Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2015

I grew up in India immersing myself in the English language almost as much as I did my mother tongue. Although English was termed my second language in school, and later when I came to the US I was told I was a non-native speaker of English, the language never felt secondary or alien to me.

I’ve been told several times in the past two decades here in the US that I have a lilting cadence to my English speech that makes it exotic. I never heard my accent nor noticed the variations in the way I modulated certain sounds and syllables. I was too busy learning the American idioms and adding new vocabulary to my repertoire.

Until recently, that is. A few months ago, I observed a certain shift to my listening. It suddenly dawned on me why I say some words differently than a native English speaker in the US. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that I learned speaking English in India, which although retains few traces of the British English after all these years, still favors the British turn of phrase and pronunciation.

It has everything to do with the fact that my mother tongue, Telugu, is a non-phonetic language. That means, unlike in English, what you see written on the page is exactly how you pronounce the words. There are no two ways of saying the same word. Telugu has over 50+ letters in its alphabet, so there’s no chance for confusion. The same is true with most Indian languages.

In an Indian language, not all words have emphatic syllables in them. If you need a particular syllable in a word to be stressed harder, then you write it a certain way that leaves no doubt of the pronunciation. Not so in English.

Each and every word in English has at least one syllable that is emphasized in speech, even if it’s a one-syllable word like “a.” The syllable you choose to emphasize, the way you articulate it, the inflection you place on the sound… all these figure into your accent.

I realized that, as a native speaker of Indian languages, I sometimes neglect to enunciate a certain syllable in an English word because I don’t see the stress highlighted in the written word. For instance, take the word banana. The middle syllable na is stressed harder and stretched longer than the rest but it looks in writing as do the rest of the syllables. The word is not spelled bannaana to focus the stress. No book or teacher can teach this; it’s a matter of listening and emulating.

After this epiphany, I’m listening to spoken English with keener ears. Words and sounds that were mundane before reveal new personalities and interesting facets to me at every turn.  My ears perk up at once-familiar words that now tease me with a host of possibilities.

Does this mean I’m going to work at losing my “accent?” No, because that modulation is part of who I am. Will I stop confusing the heck out of my children by pronouncing “year” as “ear” because I forget to accentuate the beginning “ya” sound? Probably not.

I am, however, very much looking forward to this phase of my relationship with the English language. A phase where I get to acquaint myself with it all over again.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Originally posted on May 31, 2010.

The one constant companion at every stage of our lives is: Change.

Very few things in our lives can resist change.

Of course, there are a few facts that come to mind, almost instantaneously, that are seemingly exempt from change. One such is:

The sun rises every morning in the east.

However, it is said that our beloved sun is a dying star. It will not die in our lifetime or in the next however many lifetimes of humans, but it is predicted that in 5 billion years from now the sun will run out of hydrogen and fall into itself.

So, in a way, even the sunrises are constantly undergoing transformation, though we cannot discern it.

My point?

Nothing, whether living or inanimate, escapes change.

(Yes, in honor of this topic, I have changed the picture in my blog’s header :).)

Here are some quotes about life and what role change plays in it:

  • God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

                                                 – Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.

                                               – Unknown

  • There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.

                                                 – Winston Churchill

  • You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

                                                  – Mahatma Gandhi

  • Life can either be accepted or changed. If it is not accepted, it must be changed. If it cannot be changed, then it must be accepted.

                                                – Unknown

  • Things do not change; we change.

                                                  – Henry David Thoreau

  • When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.

                                                 – Benjamin Franklin

  • Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.

                                                 – Unknown

  • All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

                                                – Anatole France

And now, to end on a somewhat lighter note:

  • The world is changing so fast I’ve got societal vertigo. 

                                               – Terri Guillemets

Lastly, if Hazel Soares can earn a degree at 94, then isn’t making a sincere effort at embracing change (especially if it’s in the right direction) the least we can do?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: