Let’s talk about Linguistics

A post about a Malaysian girl accepted into all the Ivy League schools has been doing the rounds on the internet today, and when I read parts of the letter that apparently got her in, it got me thinking about how I feel about English as a language.

Having had a privileged upbringing and having attended an English-medium education all my life, has led me to treat English simply as a medium of communication rather than a language I specifically had to learn and incorporate into my life. Being a non-Hindi speaker at home, who lived in a primarily Hindi-speaking part of India, I ended up learning these three languages – Bengali (my mother tongue), Hindi and English – pretty soon in life. The first I learned organically at home, the second I learned so as to interact with other children my age (but not from my language-community), and the third I learned so that I could enter the English-medium schooling system and make the most of it.

The interesting thing is that Bengali, my mother tongue and the language I encountered the very first, ended up being the one script which I had to put in the most work to learn – living in a non-Bengali speaking part of India, there was next to nil chance of encountering the script in everyday life. So I learned from my grandmother’s enthusiasm to teach me, and, surprisingly (or not) from Bengali TV channels. Television was in fact a big tool in my language learning, now that I think about it. My mom says that watching English cartoons as a kid was what introduced me to the colloquial way of speaking English (once I mastered the ‘A for apple, B for bat, C for cat).

Since coming to the US, I have been forced to analyze the English that I know, the one that I mastered as a student, and the one which I have always been strong in when it was a school subject. I have already been asked numerous times about how my English is so good, and whether I learned it after I came to the US. These questions have affected me differently over time – first I was irked, then it made me ruminate over it, and now it just amuses me a bit, but I am open to talk about it and clear any misconceptions. Another thing I have had to deal with is my English ‘accent’.

And this brings me to my first epiphany – everyone has an accent when speaking English.

English as a language has become a global language, a language that is seen as a bridge between people who cannot communicate otherwise. (For now, let’s not get into the whole underlying notion of superiority this exudes (and which is, for the most part, unacknowledged), because that’s a whole another post.) So it is expected that based on what a person’s mother tongue/native language is, they will have an accent when speaking English. But here’s the thing – when you live in your own community/country, you rarely realize that you have an accent – you are simply speaking English. In fact, I find it funny now that I think that even in my home city, I used to pass judgement on people who spoke ‘accented’ English, because I apparently spoke non-accented English. When I came here and had to repeat myself sometimes because people could not understand certain words in the accent I spoke it in, I realized suddenly how strongly linked to English is the accent behind it.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to different English accents, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I can say that I understand what people are saying even when they speak with somewhat heavy English accents…simply because I probably had a knack for it. So, I also realized after coming here that I used several words which are prevalent in British English (having grown up in a country the British ruled for almost two centuries), and which I have to explain to people who only know American English (Side note – thanks to the Harry Potter movies though, my excessive use of ‘bloody hell’ has not been questioned. Yet). I find that I have started using the American pronunciations for some words, especially related to my field of study, because people simply don’t understand what I’m saying otherwise. But overall, I think I still have my ‘Indian accent’, which I’m quite relieved about.

Apart from learning that I have an accent, I have also met a lot of people from a lot of other countries, and I’ve been exposed to the accents they have. Its been interesting to say the least, and now, rather than commenting on how their accent is different from mine, I’m just excited to hear a different accent.

I might have identified as a ‘Grammar Nazi’ at some point, but I don’t see myself ever being like that again. From now on, I’m simply happy to…

…hold onto my accent, because its part of my identity

…learn more about how accents change with different countries

…readily explain new words to people who haven’t heard it before, and make them realize the flexibility of English as a language too.

All in all, be willing to learn, but understand that how you sound does not necessarily dictate your proficiency in that language; you could sound completely different from the majority, and still have better spelling and grammar than someone who sounds like the majority.

You Do You, and respect others doing that too ✌

New Year, Changed Me

So much has happened with me in the last year, that the very idea of writing an end-of-the-year post seemed exhausting. But it was really bothering me, so I had to write something after all (kindly ignore the fact that it is more than a week into the new year).

2016 was a crazy year, in a good and a bad way. If you’ve been reading since before (hello!), you would know that I moved to a different continent and began the arduous journey of getting a ‘Dr.’ in front of my name. So I’m going to let the obvious go unmentioned, and just say that even though its a new year, I’ve done so much changing in the last part of the previous year, that I feel like I’m already the “new me” everyone’s eager to be.

