NRI

Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

Indian English Blemishes

Indian English Blemishes

May 03, 2012
Vivek Iyer

How the world’s second largest English-speaking country doesn’t charm.

There ends another great episode of Top Gear, a show us auto-freaks swear by. This time round, it left me rekindling thoughts about something non-metal. Something I’ve had the hots for almost since the onset of my sense of hearing - British English: not only what’s spoken, but how it’s spoken, and how it sounds – the accent. It may also be due to something that Russell Peters describes as the “constipated” variant, but its still miles inspiring than what is paradoxically known as “Indian English”.

“Indian English” is usually used to describe the plethora of colloquial grammatical alterations made to the traditional English language. And then there is the “Indian Accent”, in which English is desecrated to synonymize with the tunes and expressions of the local masses. However, for ease of description I’ll be using “Indian English” to mean a hybrid of both types, because they often go in tandem.

Choose “Substance over style” – so sayeth the intellectuals. However, judgment ultimately trickles down to a bias of how people are charmed by style. Have you ever imagined Emma Watson delivering her lines in an Indian accent? Rihanna’s unforgettable vocals with a Tamil touch? Or even worse, “The Name is James Bond” in an accent that supposedly sounds like how “The Name is Rajashekara Reddy” is said down south? You may find versions of these on YouTube, but that’s strictly for sadistic humour. In reality, it’s jerky. Indian English can at best, be categorized into two - northern and southern. Being a southie, it’s easiest for me to classify every state other than the four obvious ones, as part of northern India, so that is how it will be. Of course, classification never stops there. The two can still make way for a countless number of derivations and iterations, just like our religions, beliefs, and everything else Indian. There is then the actual neutral accent.

The northern werjan

Musically speaking, people from the north think that music is life’s ultimate expression. I’d generally agree, but not to the extent that it should be carried forth to speech. Each sentence has its highs and lows, and the tune is often set to loop, formulating a blatantly predictable singsong. There are then, the usual zed-jed and flat-plat piascos, the kind that, even some Englis teasers in iskool can’t dodge. Turning a little to the west, we’ve got people who – apparently – still find it difficult to conclude whether Meestar Obama really ij impotent men. Well, farther west, God darn Obama’s impotence, they still get jitters of euphodia (tongue-click) when they get an Amreekan vija in hend.

Meanwhile, in the sowdh…

Each state makes for its distinct English identity, and probably an entire independent article. Oil suddenly decides to become aayil. In one southern state, yinglissu floats in the yair. They’ve got a general assumption that it was invented to comply seamlessly with the local slang, so much that it makes up for at least half of the vocabulary used in modern daily life, be it to impress a figyer, or to eat tea, and that’s completely wokay. Moving leftward, Amreekan dreams simbly get replaced by Gelf ones. It’s also in this part of the south Indian veld that the language gets a tad musical again. I think, of them all, only Bangalore-an English has a slight pan-Indian touch, thanks to the on-going cosmopolitan revolution there. But dare I say its still anywhere close to charming.

The V-W Fiasco

You could attribute all the various dialects to diversity, but one thing that still seems impossible to decipher is the V-W fiasco. No, its not got anything to do with Volkswagen, nor with the dialects. All over India, water becomes vater, and visitors become wisitors. And a certain strong emphasis on the ‘w’ ensures that the blunder stands out. India is proudly the second largest English-speaking nation in the world, and despite the various dialects that could be tossed off in favour of natural regional differences, the grammar and technical aspects are still somewhat acceptable. But, that’s got to do with boning up from the books anyway.

We’ve then got what’s dubbed the neutral accent. Not quite the NDTV-type yet. I’ve come across a number of celebs, execs, reporters and aam admis using it, and it sure does sound classy yet distinctive, making it a personal favorite. The Simi Garewal’s and Ratan Tata’s make up the list. Most importantly, this neutral accent screams no reflections of cultural blunder.

