Vyasavali/How to approximate written and spoken Telugu

How to approximate
written and spoken Telugu.

The first object of the "Society *[1]for promoting the cultivation of current Telugu" is to bring about an approximation of the written and the spoken dialects. The source of the written language must, of course, have been originally the spoken form; but for obvious reasons they have gradually diverged further and further from each other so that, as Arden says, "thousands of natives who use the language as only the medium of conversation, cannot read a gramatically written book or understand it when read to them," and as Campbell remarks "even to the learned the use of commentaries is indispensible for the correct understanding of many of their best works." But in some communities like the English the relations between the two dialects are constantly adjusted and they are found in close approximation to one another.

When we say that written English approximates to spoken English we are not asserting that they are exactly identical. There are differences between them not only of pronunciation but also of style, idiom, vocabulary and even grammatical forms, which vary with time, place and manner of expression and also with the habits and education of individual writers and speakers. But, the differences are very slight: literary English especially of the higher kind, requires more careful pronunciation and tolerates more archaic forms and more pompous words than the colloquial speech. The language of poetry is, to some extent, of the same character. Prose, however, even the best, is never entirely remote in form from the best conversational style of the same period.

"Here indeed lies the heart of the whole matter. The literary language is kept living and flexible only by a close relation with the colloquial speech of the age. A purely literary tradition, however splendid, will not suffice for the style of a later period. A literary tradition alone, deprived of the living spirit is a lifeless thing. The breath of life comes into literary form from the living spoken language, as it comes into literature itself from touch with life. Thus, while great prose owes much to tradition, it owes still more to the racy speech of the age in which it is produced.

"The impression made by fine prose of any age, and not unfrequently also by verse, of the less artificial and elaborate kind, is that the author writes very much as he would speak, if he were conveying the same ideas by word of mouth. It is this quality of vitality, which springs from a mastery of the best spoken form of his age that compels our admiration in the prose of Dryden; but what we should 'gladly use' is not his precise form (as Mathew Arnold says) which is no longer a living vehicle of thought and feeling, but a prose which should combine the elements of literary tradition on the one hand with those of contemporary colloquial speech on the other, in that just proportion, and with that subtle blending, which is the secret of great writers in all ages. No writer can express himself adequately in a language which is not his own; the thought and emotions of one age cannot be conveyed in a style which is outworn; and this has come about when the relation between the language of literature and that of every day life is severed."

Let our readers judge, in the light of Prof. Wyld's remarks on the character of literary English, the counter proposal of some of our opponents. If an approximation be necessary, they say, it may as well be brought about by inducing people to speak the literary language as by permitting people to write as they speak; besides, the ancient literary language would thereby be conserved and the spoken dialect purified and ennobled. They contend that all the English men and English women that speak good English do so because they have carefully studied the grammar of the language as well as literaturate and that colloquial English which is spoken at home is as vulgar and as ungrammatical as colloquial Telugu. This contention is obviously due to utter ignorance. We shall in a future number attempt to explain what is meant in English by the terms colloquial, vulgar, slangy, dialectal, archaic &c, and wind up this article by saying that the idea that those speakers of English who do not speak what is technically known as a dialect in the special sense of the term, are reproducing or attempting to reproduce, in their speech the language of books is fundamentally erroneous.' Call it by what name you like, Polite English, Standard spoken English, good English, colloquial English or simply English, it is a living dialect, and as grammatical as any other language and is the mother tongue of all the living English men and English women, of English boys and English girls of the upper class wherever they may live. It is not learnt from books but from living persons, by association. It is at any given moment nearly uniform but never fixed; is always tending to change. It has more prestege than other English dialects which are now disappearing before it.

Such is also the mother tongue of the upper classes among the Telugus. It is imperceptably assimilating to itself the dialects of other classes who are now in close contact with the upper classes. Is it possible for people, as our opponents wish, to give it up and use in its place a dialect which no living being speaks?


  1. * Vide page 32 of the last number of the Telugu Journal.