Thursday, August 17, 2006

I can walk English, I can talk English!*

This post, and more so the comments on it, reminded me of my own puzzlement with Indian English, when I moved here twelve years ago.

I was sixteen when we moved from Nigeria, right after my grade ten (and yes, we called them grades one to twelve. NOT classes one to twelve, NOT standards one to twelve. *Grades*) board exams. Owing to the bubble environment we'd grown up in, I spoke a strangely stilted Hindi, and very fluent, but very weirdly accented English. It wasn't Nigerian English and it wasn't Indian English. The closest I can come to describing it is, as a cross between Indian and British, with a touch of American thrown in for good (or maybe not) measure.

"But why should you have any of those accents?!", you ask. "I have NO idea", I say.

Hey, I didn't make The Bubble, I just lived in it.


The accent was never really a problem though. At least, not as far as making myself understood was concerned. Getting people to stop thinking I was snooty bitch because I wouldn't (I couldn't dammit) speak in Hindi, was of course, another issue altogether.

But I'm rambling again.

Episode 1:
The first time I was let in on the gossip going around in school, I was told in hush-hush tones that persons x and y were 'going around'.

Me: "Going around? Going around what??"
Random Girl in Class: You know... they're having a love affair!
Me: A LOVE AFFAIR?! But..but they can't have a love affair! They're in school!
RGiC: So?

See, till then, the only time I'd ever come across the words 'love affair', were in Mills & Boons novels and heavens! Love affairs were things that grown-ups had. They were, you know...sordid and occasionally even featured (oh fetch me my smelling salts!) *sex*!

So yes, I was quite scandalised, much to the puzzlement of the RGiC, who began wondering whether Indians in Nigeria were like, really backward, 'cos y'know, like, everyone goes around dude.

When V and I started dating, I proudly informed RGiC that we were 'going out' (by which, of course, I meant that we were seeing each other).
RGiC: Going out? Going out where??
Me: We're not going anywhere, we're just, well...he's my boyfriend now.
RGiC: Ohhhh! You mean you're going *around* now!

Episode 2:
In Indian English, it is understood that when you use the word 'parlour', you mean a beauty parlour (or 'salon', if you prefer).

So I'm on the phone with n and she asks.
N: Haan, so where are you right now?
Me: In the parlour.
N: (after three seconds of confused silence) Isn't this your ghar ka phone number?
Me: Hunh? Yes it is. Why?
N: Tera parlour tere ghar ke paas hai?? Do you have an extension there?
Me: What on *earth* are you talking about?! Parlour ghar ke andar hota hai shaayad? And this is the main phone line...the extension is upstairs.

N thinking: MAN these Nigerian Indians are a weird lot!
Me thinking: MAN this woman makes lesser and lesser sense every day!

And all because English is a very funny language.*

*Part of this dialogue from an old Amitabh Bachchan movie, Namak Halal.

27 comments:

Beth said...

I love it. I'm seriously contemplating moving to India just for the English(es) alone. Life without "only" and "so much of" is drab and dreary. I had coffee yesterday with a woman who spent her summer in India too and she was doing the head-wobble and I was instantly happier.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Oh you totally should! We will have 'so much of' fun (and that's not the Indian English usage, is it? Darn it.)!

Did you learn the head-wobble? Didja? Didja?

The comment exchange on your blog had me laughing till I cried. I'd forgotten how baffling it can be to someone who's not familiar with it. :D

Beth said...

Oh, I loved the head-wobble, but I can't say with confidence that I have it mastered. I enjoyed it very much, though.

Sougata said...

Another Indianism that confuses the heck out of Americans: the word prepone. Which is conventionally used by Indians to mean bring forward. As in: We preponed the meeting to Thursday instead of Friday.

Actually, I think the word as it is used by Indians makes a lot of sense from a complimentarity standpoint--prepone is the logical complement of postpone. Bring forward seems a contrived and unnecessarily laboured antonym by comparison.

Sougata said...

Edit to typo in earlier comment: It should read complementarity, not complimentarity.

Just being fussy, is all.

Straight Curves said...

ok! that *does* it! Young lady, I am adding you to my blogroll now

Saltwater Blues said...

Yeah, I grew up in Bahrain and there were lots of things people said that I didn't quite understand when I came to India ... like how they used to say 'basket' for bastard just to camouflage the word. 'Balls' for boobs is another one I never understood ... "Check out her balls, man!" guys used to say and I'd LMAO.

Love ur blog CS. But be more regular na!

jedi said...

'good shit' :D
u write well.

jedi said...

@sougata: postpone ka opposite is advance, but i think we indians get scared to use that word :)

your said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

How about "pass out" for graduation. I passed out in 19xx.

The head-wobble is a classic. It has regional overtones to it. Me and my colleague used to play "guess if he said yes or no" game. In Hyderabad, the difference between the "No" wobble and "Yes" wobble is very subtle!

Fun stuff.

witnwisdumb said...

I'd already read this post, but I came back here just to congratulate you. Two DP links in as many days! Now that's something...

Vi said...

My cousin recently moved to the US from Bombay. Hearing him speak is hilarious (but cute).