To sum it up, while it may be totally sane to have a potpourri of these dialects and accents, just like hundreds of other English speaking countries have theirs, it’s also disturbingly so that the collective Indian accented English singsong is amongst the least charming of the lot. Don’t expect to get turned on by it. You may be inspired by smart Indian lads (spare the oiled-combed hair and geeky faces for now), the undeniably gorgeous ladies, their intellectual capabilities, and that million dollar techno-business deal, but that will only be, till their mouths open. It’s also why an interview of, or product launch by Rajiv Bajaj will never seem exciting. Maybe, it’s even responsible for why the news ends up sounding too sensational after all. While you think over this, I’ll keep looking around to find at least one Indian-accented presentation that will charm.


32 Comments

  • Sajeesh
    By
    Sajeesh
    27.06.12 09:37 PM
    Funny post, but here's a humble (Humbil) opinion.

    Before I begin, a quick question? Who taught us the language, English?

    If you answer was Brits, I wouldn't give you any points. Because, the answer is your English teacher.
    Coming back to the original part, we Indians tend to be better (or worse) with our ability to converse in English because we have been taught the language, like any other subject - say, Math or History. A majority of us, eventually converse better in English (damn the accent) than our regional languages (which ends up to be more colloquial in usage).
    I have spent a part of my career talking to American and British candidates and here's a tip, try talking to a Texan or cockney. :)
  • Stuart
    By
    Stuart
    20.05.12 03:15 PM
    What a sad, confused mishmash of an article, one that betrays a confused lack of understanding about the nature of language and accents. Everybody speaks with an accent, and there is no such thing as a "neutral accent". Indian English should be celebrated in all its many accents, not derided for failing to meet some mythical, externally-imposed standard. My own variant of English, NZE, comes in for a lot of criticism over its accent, but it's part of this country's identity, and not something to be ashamed about, or try to "fix". Nor is an Indian accent, of any variety. Clarity of speech and pronunciation is one thing, but to attack one accent as "inferior" is sad, duobly so when it is one's own.
  • angad
    By
    angad
    19.05.12 05:55 PM
    Interesting article. However one need to look at the reason behind the accent. If you compare the number of languages spoken and the by the average Indian person and the average Brit there will be a considerable difference. A vast majority of the population in the US UK or even Australia does not speak a second language which means there is no influence on their English. Yet the way some of them speak can be quite incomprehensible. I have a friend from New castle and one from Birmingham and they can barely understand each other.

    If you take the French or the Italians, they have an extremely thick accent when they speak English. Yes people in India could do with some accent coaching to sound as good the news presenters but the fact is people who cant speak a second language in the US or Uk will often look up to people who speak multiple languages, and the ones who speak another language will speak it with a funny accent.
  • Kurush
    By
    Kurush
    19.05.12 09:56 AM
    A "neutral accent"? That's a contradiction in terms.

    "then there is the “Indian Accent”, in which English is desecrated to synonymize with the tunes and expressions of the local masses."

    This smacks of so much undisguised high-handedness. Your basis of determining what makes an accent better than another (puzzling in itself) is merely its proximity to the standard British accent. What you call the "neutral accent" of the Simi Garewals and Ratan Tatas (it is perhaps no coincidence that both of them spent a portion of their life abroad) of the world is merely the cultivated diction of a specific socio-economic section of the country - the upper class, English educated.

    What I'm objecting to, essentially, is the very basis of judging an accent. Accents, especially Indian ones, emerge because of specific linguistic features of the mother tongue of the speaker. Habituated to speaking certain languages, we are more accustomed to producing certain sounds than others. It is this predisposition that manifests itself as an accent when one speaks a different language.

