Category Archives: Linguistics

All I Do Is Read and Write

I’ve been writing the most brain destroying essay for the last eight days.  Here’s a sample:

The necessity of the Co-operative principle, being central to Gricean theory, is often disputed by theorists. Relevance Theory, as proposed and outlined by Sperber and Wilson (1995) does not ascribe to this idea of co-operation in communication being the focal issue, but does concur with Grice’s opinion on the essentiality of expression and recognition of intentions in human conversation. (Sperber and Wilson, 2004: 1)
Sperber and Wilson build upon Grice’s foundational model of inferential communication but offer an alternative approach in many respects. Whilst they also agree with Grice’s intuition that utterances create expectations of relevance, (ibid.) they reason that ‘the expectations of relevance raised by an utterance are precise enough, and predictable enough, to guide the hearer towards the speaker’s meaning.’ (Sperber and Wilson, 2004: 2)

I am truly about to just hand it in, whatever state it’s in, though I know it’s not quite finished. Part of me finds it difficult to continue to do these assignments when the end is so near, and I know that this degree isn’t really going to mean much to me anyway. Certainly giving my opinion on whether Relevance Theory is an improvement on Gricean ideas won’t help me to pay whatever bills await. I suppose you never know. There is a higher plan, of that much I’m sure.

Aside from this essay, I’ve been writing for other projects, catching up on emails that I ignored while I was away, writing reports of the trip for Gauravani.com, and finding myself sitting here writing a blog when I should be finishing my abominable essay. And I don’t even want to start on the amount of books I’m in various stages of reading. My bedside table looks like a book sale. Currently I’ve got all the bookmarks I own on the go (plus paper scraps), with Vaisnava Compassion by Satsvarupa Maharaj; Krsna, Israel and the Druze by Dhira Govinda Dasa; A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth; The Art of Sadhana by B.P. Puri Maharaj; Songs of Three Great South Indian Saints by William Jackson; The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton; Jaiva Dharma by Bhaktivinode Thakur – I could go on but there’s no point. Perhaps I should just face up to the fact that this entire blog is blatant procrastination that I can’t afford to indulge in, and get back to the dry debate on conversational maxims.

But I shouldn’t complain. I chose this after all.

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Filed under Linguistics, University Coursework

I am liking very much!

On Monday I finished all of my coursework assignments and handed them in. One of them was a short essay on the dialect ‘Indian English’ and it’s context within Britain. My teacher reacted with interest when I told her I wanted to write on this topic, instead of a regular British regional dialect.

Devotees must seem so unusual to ‘regular people’. I remember in my first Linguistics class ever, the professor went around the room, asking people what language knowledge they had. French, Spanish, Polish, German – they all went up on the board; but only one person wrote up ‘some Sanskrit and other Indian languages’. And that person was probably the least expected person to write that – me, white with red hair, looking as Anglo-Celtic as you can get.

I think that growing up in ISKCON is what first sparked my interest in linguistics. Being part of a culture with, first of all, such an international membership (and therefore potential contact with many different languages) and secondly, central focus on written texts and culture in several Indian languages, creates such an interesting breeding ground for language creation and growth. What to speak of the fact that ISKCON, as a society, is still very new.

As part of my university course, I’d love to do further studies in this particular vein. It’s so interesting to observe how my generation are responding to the language they’ve been brought up with and changing things – making new meaning. In turn, the older generation respond to this, either adopting the changes, or resisting them. Maybe it could be a book – ‘How The Whompers Got Their Name: Linguistic Oddity in a New Vaishnava Society’. Haha.

Anyway, if you would like to read the essay, here it is:cml-essay.doc

I’m not pretending to be a great scholar – it’s a pretty standard essay (but interesting, I think).

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Filed under Krishna Consciousness, Linguistics, University Coursework

Spiritual Semantics

Disclaimer: I was thinking about this post on my drive home from school. When I arrived, I had a look on Planet ISKCON and I was quite surprised to see this great post which was sort of along the lines of what I was thinking about. So please excuse me if I’m chewing the cud. Put it down to some kind of divine synchronicity.

At university, I am studying linguistics (amongst other things), and with this being my first week back I have been dutifully cleaning out my ears and getting in the habit of listening once again for interesting linguistic data; in conversations; in writing; anywhere really. As I drove home this Thursday, it struck me suddenly that ISKCON can be a total goldmine for linguistic oddity. I don’t know why I had never considered it before, but it is perhaps this which first sparked my interest in learning about language, and how it varies and develops.

I think every devotee has a story of when they have used ISKCON slang with a non-devotee, and been met with confusion, or just a blank stare. There are several that I’ve noticed more recently. As with all linguistic commentary, once you notice it, you become very self conscious of saying it yourself…oh well.