But there are some things that, like always, bear mentioning and reminding (because we seem to somehow forget things as simple as these)…

…be kind; everyone you meet is fighting some battle, no matter how prickly/arrogant/self-absorbed they seem

…understand the power of your words and how they might affect someone

…try and be good to yourself; you are worthy and you matter and you are unique, however much someone else may try to tell you different

…use your talents to create beauty, love, and wonderful things, because there is space for so much more of that in the world

Happy New Year, all. Hope you have a great new ride around the sun.

Quarter Life Crises?

I don’t know how it happens, but there are situations where I’ve been ruminating over something for a while, and then I see these posts about that exact same thing somewhere on the net.

If the title didn’t give it away (I mean…it’s kinda obvious), I’ve been thinking about the new-fangled Quarter Life Crisis, which probably has been occurring since forever, but now that everyone can make a meme/comic/post and put it online, people are realizing exactly how common it is.

I mean it when I say it’s common…

Now, the focus is not on lamenting the loss of childhood (or rather, being forced into adulthood), but on the fact that it is okay to not be “settled” and “in control of life” at this age.

I think that’s very apt.

But then it got me thinking…why is it that everyone grows up with this idea that when they’re in their twenties, they will be established and everything will be figured out?

What have you done society?!

PS. How is it November already? Where did the year go? What is happening? Can you calm down, Time?

Get lost in the green and blue

UIUC has a huge, widely apread out campus. Within it, you’ll find a wide range of places.

One such place is the Arboretum. It is a large area of land (where you can probably get lost easily) with different views as you keep walking. And it’s the perfect place for nature photography…

…ohmygosh the butterflies! I was highly gratified when one butterfly (pictured below) was kind enough to keep still for the time needed to focus and take a photo. Butterflies usually aren’t that calm (no need to pass judgement on my blog title, okay? Okay.)

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There were these tiny peppers in so many colours. A new entry on my Bucket List is to eat purple peppers somewhere soon.

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The sky was all kinds of beautiful too that day…

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A few sections of the arboretum (technically, most parts of the arboretum) are like something out of an old English novel countryside…wildflowers, long, swaying stalks, a small pond, a wooden bridge…

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And this is probably one of the most interesting photographs I’ve ever taken. Again, I would like to thank the grasshopper and the tiny moth (look for it!) for taking the time to pose for this…

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While roaming around there, I realized that the walks where your shoes get lost in the grass, are well worth going out for. It’s well worth the 5 mile walk, and the aching feet.

And I later realized that I hadn’t looked at my phone for the whole time I was there.

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Phases of a Haircut

I recently got a haircut (as opposed to a trim) after a while, and it was, as always, an emotional journey.

Every person goes through a few stages of emotion before, during and after a haircut (this is probably more applicable for girls/women getting starkly different hairstyles from their original. But I guess guys chopping off long hair would also experience this).

Stage 1 : Excitement

You reach the salon full of enthusiasm – the feeling of having finally decided to go for a different look is empowering. You can almost see yourself flipping your hair around and looking like a trendsetter.

 

Stage 2 : Anticipation

The hairdresser is happy to see you, as always and tsks at your hair before chivvying you towards a hair washing station. Once that begins, you are busy thinking of how best to explain what you want to the hairdresser (while periodically wiping shampoo foam off your ear)

 

Stage 3 : Determination

You’re finally in a chair in front of a huge mirror, your hair all wet and stringy. The hairdresser asks you the question you have been waiting for ever since you arrived – “So what kind of cut are you thinking of today?”

You let out a breath and say, “I want it short.”

And then you add, “But not too short. I think shoulder length? What do you think?”

Stage 3 quickly transforms into the next stage.

 

Stage 4 : Anxiety/Trepidation

Did you make the right choice? Will this new hair really suit you? What if your hair looks like a frizzball at such a short length? Does the hairdresser think this is a good idea?

The hairdresser nods his understanding of what you’re looking for and asks if he should do some layers. You say yes and tack on, “Whatever you think will work best.”

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

 

Stage 5 : Varying levels of Horror

When the scissors begin snipping, and you’re shown the first bit of hair off to confirm the length, you’ve clenched your fists hard, gritted your teeth and gotten ready for the ride.

When he finally begins cutting the front and a huge chunk of hair falls, the horror strikes when the hair plastered on your scalp looks SO SHORT.

