Book Review
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Book Review

 

Punjabi Globalised

 

 

An Introduction to Punjabi: Grammar, Conversation and Literature by Gurinder Singh Mann, Gurdit Singh, Ami P Shah, Gibb Schreffler and Anne Murphy, Punjabi University, 2011. ISBN 81 302 0296 4. Pp 354. Rs 700. Dimensions 220x275mm.

Distributors: Singh Brothers Amritsar: Gursagar Singh <singhbro@vsnl.com>

 

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cademic interest in the Punjabi language and grammar is not new. William Carey was the first scholar to create A Grammar of Punjabi Language in 1812 in Calcutta. John Newton of the American Presbyterian Ludhiana Christian Mission published the first Punjabi translation of The New Testament with newly-designed Gurmukhi typeface. The other related texts of the period included L. Janvier's Idiomatic Sentences in English and Punjabi (1846); J. Newton's A Grammar of the Panjabi Language, with Appendices (1851); J. Newton and L. Janvier's A Dictionary of the Panjabi Language, Prepared by a Committee of the Lodiana Mission (1854); P.E. Newton’s Panjabi Manual and Grammars (1896); and Punjabi-English Dictionary by Bhai May[y]a ਮੱੲੀਆ Singh published in 1895. The early grammars by native Punjabis were - Bihari Lal Puri’s Punjabi Grammar (1867) and Punjabi Baat Cheet (1868) by Pandit Shardha Ram Phillauri. 

 

With the establishment of Punjabi University in 1962, serious academic work in Punjabi began to take shape. Harjeet Singh Gill and HA Gleason Jr.’s A Reference Grammar of Punjab was a pioneering effort in Punjabi teaching. Then followed Christopher Shackle’s Teach Yourself Punjabi (1976), Tej Bhatia’s Punjabi: A Cognitive-descriptive Grammar (1993) and Mangat Bhardwaj’s Colloquial Panjabi (1995) used as teaching source material in academia all over.

 

The book at hand An Introduction to Punjabi: Grammar, Conversation and Literature by Gurinder Singh Mann et al is a major advance in this area of scholarship. As Mann says in his Introduction: Now about four million Punjabis are settled overseas, with pockets of concentration in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Iran, Kenya, England, Scotland and North America. This settlement has interesting implications for the future of Punjabi. First, some of these immigrants have literary interests and Punjabi literature is thus beginning to be created in these newly adopted cultural contexts. Secondly, the teaching of Punjabi language to the new generation born and brought up outside the Punjab has emerged as the centrepiece of their parents’ effort to help them retain cultural roots. Finally, some Western scholars’ recognition of the importance of the Punjab and its heritage and their affection for the region has resulted in developments that in all likelihood will have a long-lasting impact on Punjab Studies.  

 

These factors have combined to produce academic initiatives around the teaching of Punjabi language in North American Universities. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver (1987-), the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1989-), and the University of California, Santa Barbara (1999-), have established regular positions with the responsibility to teach Punjabi. In addition, classes in Punjabi are also offered at Columbia University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, Seattle, and Hofstra University. Given the large number of Punjabi speakers in areas such as Queens (New York City), Yuba City (California), and Vancouver (British Columbia), instruction in Punjabi language is now available in high school curricula. Outside of North America, Punjabi is also taught in Hayes and Slough, two suburbs of London, along with some other towns of England and Scotland, and has been part of school curriculum in Singapore since 1995.    

Gurinder Singh Mann Pic by Amarjit Chandan  

The sequence of 40 lessons in this book is intended for two years of class work. Part One of this manual explores the grammatical structure of Punjabi through descriptions, targeted exercises and vocabulary lists. In addition to the grammatical information provided, every chapter includes dialogues and readings. The dialogues are not designed to solely reflect the grammar covered in any given chapter. Rather, they are an attempt to expose students to the use of Punjabi in plausible real life settings in the Punjab and abroad. Similarly, the expository framework of the reading passages will familiarise students with the historical, religious, and cultural landscape of the Punjab. Through practice and memorisation of the grammar, vocabulary, and conversation provided in Part One, students should develop a significant level of confidence and comfort with the language. Part Two builds upon the grammatical structures outlined in Part One by providing students with an opportunity to encounter the language through poetry, short stories, and popular songs in Punjabi. Thus, in addition to teaching Punjabi, this book also provides a comprehensive introduction to the history, culture, and literature of the Punjab.  

As a language manual the book is a considerable success. Its contents emerged out of direct class room experience and the material here had a long incubation period at places that included Columbia University, Summer Program in Punjab Studies based in Chandigarh, Punjab Hills, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, and involved students from all over the world. A look at the lessons clearly shows the systematic unfolding of the teaching and learning process.  

The book, however, is much more than an introductory language manual. It is remarkable introduction to Punjabi literature and culture. The selections included here clearly show the depth of thinking and the mastery of the materials that Mann and his team have access to. The sensitivity of the authors to the fact that Punjabi culture is built by Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, and Christians is simply remarkable and I can not help but say that the Punjabi speaking community now living all over the world needs to be grateful for the work that this team of dedicated authors have put in this project.  

It is an introduction to the learning of Punjabi but in the process it brilliantly provides a window into the rich world of Punjabi literature and culture. Learning a language is always humanising and life-long memorable experience. I am sure that this manual will be lovingly known as ‘Gurinder Mann vãli kitãb’ and will be kept in every Punjabi house to read some poems and stories when the families gather.

 

Amarjit Chandan

May 2011