Haribol: This word has taken on so many meanings depending on context and intonation – it’s amazing. It literally means ‘Chant the names of Hari (Krsna)’ but often becomes –

  • ‘Haribol?’ – Answering the phone, knocking on doors, interrupting conversations.
  • ‘Hariiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-BOL!’ – Usually only used in kirtan or reserved for special occasions such as festivals, initiations and weddings (normally accompanied by loud banging of mrdangas, djembes, or the temple room floor)
  • ‘Uh-hari-bol?!’ – the ‘uh’ indicates indignation – normally used when apprehending queue jumpers at prasadam time.
  • ‘Haribol! Haribol!’ – (imperative) Can mean, ‘Get out the way! Maha trolley/disabled person/swami/wet mop coming through!’
  • ‘Hari-BOL!’ – How are you?! I haven’t seen you in so long! (could be required after just days, weeks, months, years – depends on the person) Many variations on the intonation of this one.
  • hari-bol‘ (slow, quiet) – When hearing bad news.

Once a devotee called me and I realised how ridiculous the ‘haribols’ can get. It went something like this:

Me: Haribol?

Dasi: Haribol! Jahnavi?

Me: Yep haribol!

Dasi: Haribol this is Dasi! –

Me: – OH! Hari-BOL! (note appropriate usage here)

Dasi: – Haribol! – I wanted to talk to you about next week. We’re……

Others I have noticed are smaller ones. Things like:

  • (House) program: We’ve taken the humble word ‘program’ – which I suppose is valid, in that it can describe a scheduled series of events; but it tends to take on a variety of meanings as to what these activites actually are. From Bhagavad Gita study groups, to kirtans, to birthday parties, movie nights, garba evenings – one things’s for sure – there will be devotees there, and they’ll be doing something. There’s definitely not many better words to describe this mix of kirtan/prasadam/class/socialising – but it gets a little awkward when you’re trying to tell someone not in the know – ‘Yeah I can’t come to your party on Friday. Sorry, I have to go to a….um…program?’ Doesn’t really work.

Others are a little more in-house things that bug me sometimes.

  • Swami abbreviations The practice of abbreviating the titles and names of Swamis, into one, annoying acronym – ‘Yeah, HH RNS is giving class on Sunday, oh, and don’t forget, I want a copy of that SRS kirtan from you!’ I can understand it in email addresses and notetaking, but using it otherwise is like transcendental ‘textspeak’. A related issue is always referring to Krsna Consciousness in speech (and print) as ‘KC’ – ‘Yeah, his KC really took a turn for the better last year when he got initiated.’
  • Tautological phrases – Tautology is when you needlessly repeat a word, phrase or idea. Normally it’s just within one language, but we often inadvertently do it because we’re using English alongside Sanskrit or Bengali. Of course it’s perfectly understandable that we’re all going to do it at some point, but I just think in general we should know what we’re saying. Examples include: ‘The Rath cart will leave at 11′ – ‘Rath’ means ‘cart’; ‘Sage Narada Muni was extremely devotional’ – ‘Muni’ means ‘sage’ ; King Bali Maharaj – you get the point…
  • Kirtan/bhajan – When is a bhajan not a kirtan? If we stand up and sing ‘Jaya Radha Madhava’ is that a kirtan? I know this one doesn’t really matter but I wish I could resolve it somehow. I always grew up thinking that the definition of a ‘bhajan’ was a devotional song (meaning, it has lyrics and a definable beginning and end) and a kirtan was chanting Hare Krsna – in any context. But now the trend seems to be more towards calling anything sitting down a bhajan, and anything standing up, a kirtan. So if you’re sitting down, chanting Hare Krsna, you’re having ‘bhajans’, but if halfway through, everyone gets up and starts dancing, you’re now having a kirtan? Confusing…
  • Nectar – This is just a mini observation I made when I was travelling in America this summer. I noticed that the drink at prasadam time (at the temple) was almost always referred to as ‘nectar – no matter whether it was apple juice and 7up, or caranamrta. I just thought it was interesting as I never hear it in England. I also noticed that devotees just use the word ‘nectar’ there more often – ‘His class this morning was really nectar!’ A related issue to this is the word nectarean, e.g. ‘The nectarean glories of the holy name‘. It’s nectarean, not nectarine. A nectarine is a fruit, not an adjective.

Anyway, I know this is all very insignificant ultimately, but it is interesting (to me at least). If anyone reading has any more they want to share, please do.

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Filed under Krishna Consciousness, Linguistics, Uncategorized