Saturday 5 June 2010

Should, ought to, must....

A moment of epiphany re linguistics differences to share....

Should, ought to ,must..these may well represent one of the most important aspects of communication in a language. Yet they are often aspects most prone to difficulties when the language is being learnt, and certainly liable to subtle misinterpretations of meaning. I have noticed that locals here who have reasonable English hardly ever use these constructions. Instead I hear "we are bound to..." " compulsory..."  I have been wondering recently if this has an impact on something that many of us volunteers have considered about the difficulties of getting Indian's to plan ahead, and the inevitable discussion when trying to set priorities of distinguishing the necessary from the desirable. So I thought I'd try to find out how these ideas are conveyed in people's first language.

In Oriya, there seems to be 2 constructions "-ra...-rå ...åchi" eg Tåmåra ei båhita pådhibarå åchi which translates as "you really ought to read this book" and the more urgent  "..ku...-ku...håbå" construction eg tåmåraku ei båhita pådhibaku håbå which translates "You must read this book". I haven't mastered these in practice yet as they are quite complex constructions so the subtleties of usage  are still beyond me.

In Hindi the "should" construction is done by using the verb "ko ...cāhie" with the infinitive verb it qualifies eg mujko ghar jānā cāhie which translates as "I should go home". This is an interesting construction as the construct "ko...cāhie" without an infinitive means "wanted/needed" eg mujhko āj kā akhbār cāhie which translates as "I want today's newspaper". Which brings up the question of how a Hindi speaker learning English is told to translate these - for me there is a subtle difference between "I want to go home" and "I should go home" but if a Hindi speaker learning English is told to translate cåhie as want, I'm thinking there could be confusion.

Then there is the  "ko....hai" construct, eg muhjko jānā hai which translates as a more forceful "I must go/ I am to go". here the "hai" comes from the verb "to be". A stronger sense of compulsion is achieved by using the construction "parnā" which translates as " to be compelled to"  eg mujhko jānā paregā which translates as "I'll have to go/ I am compelled to go". Then there is also the construction "ko zaroor ...hai" eg  muhjko ghar zaroor jānā hai which also translates as "I must go home".

The subtle differences in use between these is difficult for me to grasp. But these may explain the constant use of the word "compulsory" when locals speak English I am for ever hearing people say  "it is compulsory for us to do puja each day" or "we are bound to do puja each day" by which they really mean " we must do puja each day". 


  1. Fascinating. I've found myself holding back on (over)using the word 'Compulsory' because I hear it so often. I wouldn't want it to lose whatever power it has. :-) Well done piece of investigation!

  2. Shukran, Richard.
    The other Oriyan one is the over use of the word "kali" which means "yesterday" but also "tomorrow". This can be made more specific with "gåtå kali" and "asånta kali" , but hardly ever is. I suspect it is also used a bit like "mañana", to mean the vague ossibility of something happening at some indeterminate time in the future. This of course opens up the whole issue of forward planning, risk analysis, what if scenario building etc which as volunteers as organisational development advisors, project managers etc have to tackle. Everyone tells you about the Indian head wobble but no one ever tells you about these linguistic diffferences of use.

    Anyone else have any others to add to the collection?