«162 From Elision to Conversion: Guru English as Language of Enchantment Teruko Vida Mitsuhara University of California, Los Angeles 1. Introduction ...»
From Elision to Conversion:
Guru English as Language of Enchantment
Teruko Vida Mitsuhara
University of California, Los Angeles
This paper argues that the adoption of what Srivinas Aravamudan (2006) called “Guru
English” by the first generation of Anglo-American Hare Krishna priests plays a key role in
their ability to attract followers. The analysis of recorded instances of spontaneous uses of
Bengali Indian English shows that Hare Krishna priests rely on a small number of morphosyntactic and phonetic features to constitute the canonical Guru English register of their Indian Guru, Srila Prabhupada, and that the priests’ followers are sensitive to the accumulated effect of different combinations of such features. Standard American English questions such as, “What good will their promises do?” is said in Guru English as: “And what good their promises will do.” The salient differences between the two are in the placement of the auxiliary verb and the declarative intonation in an otherwise questionstatement.
Similar constructions will be examined in this paper, with specific attention to sentences where a critical verb or noun phrase is moved or removed from the sentence. The crucial point in this paper is that part of a Hare Krishna priest’s rhetorical skill includes the ability to speak in the Indian English reminiscent of their guru. Surveys distributed in the temple indicated that these subtle changes in syntax and in some cases, intonation, have an effect on devotees’ positive evaluations of the priests’ lectures as “great” or not. Analysis offers an understanding of how linguistic resources orient congregants towards “holy” and against “profane” identities. Moreover, this research demonstrates how a register becomes sacred as congregants are socialized by the priest class to connect with a positively valenced Indian spirituality.
2. Data & Methodology The study draws upon research conducted between 2009-2013 with the Los Angeles Hare Krishna community. Data collection included person-centered interviews, videorecordings of festivals, and archived audio-recordings of daily scripture lectures in the temple. The present study focuses upon a corpus of seven lectures, each approximating an hour and half, delivered by three visiting and resident priests.
Texas Linguistics Forum 58: 162-173 Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Symposium about Language and Society-Austin April 17-18, 2015 @ Mitsuhara 2015 Among the dozens of priests considered for this study, the audio-lecture corpus focuses on three of Prabhupada’s Anglo-American disciples, Sankirtana, Narada, and Muditah. 1 They were chosen for this study because they are direct disciples of Prabhupada, these men, unlike newer preachers in the movement, have heard Prabhupada speak in person and have a stronger connection to him and the religion as they have been preaching Hare Krishna religious doctrines for over forty years. Their lectures were delivered to an audience comprised mostly of Indian and Anglo-American congregant members.
Data are analyzed using quantitative and qualitative methods. The priests’ speech will be compared to that of the Hare Krishnas’ Founding Guru, Srila Praphupada’s using the phonetic analyzing software, Praat. In addition, linguistic analysis is made consulting three
texts: Dialects of English: Indian English (Sailaja, 2009), Contemporary Indian English:
Variation and Change (Sedlatsheck, 2009), and The Syntax of Spoken Indian English (Lange, 2012). This study provides qualitative analysis of transcribed excerpts from the audio-recorded data of scripture lectures, surveys to the monks and nuns called “ashram women” living at the temple, and devotees’ evaluations of scripture lectures.
3. The Hare Krishnas
ISKCON formed in the United States in 1965. It traces its beginnings to the Krishnabhakti movement founded by Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the early 16th century in India (Rochford, 2007, p. 12). The yogic system of bhakti, which is devotional worship of Lord Krishna above all other deities, promulgates love and service to Krishna as well as practices of austerity such as abstaining from sex outside of marriage, gambling, and consuming alcohol and meat. The ultimate goal for devotees is to spend their life regulating personal sense gratification and instead engage in behaviors that encourage loving service to Krishna.
They believe that this will liberate their souls and help them reach Goloka, Krishna’s abode.
Though they do not self identify as Hindus, they are generally classified as “a monotheistic tradition within a larger Hindu culture” (Ketola, 2008, p. 45).
