Friday, April 5, 2013


If someone asks me what languages I speak, I have to admit that I only speak one: English. If I’m trying to impress I will claim that I know bits and pieces of other languages but that usually just ends me up in a tangled mess of prevarication. However, after living in southern Indian for three months I feel I can proudly boast another language: English… Indian style.

I’m thankful the people here at CMC know English. It has made my experience here more educational, less frustrating, and extremely enjoyable. However, sometimes I find myself translating their English into… well, English. This is most evident when communicating through text messaging. Aside from an old-fashioned tête-à-tête, texting is a common and effective way to communicate here. This, I believe, is largely due to the fact that the atmosphere is so loud that phone calls are easily drowned out by the din of life. I have had to learn a new vocabulary for texting. A trick I have learned is to read the text “out loud” to myself with an Indian accent and then I can generally make sense of it. For example:
-          V= we
-          D/de= the
-          T= it
-          Gt t= get it
-          S= is
-          Dat = that
-          M= I’m
-          Nd = and
-          Y= why
-     LL= I'll 
-     Tomo= tomorrow
-     Gud= good
-     Mob= mobile
-     Ma= my

There have been some texts that have come in which I have actually had to respond with: “I have absolutely no idea what your code means. Will you please try again?” A string of random consonants can be harder to translate then you expect.

I have also learned a few new things from Charlie. She was quick to remind me that she spoke “true English” and whatever it was that I was attempting was a mere reproduction of the real deal. I had to respect her voice. Americans do slaughter the King’s language more often than not. Here is a brief example of my “new” English vocabulary. Really it is just redefining words I already know.
-          Pants= underwear (This became very important when I asked Charlie if I could borrow some clothes… J)
-          Trousers= pants
-     Shattered= very tired, exhausted
-     Gutted= disappointed

While I’m on the topic of discussing English spoken in Tamil Nadu, I will mention another nuance I picked up. My family can attest to the fact that I don’t really like being told what to do. I like to “do it myself.” A determined person can generally get me to do things if I’m asked with a “please” and a nice smile. When I first arrived in India, I noticed that everyone was demanding me to do things. “Sit here.” “Eat this.” “Give me that.” There was no sign of a “please” in earshot. I didn’t want to believe that they people here were rude; their demeanor and attitudes blatantly contradicted that assumption. Then I thought, “Maybe they thought I was just a ‘damsel in distress’ who was easy to push around.” I set out to prove them wrong on that account, you can bet your bottom dollar of that! 

It wasn’t until I began to learn Tamil that I understood what was happening. There is no “please” in the Tamil language. As in, there is no word for “please.” Instead you use the form of the word which indicates respect. For instance: “Inga va” is “Come here.” “Inga vanga” is “With respect, come here.” Basically their version of “Please come here.” When I stumbled upon this concept I almost felt relief in being “ordered” around. Those who I thought were demanding things or me were actually considering me a friend—someone they would speak casually to.

Lessons learned:
-          You may not know your native tongue like you think you do until you speak it in a different country.
-          Don’t get too upset with cultural nuances, it may just be your misunderstanding which is the true culprit. 

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