The shock continues till the haircut is done.

 

Stage 6 : Resignation

The hairdresser finishes and passes on the reins to someone else who will blow dry your hair into magazine-front-page-model-esque finish. At this point, the shock and horror have worn off as you realize that there is little to do but wait and see how crazy you look (while fervently wishing that the level of crazy is minimal).

You also resign yourself to the hot gusts of air sometimes directed on your face and ears. Beauty hurts.

 

Stage 7 : Wonder

As the blow drying occurs, and sections of hair emerge from hot air and huge round brushes, you start seeing that all is not as bad as imagined. Your mind has, of course, made things out to be worse than actual. But the reality seems better.

Once your hair is set, it actually looks okay. It moves around like a dream and you feel all dainty and handle your hair gently. All is not lost!

So the moral of the story is, sometimes you can experiment and try out new things, and know that you’ll probably get something wonderful out of it.

 

P. S. Stage 8 occurs in a few hours/days (depends on the person) where you lament the loss of your long hair and wait for it to grow back again. Such is life.

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Few people say it like Sarah 

A Golden Harbor in a Rainstorm

Some days are made for getting Chinese food, even though its raining heavily.

Its sort of like the concept of a ‘personal fable’ (can you tell I’m attending classes?)…even though its been raining all afternoon, you are optimistic enough to believe that it won’t “be that bad” when you leave the house.

And then, of course, when you get off the bus, its pelting, and only you’ve got an umbrella (the other two under the impression that they had their umbrellas, but actually didn’t). 

So everyone huddles under one umbrella, clutching onto each other…and inexplicably (or maybe not so inexplicably) we’re all laughing like crazy.

The laughter turns shriek-y when we’re splashed on by passing cars. Now we begin whining about how wet we are. The umbrella overturns in the wind, and now we go looking for shelter (find it and stay there till the rain relents a bit).

All in all, when we enter the restaurant, we try to act dignified even though we’re soaked. And we get our much-desired Chinese food too. Here’s a badly composed photograph as proof…

(The restaurant is named Golden Harbor, and is one of the most famous restaurants here in Champaign. The food is good)

From India to Illinois : I moved continents!

I’ve been missing for a while (again), but this time I have an extremely valid reason – I was firstly holidaying around the US, and now I’m settling in at my new home. After living a little more than the first two decades of my life at the same place, I’m now living away from home, because I’m doing my PhD at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The level of adulting (kindly excuse my use of crazy words) has gone up, people.

In the last couple of weeks, I have…

…learnt that packed lunches are a wonderful thing

…already got my first set of bruised scabby knees

…pulled/pushed doors in the wrong direction (way too many times)

…gotten a water account in my name (well they first named me Baner (first name) Jee (last name), but I got it changed after I’d laughed a full minute)

…left my water bottle in class (and then retrieved it the next afternoon)

…learnt that I can cook well enough and my experiments aren’t bad at all

…had a staring contest with a rabbit in front of my apartment building

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After the staring, it royally ignored me

…understood that if your front door is open and someone is moving around in your room, it’s probably just the maintenance guy fixing your window blinds(and not an intruder, so don’t scream)

…stuck to my resolution to wash dishes as soon as I’m done with them

…gotten lost in Walmart (and Target. And JC Penney)

…repeated myself several times (slowly) because my English is accented

…learnt that my English is accented

…been expressed deep commiseration and laments over the fact that I’m a doctoral student, and will probably stay here forever

…already gotten socialized to dread midterms

…confirmed that UIUC is indeed surrounded by cornfields, but what people leave out is that within those cornfields you have pretty much everything you might need

 

…visited the ‘Taste of Champaign-Urbana‘ and despite the live music and delectable food, been most excited by the froyo spoons which change colour when cold

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…got a taste of what the (in)famous #gradlife is about

…observed the “Undergrad” and seen several stereotypes played out

…observed the “Grad” and seen several stereotypes played out

…realized that I’ll probably be okay.

Now these realizations/learnings were only in university, so you can imagine how much I was bombarded with while I was being touristy before I got here. It wasn’t as much of a culture-shock as it is a learning process. The widespread reach of American movies, TV series and Tumblr has done at least one thing – made American popular culture known to everyone.

And now I must go and study, because you know, Grad school and all that.

(I’m probably just going to chat with my flatmates about which restaurant we’re going to try out this week)