Friday, November 13, 2009

speaking of pronunciations...

I am going through an intellectual crisis. I would not have been here if I did not receive a triplet of prods from three readers. That obviously made me happy as I don't want to lose my readers, and hence this intellect-less post about (don't try to guess) pronunciations.
This is more about a personal battle about a habit I am trying to overcome rather than a general post. The said nasty habit happens to be laughing at fellow Bengalees if they make the unforgivable mistake of getting the pronunciation of an English word wrong!
Not just Bengalees, Indians usually have this tendency to find something weird about any different accent of English used by their fellow countrymen. Colonial hangover? :) I shall not go into discussing hangovers because not only are they clichéd but I think we are way beyond blaming anything on hangovers.

Here's a scene to support my claim. This, in fact, happened to a friend of mine while he was conversing with a woman from southern India.
woman: You have a wonderful English pronunciation for a Bengalee.
friend: Thanks! (aside) You don't have that Southie streak in your English either!
I guess the aside was not spoken because something important to my friend was in the hands of the lady.
I find the whole sequence extremely funny, and initially I, of course, took my friend's side. But after growing up by several months and giving the whole thing much afterthought, I felt that both were in the wrong. Not only were they mocking each other (assuming the woman's comment to be less of a compliment and more of a racist comment and my friend's unsaid reaction the same), but they were fighting about the correct pronunciation of a language that is grossly distorted by innumerable foreigners, whom we pardon in the blink of an eye.

The hangover theory falls into shreds here itself, because if we were still faithful to our British lords and ladies, we would at least show the courtesy of mocking not only our fellow countrymen, but also the non-British foreign population, who each day strip and dissect the poor language giving it exquisite forms in terms of pronunciations and spellings.
We therefore, worship not the British, but the foreigners (I am not saying whites, because we do not seem to mind the black populace use its own versions of English either).

The Australians say "today" and I hear "to die"...
The Italians say "t" and i hear a much softened thing that weirdly resembles the Bengalee taw!
And let me not start about the section of English-speakers who say "my" and I hear an agonizing call for mummy (pardon "mah" ears)!
But we do not laugh at foreigners. It does not occur to us that English is as much our language as it is theirs. We perhaps give non-Indians the privilege to own the language and we humbly listen on as they speak in their flawlessly inaccurate versions of the British original. (Oh! but they are from America, or Italy or Australia or god-knows-what-ia, and they, of course have their own mannerisms.)

The scene now shifts to home. I have laughed at innumerable near and dear (and not so near and dear) ones behind their backs when I have heard them speak English.
"Pillar" often became "peeler" and "Shakespeare" "Sexpear". The latter, especially, infuriated me. But then I forced myself to notice how people call our dear old Robindronaath - Ravindranaath/Robindronaath/Rabindranath (and sometimes oh-the-horror Ravindronath). Even his surname is not spared as it constantly shuttles between the Bengalee and the non-Bengalee versions! What are Indians anyway? Multifaced monsters to suit different cultures? And on top of that, we get angry when we pronounce some foreign word wrong!!!

Hence began my battle and I am only halfway there. So when the girl next to me says "sale" instead of "sell", I have to remind myself that she is not uneducated. She is just guilty of the same crime as any white Italian or Black American and so on and so forth. To be fair, if I choose to laugh, I must laugh at anyone who messes up the standard- Indian or not. But it is, of course, polite to not laugh at all, as long as pronunciation does not hinder communication.


arJun said...

yesh! eww sheem to bee carreckt! eye weel naught mek phaan oph anny shouthee eggain!!

i'm sure u'll understand what i'm trying to say here...but others may not! So, its completely relative. That's exactly why people TRY to follow a roughly similar pronunciation worldwide. There are a few distortions yes, but turnin a pillar into a peeler could well cause a few accidents !! :D

...i guess it's a touch more than the mental colonization thing that you pointed out to be the sole reason. When something is not pronounced the way it "should" be, people tend to make fun of it. I've watchd tons of movies where they've ridiculed the french/italian accent. Now, is a bit different in india..we do tend to overlook "their" bloops more often than not. But don't we make fun of people who say, for example, "haam jata haay" or "ami jol khaaye" too??? Maybe people who know the language better have a superiority complex over their more humble brethren...and to stamp that very "superiority", they end up makin fun of them.

...we'll definitely have a more extended debate over the phone on this topic...not that we haven't !! :P

btw glad you posted again!
amen :)

Anandi said...

It's linguistic chauvanism. And of course an over-riding and underlining sense of superiority over others and their language.

As far as the question of foreigners is concerned, don't Indians just love to forgive anything that they do, whereas for the same offence no matter of what magnitude, an Indian would be ridiculed mercilessly.

As far as English is concerned, I don't know WHY anyone bothers. It's not like the English themselves speak it 'similarly'. I'm not saying correct or incorrect, because the Irishman, the Scot and the Welshman will all sound very different from a posh Londoner,who will sound different from someone living in less prospersous parts of the same city (See My Fair Lady, or actually Pygmalion) but that's not saying there's anything wrong with how they speak it.

And as for the 'uneducated' part of it, remember Pranav Mukherjee and David Milliband's joint Press conference? It was rather grammatically entertaining. So if the MOFA is allowed such indescretion, why not the common man?