May 31, 2010

Linguistically biased?

PS: This blog is a reflection from the same situation I've been faced at many stages when I meet new people. Nothing happened recently to prompt it.
Have you ever been faced with this situation? You're in a group of Indians predominantly speaking one regional language. And it happens to be your Mother tongue too. Yet, there are some people who assume you don't speak it well. While I've found that preposterous and ultra-presuming each time, I thought I should dig a little deeper to see what makes these people assume such things. And conclusively it was one of two things -
1. My English is so well-developed that they've assumed that I speak English with everyone around and just a smattering of the regional language, to my family included. Loosely translated: Pure BS. I mean, just because I am one "Mary" (English speaking Tamil woman - read "Peter's" female equivalent), doesn't mean I can't speak  great Tamil. Come on!
2. Dialect: Being from a TamBrahm family means that my Tamil has remained sheltered in spite of all the Chennai glory years probably because most of my closest friends are TamBrahm as well. So sure, we have a lot of specific lingo which the others probably don't understand sometimes but hey, it's a two way street . And even if it does sound different, you don't hear me mocking your poyirchu to my poyiduthu , both essentially meaning "it has gone" or use the age-old wise-crack of naan kolathuku poren (I'm going to the pond) while I ask "aathuku polama?" (Brahmin lingo for "shall we go home". Basically aar(th)u also means river in Tamil). And speaking a different dialect doesn't preclude me from understanding others. And just 'coz my vocabulary in galeej words may not match some others', it needn't lead to the conclusion that my Tamil isn't proper. 
I'd love to extrapolate that logic to English and see how many people actually know English. Now wouldn't that be fun... throw in the word play and we'll have a riot. Nakkal? Not really.

On the other hand, out of the blue, time's freakin' flying, don't you think?  It's the end of May!


Girlyme said...

Excellent post. I was nodding along the entire time. But have you noticed that this happens only to the Marys? The Peters are left unscathed. What I mean to say is that the people mocking are normally guys and they mock only a girl with a higher sense of "correct" English than them. I guess it's just an inferiority thing manifesting in mocking to try to get even. But well noticed and well put. And really after a while it's not even funny. I mean to say that we're just as Tamil as they are. You go girl!

Radhika said...

Very intresting Jaya. And it has not happened to me but I have seen some friends of me get a little teased by the boys in my undergrad group. My Tamil Brahmin tamil was mocked like you say (the aathu joke is soo old). Thanks for putting it here. :-)

Jaya said...

Girlyme-> Now that you mention it, I realize that it is entirely true! Yes its always boys teasing girls. Well we tease them on something else perhaps.. but in this situation, your remark is spot-on! Thanks for the comment and keep visiting!

Radhika-> Yes, it is interesting, isn't it? :) Thanks a bunch for your comment and keep visiting!

Ayyaz said...

very well said madam.

Really impressive :)

Anonymous said...

Well, we have almost the same situation in Andhra-three regions with three different dialects. Some words are used commonly in these dialects but with different meaning (A word means a good thing in one dialect and the same word means a bad thing in another).Its so funny if you move to different region and people start critizing you.

I have one Tamil friend who is a Brahmin girl--she never likes to speak Tamil not even a single word!

But I understand your point. People should not conclude that you cannot speak your regional language very well though you use some different pronounciation or words-----


starlove said...

you spoke my mind!

Jaya said...

Ayyaz-> Thanks so much. Is it true of your region and your languages too? Thanks for "following" as well!

Mahendar-> Fortunately in Tamil, all the bad words just sound wrong! So there's no trouble in inter-using them. I find it very hard to believe that a Brahmin Tamil girl doesn't speak Tamil. But then again people are shocked when I say I am TamBrahm and a tea drinker and not a filter kaapi enthusiast. So who am I to judge? Thanks for understanding, visiting and commenting!

Starlove-> Thanks much. Keep visiting and commenting!

Nithya said...

One thing I have observed or even experienced is that, two people who speak the same regional language tend to start off talking in English, until they reach a comfort zone. Once they become comfortable, then they switch to regional language. I feel that talking in your language touches you in a special way than in English, so the formal beginnings are mostly English. I don't know if you have experienced it.
Although, I completely agree with your mockery part.I have been mocked in college by girls mind you, not boys because mine was a Women's college. I think people need to have open mind and tolerance towards other languages.

Jaya said...

Nithya-> Absolutely! Me and my friend VR discovered this in UC. We sort of hit it off right away but while I could Tamil my way around a lot of people after a while, she could use Tamil only with me. And then we realized because it meant getting up close and personal of sort of inviting closeness as well. Thanks for the interesting observatiion with this point of view. The ramifications of right language, I tell you! Gosh. Thanks a bunch and keep visiting!

Anonymous said...

Lord Macaulay's address to the British Parliament on 2 February, 1835.

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

Of course, with all our different cultures and regional dialects, we need English as an indispensable link language or a glue. But the only respect we can give our mother nation is to speak and write our mother tongue and teach our kids our language. Knowing languages other than your mother tongue doesn't make anyone superior or intelligent but it just helps us understand better the rest of mankind. Jaya, this message is for other Peters and Marys out there and of course I know you are a perfect Tamil speaking girl.


Jaya said...

Siva-> Thanks for pasting the inspirational "quote". But the object of the post wasn't that I could speak great English.. it was that just because I choose to begin conversations or carry them on in a neutral language likely to be known to all the educated folk in India, doesn't mean that I can't speak Tamil very well as well. But really, this about the unnecessary jibes and unwarranted jokes which might've been funny a long time ago but have lost their meaning along the way.

As for all the Marys and Peters, I am sure they can all speak Tamil/whatever their Mother tongue is extremely well too.

