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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Too Faaaaast too furious
I shall now touch a very touchy issue for several Indians who shift to the US - the accent issue. While in school I have oft ridiculed people who come back from US with an accent that puts Americans too shame (I think the term is embarrassment), all within 3 months of their visit. It would shock and amuse me to find people climb such levels of pretence, but having spent almost three years in US now, I guess I have a better understanding of the issue (or so I would claim).

It is true, irrespective of what people say, that the average Indian has to change his way of speaking to be completely understood and you can't blame the situation. Innumerable re-runs of FRIENDS and Everybody Loves Raymond and the spree of Hollywood blockbusters make it easier for us to get accustomed to the American accent (this is also the reason why it is a lot more difficult for us to get the Brit accent). However, the Americans have not been exposed to our English and it is highly probable that you will be greeted with a few "I didn't get you" or "Can you repeat/spell that please?" during your initial conversations.

A very amusing phenomenon that I find interesting is the "initial accent" several Indians adopt to get complete acceptance - this can be imagined as the training set for the algorithm of adaptation - what follows is English that has an uncanny resemblance with anything Greek. I have seen several people try different things with their normal words with the assumption that it will westernize the language but the end result is often a gloomy hoch poch of several ingredients that confounds the listener. It is then that you learn the Golden rules - (i) all things with that you pronounce as "U" almost always becomes "aaa" e.g. fast, last, bath, ask etc. soon transform too faaast, laaaaast et al, (ii) when in doubt spell out and if possible use American states to exemplify to the listener e.g. Abhay is "A as in Arizona, B as in Boston, H as in Houston ...". Having mastered these basics the Indians head for the finer aspects where "zed" become "zee" and "zero" becomes "O" etc.

Having done these basics, the average Indian feels equipped to get larger social acceptance and transforms to the more confident socialite but often this leads to a larger problem of social acceptance. Irrespective of what you say when speaking to Americans, if you use these rules with your fellow room-mates, you run the risk of being termed as the "shallow show off". To top it, when you come back home and try the accent on your Indian friends, you are likely to raise the eyebrows of people, who would squeamishly smirk and term you the pretentious NRI. You are trapped, you have to juggle between two sets of pronunciations, vocabulary (my friend received considerable flak for calling a toilet a restroom when in India) and all things English. I don't now what the solution is - I don't care what the solution is - the whole thing provides me food for thought - and that's all I care!

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