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9 Jan 2010

Language Hungama

Lakshmamma is the soul of our locality. She knows everyone in every house in the four or five adjacent streets, where I live. She works in almost every house and where she doesn't, she has some sort of a connection with the residents.

A Tamilian at home, her nature of work (maid) has taught her to be able to communicate in many languages, albeit in a broken/mixed lingo. She speaks in Tamil with Tamilians, a mix of Kannada and Tamil with my mother (who also speaks a mix of K & T with her), Hindi with the North Indian bachelors in the flat below ours and so on.

Here's an exchange between one of the bachelor boys who was searching for someone (possibly his roommate) and Lakshmamma.

Boy (in Hindi):   "Kidhar gaya woh?"  (where has he gone?)
Lakshmamma: "Udhar illiya? Gate-u open madibittu chalagaya? Anga veetukki gaya?" (Isn't he there? Has he left the gate open and gone? Has he gone to that house?)

The only Hindi words in her reply are Udhar, chalagaya & gaya. Illiya, anga veetukki are Tamil, madubittu is Kannada and a smattering of English words that have seeped into our local languages (gate, open).

Reminds me of my days in Engineering college!

When I left school, I spoke impeccable English, thanks to my wonderful English teachers who insisted on us crossing our t's and dotting our i's and getting it right every time. It was a bit of a culture shock when I joined the Pre-University course, for everyone spoke to each other in their local languages, Kannada being predominant (of course, in Bangalore!). Over time, I learnt to speak a mix of Kannada and English. By the time I finished college, my spoken English included a fair bit of Kannada with a few Tamil and Hindi slang words chucked in.

A few days into Engineering college, a newer crowd, more varied dialects of Inglish (English mixed with Indian languages) and at one point, some people had to make me repeat myself to understand what I was saying. One of the girls, stopped me in mid-sentence one afternoon and whined that I spoke in atleast four different languages in a 6-word sentence, could I please pick one language, any language, and speak a complete sentence in it? After my initial reaction of being stunned, I realized that she was right. I eventually got my point across (in Kannada, with a few English words snuck in) and all was well.

Like a turning point, I made every attempt to fix up my language since then. When I went to Mumbai, I learnt to speak better Hindi and to understand Marathi. Fortunately, I made a conscious effort to keep both languages out of my English! My Kannada-speaking friends and I had fun trying to speak Kannada without a word of English (my Kannada improved so much in Mumbai!!).

The flip side of it was that the two years in Mumbai took away my beautiful neutral accent in English. I picked up a slightly Marathi-Hindi style of speaking. Over time, I've tried to dull it down. My English still has a very Indian accent, with an occasional slip into the Kannada/Marathi-Hindi style. Maybe the association with an English speaking crowd has helped in some ways. Thankfully, I haven't picked up a US or an OZ accent or a mix of all those that I hear at my work-place. It is now not embarrassingly bad but I wish I could go back to the neutral!


  1. Hilariousssssu

  2. I think, it's more of what you want to say and has the message been put across well that the person listening has understood it... Waise bhi, heLbekandre, English has more Latin and Greek words... It just seems like a complete language cos, they weren't ashamed of picking up words from other languages... Sounds nice... We can have an Hinglish, Kannlish, Engadda and so on :)