I think your comment is aimed at kids raised outside India where parents may think it's fashionable to imbibe the foreign language primarily while the child at the most learns to understand what the grandparents are saying, though responding in English. I remember discussing this with you in the past. Which is why targeting people like me who've been raised in the Motherland just seems like a feeble attempt to introduce humour where it doesn't exist. On the other hand with Indian parents raising kids outside of India, I am completely with you. They absolutely must pass on their Mother Tongues to their kids or someday way down the future languages may start dying out, just like recently one of the dialects of Andaman did.(,8599,1964610,00.html) And none of us can afford that. Jai Hind!

Anonymous said...

There was no humour in my post (just a quote and two phrases and where did you find humour in that?) and I confirm that you speak Tamil really well if that's what you meant.

I am surprised to know that you think Marys and Peters do not exist in India and only abroad. I know the majority of schools in Pondicherry who used to fine the students if they talk in their mother tongue in the classroom and parents who encouraged their kids to talk only in english even at home. This was 10 years ago and imagine the status now. So feeling ashamed to talk in our mother tongue or feeling superior when you talk in English starts from there. It all depends on how we are raised.


Jaya said...

Siva-> Where did I say that there was humour in your comment? The humour I referred to was merely the deviation people use to mock others' dialects or terms or language usage.

As for Marys and Peters I think my comment makes it obvious that these people as indeed the origin of the terms themselves, are based in India. Where did I ever mention they were abroad?? Read carefully!

As for fining students, it's a bit ridiculous. However if you were in an English medium school it was for a reason - to do your classes/homework/study in English, not that it should be enforced at al time while "talking" as such. I also find that in classrooms where kids are encouraged to talk multiple languages they may end up talking them all but not all of them end up being good at all the languages. In my school we had language classes where we were strictly forbidden to talk any other language than the one we had opted for. As for parents encouraging kids to speak English at home, it's a personal choice. And it is not always because they are ashamed of their languages. I don't think that's the case at all in fact and you are grossly misrepresenting the problem. I guess they all envision sending their kids to the US/aroad and assume (quite correctly) that excellent English only makes it easier for the kids. But they seem to be taking it too far because kids have very high acumen at the younger age where they can rapidly pick up multiple languages and spend the rest of their path to adulthood perfecting the ones they choose to pursue. How many people do you really think are ashamed of their mother tongues? I am willing to bet that they are far lower than you think.

Anonymous said...

Wow there seems to be a slight war going on here.I just thought I'd put in my 2 pence for the discussion too. For the record, I agree with whatever the original blog said. It is irritating and ceases to be amusing after the second time. I donno why everyone thinks they're original while using these jokes. but the most interesting portion of the discussion is in the comments.. i completely agree with nithya that you cannot start of in your regional language before you know someone well enough. Sometimes you want to but it takes time and sometimes you simply can't. It is more personal than conversing in an official language like English. as for the rest of the discussions, I agree that many parents want their children to speak flawless english but i am very highly skeptical that it is bcoz of being ashamed of their own languages. While the kids can be scholars at the regional languages, if their conversational english isnt good enough, they're not going to reach great international heights in the modern day and age. And its a necessity more than a pride issue. Back at home they shd probably use their own languages but like Jaya said it is a matter of choice and we don't get to decide how parents raise their children. Whats sad is that in India we have to use English as a medium to communicate. How many people from the south/elsewhere know the other official language - Hindi? It used to be called the National language before they figured out that half the country doesn't speak it and they had to bring it down to official language status. It's easy to criticize the knowledge and propogation of English as it is a European language. Hindi is our own. How many people speak it fluently?

Jaya said...

Anonymous-> Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree with you that we're down to using a European language for communication within Indians as opposed to the other official language, Hindi. For the record, my Hindi is pretty good.

But even though I can converse very fluently in Hindi and wish a lot of other Indians could speak in Hindi as well, I am not complaining that English is the other official language of India and the medium in which most schools give their lessons. Simply because this puts us on par with the rest of the world. We are very well equipped for International education/jobs/relations etc and this is what is keeping us ahead of our closest competitors, China. Sadly this is what brings the crappy outsourced night-time jobs as well. But nonetheless, thanks to English, we can deal with just about anyone at the International arena and come up better. So for this reason I am not complaining. On the other hand, it would be very handy and helpful if all of India unified and nominated a language that could compulsorily introduced in primary schools so that Indians from different regions can talk to other Indians without having to lapse to European languages.

In fact thanks for bringing this up. It will make for a very good blog and a fascinating discussion afterward.

Thanks a bunch and keep visiting!

Anonymous said...

More than a billion Indians and and you are too sure that I am misrepresenting the problem. If its true, good for us.

A link below on how we "love" our mother tongues and this can be extrapolated to atleast 80% of the urban population in India for all the regions and I am sure the case is unfortunately the same.


Jaya said...

Siva-> Time to learn some Hindi then?

Musing Gal said...

Guess i missed out on this post for a while :) good discussion... Though I am a Tambram my tamil is not so different, so I have not experienced this first hand, but have heard others being mocked. a small deviation from the mainstream topic here..Somehow language fascinates me.. the grammar, the basic style of many languages are same.. if we try we can understand any language is my take and as long as u are able to get your point across does not really matter what dialect it is :), infact even English has many dialects if you think about.

Mary/Peter nice thoughts on that as well... :)

Jaya said...

Musing Gal-> Thanks! But being TamBrahm, I am sure you've experienced the aathu-kolam 'joke' at least once! Language is fascinating and communication is the key. However in this day and age if we resort to the oldest language - body language for everything, even within our own country, it is a tad sad, don't you think? Thanks for the comment and keep visiting!

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