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)

Late-Night Musings : Trust Issues

Trust Issues are the worst kind of issue to have. Ever. They colonize your mind and seep into your very neurons, making it hard (if not impossible) to open up and give up your inhibitions.

And ironically enough, the only way to get over trust issues, is to actually…

…wait for it…

…trust someone!

(And then keep worrying and getting anxious about whether that person is actually worthy of trust or not, and whether or not you’ve made a royally messed-up decision by opening up again or not.)

Oh the barriers we create for ourselves! How happy we would be if we could set our minds free instead.

PS. This is the most inconvenient thing to begin thinking about late at night.

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(from the net)

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.

Sleepy Acrobatics

There are times when I have cousins over at my place, and we only have one spare bedroom. So, most of the time, I end up sharing my bedroom with someone, usually a cousin.

I’ve noticed a trend…the kids almost always end up sleeping with one or more limbs on top of me.

Talking about sleeping with cousins always reminds me of this one trip a long time back, where I shared the bed with two of my cousin sisters, who promptly had a fight regarding who gets to sleep next to me (aw), which was resolved when they decided I would sleep in the middle. I spent the beginning portion of that night with one arm each in the clutches of one cousin (which they thankfully released as they fell asleep).

But I digress.

So I recently had another baby (well, I say baby…she’s 9) cousin over. She spent the night in my bed. And I spent the night trying to get her to shift over to her side of the bed.

Throughout the night, there was either an arm, an elbow, a knee or a foot on me somewhere, and there was me trying to subtly nudge her limbs back onto her own self (she wasn’t too energetic and I was too sleep-addled and polite, so not much changed).

Having gone through this, I remembered another case where my cousin baby brother slept in my room. He was a lot more energetic, and elbowed me several times in the night, but the situation was strikingly similar…some limb on me all throughout the night.

It’s important to note that only children do such stuff. Adults I think are too conscious of their own personal space, even while sleeping.

So what is it that makes my bed fellows gravitate towards me at night? Are they lacking cuddles?

I guess I’m just a really good elder cousin, and their affection overflows into their unconscious.

The compromises one makes for love. And adorable kids *sigh*

The Power of Blogging

7 years.

200 posts.

As is wont, I forgot to commemorate my blog’s birthday (5th February, if you’re curious) this year too. But while I was going through past posts, I suddenly saw the small little ‘199’ next to the tab header.

So, for my 200th post, I decided to be contemplative.

I was an 18 year old girl, trying to find a momentary escape from exam-prep, when I started blogging. I don’t remember what I expected from it at the time, except that I was glad to have a place to write whatever I wished, and it could be potentially read by numerous people.

Now, going through all the posts over the years, I can see how I’ve evolved, how my writing style has evolved, how my interests have developed, and how blogging as a medium has fared.

All in all, I’m glad I took the plunge and I am still excited every time I press ‘Publish’…and that’s why I keep blogging…because even after 7 years, I still want to keep this blog up and going. It’s something I’ve become proud of.

As an exercise in better planning, I’ve decided to post at least twice a month, if not more (I’m hoping to make it weekly, but let’s take baby steps).

Thank you for sticking with me and for reading! I hope you’ve found your happy place in blogging too.

Trust me, I’m an Ambivert.

I’ve found that most people do not fit into separate water-tight categories. Everyone lies somewhere on a scale, and it’s kind of meaningless trying to pass judgement by declaring a person to be just one thing.

I, for example, am an Ambivert.

On the scale between Introversion and Extroversion, I lie somewhere in the middle, if online personality tests are to be believed. And even if I don’t put much stock in such tests, I realize it myself too now.

In the past, I would have usually described myself as an Introvert, which would prompt my friends to stare and say, “Yeah, right”, because when I’m in the mood I can talk a lot and engage in witty repartee, much like a very social person. But it’s afterwards, when I need a while to be alone and wind down from all the interaction, that makes me realize that I’m really not an Extrovert, however decent I might be at engaging with new people or just chatting nineteen-to-a-dozen when I want to.

It’s only recently that I came across the term ‘ambivert’ (yes, thank you Psychology, for never mentioning the thing) and it was like fireworks and flowers in bloom as I read through the description and I finally felt like someone understands me (I might be exaggerating, but it was a pretty amazing find).

Lifehack talks about it, and so does Buzzfeed.

And if those don’t make the mark, there are more professional sites which talk about it too.It’s as easy as googling ‘ambivert’, and then you wonder how you didn’t know of it before, because ohmygod it’s everywhere.

Point is, I still feel like I have to provide an explanation whenever I say I’m an ambivert, almost as if I’m trying to refute the fact that I sound so hipster-ish when I say it. Also, I think other people find it hard to classify ambiverts, because we’re not always outgoing and not always in our shell.

Sorry about that.

But it’s a daily struggle…