Thursday, April 28, 2016

Jottings: Slice of life - 2

Jottings: Slice of life
I have a friend, who has this rather quaint habit of correcting English pronunciation, whenever he gets a chance. It could happen in the middle of a serious conversation, or it could happen just out of the blue. Either way, I find it very funny and sometimes irritating. You may ask me: what gives him the right?. Well, here is the thing. He has done his schooling here in the US for couple of years, went back to India and returned many years ago. Now anybody, who has gone to school in the US, as a young boy or girl is bound to pick up the nuances of Western accent. It is common fact. All our children are examples of that. Most of us find it difficult to understand our four year olds speak English. Quite Natural!!. When they spend hours and days together in an environment where nothing but proper Vocal training and pronunciation is enforced, they will end up picking it easily. Nothing surprising about it. Also, it is very easy to acquire accent neutral language skills when young.
Well my point is, for most of us who come to the US or for that matter into any other English speaking western country, during our thirties or forties, with English as our medium of communication, but tailor made to speak in Indian conditions - it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to change accent completely. Unless, one make a focused, concentrated and artificial attempt to mimic and imitate. Which, in any case, seems utterly stupid. The Good news though is we don't have to really be conscious of it. Except for few distinct phonetical rules, our accent and intonation is perhaps the best among non-English speaking races. Our overwhelming presence in the West is enough vindication of this acceptance. But then, we love to become Americans, don't we? A man who speaks Americanized English with pathetic grammar is held in higher esteem than one who can speak, write proper sentences in neutral and country specific accent. The problem is not with the person who wishes to change our pronunciation, but rather with us. We quickly get embarrassed. We start apologizing and make efforts to correct ourselves. Not necessary at all, Ladies and gentlemen, as long as we are understood. Otherwise repeat. No harm in that..
When Nehru or Gandhi or Radhakrishnan spoke, they were quintessentially Indian. Or when Vivekananda Thundered "brothers and sisters" - the world understood. Or today , when Narendra Modi brushes shoulders with Obama on equal terms, they understand each other. I can keep lining name after name to make my point. While it is nice to be able to speak a language as it should be spoken, but in an increasingly globalized world, those standards are no more valid. As long as one can keep semantical purity of Language clear of regional slang, maintain conventional grammatical rules of formation and not try to convert sentences from one's mother tongue into English, speak slowly and audibly - we should be good.. That's tough ask in itself.
Yesterday when My friend was attempting to correct an acquaintance, I stopped him. I said ". Rahul, I think you must stop doing this. While I understand your intention is right, your correction will only make the other person more self-conscious, reticent and withdrawn. You are spoiling your chances of getting to know him better. Also, over period of time, language will accommodate itself to its surroundings. It cannot be forced after an age. It is linguistically impractical and most cases impossible. When Westerners learn Indian languages, we are more tolerant. We encourage them even when we spot obvious mistakes. Why don't you extend the same courtesy to Indians here...". I said all this with a smile and good faith. Rahul broke into laughter " I Understand Bala..."
God bless...
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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