Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Ayyo, What to Do With This Crazy Language?

For long, I have resisted the attempts by friends and colleagues to tag me as a desi-firang. It does sound like an oxymoron in Hindi, but in fact there is hardly another way to describe those who have lived in India most of their lives but think in English and find it easy to express themselves in that language. So for the sake of convenience, a desi-firang can be categorised as those desis who are more comfortable speaking and thinking in English. My mother and friends would mock the way I speak Malayalam claiming it was too 'Anglicised'. Should I blame it on English medium schooling that I got trained to think in English and translate it into the language I call my mother tongue? 

So there I was, a desi-firang, bag and baggage in the land of all yuppy-puppy desi firangs - UK. It took a couple of months for the realisation to dawn that I was an Indian English desi-firang. (Confused, dont be! I shall explain the premise) 

The way I speak English is typically the way most hoity-toity Indians speak it. Grammatically flawless, but peppered with Indianisms for want of another word. While in Bangalore and Chennai, I liberally sprinkled my sentences with da and machcha ( What you doing on Saturday, da?) in Hyderabad it became ra ( Will you be at the press conference? No ra, too much work already) Replace the 'a' with the 'e' when you are in Mumbai ( What re, not going to work today kya? or I tho just wanted to die when she came wearing that same top, re!)

While in school, Amma used to mimic the way we girls used to talk to each other ( What ya, you can't even say these things to your mother ya) Basically a ya was required to add the stamp of English. Even better - how many times have we created new words because we can't find the right English word to convey the meaning? Haven't you ever maroed (cracked) a couple of smart lines in front of a girl or stood chummified( that's Malayalam-English for embarrassed) when your tall claims came crashing down. If you are in the north, there is no way you would have escaped wedding-shedding jokes or the Punju-vanju types.

These usages seem perfectly sound till you export it to England. And then begins the fun.

While talking with English friends, the Indianisms liberally sprinkled in your 'flawless English' cause puzzled expressions. Just as you are wondering whether you have grown two horns comes the realisation : my phrases are too Indianised to sound intelligible to the truly firangs.  (Try telling someone you just want to do some general stuff or that It's all for timepass)

They don't get my word play nor do I understand them when they talk of 'being knackered' or 'having the mickey blown out'. Do you? 

The funniest moments are in the way we describe food. We call food without spices 'bland', while here that without any flavour is called bland. So when I refer to hummus as bland food, out come the shocked expressions. The Brits are masters at bland food, they can't stand some puny Indian calling food bursting with flavours as bland, you see!!

There is also our innate flair for description. As adjectives and adverbs decorate every noun, the resulting sentences are so flowery that it leaves them confused. Sample this. " I belong to the great land(adj) called India that is a wonderful( more adj) example of unity in diversity( cliche!!!). We are extremely, funloving and friendly( Moreeeee adj) group of people who believe in spreading the lofty ideals of peace and harmony wherever we go." Very mildly improvised form of flowery description that I heard at one of those Freshers' Ball at the University.

 I have come to realise that there is a huge disconnect between people speaking the same language. Primarily between Indians speaking English believing they speak the Universally understood form and the others who often get lost somewhere between the accent and the usages. 

Just the other day( so typical of Indians to begin with a clause), I was telling someone that my English has gone to the dogs( few relate to this phrase here) after arriving in England...( Did you realise how colloquial this is?) Few Indians would think of it as a very convoluted sentence. What we want to convey is the sheer irony of it. English worsening in England? Well, it is true. It can happen.

Now you understand why I say, Ayyo, how to speak this crazy language?


  1. I know exactly what you are talking about...I had this same problem in my first year but now I seem have gotten over this as time has passed.

    Many times while speaking to my boss I used to use Hinglish words and he used to be puzzled :P

    The effect of Indian English with wear off with time...and so will the accent..hopefully :)

  2. hahahaha :D once I called our US customer care for password ... he asked for my id... I dnt knw what he heard, he gave me the wrong password... the whole day I was breaking my head while logging in ...
    nice post :D

  3. V: :) By the time I get rid of the Indianisms and the accent, I'll be back in India and there I'll get ragged again for coming back a 'renewed firang' ;)

    Rajlakshmi: I can imagine how that would have been. The worst is when there are expressions you have never heard of. So you don't know whether to laugh or sympathise. I have perfected a vague expression that normally works well..:)

  4. Actually my latest post was also related to the Indianised version of english that we use.

    I've been out of station, lately, after I gave the semester exams.

  5. In Delhi it's worse. Most people speak a strange version of the language and love to start with a..You won't believe....

    Costed, I didn't knew..the senses get assaulted all the time

  6. this post is ekdum jhakkaas!

    you have reiterated what bernard shaw said about how it was a common language english that separated 2 countries the us and uk

  7. Analyst: Out of station, could I forget that? That's like the favourite phrase of Malayalis for sure...

    Purba: You have teached me new things..;)

    Magiceye: So true..