    Your arguments about "charm" and "quality of speech" ring hollow because these are value judgements borne out of personal preferences (which are in turn the result of various social and cultural forces). They say more about you than the accents you're decrying.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 07:16 PM
    going by your background I am sure there are plenty of people within your close family circle, who have to quote you 'A singsong" accent and head bobs (which I find hilarious and charming).I have seen plenty of people speak in tongues I am not familiar with but when they speak they speak with confidence and grace, that makes you shut up and listen.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 07:12 PM
    @ Vivek you are contradicting yourself.
    I have never heard a neutral indian accent. I have seen the TED presentation by Shekhar kapur and he has an indian accent and the indian head bob as did many others. Irrespective of accent, speaking lucidly is important.
    you are mixing presentatation skills something you learn in school to ethnic traditions and mannerims. English is the Lingua Franca in India, not its native tongue. Are you telling me Gandhi speaking in Hindi would not be an effective presenter because he had a pretty thick Indian Accent and indian mannersims? If somebody's mother tongue is Tamil, and that is their language of command, it does not make them a bad presenter. Watch the UN sessions, thats why we have interpreters.
  • Vivek Iyer
    By
    Vivek Iyer
    10.05.12 07:24 AM
    Wow! Certain comments here surprisingly seem to encourage the mother-tounge or local accent. Whoever bashed their mother-tounge or called it inferior anyway? English is beyond a colonial language now (So get over that, please). There is nothing wrong in getting to speak it rightly. Neither have I said that the West American or South African or East-whatever accent are all "better" than the Indian. But you don't need to go far, just YouTube a few videos (on successful business presentations), and you'd see a big difference in terms of the resultant quality of speech. There is the sense of confidence that seems missing in an Indian accent (and I mean the typical head-shake singsong type). And PLEASE get the difference between the neutral Indian accent and singsong type for once :)
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 06:26 AM
    @ Harry I certainly don't mean to bash him. I meant to draw attention that just because somebody speaks with an accent that is unacceptable to a westerner does not make it inferior. People should be proud of their culture and language. I see too many desis poke fun of their own people in the US, as such and such speaks like this because he is from the south etc..
    So what? Who ever said everybody has to speak English with an american or other "acceptable" accent?
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    10.05.12 01:11 AM
    Dear Mojo

    You forgot butter as buraa. :)

    We don't need to bash the guy any more, I think we have done it enough between all of us. He is a nice guy. :)
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    10.05.12 12:56 AM
    Oh and speaking english is something to be proud of. Speaking your own mother tongue not so much.
    how vernacular! right? Long Live the Queen!
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    09.05.12 11:11 PM
    Neutral accent? WTF is that? I just watched Simi Garewal and she has an Indian accent atleast to me and seems like she may been educated in England so there you go. Have you heard a accents from the Deep south (USA) or even Maine. It certainly ain't neutral bud. Oh and in Baltimore where the hubs is from, Water is "Wooder" and sink is "zinc" and Monday is "Mondee" and Maryland is "Merlund". In Maine car becomes "Kaah" and out becomes "oat"
    In Alabama "did you eat yet?" becomes "didjya eat et?"
    But I guess thats acceptable.

    @ Angela I agree with you.
  • Mojo
    By
    Mojo
    09.05.12 11:00 PM
    Oh my Lordee Lord, are you kidding me?
    you have an accent my dear and it might not be charming to a guy from Alabama or Melbourne.
    Why are certain accents considered charming, aka french, or Italian.Basically any European speaking english with an accent albiet poor English is fine and even charming?
    Speakin good English with an Indian Accent or African or Arabic is inferior?
    Seems like you have a chip on your shoulder about non white accents. I am an American so I when I travel people commment on my accent too. How any accent is inferior than some is beyond me.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.05.12 11:00 PM
    @Bob Williams,

    I agree with you. Even non-native English speakers if they are using computers could use spelling and grammar checkers available with the most common word processor MS Word.

    This post by Vivek at least gives the not so frequent visitor to various parts of India what to expect. Knowing the different Accents could be education too.
  • Bob Williams
    By
    Bob Williams
    07.05.12 07:49 PM
    Hope you won't mind a contribution from an 'honorary NRI.'

    30 years ago, I found myself travelling in Karnataka with another Brit who affected a 'Peter Sellers' type Indian accent. As a card-carrying Western Liberal, I was excruciatingly embarrassed by this, but also astonished to find that he was easily understood whereas I was frequently met with blank incomprehension.

    Clearly, my liberal sensibilities in trying to avoid giving offence were entirely misplaced and I have often since resorted to imitating the local accent (especially useful with auto-rickshaw wallahs) and never once been reproved.

