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Mind Your Language

Have you wondered where your English language is from? As in, the type of language you speak is it English, American, Australian or any other. I never questioned the source of mine till very recently. From school, I learnt the English left over from the colonial days. Spelt armour, valour, colour etc with a u, waTer with a ‘t’ and not a ‘d’ well, you get my drift. But thanks to STAR TV and Hollywood, I also learnt some Americanisms along the way I knew about Route 66, pronounced schedule as skedjool, route as rout and could generally follow the plot of an American movie without subtitles.

When I moved to UK, I did not feel out of place as after all, I have been learning English all my life! Till the day I blurted out loud at work ‘where’s the F in lieutenant?’ and caused a mini uproar (‘please don’t swear ….’, ‘I beg your pardon’) of sorts. After my team mates had stopped wetting themselves, they set up educating me in the ways of the world. So I learnt to say ‘leftinent’ and ‘shedule’ and words of similar ilk.

You would think, having grown up learning Colonial English, I would have no problems fitting in with the Brits. Right? Wrong! I was under that mistaken impression till I switched on the telly and sat through day-time TV. I did not understand a word and had to fumble along, aided by that marvellous invention called Teletext! I ended up begging people's pardons every other minute, asking them to repeat what they said. Of course, they couldn't understand what I was going on about, when in my eagerness to sound less desi, I tried mimicking the accent oft-heard on STAR TV and ended sounding like Buffy gone bad.

For starters, there was the accents - hundreds of them. Geoff Boycott's 'crickeet' and 'wickeet' had me in splits when I used to watch the game but now, when I had a lady asking me if the boos would be along soon, it took me a long time to get her. Even after six years, I still get thrown by the odd word: had an interviewer on the phone today (I work for a social research firm) asking me for what sounded like 'used diaries' and I was perplexed at the request. Used diaries? Whatever for, went I, till the bulb went on in my brain a good few minutes later, when I realised he was asking me for some 'youth diaries'!

That is when I came to realise what a minefield the varied British accent is. Most Eastenders seemed to have lost or misplaced the hard 't' that is found in almost every word. If it comes at the end of the word, well that's easy enough to understand but when faced with a request to get someone some 'wa-er', what can one do but blink? Most people in Essex also seem to forget to pronounce 'th' as it must, choosing instead to go with the wildly popular 'f'. Thereby, one sees blokes answering to Arfur or wish someone a 'happy birfday'. P almost killed us the time he sang about the three Kings and assorted junta who went to Beflehem to see the baby Jesus. We also get a 'fank you' for a good deed, even when it is 'nuffink'.

The English, much like the Australians, have this habit of shortening things into something that bears no resemblance to the original word. Thus, sandwiches become sarnies, potato patties become tatties, pinafore is a pinny, the list is positively endless. This is before we even venture into the murky waters of Cockney rhyming slang. 'Don't you tell porkies', admonishes a character in EastEnders. It was a while before I twigged (porky pie ~ lie; hence porkies = lies) - phew! Thus, I have found that I was taking the Michael, Bob was my uncle and on one memorable occasion, urged to ask for the William (the bill!). Who says the Brits have no sense of humour?

All in all, I have often felt the language I was taught all my life in India bears not much resemblance to the one I have been learning the past six years. The advantage is, I can truly say I learn new things every day!

Posted by DesiGirl 9:56 pm  


  1. Amrita said...
    dont make me google!
    ZenDenizen said...
    Nice post, I am fascinated by accents and dialects.
    deemikay said...
    Very entertaining post. :)

    If you've ever made it up here to Scotland you may have experienced all the things we do to the English language as well!

    (My favourite being the way that some Scots drop not only the t at the end of "that" but also the th at the beginning. "Look a' a' yin ower er" = "Look at that one over there.")

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