Bhojpuri is a cousin dialect of Hindi
Stabroek News
April 9, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I thank Mr/Ms R Williams for correcting my translation of the Bhojpuri phrase 'apan jaat,' in a letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] appearing in your newspaper of March 20. Bhojpuri aapan jaat, from original Hindi apnaa jaat, actually does mean 'your kind' (not 'our'). Had I checked the etymology given in my Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (p 37), the correct translation would have been given in my lecture. However, it would be clear to any reader that the substance of my comment in the lecture is not a jot troubled by the pronominal slip.

The implications in Williams's letter (a) that what he/she calls Bhojpuri Hindi had been widely absorbed in the functional understanding of the Guianese nation, and (b) that the slogan "Black fuh Black" was in "widespread use" long before "apan jaat," are left to public judgment. For my own part, my family lived for 50 years from the 1920s with an East Indian family as immediate neighbours. We had played together as children sharing food (except pepperpot), never hearing a word across the fence but Creolese, and not understanding, in our youth, why one day the East Indian mother was weeping together with my mother in our gallery because the father had expelled the eldest daughter from their home for marrying a Black young man. It was our ignorance of aapan jaat at work.

As for functional slogans, if the Burnhamite political sect could have found anything remotely as effective with Afric Guyanese as the galvanizing devotional force of aapan jaat with Indians they would as likely never have been driven to the desperation that bedevilled support canvassing on their part at the turn of the 1980s decade.

Aapan jaat is no mere Indic Guyanese slogan. It is a creed, not necessarily uttered, but fundamentally operative in Suriname and Trinidad as well. Let those who regard this as a "partisan" claim, check it.

And I can find no such language label as R Williams's 'Bhojpuri Hindi.' U N Tiwari's Origin and Development of Bhojpuri (Calcutta, 1960) makes it clear that it is a cousin dialect of Hindi with over 20 million speakers in north east India. Always poor and underdeveloped the area is that from which the British took their sepoys, and later the indentured labourers sent to the Caribbean. The language has no history of its own literature, and the alphabetic scripts of Hindi and Urdu are used for its writings. Tiwari writes (p.xxv of Introduction):

"Although the primary and secondary education in the Bhojpuri area is imparted through the medium of the standard Hindi and Urdu, yet Bhojpuri occupies a place of honour and prestige in the hearts of its speakers. The oral explanation of difficult portions in Hindi or Urdu is frequently made in class in Bhojpuri when both teachers and students are Bhojpuri speakers."

(Without pressing the comparison too far this situation strikes me as similar to what obtains in our French Caribbean islands in rural areas where Patois dominates.) He adds that "invitations to marriages, etc are printed in Hindi" but "on all [such] occasions women sing Bhojpuri songs and they are very much liked by all sections of the people." Again the sociolinguistic comparison with Guyana is called to attention.

Finally a word on partisanship, of which Mr/Ms R Williams blithely accuses me at the outset without sparing a thought for substantiation. My Mittelholzer lectures were delivered in early November 1997. Some of my friends did not like my references to aapan jaat especially at a time when they felt that integrative thinking was the right mode for the forthcoming December elections. Subsequent events proved them wrong, with the resulting protests and the court case which decided that Athe 1997 elections were not conducted in accordance with the law.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Allsopp

Cave Hill, Barbados