Samosapedia: Decoding the UrbanDictionary of South Asia
Limca — an official "cool drink," as determined by Samosapedia. (jasleen_kaur/Flickr)
Founded in 2011, Samosapedia is the South Asian answer to UrbanDictionary. Many of the entries, like "Many happy returns of the day," are English phrases that remained in South Asia although the Raj left. Nevertheless, the languages found on the website are as diverse as the hundreds of languages spoken on the subcontinent today.
The strongest entries on Samosapedia feature a term, its definition, an example, the root, the region where it is commonly used and associated terms. The root and region are often tricky to identify, both because of the diaspora and how interrelated South Asian languages can be. The associated terms give readers access to a broader context unavailable in dictionaries. From the onomatopoeic "ohho" (meaning "really!?"), one is linked to the term "ufffoho," which is used to imply mild annoyance. Users are invited to give thumbs up or down to the definition and do the needful by suggesting a better meaning.
Samosapedia defines "saheli-type" as "a socially conscious, feminist-oriented, articulate, and activist woman, who looks the part with studied lack of glamour, and yet makes an impression, clothed in cotton fabrics, face devoid of cosmetics." Like many entries, this one identifies a contemporary context and comically describes how it is said in a particular situation. Samosapedia provides the dialogue:
"Who is the saheli-type with Sanju? What's he doing with her?"
"She's his sister, man. She runs an NGO in Bangalore."
Readers familiar with upper-class NGO ladies in Bangalore find the "saheli-type" an apropos epithet, and, through humor, the meaning rings clear.
Like several of the examples on Samosapedia, "saheli-type" mixes Hindi-Urdu with English. While English in South Asia can be framed as a remnant of colonialism, examples like this attest to how South Asians continue to localize English in new ways. (Other English hybrids, like Singapore's Singlish, feature similar forms of English and Asian language mixing, and have platforms such as A Dictionary of Singlish.)
Survival on the subcontinent:
load shedding: "Intentional Rolling Blackouts."
geyser: a water heater
AWAZ DO: "It is a most common word painted on the rear parts of the trucks," and it means "sound your horn" when you're intent on overtaking another truck.
South Asian English:
cool drink: "A cool drink is a drink that is cool and non-alcoholic and most often fizzy."
South Asian sounds:
chee: "An expression of disgust."
ayyo: "A quintessentially Tamilian exclamation used to express many things: shock and surprise, awe, pain, even amusement."
one into two: "To divide one item (typically food) to two roughly equal portions, for sharing."
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This post originally appeared on Asia Blog.