Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

Kindly read with regards: On English in India

August 11, 2010

Scene one: After I woke up Monday morning, my host brother told me we’d be going for a “picture”. Having already had an ID photo taken my first week here, I was confused. Should I put on nice clothes? Who would be in the picture with me?

As it turns out, “picture” means “movie” here, and I watched Predators in Hindi that afternoon with Mayank and two of his friends.

Scene two: I’d just finished lunch, and my host grandmother sent a water bottle with me as I was about to go upstairs. I asked if I should bring down the empty bottle from my room.

The problem was, she didn’t quite understand what I meant. Instead, she and my host grandfather explained I was not to drink the tap water, something I already understood. Only when I brought the empty bottle down did we clear up the misunderstanding, and it was all smiles from that point on.

Scene three: As I read a headline of the local print English newspaper, The Hitavada, I did a double take. I wondered how the “largest circulated English daily in Central India” could let such a headline slip by. “Surely it must be a misprint,” I thought.

The headline? Exactly as it reads here, except there were no apostrophes. See the power of punctuation?!

To be fair, the article was about cricketer Salman Butt, and a “dead ball” in cricket is when play stops, but my point stands:

Indian English is very different than American English.

In Maharashtra, Marathi is the language in which most children speak their first words. Conversations within the house, among friends, and with locals are usually in Marathi. It’s the language my host family and many of the people in Nagpur are most comfortable speaking.

Hindi is the language that usually comes to mind when people think of the “Indian” language. On the street in North and Central India, Hindi can be very useful. Since 29 languages in India are spoken by over 1 million people, Hindi is a language Indians use from Gujarat to Odisha to Uttar Pradesh.

So English is a second or third language for most Indians. But it has a unique role in the Indian lexicon. Whereas Hindi has failed to unite the country linguistically, English is now a language of hundreds of millions throughout India. As it becomes the language of instruction in more and more schools across India, people are becoming more and more comfortable using it. Many video games, movies, songs, books and websites are English-only, making English not just a language of education, but entertainment as well.

The ethos of English has changed over time, too. Because English is a remnant of India’s colonial days, it was initially an unpopular language with the majority of Indians. But as more and more Indians have come into contact with the outside world, the taboo against English has lessened, to the point that India by some estimates will soon have more English speakers than any country in the world.

That said, there’s something to be said about the power of the mother tongue. I could certainly survive the year without learning a word of Marathi or Hindi, but that’s not my intent. I know and use only a few short words, such as bas (enough) or nai (no), but each time I do, smiles show up on my family members’ faces. Just as food, religion, and holidays define a culture, so does its language.

India is about the best country I could have chosen for this blog. Only here or in Australia could I have traveled to a country where writing in English wouldn’t hinder my growth into the culture. But were I to have chosen Australia, I wouldn’t have learned a separate local language. By the end of the year, I want to be able to speak Hinglish and Minglish – perhaps not fluently, but at least conversationally.

As for this blog… I think I’m going to stick with American English.


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Hinglish, soccer in the streets, and Indian video games: Answering your questions about India

July 25, 2010

August 12, 2010: UPDATE: Marathi is also commonly spoken on the streets in Maharashtra. Hindi is a secondary language for most people. See this post for more updated information about language in India.

Ask and you shall receive.

How many host families will you have?

I have only one host family the whole year. So I’m very happy that I got placed with a good one! Everyone in the family has been supportive and helped me learn all the new facets of the culture. One of the students I met at the conference had five though, if I remember correctly, so the number of families varies from student to student and country to country.

Are you going to go through an intensive language week or two through Rotary during your first few weeks? I know they do that in some of the European countries.

No, but I actually wish I did. Almost everyone I’ve met speaks English, and most speak it well. When someone wants to talk to me in English, I’m usually able to understand what they’re saying without any difficulties. I have become self-conscious of my American accent, since it’s quite distinctive.

But almost everyone here speaks three languages fluently: English, Hindi and Marathi, the latter two of which are quite similar. I find it remarkable how so many people are so fluent in all three languages. In the house, Marathi is commonly spoken. On the streets, everyone understands Hindi. Friends often talk amongst themselves in Hindi and Marathi, so I wish I had learned more of each before I came. They’ll interchange between Hindi and English a lot, so I guess you could say everyone speaks Hinglish.

Are you taller than anyone you see?

Yea… In fact I haven’t seen a single other person with blond or brown hair since I left the Nagpur airport. But I haven’t gotten as much attention for my difference in appearance as I thought I would. A small child noticeably pointed at me a couple days ago, and a baby girl stared at me as I rode by in the car, but if adults have been looking at me, they have been discrete. No one has come up to me and tousled my hair or anything like that.

Are there kids playing soccer in the streets?

Cricket is the big sport here in India, but it’s definitely not the only popular sport. Basketball and football (I’m just going to call soccer football, so hang with me) are very popular. Field hockey, badminton and volleyball are also played a lot. But these are all played on well-maintained courts and fields for the most part.

So no, I haven’t seen kids playing soccer in the streets. 🙂

As for football, I was going to go play this morning with my host brother, cousin and friends, but it was raining too hard.

Have you got a phone yet that works?

No, not yet. Everyone I talked to beforehand said I shouldn’t bring a phone, so that’s why I remained one of those weird people without a cell phone in the months before the trip. One of my friends here recommended I just change the SIM card on a phone from the US, but I really didn’t know enough to do anything.

I don’t know if I’ll be getting a phone eventually, but seeing as I survived 15 of my 17 years without one, I’ll think I’ll be able to survive one more. 😛

Watching tv??? What about… video games ?

TV is to India what the internet is to the US. Actually that’s an overgeneralization. But TV seems more influential here than in the US. My host brother, cousin, and friends watch a lot of movies in their free time, clicking between HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and the Indian Disney Channel. We’ve also watched the WWE.

Yes, I know. I didn’t come to India just to watch TV…

As for video games, some people play video games on their PCs. Internet cafés, I’ve heard, are filled with teenagers on World of Warcraft and Age of Empires. I haven’t had the chance to play anything yet.

I did, however, sing YMCA and We Are The Champions on the family karaoke machine…

Did you take your malaria pill?

Only you would ask that, mom. Yes, of course! No worries.


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