Founded during the Sixties counterculture revolution, the majority of first generation ISKCON devotees were hippies. The motivations for conversion to the Hare Krishnas has intrigued religious studies scholars (Shinn, 1987; Bromley and Shinn, 1985), sociologists (Daner, 1975; Rochford, 1985, 2007), anthropologists (Judah, 1974), and cognitive scientists of religion (Ketola, 2008) since the movement’s inception. Though each of these studies examines different aspects concerning conversion and devotee practice, a common thread throughout this literature is the prominence of the Hare Krishna Founding Guru, Prabhupada, as the chief impetus for conversion. Prabhupada’s books, teachings, and movement inspired a generation searching for spirituality and stability.
After Prabhupada died in 1977, the main face of ISKCON changed from an aged Indian guru to hundreds of young White males preaching Krishna consciousness. Today, these once hippie youth are now advancing into their seventies and running ISKCON’s temples that have spread across the globe with hundreds of temples and thousands of devotees living and preaching both in India and several Western countries (Rochford, 2007, p. 14). The official discourse within the movement is that anyone can preach who has both total love 1 Though these scripture classes are posted on the temple’s website, I promised devotees that any work I produce would safeguard participants’ identities. Names have therefore been changed.
for Krishna and Prabhupada and who also does not change Prabhupada’s message to suit personal whims. This study illustrates that this stance has been extended to include the maintenance of Prabhupada’s morphosyntax, phonetics, and phonology resulting in a new genre of religious speech, Guru English. This paper focuses only on one aspect of morphosyntactic enregisterment: elision of articles and noun phrases.
4. Enregisterment of Guru English
Hare Krishna priests appropriating parts of Prabhupada’s Guru English is a case where an individual’s voice is reanalyzed and forms a new register, a process called enregisterment (Agha, 2007). Enregisterment describes “processes whereby distinct forms of speech come to be socially recognized (or enregistered) as indexical of speaker attributes by a population of language users” (Agha, 2005, p. 38). In other words, enregisterment is the enacting of stereotyped behavioral signs (whether, linguistic, non-linguistic, or both) across a population (Agha, 2007, pp. 55, 80). For example, from statements garnered in interviews and surveys, devotees considered the speech of their Founding Guru, Srila Prabhupada, to be “beautiful”, “honest”, “wise”, “sweet,” “transformative,” and so on. This paradigmatic set of adjectives form a “denotational stereotype” – meaning the “set of expressions predicable of [the expression]” (Agha, 2007, p. 119). When I asked devotees, “How would you describe a good speaker or lecturer?” or “What makes a good speaker?,” the
metasemantic descriptions included a set of predicates:
This class “of which all of these properties are predicable” (meaning that a speaker is not simply “wise” but also “deep” and “practices what he preaches”) creates a stereotype that corresponds to all of these properties (Agha, 2007, p. 120). When these descriptions are regularly repeated within a population of speakers like the Hare Krishnas, a normalization or standardization (i.e denotational stereotype) of a ‘good speaker’ is created.
In a less obvious, yet very much connected, way a paradigmatic set of linguistic features can also form a denotational stereotype of a good Hare Krishna priest or lecturer. What I have found is that priests and lecturers who speak with their guru’s intonation, syntax, and so forth were also the priests who were highly ranked for their lectures. Basically, great preachers and speakers in the movement are also ones whose linguistic features mirror Srila Prabhupada’s speech. The next section examines two of those features after which, an analysis follows on the implications of this emergent sacred genre.
5. Guru English: Elision
All Hare Krishna devotees, especially the preaching priests, listen to the audio lectures of their Founding Guru several times each week, if not every day. They play Prabhupada’s lectures in the car; they listen to his singing and teachings on their iPods while walking or exercising; and when on New Dwarka temple grounds, Prabhupada’s singing voice is heard
nonstop from the speakers playing in the background. His voice, for many devotees in the New Dwarka temple, is a constant sound throughout the day. Though these Anglo-American priests interact with Indians in their community, Prabhupada’s IE is the only consistently heard model of how a guru sounds. For this reason, this study focuses on Prabhupada’s IE as the base for Guru English.
