Friday, September 22, 2006


Is it a smart move to italicise Indian words when writing in English? When we do so, are we emphasising our otherness from English? Or are we conceding that not everybody is aware of Indian terms and words, and so are making things easier for such readers?
Whatever French I know was gleaned mainly from Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, and it was all in italics----which was how I knew it was French, in the first place! However, they were English writers. I presume the English use that much French in their everyday conversation.
By italicising, are we consciously writing for non-Indian readers? Are we trying to sprinkle some exotica? Or are we apologetic for having to use non-English words? But then, some Indian concepts just do not translate into English words. After all Indianness is not just Karma, yoga, tandoori, guru, basmati and nirvana!
What did R.K.Narayan do?


Blogger rads said...

Good question. I think I tend to do it depending on who's readng it. If it's an international audience then to remove confusion, all desi or non-english words if not in italics would create a different meaning than what's meant to be.

for ex -
1. The old man chewed his pan with such enthusiasm.
2. The old man chewed his pan with such enthusiasm.

Of course there could be better examples, this is all I can do on an empty stomach, now. :)

26/9/06 10:14 AM  
Anonymous mumbaigirl said...

I've tagged you

5/10/06 9:02 AM  
Blogger Shyam said...

Hmm - I believe I italicise words from other languages when I'm writing in English - doesnt matter if they're words from Indian languages or from other non-English ones - because they're clearly not English words (unless they've been incorporated into Webster's etc).

6/10/06 4:55 AM  
Blogger One in a Billion said...

The English, one can assure you, use no French at all in their everyday conversation. Blyton and Christie, as far as one can recall, only made their characters speak French if they were French, or were speaking to French people.

One finds that it's easier to read a passage if you know that the non-English words will be italicized - the italicization perhaps prepares you, subconsciously, to interpret the word differently. Plus, as Rads says, there are the potential misunderstandings .. hum, tum, main, and so forth. It's more about making it read right than about being exotic or apologetic. No?

7/10/06 9:58 AM  
Blogger 30in2005 said...

I always italicise the hindi/ Indian words when I write because they are an 'otherness' from the english that forms the main body of text. It indicates that the word is not in the language of the main text. Rads example above is perfect. It also gives people a chance to find out what the word is (glossary below/ behind) if they are so inclined...

10/10/06 1:35 AM  
Blogger krish said...

Why this post? Am returning to your blog after some time, as I usually do - so wondered if this was in reference to any other post; doesnt seem to be. Is it about any book that you are reading as of now? What made you vent your anger at Italics? ;-)

14/10/06 2:27 AM  
Blogger LAK said...

rads, shyam, 30, the One,Yep, that sounds convincing.I guess "paan" would sound more relevant than "betel-leaf-and-nut blah-blah"
mg, will get down to it soon.
Krish, I wasn't feelig angry about italics, I just got wondering!

15/10/06 6:42 AM  

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