Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Hegemony of Would

I am assaulted every day by dozens of instances of would being used instead of will. Everybody's doing it: feature writers, television anchors, cricket commentators, and people sending me emails.

"We would also need a brief bio and picture for our catalogue..."
"I believe the Sensex would be range bound leading up to the budget..."
"Ponting would be wondering what he can do to stop Gayle..."

The misuse has been around in India for decades, but has spread rapidly in the past few years to reach epidemic proportions. Media outlets, unfortunately, appear to be ignoring the infection, though it is far more dangerous than the use of it's instead of its ('the dog wagged it's tail'), till instead of while ('till stocks last') and since instead of for ('since the past five years').


equivocal said...

I know, it seems to be rapidly becoming a regular part of standard Indian English usage, and I can't really figure what it supposed to mean or indicate, whether or not it is just poor knowledge of the language. Any thoughts on the source/history of the infection, what grammatical need, if any, that it caters to? Perhaps the use of "would" in these cases is meant to indicate humility on the part of the speaker? I do think we should strike a balance between descriptive and prescriptive approaches to grammar, but there has to be a limit to description!

Girish Shahane said...

I agree that it's an attempt to indicate a degree of uncertainty: to be equivocal, if you will :)
In Indian languages we have constructions like 'dekhta hoga', 'jaata hoga', 'karta hoga' which do not express quite the same certitude as 'will be doing', 'will be going' etc (there's the 'must be seeing' option, but perhaps 'must' is considered too strong a word as well). People obviously believe 'would be thinking' is a better approximation of 'sochta hoga' than 'will be thinking' or 'must be thinking'. Also, 'we would need a photograph' is seen as more polite (humble, as you suggest) than 'we will need a photograph' which reads like a command.
It's possible this form will (would!) someday be accepted as a valid Indian variation on standard English. I am not looking forward to that day.

equivocal said...

Me neither.