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... because English is a very funny language

One difference that all Indians observe when landing into the western world is the change in the way people ‘talk’ English. What gets noticed most often is the accent which is slightly curly with the westerners and hard/dry with Asians. This might also lead to a conclusion that the English speak in the same way as the Americans.

However, there are a few subtleties in accent and language which you’d observe when you actually interact with these people. I have especially been observing this because:

  • The project that I just finished in India involved working closely with our US counterparts and clients
  • My department in UK is pretty diverse with more than 50% people being non-English – a mix of Americans, Australians, Africans, Chinese and of course Indians.

English speaking differs in two ways – accent and the way certain specific words are pronounced. Lets take accent first – Indians talk with most words having an ‘a’ (Hindi letter a) sound to them. Americans talk with an open mouth with most words having a ‘ə’ (‘a’ as in act) sound to them. English on the other hand talk with an oval mouth with most words having an ‘ow’ sound to them. South Africans might talk either like the English or like the Indians; the Australians talk mostly like the English with certain exceptions.

The other major difference in the way words are pronounced. No! I am not talking about the most common differences like ‘schedule’ which the Americans insist on pronouncing as ‘Skeldule’ while the English stick to ‘Shedule’. Most word specific differences are found in the way Indians and others pronounce them – Americans, English, Australians usually do not differ in these pronunciations among themselves.

As an example – take the word ‘either’ which is pronounced by Indians beginning with the sound ‘eye’ whereas the others pronounce the beginning with the sound ‘E’ (as in key). Similarly, comes ‘but’ – the Indian way takes a second to pronounce and the stress is on ‘B’. The others take a while to pronounce, elongate the ‘ut’ and de-stress the ‘b’. Another example is ‘opportunity’ – many Indians stress the (second) ‘o’ whereas the others would stress the ‘chu’ (tu) sound of it. Guess you get the hang of most if it; so probably I can get to the moot point of my post :D.

There are differing views as to which kind of pronunciation is correct, which is incorrect – even more should a visiting Indian change his accent and pronunciations or not. After all it’s the Queens language isn’t it? So shouldn’t the Indian just accept the way it is spoken in the Queens territory (I am actually doubtful whether it remains the Queens territory any more except in name – but that’s beside the point :-]).

I have a certain opinion – Indians definitely should change the way they pronounce certain specific words. The way the English pronounce these words is indeed the historically correct way and so let’s respect it for that.
Change of accent however is a matter of personal choice – just like religion. But even then, I wonder sometimes what the purpose of language would be if you can’t get your thought across to the next person and so – if change of accent aids better comprehension of your thought by the audience, shouldn’t one try to change it to suit the audience?

In other words – when in Rome do as the Romans.

Update (02/08/2006): Interesting ....

2 comments to " ... because English is a very funny language "

  1. nice post that.. reading it almost made me feel like i was attending those "pronounciation training" sessions they have in call centers.. ;)

    we indians tend to pronounce most english words as we read/spell them.. which is not the same case with westerners.. though we do tend follow the british mode of pronounciation, we have not completely adopted it..
    but with the BPO and IT revolution sweeping across the country, we are also picking up western accents.. ex. most people in my office pronounce 'schedule' as 'skedule' (the american way)

    i am sure u will un-cover many more nuances of british culture during ur sojourn.. looking forward to read more about your experiences.. :)

  2. nice post :)

    Have my rss reader configured for your posts....Keep 'em coming. The best inspiration occurs when you are away from your country ;)

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