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 ✌

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)

Early Morning Epiphanies : Email Accounts

While checking my email account just now, I somehow got sidetracked by the fact that the list was cluttered with mails that I really didn’t need to keep. So I began deleting the extraneous stuff.

Fast Forward around 7 minutes, and I’m deep inside my past mails, skimming through mail subjects (and opening a mail when I can’t tell what it’s about) and reminiscing about that moment in time. I went through till the end – 2007.

It was like walking down memory lane, albeit it was more to do with my professional and academic life rather than personal (at least in more recent years). Places I have worked/interned at, assignments for college, invites for alumni meets, mail-exchanges with prospective employers, automated mails with admit cards for entrance exams…the list goes on. I’m sure everyone has such mails somewhere in their mailbox.

Only because I’m sometimes crazy enough to clean-up through my inbox, do I take these bizarre walks through the past. But I just realized – your whole life is kind of shadowed in your inbox (especially if you, like me, keep some mails just for sentiment’s sake).

The painful ones though were from people I don’t talk to anymore or have grown distant with, or seeing my past innocence in my writing.

It’s too early in the morning for such intense rumination!

Note To Self: Save email decluttering till later in the day.

Furtive Delhi Autumns and Time Flashing By

Autumn in Delhi sneaks in all of a sudden. One day, you’re grumbling about how hot and humid it still is, and the very next morning, you realize you have to lower the fan speed because it feels too chilly.

The foliage in Delhi isn’t particularly prone to turning the beautiful shades of red and gold which are usually associated with autumn, because the trees here are more of the evergreen variety. Nonetheless, a lot of trees shed off their leaves and become skeletal versions of themselves while a walk down the road becomes a lot noisier given the scattered leaves crunching under everyone’s feet.

Autumn is a relatively short period of time in Delhi, and before you know it, it will be winter. And every time it’s autumn, I end up thinking…where has this year flown?! It can’t possibly be the last quarter of the year already!

But it is. Another year almost drawing to a close. So much to look back upon.

Does time go by faster as you grow older? A year seemed so much longer when I was a kid. Or maybe now I just have to think about the future much more than when school made up most of my immediate future. Whatever the case, I wonder whether the incessant thinking and planning about coming days ended up pulling my mind into what will be, than keeping it in what currently is.

Autumn makes me ameliorative and contemplative. And a tiny bit more poetic I think.

Happy Autumn!

A Brand New Year

How on earth is it already 2015? Or, to be more precise, where did 2014 go?!

In my 5 years of blogging, this last year is definitely the one in which I’ve neglected my blogging the most. And I have a reason – major life changes (oh yeah).

I completed my masters degree and spent a while lazing about, contemplating topics for a subsequent PhD. Within that period of contemplation, I began an internship with an international NGO (so that I would stop enjoying sleeping so much) and then, the internship turned into a proper job! And I realized how precious weekends were. And why people kept saying that remaining in academics was a jolly good thing to do. And I realized I’m terrible (I may be exaggerating) at multitasking in life – work became the priority and next priority (on weekends) was catching up with friends or lounging in front of the TV. So blogging-time went flying out of the nearest window. Which is sad, because now I wish I’d written about all the myriad first-time experiences I’ve had in the short time span of the last few months. Oh well.

The beginning of the year was wonderful and then suddenly declined as I dealt with an injury. Thankfully I recuperated fully from that phase. The rest of the year was a whirlwind, though a busy one…

I started getting used to this being-an-adult thingamajig (grudgingly)

I spent weekends being even more childish and crazy to compensate (I would like to thank my parents for making that possible)

I learnt to stop being devastated when someone was mean (more like, managed to decrease the period of sadness by 2% maybe. At least it’s a start!)

I went on my first official trip for work (living alone in a hotel room isn’t all that great though)

I made new friends and became part of a wonderful work team (which made it hard for me to ever really dislike going to office)

I felt the satisfaction of working in the social sector, when I got a ton of love from the lovely girls I was working for during my internship (you can read about that here)

I made it a point to send up thanks whenever something good happened, however small the incident. Everyday miracles and good incidents are truly wonderful.

I walk into this new year with the hope that humanity wins over all the atrocities and begins moving towards a more kinder version of itself. This year, I want to send out all the positive vibes I can, with the hope that they will be reciprocated.

Happy New Year guys! Wishing you happiness, peace, love and contentment in 2015.

The one where I talk about the Dramatic Autorickshaw Ride

It was a lovely early summer morning when I walked out of my house and stepped quickly (but not too quickly because healing ligaments need gentle handling) towards the main road to get an autorickshaw which would transport me to university.

Not my auto exactly. But they all look alike…so. (Taken from the net)

The fact that I got an auto right outside my colony gates was the first Surprising Incident of the morning.

The fact that the auto driver agreed to go to the university rather than flatly refusing or trying to act bossy, was Surprising Incident number Two.

But, I’m an inherently calm person, and a believer of luck and miracles. So I just gratefully got into the auto and thanked my lucky stars. I didn’t really think I was getting into an auto ride which I would reminisce about to my grandchildren…or at least my children (okay, maybe I got over it after I was done dramatically recounting it to my friends).

Nothing very dramatic or extraordinary happened for most of the journey. I did get stuck in a traffic jam, and began worrying about missing my class. Once we got out of the jam, I stopped worrying and day dreaming again.

