Monday, November 21, 2011

Orthography, foreign places names and affectation

One of those minor niggles that gets to my curmudgeonly heart is the fashion amongst our chattering classes to ditch tradition British/Englsih names for foriegn places with by nodding to local authenticity. It is all part of a self-destructive and tendancy, and seems to me silly. Not only that we seem to be the only country that engages in this sort of 'lowlier than thou' behaviour.

What I didn't know is that this aspect of the British cringe has been going on for years and years, indeed for well over a century.

I recently had the good fortune to find a rather fine 1907/10 edition of "With Clive in India" by G.A. Henty. And a splendid read it is,
However it is his evisceration of the affectation of changing orthography that really struck me as relevant now, and obviously then,
A word as to the orthography of the names and places. An entirely new method of spelling Indian words has lately been invented by the Indian authorities. This is no doubt more correct than the rough-and-ready orthography of the early traders, and I have therefore adopted it for all little-known places. But there are Indian names which have become household words in England, and should never be changed; and as it would be considered a gross piece of pedantry and affectation on the part of a tourist on the Continent, who should, on his return, say he had been to Genova, Firenze, and Wien, instead of Genoa, Florence, and Vienna; it is, I consider, an even worse offence to transform Arcot, Cawnpoor, and Lucknow, into Arkat, Kahnpur, and Laknao. I have tried, therefore, so far as possible, to give the names of well-known personages and places in the spelling familiar to Englishmen, while the new orthography has been elsewhere adopted.
Quite right too. The idea that the Florentines would London anything other than Londra is absurd, and rightly so.

A lso pleasantly surprising in that Henty, after rightly singing Robert Clive's military prowess over his destruction of French interests on the sub-continent, then lets rip at Clive for his financial and moral  behaviour,
The history of these intrigues is the most unpleasant feature in the life of Clive... The squadron was to have two million and a half rupees, and the same amount was to be paid for the army. Presents amounting to six millions of rupees were to be distributed between Clive, Major Kilpatrick, the governor, and the members of the council. Clive's share of these enormous sums amounted to two million, eighty thousand rupees. In those days, a rupee was worth half a crown. Never did an English officer make such a bargain for himself.

But even this is not the most dishonorable feature of the transaction. Omichund had, for some time, been kept in the dark as to what was going forward; but, obtaining information through his agents, he questioned Mr. Watts concerning it. The latter then informed him of the whole state of affairs, and Omichund, whose services to the English had been immense, naturally demanded a share of the plunder.

Whether or not he threatened to divulge the plot to the nabob, unless his demands were satisfied, is doubtful. At any rate, it was considered prudent to pacify him, and he was accordingly told that he should receive the sum he named. Clive, and the members of the council, however, although willing to gratify their own extortionate greed, at the expense of Meer Jaffier, determined to rob Omichund of his share. In order to do this, two copies of the treaty with Meer Jaffier were drawn up, on different coloured papers. They were exactly alike, except that, in one, the amount to be given to Omichund was entirely omitted. This was the real treaty. The other was intended to be destroyed, after being shown to a friend of Omichund, in order to convince the latter that all was straight and honorable.

All the English authorities placed their signatures to the real treaty, but Admiral Watson indignantly refused to have anything to do with the fictitious one; or to be a party, in any way, to the deceit practised on Omichund. In order to get out of the difficulty, Clive himself forged Admiral Watson's signature to the fictitious treaty.
A more disgraceful transaction was never entered into, by a body of English gentlemen... that Clive, the gallant and dashing commander, should have stooped to it, is sad, indeed.

It may be said that, to the end of his life, Clive defended his conduct in this transaction, under the excuse that Omichund was a scoundrel. The Indian was not, indeed, an estimable character. Openly, he was the friend and confidant of the nabob while, all the time, he was engaged in bribing and corrupting his officers, and in plotting with his enemies. This, however, in no way alters the facts that he rendered inestimable service to the English; and that the men who deceived and cheated him were, to the full, as greedy and grasping as himself; without, in the case of the governor and his council, having rendered any service whatever to the cause....
Hardly blind hagiography
Nevertheless, the whole of the circumstances which followed the signature of the treaty, the manner in which the unhappy youth was alternately cajoled and bullied to his ruin, the loathsome treachery in which those around him engaged, with the connivance of the English; and, lastly, the murder in cold blood, which Meer Jaffier, our creature, was allowed to perpetrate; rendered the whole transaction one of the blackest in the annals of English history.
Strong stuff.


notareargunner said...

Cumin' from Lancashire, the Punjab, with in-laws living in Vein, I concur

cuffleyburgers said...

The episode involving Clive is one we have most to be ashamed of in the history of the Empire.

As for spelling I completely agree with you (I have heard even indians refer to Bombay not so long ago)

Gawain Towler said...

Cuffley, agreed why I was surprised to see it so written in 1884.

a few years back I was 15 miles from what everybody told me was called Chennai. There was a junction, and the signposts were, dare I say not up to much.

So I stopped and my traveling companion, keen to show their pc side went to the chai houses and asked around for the route to there.

Silence, mute incomprehension. After about 5 minutes of this I joined them.

"We would like to go to Madras"

A chorus of voice and proffered hands pointed us in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

Scene: Museum in Scotland. Home Counties lady becomes aware that female vistor alongside might be foreign, so without further introduction says, "Are you Japanese? Where do you come from?".
Surprised Japanese vistor says "Osaka".
Home counties lady says "Oh! You mean Osarkar!"

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Chalcedon said...

I always say Peking (Beijing Opera doesn't sound right), Bombay, Madras, Paris with an S, Milan, Rome etc. I think that having an English name for a place abroad honours it, as does a foreign lanuage name for a city or place in the UK.

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