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English and its many avatars

English — the native language of England — has come to stay as the link language of our country. English medium schools are at a premium compared to their vernacular counterparts. Despite the fact that knowledge of this language has little to do with the speaker's intelligence or capabilities, speaking fluent English helps one in creating a good first impression in the English-speaking parts of the world.

If it is to be supposed that spoken English in its most impeccable form is the one spoken by the British monarch, then the version of the average speaker is a distortion of ‘Queen's English.' Although English is the language of several other countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia, it is spoken with a different accent characterising the dweller of each country. In fact, spoken English in the U.K. itself varies from region to region. Each is a far cry from Queen's English!

The Scotsman (or woman) can be recognised from their hard ‘r's and flat ‘a's. The Irish have their peculiar brogue. The Welsh (native of Wales) have a sing-song way of speaking the language and are often likened to us Indians, by the rest of the British folk.

Coming to India, suffice it to say that if the Hollywood classic, My Fair Lady were to be remade in our scenario, with Prof. Higgins trying to teach an Indian Eliza Doolittle the proper way of speaking English, it would have been a much longer movie. Furthermore, for each State, we would have had different scenes for the coaching lessons imparted by the doyen of the language.

Malayalis would be taught not to say ‘seiro' for ‘zero,' and ‘zimbly' for ‘simply.' They also have a penchant for substituting the sound ‘aw' for ‘o' and vice-versa. For instance, a popular Malayalam film star expresses the negative with a loud “gnaw” (for “No”). The Malayali also goes to the bank to get a housing “lawn” and mows his “loan.” The Malayalam letter ‘zh,' found in the Malayalam words ‘pazham'(banana) and ‘mazha'(rain), are unique to the language. Malayalis often tend to exhibit their pride in this fact by liberally substituting it for ‘r' in English words such as —‘nezhs' (for ‘nurse'), ‘couzhs' (‘course') and finally: the quintessential Malayali toast before a round of aperitifs —‘chiyeazhs' (cheers).

Travelling to the northeast, to the land of the Bengalis who are said to resemble Malayalis in physical appearance, fondness for fish and rice and political affiliations. They substitute an ‘o' for ‘a' and are not vhery o-polegetic o-bout the same.

Their neighbours in the west, comprising the Hindi belt of U.P.-Bihar, put a ‘j' for ‘z' (and vice-versa) and an ‘is' before words starting with ‘s'. So a Hindi-bhai must have done dojens of prozects in his is-School.

Coming to the land of the five rivers – Punjab! The ebullient Punjabi considers it improper to pronounce the ‘sh' sound when it occurs in the middle of certain words like ‘pressure' and ‘treasure,' and substitutes it with the more decent sounding ‘ya.' Hence when he tells you that his player (pleasure) knows no mayor (measure), you must deduce what he actually means to convey. Punjabis also have the tendency to deduct syllables from certain places in a word. So when he is giving ‘sport' to his old parents, he means “support.” This deduction is compensated for with the addition of an extra syllable where it is actually not required. Therefore cricket is a very popular “support” (sport) in Punjab. In Tamil Nadu, “Yem Wo Yet Yenether Wo Yen” just spells moon.

With a rich variety of accents existing worldwide for the native tongue of the tiny island named England, we may safely conclude that: Provided that only a minority of the global population speaks English the way it is supposed to be spoken, and the vast majority — yours truly included — speaks it with a sprinkling of the regional flavour, accent matters little more than being a subject for a few jocular articles — such as this one or comedy/entertainment shows in the media. It is the content of your speech and effectiveness of your communication that count any day.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 12:13:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/english-and-its-many-avatars/article3459947.ece

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