It was at the last traffic signal before my university when the dramatic events started unfolding. The auto was going quite fast, and skidded to a halt just inches behind the car in front. I looked questioningly at the driver, wondering whether he was getting sleepy or something. In fact, he was very much awake and, to my consternation, looked just as stumped as to what had just happened. He mumbled something, “Brake kaam nahi kar raha?” (The brakes aren’t working?).

Oh dear me.

(Cue Mild Concern)

I was in an auto whose brakes were not functioning effectively. I wondered whether I should sympathize with the driver and tell him to get to an autorickshaw workshop as soon as he could, because failing brakes are dangerous, right?

The signal turned green and the driver slowly revved up and took up speed. A car suddenly came out of nowhere, and the driver rammed down on the brakes.

It didn’t work. At least not completely. The car was really fast, so it passed by before the auto hit it, but…

Oh. My. God.

(Cue Hyperventilation)

I was in an auto whose brakes were failing. Damn it…this isn’t a movie! I remembered all the movies I’d seen about cars with failed brakes (as a method of revenge or sabotage) and somehow remembered that the cars basically kept going on and on till they reached a cliff or the end of an unfinished road overlooking a river or something, and how, somehow, heroically, someone saves the passengers of the rogue car just before it plummets into nothingness, or crashes spectacularly into a mountain or something.

Thanks, but no, thanks. I have a class to get to. I don’t have time for crashes and dives!!

Before I could say anything, the driver said, “Miss, the brakes aren’t working. I’m going to have to drop you here. Because look…” he rammed down on the brakes again, and the auto just began slowing down “…it just isn’t working”.

I however, wanted to kiss him. This meant the auto COULD stop! I wondered why my brain decided that reminding me about the most extreme situations I knew of would be a better way of coping in this case rather than letting me rationally think of actual possibilities. Oh the mysteries of the mind!

I cleared my throat and promptly told the driver to drop me off right here. He began the process of slowing down. The auto kept going stoically, even though the driver had his foot firmly on the brake, and kept going and going. My fears returned a little. But then, just before a turn in the road, it stuttered to a halt.

This was when I let out a ginormous sigh of relief.

I shakily got out, paid the fare, and began walking towards the university. I had just experienced one of the most scary situations in my life. It had been only 2 minutes (maximum), but it was scary, okay?

Too much drama for a day.

And when I reached my class fifteen minutes late, what else could happen? Oh yeah…my professor could be on leave and cancel class without letting us know. Ugh. Too much for a single day I tell you. Too. Much.

The Luxury of Self Pity & Seduction of Inadequacy

As I’m laid up in bed because a ligament in my knee, I figured no better time than this to notch up a few blog posts!

I watched the wonderful speech by Lupita Nyong’o (which slowly seems to be going viral on Facebook) in which she eloquently presents her thoughts on beauty and confidence. What struck me was her use of the phrase ‘seduction of inadequacy’.

I, with a simple ligament injury, have been trying hard to hold on and not give in to this seduction. And I’ve been very strict with myself as far as indulging in self-pity is concerned (read : Not Allowed).

For the first week, it was quite alright. It was a pain in the ass (literally) to have to stay in bed all day except when I had to use the washroom. I could have roamed around the house, but the knee immobilizer that I’m wearing, other than making me look like a war veteran, keeps slipping down if I bend at all. So I decided to just stay in bed and try and deal with all my pending univ work.

Needless to say, very little work was done and it was more of aimless net surfing and Whatsapping with a friend who had an operation recently; we bonded over what he called the ‘patient factor’. Then, the first weekend, my friends from  univ came over to my place (more like stormed the house) and it was a wonderful evening with a lot of laughter and reminiscing about Kerala. Their visit was over soon (too soon), and then it first hit me though I tried hard to stop it…self pity. Why me? This was so unfair! (And subsequent related thoughts).

Slowly, over the week, consolatory messages and concerned calls reduced in number. People moved on with their lives, as I knew they would, and my situation was no longer one of the Things To Talk About. And this is when I really comprehended what Lupita meant when she talked about the Seduction of Inadequacy. It pretty much goes hand in hand with self pity; it just feels dramatic and miserably good to know that you’re a damsel in distress. And you never realize how you’re weakening yourself by thinking so.

I guess it all comes down to what all sociologists would agree to – man is a social animal (not a very gender-neutral way of saying it though). We all love being with people, surrounded by others. I am one of those people who loves their solitude. But I realize now how much I actually need the hustle around me to be able to truly appreciate the solitude.

I want to go to college, I want to go to the library, I want to go for fieldwork, I want to do all the things which I usually find taxing just so that I can get out of the house, out of bed and be surrounded by people.

In the end, I think it’s just a human instinct to feel wanted and missed. Nobody wants to be out of mind even if they’re out of sight.

If I talk about my right to indulge in self pity or feeling inadequate, mine is a weak case…just a ligament injured in a freak accident. No one to blame, and in no way too serious. But for me, my life seems to be in shambles! As Anne Shirley would put it, I’m in the “depths of despair”. Not all the time, but whenever I realize I’m missing out on something exciting. Like today I was supposed to be chuckling and chatting with my friends at an univ function. But I can’t.

I guess I should pull myself together. I’ve bored you with my travails long enough.

Good bye. I shall go jump into the pool of self pity and fall prey to the seductions of inadequacy now.