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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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)

Nighttime Excursions and Celestial Mysteries

Every night, I go out for a walk in the park in front of my house with a friend who lives a few houses away (Hi Abhiti!). We’ve formed this tradition of sorts since a year or so (though it’s become regularized more recently) and we never run out of things to talk about.

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(from the interwebs)

For example…

where is the Moon? (a daily favourite, because the Moon hardly ever appears in the same spot in the sky and on some days hides behind houses, frustrating us to no end as we debate whether it’s a new moon night or not)

is it a rat/mouse or frog or cat which is rustling through the hedges? (this is creepy and more of an inner monologue I think, though we do discuss it too)

how well-trained is the pet dog that someone has let loose in the park while we walk? (I really like dogs, but when a hyperactive one runs towards you barking, you kind of freeze and wonder whether you should begin looking back at your life)

what kind of nocturnal birds are screeching at night and sounding nothing like owls? (I have realized that my information-level about nocturnal birds, save for owls, is woefully inadequate)

oh cool! That’s a bat flying around the big flood lights (more of an observation. We don’t get to see too many bats here)

what invisible creature is the cat stalking so intently? (we don’t have night-vision, so it could be ghost for all we know)

when we were kids, we could see so many more stars in the sky (this is another daily observation. Clear skies are a delight)

we should go to the Planetarium some day (follow-up to previous conversation)

how lucky are we that the power outage occurred on a full-moon night? (one night, there were power outages three times, leaving parts of the park in pitch-black darkness, so we retreated to the open areas where the moon, thankfully, showed up and shone bright)

air traffic has become so high! (there are planes zooming in all directions above our heads)

will we see an UFO? (my friend claims she saw an UFO once while she was in the park. So now, we look up every time we hear a noise in the sky, and I think we’re both hoping to see something…outside the ordinary)

Needless to say, our walks are more about us chatting and less about the walking itself. But even then, it’s a part of my day I look forward to, because being outside at night is always a mysterious and interesting prospect. And there are still so many questions to be answered!

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.