Tachyoson said...

i find myself sounding very weird in this light of things .. although im firmly in the same spot :D no around and no out :D

the parlour thing was funny .. i just call it the 'sitting room'

phantom363 said...

it is the way phone numbers are passed on .. double three triple five double two jeero.

for a dummy like me it takes a while to digest and repeat loudly that this 33555220! :) vive le differance!

Anonymous said...

phantom:
LOL.
I always make them repeat the digits separately..three three five five five two two jeeerov;-)

phantom363 said...

anony, i have tried that several times. it always stumps them. so what i do now is to repeat it in my fashion, and get the immense satisfaction of seeing my desi phone number provider confused. he/she then it repeats the numbers their way and we call it a truce! :)

Beth said...

Oh the "double" thing! Yes, I had trouble with that too, for spelling. When Obi Wan told me that the Hindi word for "six" is spelled C double-H E, I thought my head was going to explode. Not only did I have to figure out that "double-H" means, in my lingo, "H H," I had to process the existence of two consecutive Hs - I'd never encountered such a thing outside of a compound word. I love it!

Polite Indian said...

Also instead of inviting someone the Indians "Call" them.
It happened to me once... A friend of mine(Not Indian Of Course) called me to invite for a party. I told him I was busy that weekend but thanks for calling me...He said it's OK and he hung up!

I should have said "thanks for inviting me" but I ended up saying thanks for calling me and he assumed I was thanking him for the telephone call ;)

Anonymous said...

phantom: LOL!! good, silly fun.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Ooh! Sorry everyone, about the delay in replying - I hadn't accessed the internet all weekend. Now that I'm here, here goes nuthin'!

Sougata:

>‘Prepone’ is the logical complement of postpone. Bring forward seems a contrived and unnecessarily laboured antonym by comparison.

True. They ought to make it a legitimate word! Wiktionary has it though.

SC:
>Ok! that *does* it! Young lady, I am adding you to my blogroll now

Smee, that’s the weirdest threat I’ve heard in a long time. :D And just to remind you, this ‘Young Lady’ is older than YOU! :P

SwB:

> Like how they used to say 'basket' for bastard just to camouflage the word.

We had that one too! I even remember running up to complain to some grown-up that ‘she called me a basket!’

The grown up, as I remember, was quite amused. And not very helpful at all.

> Love ur blog CS. But be more regular na!

Y’know, I really wish I could, but one doesn’t always *have* something to say! :S

Jedi:

Ummm…thank you! :)

>Postpone ka opposite is advance, but i think we indians get scared to use that word. :)

Scared? No. Just that ‘prepone’ is so much simpler!

Anonymous:

>How about "pass out" for graduation. I passed out in 19xx.

Heh yes, that’s another classic. I’d always imagine the person dramatically fainting away in a sepia motion-clip. Quite entertaining. :)

Witnwisdumb:

>Two DP links in as many days! Now that's something...

Yeah…I’m beginning to worry a little now. What do you think they’re after?

”What do you want from me DP??”

:D

Vi:
> Hearing him speak is hilarious (but cute).

Yeah, what to do? We’re like that only! :D

Tachyoson:

>i find myself sounding very weird in this light of things .. although im firmly in the same spot :D no around and no out :D

Hmmm…cryptic! I have no idea what you just said. :S

>I just call it the 'sitting room'.

Sitting room still makes sense. I never understood the concept of the ‘drawing room’. What are you supposed to do in there? Draw??

Phantom363:

>It is the way phone numbers are passed on .. double three triple five double two jeero.

Oh that’s a new one! As in, I didn’t know it was an ‘Indianism’ to say numbers that way. I thought everybody did it!

Anonymous:

Are you the same ‘anonymous’ from above? As in, the one who mentioned ‘passing out’?

*Most* confusing, this is getting!

Beth:
> Not only did I have to figure out that "double-H" means, in my lingo, "H H," I had to process the existence of two consecutive Hs.

Americans don’t use ‘double’ that way? But what about the whole ‘Double-‘O’-Seven’ deal?

>I'd never encountered such a thing outside of a compound word.

Heh! Welcome to India - The land of strange encounters of the grammatical kind. :)

Polite Indian:

>Also instead of inviting someone the Indians "Call" them. It happened to me once... A friend of mine (Not Indian Of Course) called me to invite for a party. I told him I was busy that weekend but thanks for calling me...He said it's OK and he hung up!

Well, that’s relatively safer, no? I mean, worst case, he would've just thought. "Hmmm...funny kind of guy...but how very polite!", no?

Anonymous:

What, another ‘anonymous’?? Or are you the same one?

Will the real anonymous please stand up?

The Smiling Girl said...

Hehe... really funny ones, I must say!
Landed here from Desipundit.. :)

Swapna said...

Good one! That was hilarious! Esp. the part about the "going around".

Rhyncus said...

Ah, the different ways people speak English, something that Microsoft Word brings out clearly by having some 18 different 'Englishes' in its language list.
And those remarks on Nigerian English have triggered a minor bout of nostalgia. :) Thanks!

Ph said...

Ok, I posted. Now its your turn. :)

n said...

yes...'parlour' was very funny o imagine...in ur 'drawing room' that is...hahahahaha

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