to imagine, what altered forms a world-wide English may assume at the end of a few centuries from the present time, especially when the Hindoo and the Chinaman shall have contributed their grotesque quotas to its transformation.
Small peoples may indeed conserve their speech from change, as Greece has done, whose language at this day differs but little from that employed by Xenophon; but the liability to lingual alteration increases in almost geometric ratio with the numbers and diffusion of those who use a given language; and therefore it must be expected that the English of the twenty-fifth or thirtieth century-if the world lasts so longwill be radically different from the English of to-day.
A whole paper—and a very interesting one-might be written on the single subject of ‘Pigeon English'—that amazing dialect or jargon which the Chinamen have already brought to such a stage of development that it might now be almost crystallised into a grammar and lexicon of its own; but, leaving China for the present, let us consider for a moment the potentialities of metamorphosis which are involved in our connection with India; and what the educated Baboo' may yet achieve in the way of altering the English tongue.
It is, of course, idle to suppose that English will ever supplant the various vernaculars of India so as to become the speech of all its heterogeneous races; but none the less it is absolutely certain that our language will take root there more or less vigorously; and that it will in time become at least the written language of some millions in that vast peninsula. It is equally certain that, whenever that shall come to pass, our "well of English undefyled” will be found to have undergone some very startling changes at the hands of our Indian fellowsubjects.
Just to show that they have already made a tolerably fair beginning in this direction, I would here cite one or two samples of the ‘Baboo English' of to-day; which I make bold to think will at once curdle the blood of the grammarian and prove amusing to the general reader.
The following is a true and unmanipulated copy of part of a local news-letter which was lately sent for publication to an Anglo-Indian journal :
" It is a matter of impressing on the minds of those inhabiting this dark mundane ocean the excitement of fever which was caused on April first, 1889, by the different informations brought to Patna by means of the different throats, entreating that some fifty or sixty robbers are certain to come to plunder some rich portion of the city. On the very day from 8 p.m. to the dead of night the space between the eastern and the western gates of Patna were so crowded by the armed stout and drastic policemen that it was undoubtedly hoped by the State theory to have no effect of the arms of the robbers on those of the policemen. But soon after the day wended away the information of the robbery was after a deep cogitation known to be a mendacious fabrication.”
The next specimen is a copy of a letter addressed to an English official in India by a Bengal Baboo desirous of being appointed to a clerkship in that gentleman's office :