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«162 From Elision to Conversion: Guru English as Language of Enchantment Teruko Vida Mitsuhara University of California, Los Angeles 1. Introduction ...»

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(4) As it is explained in ((AD)) English dictionary, "kind of faith."

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Similar to the above section on Article Deletion, this following also deals with elision.

However, this is the elision of objects following transitive verbs. In non-standard IE, transitive verbs are converted into intransitives (Sailaja, 2009, p. 45). For example, “Ok, I’ll take for transport;” “I didn’t expect;” and “We enjoyed very much” (Sailaja, 2009, p.

45). Praphupada’s speech frequently transforms transitive verbs into intransitive ones, a few

examples are below:

Prabhupada’s Utterances

(1) We practically see ((XX)) in our experience.

(2) So actually my position is (.1) that I can go everywhere. Just like we are trying ((XX)).

(3) I was a child. Everyone was ((XX)). Everyone remembers ((XX)).

(4) It is compared with the tree because the living entity's enjoying the fruit of the tree, and the other living entity, Supreme, Paramatma, He's simply witnessing ((XX)).

(5) A hog is eating stool, but he's thinking that, "I am enjoying ((XX)), very nice."

He's becoming fat. This is called illusion.

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Based on surveys to men and women living on the temple grounds, the only reason why these priests sound like Indian English-speaking gurus and yet, are not pegged as “mockers” of Indian English by the community is because 1) Indian Hare Krishnas are not voicing any dissatisfaction about Indian English and 2) these priests, for the most part, appropriate grammatical features that have not been identified with Indian English by the community during the year of Guru English research.3 For example, Hare Krishna congregants noticed when Sankirtana, the St. Louis devotee used [v] instead of [w] intervocalically in the word, “away.” However, they did not notice that the pseudo clefts in the priests’ speech converge more with Indian English than with SAE. The devotees also did not notice that the following sentence, “So much disturbance he has caused today,” is a non-SAE use of fronting but is actually quite common in Prabhupada’s IE.

The best speakers are the ones who appropriate Prabhupada’s syntax and alter the phonology in subtle ways. In other words, these varying levels of awareness affect which language ideologies are formed in what ways they are manifested in interaction. When investigating the entire register including phonetic, phonological, and morphosyntactic forms, I found that the speaker who could mirror the guru’s syntax was deemed more intelligent, wise, and true; whereas, the speaker who appropriated more phonetic features of the guru had the lowest rating of the three speakers. This suggests that syntactic changes are lower on the metalinguistic awareness of the congregation and that there is some sort of community specific mock threshold — meaning, that a white priest whose rhetorical skill contains more syntactic change was not offensive until he uttered too many phonetic features of his guru. It is unclear if this threshold could ever be numerically defined, but it is nonetheless evident that a threshold exists because the community allowed for a large amount of linguistic appropriation when it was syntactic in nature and when too many phonetic features were used, the speaker’s overall ratings decreased.

6. Language Ideologies and Recursivity

In the Hare Krishna community ancient India, Sanskrit language, Indian philosophy, their Guru, traditional food and clothing, and classical Indian music and instruments are all considered better than anything the “modern” world could offer. The prestige of ancient India refracts upon those who can evidence their knowledge of and affiliations with India.

Speaking Guru English not only enacts a holy space, it also creates a linguistic space for the priests that distance them from the modern and wider Anglo-American community.

A longer discussion of mocking and Indian English linguistic appropriation is forthcoming in an upcoming publication.

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Four years of ethnographic research with devotees has revealed how appropriation of features Prabhupada’s Indian English acts a counter-discourse against Western hegemonic norms, which includes its banner language, English. If “Standard English becomes the unifying emblem of nation-statehood” (Silverstein, 1996, p. 286), then devotees moving away from standard American cultural and linguistic norms begins to make sense. The priest group maintains its identity as the spiritually educated class separate and distinct from the American English-speaking community by speaking in Indian ways.

The Hare Krishna convergence towards their guru’s IE and divergence from a Standard American English (SAE) can be understood in terms of iconization, fractal recursivity, and erasure (Irvine and Gal, 2000). Iconization describes the process whereby “linguistic features that index social groups or activities appear to be iconic representations of them” (Irvine and Gal, 2000, p. 37). Devotees consider Prabhupada’s speech to be “beautiful”, “honest”, “wise”, “sweet” and so on. In lectures to the congregation, one priest noted, “Prabhupada’s transcendental sound vibrations carry the potency to awaken anyone’s dormant, spiritual consciousness.” Gurus are considered spiritual beings sent to liberate the material world and their words “carry the potency” that gurus have been endowed with by God. Prabhupada’s words have become iconic of him. His “transcendental sound vibrations” are representative of him. Given that his own initiated devotees speak in a sort of quasi-Guru English, Indian English phonology and syntax “carry the potency” of Prabhupada as well. Similar to Spitulnik’s (1998) study of ethnolinguistic diversity on Zambian radio, there is an “indexical transfer of social stereotypes about speakers to the languages they speak” (p. 174). In the Zambian case, the radio stations did not give as much air time to languages linked to “rural,” “backward” people. In the Hare Krishna context, Prabhupada’s Guru English speech is revered. In and of itself, it is believed to be wise and powerful because he, as a guru was wise and powerful. Applying the notion of iconicity to Prabhupada’s Guru English, we can see that Guru English is iconic of wisdom, truth, and numerous other positive indexes.





