Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 6

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

An eminent scholar of Linguistics, Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary was well-known for his impeccable pronunciation and speech in Patna University. But very few people know that his pronunciation was not all that great in the initial part of his career and the students made fun of him.

In this episode he shares how he converted his weaknesses into his strengths as an English teacher. He also mentions the nicknames that he had received from the students and what led to his drift towards Linguistics.

Me: Sir, could you share your initial experiences as a lecturer of English at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: Well, when I started teaching English in Patna university in 1955, I had very little or no idea of the details of the language as such. There were many books of English grammar like those of Nesfield or Wren & Martin etc. You had gone through them in your school days. But there was no guidance, at least I hadn’t received any guidance for my spoken English.

I started my career from Patna Science College where the best of the students would come from all over Bihar. Some of these students would come there from the missionary schools like St Xaviour’s or St Joseph Convent Patna where the medium of instruction is English. They sometimes ridiculed or laughed at those teachers whose accent or pronunciation was anything but English. I became aware of the fact that I was not trained for spoken English and I must do something about it myself.

There were some teachers too who would laugh at you. The teachers like Prof Devidas Chatterjee would come to you one day and say:

“Hey, how about अपालिन्ग.”

He would make fun of your incorrect pronunciation of the word, Appalling. It was because many of us used what you would like to call the spelling pronunciation. It was common for the teachers to mispronounce the words like folk in which l is silent. Though the situation in Patna university was better than that in other universities of Bihar, there was a lot of scope for improvement.

I took it as a challenge and I started working on the improvement of my spoken English.

In 1955 Ford Foundation gave financial assistance to set up an advanced centre for English at Deccan College, Pune. It was the same year when I had joined Patna university. I started looking for an opportunity to join a course there. I got that opportunity two years later when I was sent by the university to Deccan College.

Deccan college used to award two courses: one year diploma and two year diploma. I took the course of one year diploma. While doing that course I joined a short summer course on Linguistics to earn credit points.
There I got introduced to the different branches of Linguistics like Phonetics, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics there etc.

And then I realised that for a teacher to describe the sounds is not enough. To say that f in four is a labiodental voiceless fricative is just to preach and not to practice. You must know how to make others say four or flower, and not फोर or फ्लावर. It should be f, and not ph in four or flower. And you shouldn’t pronounce fool as phool.Me: Sir, what were the nicknames that you received from your students while you were teaching at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: In Science college I used to teach The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I stuck to it for such a long time that I became known as an old man.

The other day I met somebody. I thought he was older than me. But surprisingly he revealed that he used to be my student at Science college in those days. He said that the students used to address me as ‘Old man’. As soon as I entered their class they would start whispering, ‘The old man has come, the old man has come’.

In the post graduate classes those days I would be called ‘Yespersen’ by the students. It was because I used to teach the book of The History of the English language by Otto Jespersen. Yespersen was the correct pronunciation of Jesperson. Listening to this name over and over again from me they would address me as Yesperson.

Again in the PG department I used to teach Ben Johnson’s Volpone in the initial period of my career. Volpone is a famous play by Ben Johnson in which the name of the chief protagonist is also Volpone.

I would begin the class with a famous dialogue of Volpone:
“Good morning to the day; and next, my Gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world’s soul and mine!”

Generally you would hear greetings like good morning, good evening etc in English. Ben Johnson’s character, however, would begin by saying, ‘Good morning to the day’.

So while teaching that play I would also start with the same greeting in the class. It was unusual for the students to hear such a greeting.

About this Dr D D Sharma, one of my students in the class in those days, would say that we thought you would never move away from that speech of Volpone.

Dr Sharma himself became a professor of English later. He retired as HOD of English from Lucknow university. We would remain in touch with each other during conferences or for research in the language or literature.

I translated the first four lines of Volpone’s dialogue: Ganeshay Namah, Shivay Namah, Suvarnay Namah etc. That made the class a little more interesting.

Me: Sir, what were the nicknames that you received from your students while you were teaching at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: In Science college I used to teach The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I stuck to it for such a long time that I became known as an old man.

The other day I met somebody. I thought he was older than me. But surprisingly he revealed that he used to be my student at Science college in those days. He said that the students used to address me as ‘Old man’. As soon as I entered their class they would start whispering, ‘The old man has come, the old man has come’.

In the post graduate classes those days I would be called ‘Yespersen’ by the students. It was because I used to teach the book of The History of the English language by Otto Jespersen. Yespersen was the correct pronunciation of Jesperson. Listening to this name over and over again from me they would address me as Yesperson.

Again in the PG department I used to teach Ben Johnson’s Volpone in the initial period of my career. Volpone is a famous play by Ben Johnson in which the name of the chief protagonist is also Volpone.

I would begin the class with a famous dialogue of Volpone:
“Good morning to the day; and next, my Gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world’s soul and mine!”

Generally you would hear greetings like good morning, good evening etc in English. Ben Johnson’s character, however, would begin by saying, ‘Good morning to the day’.

So while teaching that play I would also start with the same greeting in the class. It was unusual for the students to hear such a greeting.

About this Dr D D Sharma, one of my students in the class in those days, would say that we thought you would never move away from that speech of Volpone.

Dr Sharma himself became a professor of English later. He retired as HOD of English from Lucknow university. We would remain in touch with each other during conferences or for research in the language or literature.

I translated the first four lines of Volpone’s dialogue: Ganeshay Namah, Shivay Namah, Suvarnay Namah etc. That made the class a little more interesting.

Me: Was it in the course of your teaching in the post graduate department that your interest started growing in languages and Linguistics?

Prof Tiwary: Yes, it did. But there was another context. And that was Prof Kripa Nath Mishra, the HOD of English at Patna Science college.

Prof K N Mishra kindled my interest in Linguistics. Prof Mishra was a BA (Hons) from London University and Linguistics was a part of his course there. He was a contemporary of Prof Kalimuddin Ahmed and Prof Fazilur Rehman. He had been a teacher of Dr R K Sinha.

Much before I joined the university Prof Mishra had designed a typewriter. The design had been purchased by a German company for which he used to receive royalty on a regular basis. Sometimes Prof Mishra would say in the lighter vein that the amount that he received from his royalty was more than what the Vice-Chancellor was receiving as his salary.

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