Avlish, the English spoken in Auroville
English, or an eroded variant of it, is the link language of Auroville. Mother's description of Auroville as a Tower of Babel in reverse seems more than fitting for an emerging township whose thousand-odd residents perhaps count a couple of dozen mother tongues among them. If certain well-represented nationalities such as the Germans and the Dutch do not seem to have too much difficulty in acquiring a basic oral fluency in English - and many of them already have it on arrival - for other nationalities the task of acquiring a similar level of spoken English can be much more difficult or even daunting, for a variety of different reasons.
Rinpoches and truck drivers
The need for English courses for adults has perhaps grown in the nineties as many people have started coming to Auroville with little or no English knowledge, from countries and continents that had previously been barely represented such as Spain, Argentina, the ex-U.S.S.R., Tamil Nadu itself and, most recently, South Korea. The cultural mix of Auroville is usually well represented and a typical adult class can bring together Rinpoches, nomads and ex-truck drivers from Tibet, lawyers and airline pilots from Argentina, firemen from France, doctors from Russia, and Aurovilians of local origin as well as long-time Aurovilians. Classes therefore can also be a meeting point where old-timers and newcomers mix and get to know each other a bit better while they learn or improve their English.
Classes range from beginner to upper intermediate, with mixed levels and abilities. Students join for different reasons. Some have spoken Auroville's variant of English for years but would like to improve their grammar, others want to develop their vocabulary and more nuance in their use of English, some usually new arrivals, are simply starting from scratch, and others with a proficient understanding and reading knowledge want to practice their spoken English. The French who are well represented in Auroville frequently share a number of problems in this regard. A common stumbling block with French students comes in some cases from a desire to understand a language perfectly before using it, or alternately a desire to speak it flawlessly or not at all. There is a hesitancy to plunge off the deep end when it comes to speaking, and it is not uncommon to have students who have studied the grammar for years and who will ply you with questions about the second conditional or the future perfect tense (usually in French) but who will block up and stall when it comes to uttering a sentence in the present simple tense. And of course the tiger-traps of the perfidious English pronunciation of those thousands of perfectly good French words in the English language don't help matters much. Group activities and classroom dynamics however can be a great help in clearing some of these psychological hurdles and Auroville then provides ample opportunities for practice.
That English is a necessity for survival or at least integration into Auroville is a fact. And although a few teachers have done their best to provide group adult courses on a periodic basis to different levels of students over the last ten years, and despite the Entry Group's awareness and recent highlighting of the problem in the Auroville News, no budget to speak of has every been made available from the community for the teaching of English as a second language. As usual with our penchant for grandiose projects, our priorities seem slightly skewed. For instance I have nothing against the building of a Savitri Bhavan but I cannot see how someone could fully appreciate reading or listening to Savitri without a minimum of English, at their disposal. A well-equipped language centre for the teaching of the different languages of Auroville seems to me an important need.
I've always been intrigued as to what the distinct accent of the young Aurovilians who've grown up here could resemble. Some years back on a train in Italy I found myself in conversation with a woman whose accent was strikingly similar to that heard amongst our youth. It transpired that she was a white Jamaican whose family had been settled on the island for generations. So what, if any, could be the common linguistic denominator between a Caribbean island and our emerging township?
Note from web editor:
Presently, in January 2001, we happily note that in various pending project proposals budgets for the teaching of languages have been incorporated, a Language Learning Centre has been established and is starting to function, and in Savitri Bhavan English classes are given through the reading of Sri Aurobindo's epic 'Savitri'.
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