Guru English is not the only code in the Hare Krishna spiritual repertoire. Sanskrit, the holy language for many Hindus and Hare Krishnas, is considered to be a living language of transformation and power. Because it is believed to be the language spoken by Krishna Himself, the sounds and mantras are representations of Him. As it says in the seventh chapter of their holy text, Bhagavad-Gita: “I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable OM in the Vedic mantras” (tr. Prabhupada 1983, p. 313). OM along with many other Sanskrit mantras and texts is Krishna in the form of the Holy Word. In this way these mantras and texts are iconic representations of Krishna. Sanskrit, as the iconic representation of Krishna, stands separate and above all non-Sanskrit languages. In this way, Sanskrit is analogous to non-Sanskrit languages as Guru English is to non-Guru English languages. Defined as the “projection of an opposition, salient at some level of relationship, onto some other level,” recursivity is seen between the relationship of Sanskrit and Guru English (Irvine and Gal 2000:38). On the utmost holiest level, Sanskrit is iconic of God.

When others (gurus), speak it they are associated with spirituality and, in a sense, become spiritual. On the local temple level, Guru English has become iconic of wise gurus, specifically of Prabhupada. When others (Anglo-priests) speak like him, they become wise.

The prestige of holy language is reproduced at the temple level with Guru English being the register iconic of wisdom. Thus, invoking the language of an Indian guru makes a speaker, irrespective of ethnicity and native dialect, authentic. To sound like a guru is to be wise like a guru. But we must keep in mind that Guru English is the variety that the priests are trying to speak. What actually ends up happening is that a reduced form of Guru English is spoken by priests, which could be called a quasi-Guru English.

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Finally, Hare Krishna generalizations about Sanskrit being the one true holy language erases the legitimacy and power of other languages. For example, Sanskrit as the holy language is considered superior than Arabic, Chinese, and certainly Western languages such as English. Guru English therefore presents an interesting middle space between holy and profane language because Guru English’s retroflexed sounds, article deletion, IE intonation and so forth erases the fact that these priests are still, after all speaking English. Compared to Sanskrit, English is supposed to be a mundane language holding no spiritual power. Yet, Guru English by way of iconicity and recursivity mirrors the prestige of Sanskrit in the community as the language accessed only by the learned priest class. It is English enough to be understandable but Indian enough to be spiritually powerful – Guru English in this way acts as both foreign and local. It exists between the spiritual world (Sanskrit-filled) and the material world (English-filled).

7. Concluding Discussion: affective registers and language enchantment

Ideologies surrounding race in the community socialize devotees into conflating Indianness and stereotypical Indian ways of talking with authentic spirituality. Or to state this in a way that situates this as a form of social interaction, Indian English keys (Goffman,

1974) both the scripture lecture and priest as being spiritual. It is this spirituality imbued in the register that facilitates converts’ evaluations of the lectures and lecturers as being “good,” “powerful,” and “truthful.” For example, a question that I often asked devotees, “How do you know that the speaker speaks the truth?,” received responses as variable as:

“He doesn’t change what Prabhupada (the Hare Krishna founder) said;” “It’s in his voice, the knowledge of the scriptures;” “He is wise. He has the gift of speech.” These evaluations suggest that a register has the capacity to move the emotion of the scripture lecture and congregation toward a state of spiritual enchantment. As Irvine (1990) asserts, “[t]he study of registers is a convenient way to look at the verbal aspects of affective display, because it suggests a set of complementary representations of feelings that are conventionalized among a community of speakers” (p. 127). “Conventions, linguistically expressed, represent a cultural construction of available emotions, personalities, and so on that […]” the person has to draw on for affective display, the terms in which his or her behavior will be interpreted by others, and the framework of interpretation for the experiencer as well” (Irvine, 1990, p.

131). Affective registers are distinguished by not only linguistic features, but also by affective performance. In this sense, performance of an Indian guru stereotype through speaking in Indian English conveys an affective stance of desire for Indian spirituality and evokes spiritual enchantment among devotees. Ochs (2012) asserts that, “ordinary enactments of language, i.e. utterances, are themselves modes of experiencing the world” (p. 142). In this sense, speaking like an Indian can create an experience of Indianness for a Hare Krishna preacher and congregation. The experience of speaking in Indian ways evokes a sense of spiritual enchantment for the New Dwarka community.

According to Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT), when people interact, especially with those to whom they are attracted and share similar beliefs, they adjust their speech, syntax, gestures, intonation and other vocal patterns to accommodate their interlocutor (cf. Tarone, 1980; Giles, Coupland, and Coupland, 1991; West and Turner, 2000). Given the high prestige accorded to ancient India and Indians in the New Dwarka community, linguistic accommodation could be a reason why Hare Krishna priests use Guru English linguistic features. Yet, these priests are not speaking to a room comprised only of Indian congregants. If that were the scenario, CAT and “foreigner talk” (Ferguson, 1971,

–  –  –

1975)4 would be explanatory frameworks for why these native, American English speakers would speak slowly and in ways that sound “Indian guru-esque.” Instead, the Hare Krishna congregation consists primarily of Anglo Americans. As such, the priests are not “speaking Indian” to be understood by the Indian congregants. Nevertheless, the notion that speakers adjust their linguistic behaviors when surrounded (even if it is an imagined community) by people with whom they are attracted and share similar beliefs applies to the New Dwarka congregation. Hare Krishnas love their Founding Guru, Srila Prabhupada and love the India that both he and their deity, Krishna, represent. I propose that speaking in Indian ways facilitates a genre of experience-near Indianness. This means that the enregisterment of Indian English as being the prestige, “spiritual” register is enacting an ethos of Indian spirituality in the temple.



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