    Perhaps the Indian accent is sometimes the object of mockery (especially mine, as it often veers dangerously close to a Welsh accent) as is head-waggling, but then so is my 'native' English accent (especially from my fellow countrymen) and I'm not in the least sensitive about it. In fact, I revel in it, as I find a little well-intentioned humour encourages respect rather than detracts from it. What I do find offensive and, I freely admit, I'm quite snobbish about, is native English speakers mangling English spelling and grammar, especially when they have the use of computerised spelling and grammar checkers.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    06.05.12 09:23 PM
  • Ayush
    By
    Ayush
    06.05.12 06:03 PM
    Damn, people, why so serious?


    Else, a humorous post, though the variation in pronunciation from a person to the other is too large to be categorized! :D
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    05.05.12 08:04 PM
    @Vivek - you make an awful lot of assumptions about a whole lot of people (I think) you have never lived amongst.... maybe the prejudices and stereotypes you perceive or imagine aren't really as bad as you think. I certainly have a hard time believing that they are... People can surprise you, just give them an opportunity to f'up before you judge them :-)
  • Kapil Gosain
    By
    Kapil Gosain
    04.05.12 03:35 AM
    Ok, I guess what went wrong was that the post was supposed to be funny about the Indian accent..
    Somehow it did not turn up to be as funny as expected and ended up offending a few people...
    I agree we have an accent , but then who doesn't. I took the post as funny but still do not agree with the fact that we fail to impress people with our English.
    I have stayed in UK and USA for a few years and the one thing people have always been amazed about Indians is that we speak fluent English compared to many other European or Latin countries..
    Anyways, lets take this post with a pinch of salt and 'especial child beer'
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    03.05.12 09:31 PM
    @ Vivek

    The way you have written the article, people seem to think that you are not happy being Indian and I don't blame them.

    Lets give you few facts about english and england and people who lives within.
    Do you know that there is variety of regional accent within their own community that is difficult to understand due to local slang, which is mixed with hybrid english. Scouse, yordie, cockney and scott and so on.

    To conclude the people living in england don't speak proper english including my self. This is a fact not a myth. People like your self who have zero experience with the locals will not understad what I am talking about. What I am saying is, somebody blonde with blue eyes don't talk the way you think they do, unless they are upperclass educated toffs, and you can tell them mile apart.

    Your view of english speaking english, is form TV, who are coached to talk that way on TV, but in reality they don't talk that way. You only realise this when they are giving interview them self on local TV.

    Have you ever talked to jamaican, that's when you know, what's accent.

    I like standup comedy. This is the only time, you will realise the extent of the accent difference in one language.

    Everybody with different language will have accent in their english (even welsh), who lives in UK. At least Indian can speak english, when most of english can't speak any other language. I have same problem with V and W and it's not VW cars but in comparison this is mi-nute, which I can live with knowing, I don't grunt like rest of the english, who don't even use proper grammer.

    HARRY
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    03.05.12 04:32 PM
    @Vivek,

    Correction.

    "Why the coast guard understood Sinking as Thinking".
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    03.05.12 04:30 PM
    @Vivek,

    If you live in Germany and listen to Germans speaking English I am certain you will enjoy the word "The" pronounced with their tongue peeping in front between their teeth giving the word a real softness and the reason why the German coast guard understood Thinking as Sinking.

    Try pronouncing "Thinking" with the tip of your tongue slightly touching your front teeth from inside. Be careful not to bite your toungue.

    Tell me how the practice went. Send you more lessons.

    Rajpriya

    Rajpriya
  • Vivek Iyer
    By
    Vivek Iyer
    03.05.12 04:10 PM
    @C. Suresh: That had nothing to do with your age. I meant 65 years post independence.

    @Rajpriya: Your German tales sound interesting!
    I'm particularly fond of German cars, and their attention to detail. Pretty much all I know about Germany. lol!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    03.05.12 04:02 PM
    @Vivek,

    I live close to strong accents and that too everyday.

    Living near the Dutch and Belgium border there is some thing called, "Platt Deutsch".

