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Indian English

"An accent is like an eccentricity, everybody has one but you."
I've always thought of myself as [there's no such thing as normal|perfectly normal], no accent, nothing. But that lasts only as long as you [A big fish in a small pond|stay in one place] all your life. Travel widens your horizons, opens you up to new experiences and makes you wiser. Bullshit! Travel really makes you a [I Don't Even Know Myself|stranger] to yourself and gives you an accent, even if you never change a thing about yourself.

I grew up in [Everything Quests - Discover India|India] and until I migrated to the US, I spoke in what is now universally known as "Indian English". The most noticeable feature of Indian English is its [I listen to the beat of your music|syllabic rhythm in speech], which can be a source of [If you don't understand words, you won't understand people|comprehension difficulty] for those used to a stress-timed variety especially when speech is rapid. The second major [Vive la difference!|difference] is in the grammatical structure of sentences. Examples of grammatical [variations] are as follows:

  • The progressive in 'static' verbs: 'I am understanding it.' 'She is knowing the answer.'

  • Variations in noun number and determiners: 'He performed many charities.' 'She loves to pull your legs.'

  • Prepositions/Phrasal Verbs: 'pay attention on, discuss about, convey him my greetings'

  • Tag questions , or what Indians tend to refer to as "[is the answer in the question?|tonal questions]": 'You're going, isn't it?' 'He's here, no?'
  • Word order: 'Who you have come for?' 'They're late always.' 'My all friends are waiting.'

  • 'Yes' and 'no' agreeing to the form of a question, not just its content --

  • A: 'You didn't come on the bus?'
    B: 'Yes, I didn't.'"

Another prominent and ineffaceable aspect of Indian English, to quote [Gritchka], results from the usage of the [retroflex] sounds for the alveolar t d n l in English. [Sensei] states that the retroflex gesture of the tip of the tongue touching the back of the hard palette occurs extensively in Sanskrit. For example in "pundit", the "nd" sound is formed with a retroflex. This is much more pronounced in Sanskrit was designed with clear articulation of the various phonomes and their combinations in mind.

While Pundit, Guru and [Wallah] have found their place in Websters, below are some words, you may not be familiar with, but are [Fun words to Introduce into the English Language |native to Indian English].

  • Prepone: the opposite of postpone
  • Cousin-brother: male cousin
  • Crore: ten million
  • Lakh: hundred thousand
  • Eve-teasing: harassment of women
  • Godown: warehouse
  • Himalayan blunder: grave mistake
  • Opticals: eyeglasses
  • Nose-screw: woman's nose ornament

And then, there are the [same same, but different|words that everyone is familiar with], but are used to mean different things in Indian English. The one that always gets me is issues. During my last trip to India, at the end of the wedding ceremony, the family [pundit] very graciously blessed my cousin and his new bride with the words: "You will be blessed with issues very soon." My American friend stood [aghast], wondering what the newly-weds could possibly have done to offend the priest and warrant a [black magic |curse], until I explained. Except for the ultra-modern, it is still [de rigueur] for people to refer to children, especially unborn ones or infants as "issues".

Another curious expression that has sprouted among the youth is the use of the phrase freak out to mean "having a good time". Until I figured this one out, I began to wonder why Aquatica, the new [atraction|water-park] in [Kolkata] was scaring everyone out of their wits!

Apart from the difference in syllabic rhythm, the tone and [cadence], and the [Hinglish|acquired words], there is also the accent, which distinguishes Indian English from the language the British tried to impose upon us. With its hundreds of languages, it makes sense that Indian English is accustomed to many different accents.

My parents were born and raised in [Tamil Nadu], in the South and although they have lived in [city of joy|Calcutta] for more than three decades now, the second my dad opens his mouth, all doubts regarding his [Chennai|place] of origin vanish.

For instance, the southern parts of India, where a variety of [Dravidians|Dravidian] languages are spoken, impose their inflections and accents, quite distinct from the varieties spoken elsewhere. The "South-Indian" accent as my dad's is commonly referred to, is really the "[Tamil]" accent, which differs from the "Malayali" accent, even though the four southern languages of "[Kannada], [Telugu], [Tamil] and [Malayalam] comprise the "South-Indian accent". It is typified by a [beautiful tangle of words|carelessness in the enunciation of consonants], softening the "S" sound in December, to a "Z" sound, a switching of "V" and "W" sounds, with "W" sounds used most often, even in words such as "Very" or "Vintage".

The different "Englishes" are identifiable as such and are a source of great delight in a mutual game of stereotyping. It is very common to make fun of the South Indian accent, especially as popularized by various [Bollywood] movies and primetime shows on [television]. Growing up as a Tam Bram (short for Tamil [Brahmin], but note also, that Tam may stand for [Tamarind], a popular ingredient in Southern [Indian cuisine]) in Calcutta, without an accent, I was able to go through grade school without too much ragging, which is how we refer to "[hazing]" in India. But I watched the rest of my Tam Bram sisters fall like a stack of [pancakes |dosas], when their "Southie" accents were exposed.

For my Bengali friends, who took to calling me tetul (Bengali for Tamarind), their failing was in the [grammar|irregular plurals]. And I still watch them struggle to get "yesterday" and "tomorrow" in the correct [Time Is An Illusion|chronological] order, since the Bengali word for both is "kaal". They pronounce "heart" as "hurt" and the other way around. When Shipra reads this node of mine, I am sure her "hurt will begin to heart" a little, but after five years in America, I already sound like a stranger to her, with my "[yeah, whatever|American Accent]", so I'm forgiven more crimes now, than ever before. I have been trying to go through life without an [accent], and this, let me assure you, is no ordinary task. An accent makes you feel like you don't belong, and that's the only thing I have...[chameleon|my ability to fit in, wherever, whenever]. So I've been trying my [a word that doesn't actually exist, and was most likely made up on the spot|darndest] to perfect my [Americans don't speak English|American accent], and just when I get it down, a visit to my roots in India, makes me feel like a stranger in the very [kolkata|home] I grew up in. And by the time I get back to San Francisco four weeks later, I am asking tonal questions and once again, speaking in Hinglish quite effortlessly - An [The life cycle of a butterfly|enviable tranformation], you might say, but one that often confuses me, and brings to mind the one [Hindi] saying, we [immigrants] love so much:

Dhobi ka kutta
na ghar ka, na ghaat ka

Its a reference to the dog, that accompanied the [Doin' Laundry|washerman] as he carried his load of dirty laundry down to the river , in times gone by. The dog never belonged to the house, nor to the banks of the river. It always ended up [The Middle of Nowhere|somewhere in between].

And that's Indian English for you: somewhere between its British [antecedent]s and Indian inheritors, it has made a place for itself in the most [pregnant|populous] democracy on earth and is [why do you think we're having so many babies|certainly here to stay]. But that's one guarantee that cannot be made for my own accent...for one thing, [Where Were You|as I mentioned earlier], What Accent?...I still want to get through life without one.

Thanks to Gritchka and Sensei for their node on [retroflex]

Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language