As you may know, I began an exciting project this year to learn 15 South-Asian languages to proficiency in order to visit India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and The Maldives when the whole Covid lifemare is over. It’s going really well, and I’ve in fact added to the list so it will now be 17.
I’ve decided to write this post about a feature that all Indo-Aryan languages I’ve encountered seem to have, a feature which has very ancient roots and appears to have not lasted very long in the other branches of the Indo-European family. I’m talking about correlating conjunctions- relative pronouns that work in pairs, rather than as single terms as they do in English. For example, the English sentence “I like when it rains” is perfectly grammatical. However, in Bengali this would not be allowed, nor in Hindi. The clauses “I like” and “it rains” cannot be separated by a single conjunction, instead the two clauses each take their own conjunction, so that we must say “when it rains, then I like it” (যখন বৃষ্টি হয় তখন আমার ভালো লাগে, jokhon brishti hoy tokhon amar bhalo lage).
The same sentence structure must also be followed in Hindi and Urdu, where the sentence “I like when it rains” becomes “जब बारिश होती है तब मुझे अच्छा लगता है।/جب بارش ہوتی ہے تب مجھے اچھا لگتا ہے۔” (jab bārish hotī hai tab mujhe acchā lagtā hai).
These sentences are far from naturally obvious to English speakers, and I have struggled a fair bit to get used to them. The fact that literally every single sentence with a relative clause in it uses this structure helps somewhat- it makes the phenomenon of these paired conjunctions inevitable.
Let’s take a look at some more examples:
Hindi has the pair जैसा (jaisā) and वैसा (vaisā), which mean “how” and “that way”. They are used for making relative clauses pertaining to adverbials of manner. For example “he cooks just like my mother” would have to be said as “just like my mother, he cooks that way” (jaisā merī mã vaisā voh pakātā hai, जैसा मेरी मां वैसा वह पकाता है।).
Urdu has the locative pairing جہاں (jahã) and وہاں (vahã) which translate to “where” and “there”. This pair is the only one that we actually see sometimes used in English, due to the existence of the phrase “there is/are”. For example the English sentence “where I live there are very few shops” is almost the same in Urdu- “جہاں میں رہتا ہوں وہاں بہت کم دکان ہیں۔” (yahã main rahtā hun vahã bahut kam dukān hain).
But English doesn’t always follow this structure, for example we would say “I eat in the restaurant where my sister works” by adding in the oblique word “there” to produce “where my sister works, in that restaurant I eat”, “جہاں میری بہن کام کرتی ہے میں اُس ریستوراں میں کھاتا ہوں۔” (jahã merī bahin kām kartī hai main us restorãt men khātā hun). The word “there” is not used directly, because an actual noun replaces the pronoun (the restauarant).
Bengali uses the pair যারা (jara) and তারা (tara) to cover the meanings “who” or “what” and “they”. These forms can also be inflected for case and number as they are pronouns referring to people (sometimes). Whilst English can comfortably say “those who have money go to study abroad”, Bengali has to use the pair of correlating conjunctions and say “those who have lots of money, they go abroad to study”, or “যাদের অনেক টাকা আছে তারা বিদেশে মহাবিদ্যালয় যান।” (jader onek taka ache tara videshe mahavidhyaloy jan).
That’s all for this instalment folks, I’m going to write up a post next week about the Sanskritic origins of this feature of Indo-Aryan languages, as well as looking at which other Indo-European languages have and have had it in the past. Ciao for now, Cow!