Living in a Multi-Lingual Landscape

One of the most wonderful things that has happened to me this year was being picked to speak at the ATypI conference at Dublin in September. Here’s the abstract of the presentation I plan to give there:

Living in a Multi-Lingual Landscape
An exploration of multi-lingual India and its idiosyncrasies

With twenty-two national languages written in ten different scripts, India is a country of both linguistic diversity and conflict. From the voracious implementation of laws to promote native languages in its states to the outright failure of writing reforms that tried to unify the country with one script, India has seen it all. And yet, in this seemingly hostile environment, colloquial language in the country has evolved into a pastiche of its diverse tongues and scripts.

On the streets of India, words transform like chameleons as they travel from one script to another. Transliterated back and forth, over and over again, words have freed themselves from the scripts they were originally written in. At the same time, scripts are borrowing from each other’s calligraphic and typographic traditions to continue being relevant. And, even though many Indian languages share a common phonetic sound, orthographies are being stretched and re-invented to accommodate new words every day. Spellings become even more fascinating when words are transliterated to English: there is absolutely no right or wrong! New superstitions are developing around these ambiguous spellings as people nonchalantly add and subtract letters from names to bring good luck. Ultimately, with transliteration being so rampant, even knowing the correct pronunciation of a word or its true origin is becoming harder by the day.

With India’s linguistic past as a background, the paper explores this thriving and ever-changing landscape, in both its written and aural forms; and in doing so it seeks to identify patterns and anecdotes alike, to throw open to its audience the true nature of multi-lingual India.


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