    If a German comes from the central part to our area he would find very difficult to understand Platt Deutsch tha's a concoction Dutch and German.

    Living here for 4 decades I can not speak Platt Deutsch fluently. I enjoy listening to it just as much as I do Indian English.

    However. if any accent gets the wrong message like the German coast guard who heard a distress call call' Mayday, Mayday we are sinking! we are sinking! And asked what are you Sinking about?

    Your post was good information.
  • C. Suresh
    By
    C. Suresh
    03.05.12 03:46 PM
    @Vivek: Seems to me that you have missed the point. The point about other language words in English was specifically addressed against your one point about English words used as part of Indian Languages and not the general tenor of your piece. The fact that I hear no Australian voices decrying the Aussie accent or American voices decrying the American accent means that these Indian voices feeling ashamed of the Indian accent (and setting themselves apart from it, indirectly) is a consequence of an innate feeling of inferiority related to your nationality...which is 'colonial hangover'...and that has nothing to do with my age. It proves my point about immaturity that you choose to make personal comments instead of addressing my points
  • Vivek Iyer
    By
    Vivek Iyer
    03.05.12 03:34 PM
    @Rajpriya: Accents happen everywhere. But on the whole, there is huge mockery of the singsong type Indian accent throughout the world. Maybe we could evolve (with a neutral accent) to a way that inspires the world around us and do the country a favor, or we could just stay sunk in our glory, while the world moves on.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    03.05.12 03:19 PM
    @Vivek,

    This post calls for a protest action in front of the Indian Embassy in Germany. Viewd as unpatriotic
    By some and more may follow You are about to be courtmartialled.

    However, you can continue writing from the Alcatraz of India - Andhaman?

    Jokes apart, I learnt some facts aboutf the language twists in India. Great. I wish I could learn Indian English yaar?

    The perception depends from which angle one looks at your post.

    Why did all the patriots leave India?
  • Vivek Iyer
    By
    Vivek Iyer
    03.05.12 03:14 PM
    @Mary: Thank you! Turns out, I'm very happy being Indian. And you're pulling away from the topic. Yes, it's a smart country. When did I criticize Indian brains anyway? What devastates me is actually the way its deadlocked from being used collectively for the country's good.

    @Angela: Yours is a special case, but back in the States, India, Indians and specifically, the Indian accent, are stereotyped based on the call centre business, and that runs down our image a great deal.

    @Suresh: Sir, I think you should see the fact that the article is purely on the accent and not how Hindi or Tamil contributed to the vocabulary. Besides, the article throws all praises for a neutral accent, which also happens to be an Indian thing! The sign I find with Indians is that, 65 years down the line, they still think almost anything they feel wrong in the country, can be attributed to (blamed on) colonialism.
  • C. Suresh
    By
    C. Suresh
    03.05.12 11:27 AM
    Absolutely offensive, yes! The only signs of 'colonial hangover' that I find are with Indians who gratuitously pour contempt over their own! Apparently the author does not even realize that a huge proportion of English is words from French, Latin, German and even Hindi and Tamil - mangled to suit - when he finds the admixture of mangled English in Indian languages offensive! Extremely immature post.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    03.05.12 09:39 AM
    As an American from California living in Bangalore I have to say that I find the Indian accent absolutely charming...I adore listening to my friends and colleagues speak and much prefer it to almost any accent out of the states.
  • Mary
    By
    Mary
    03.05.12 09:19 AM
    I found ur piece pretty offensive even thought it has a dark sense of humour. If you are so unhappy with ur Indian existence find a place in the world where u can hear ppl speak good English.... I am in Canada and find that one who doesn't respect his own can never respect any other. People around the world have taken advantage of the Indian intellect and truly the world cud do with more brains.... else it will be all gas and no shit!
  • jyothi
    By
    jyothi
    03.05.12 07:36 AM
    SUBERB! Wanderful! PHUNtastic! Keep it going!
  • Venu
    By
    Venu
    03.05.12 06:04 AM
    Wery verrrry nice one Peta!!! how you write such wonderfully ..it is a big big mystery to me!!! but in the end..all iz well.innit?!

Leave a comment