  8. Indian English is in a world of its own :) Some of the phrases we use are so normal for us but weird for others. I found it hard initially to not have some Hinglish in my daily language but it's no longer the case. My ability to speak my mother tongue Tamil is close to zilch! The funniest thing I remember about Indian English is the word 'prepone'....I think we are the only ones that use it! =P

  9. Psych Babbler: Preponed...hehehe, Yes...I had to prepone my journey...I very consciously used to avoid that in India too. There are also words like circumambulate ( which means going around in pradakshinas) - which the Brits gave up a long time ago, but some Indians still feel good using those words

  10. nicely written Deeps! enjoyed reading it re!

  11. Journomouse -Good post.

    Imagine saying thou or thine a la good ol Bill Shakespeare and compare it with the textese of today!! Add to this the jhatkas and matkas of various Indian languages as well as influences from every other language in the word!

    Was having a conversation with a colleague along almost the same lines as this post yesterday and we concluded that the only reason English has survived all these years is thanks to this great adaptability.

    PS: Btw is Ayyo rooted in Tamil etymology or is that a borrowed word?!

  12. Was (re)connected to the Net (and the world) in the new city (I've been transferred to) today. The first thing that struck me at your blog was the new template -the finest ever I've seen at yours. Hope you stick to it for some time. I agree to your premises, by and large. Given a chance though, I'd love to reintroduce Elizabethan English which I find infinitely more expressive than most forms of (mal)practiced across the globe.

  13. great post. i had done a short, much more modest post, on Indian English, and yours just got me laughing

    i grew up in when i'm in bombay on business i feel, or at least used to fell, a little "off" in my conversations with locals. there just seemed to be a bit of a barrier there...


  14. Satish: I'm glad the Mumbaikar enjoyed it..;)

    Soumya: Ayyo is a frequently used word by Malayalis too!! Too frequently for comfort sometimes.

    USP: Nice to see you back here. Hope the transfer augurs well for you. As for Elizabethan English, I do like their penchant for describing with a flourish, though I do wonder how it will fit in with our current sms lingo

    Trivcap: Welcome to my blog and let me say, I so understand how out of place you would have felt in Mumbai.

  15. if english cannot be spoken by the English then who can ? though most countries eg. USA , Australia, South Africa n now even India has found their way of speaking it n they all think we're the best !!

    awesome post ... loved it :)

  16. Indian English can be further classified into Hindish, Telugish, Tamilish and so on according to the accents and the pronunciations...sometimes it is very difficult to decipher if the person is speaking in English or an Indian Language...the tone, speed and style is so totally Indian.
    But why discuss this as an aberration...It's not something to be ashamed of, though maybe it is the aftereffect of the slave culture...we should be ashamed of that but not of our accent.
    The Aussies, Proteus, Kiwis and the Americans are not in anyway bothered. Some of these accents are Greek and Latin to an Indian ear!
    Really enjoyed the read...AyAyyo, I havu been so busyu, haven't gotu the chanceu tovu readu youru postsu!...that's Telugish from a Mallu who thinks in English!

  17. LOL... I know what you are talking about because my work is to catch the kids and correct them in school....

  18. Sharmila: The different accents in England often have me in a bind. More so because there isn't any grammatical correctness to the way they speak it like Wren and Martin taught us.

    Nalini: Lovely to hear from you after so long. As usual youvvar thots are verrrry virginal...i mean worriginal...i mean original..;)

  19. Farila: Hope your exams went well..Have you ever found your English getting corrupted by the weird stuff you hear from the kids?

  20. I am a pucca malayali, who thinks in malayalam and translate it to english or hindi when I speak due to the job's demand.
    Right now I don't even talk to kids in english coz i don't want to have a negative influence on them. Schools does play an important role in one's language abilities!!
    Your write up is too good, no wonder u r a journomuse!

  21. Lets teach english men English ;) :P

  22. Subu: Thank you :)

    Lakshmi: Sometimes I feel they really need some brushing up of the grammar they pride themselves on having taught the world.

  23. Oh yes we are such experts at giving the languages our own make-overs and touch-ups. We Anglicise Malayalam, Malayali-fy English. I remember how our Eng teacher absolutely freaked hearing our desi-videshi language.

  24. that was a very funny but observant post. :) Yes, the British taught us their language, but we learnt it so perfectly that we either speak text book English or learn it shoddily and Indianise it! but what the heck! spicing up the language provides hours of fun, doesn't it?

    You poor thing! so you will have to unlearn your English English once you come back, won't you? :D

  25. where did my comment go? the net swallowed it or what?

  26. No Zephyr, both your comments were safely delivered..Can you imagine my dilemma having to adjust from saying Thanks, boss to Cheers mate. I'm going to be ragged so bad when I inadvertantly say one of those tosh phrases in apna des..;)