The syntax of Standard Indian English (SIE) as opposed to its phonology is supposed to more closely resemble British English (BritE) but the ways in which SIE differs from or maintains BritE morphosyntax is debated among Indian English linguists (Sailaja, 2009, pp.
39-41). From my analysis of Prabhubada’s IE morphosyntax, the following morphosyntactic features were the most copied by Sankirtana, Narada, and Muditah.
Below are data collected based on analysis of Prabhupada’s most downloaded lectures entitled, Lecture at Rotary Club – There are so many anomalies. This lecture was delivered to English-speaking devotees at Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, India on December 5, 1972.
Among the three priests’ speech analyzed, Sankirtana showed the most phonological Guru English features (116%) and Muditah, the devotee who is hailed as one of ISKCON’s greatest preachers, uses the most morphosyntactic features of Guru English (86%).
Sankirtana’s percentage of phonological Guru English features is more than his Guru’s because Sankirtana says [v] instead of [w] in words like away, which is an overgeneralization of Prabhupada’s Guru English. Muditah only appropriates 50% of Prabhupada’s phonetic and phonological features and 86% of the morpho-syntactic ones.
He is considered “the best” speaker in some of the surveys given to devotees and I posit that this is because morphosyntactic appropriations are less obvious than the phonetic ones. 2 The priests appropriate only a few of the Guru English linguistic structures and they do so in an inconsistent manner. Not all priests speak in Guru English and the ones who do, do not use every feature. For example, some will elide articles but not retroflex the plosives /t/ and /d/. Others will pronounce the /t/ as a dental ejective [t̪’] and not use Indian English pitch or intonation. Priests do not use this register throughout their lectures or even in the same semantic or syntactic environment of their earlier utterances. Since it is not a stable register, each speaker appropriates different features of their Guru’s Indian English and with varying frequency. The aim of this section, however, is not to focus on why some priests choose one feature over the other, but rather to illustrate the linguistic complexity of this emergent religious genre of speech.
Article Deletion ((AD))
Several empirical works on Indian English (IE) article use (Sailaja, 2009, p. 52; Sand, 2004; Sharma, 2005) indicate that the variation of when IE speakers will and will not use them is difficult to generalize (Dixon, 1991). Nonetheless, article elision or article deletion ((AD)) as I refer to it here, is common in Prabhupada’s Indian English and the priests also elide articles when speaking in the Guru English register. Articles “the,” “an,” or “a” can be placed in the slot labeled ((AD)). I have not labeled which article would be placed inside the In a different publication, I discuss the role of mocking and linguistic appropriation within this temple community.
((AD)) spot as it is unclear which the priests would have picked. Though, in sentences like Example 8, Sankirtana uses “a” when saying: “He is blessed with a strong material body” and then elides it when speaking about how living beings “are blessed with ((AD)) eternal spiritual body” meaning the soul. The subject matter of the first turn construction unit might suggest that when speaking about material or profane subject matter, Sankirtana maintains the articles and while discussing spiritual matters, the articles are elided. However, the same speaker in Example 11 elides articles when discussing the material human body and how ugly it is. There is no clear pattern when speakers will use articles and when they will not.
In Example 17, Sankirtana like the other priests, utters sentences which are missing verbs. The ending in the turn construction unit in Example 17 and 12 consists of a floating noun phrase tagged onto the ends of the sentence or uttered with an intonation suggesting that they are in fact complete sentences. When these sentences were played back in their original context for members living at the temple ashram, the sentences were not marked for their grammatical structure but rather for their subject matter and as examples of great preaching moments. The following charts provide a few more examples of the type of elisions within the three priests’ speech.
(1) What is ((AD)) SOUL (2) So that's ((AD)) classic example of PREyas.
(3) He's completely in ignorance about the existence of ((AD)) soul.