Yesterday we had a little laugh at the expense of an Indian interpreter who, with more ambition than ability, had written an English method for his Bengali-speaking neighbors. But Dr. Boli hinted that he saw this book as a very hopeful sign for the English language. Now he will explain why he thinks that is true.

There was a time when the English language was full of natural poetry. Back in the time of Good Queen Bess, the first of that name, it was almost impossible for an English-speaker not to be a poet. Our language produced Shakespeare and Spenser and Marlowe and dozens of other first-rate poets in her time, but even the most prosaic writing of the Elizabethan age is full of poetry. The Elizabethans couldn’t help it: they opened their mouths, and beautiful music came out.

We Americans had our own age of poetry. In the nineteenth century, and into the early twentieth, the ordinary American spoke a language that was full of the elements of poetry: rhythm and metaphor and alliteration and—above all—variety. But we outgrew that poetry. Americans of today speak a dull and prosaic sort of English; we naturally think in terms we have learned from marketers and politicians, the two groups least likely to produce a poetic statement.

But there is a country, soon to be the largest in the world in terms of population, where millions upon millions speak a variety of English that is full of natural poetry. “Make English your lap-dog”: no American would say that, but how much better American English would be if it were the sort of thing we naturally said! We laughed at the grammatical errors in the sample letter about “poor sanitary arrangements,” but look at that letter again, and you will see that there is not a single sentence in it that is not perfectly clear on the first reading. Now pick up any random piece of American writing—say, a letter from a politician to the editor of the Washington Post—and see whether you could say the same for it.

Go back and read the sample letter again, and this time listen to the rhythm. It is varied in just the right way to hold our attention. The vocabulary is rich and descriptive. The argument flows persuasively.

It would be easy to point out the errors to our author, and if he is not too proud to take advice, he could remove all our grammatical objections to his writing. But no one could teach him the poetry: he had to grow up thinking poetically. As India grows in prosperity and influence, more and more of this poetic and definite Indian English will penetrate our fuzzy and prosaic literature, and a fresh breeze will blow through the English-speaking world. Let a thousand Sudhamay Balas bloom. They will make us proud of our language again.


  1. Lars Walker says:

    I joined a group of P.G. Wodehouse fans on Facebook, and discovered most of them were Indians. I’m beginning to think that, within a few years, Indians will be the only English-speakers capable of enjoying Wodehouse.

    • Piper says:

      Ah, don’t despair, Mr. Walker! My teenage son has a deep appreciation of Wodehouse, and can often be heard snorting with laughter over one of his books. If a teenaged American boy can enjoy Wodehouse like that, all is not lost!

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