Just as my English has a “chameleon” quality (see “Can you drop the Indian accent?”), I’m often asked “How come you don’t have an accent in Hindi?”
Usually I explain that I have lived in India for more than a decade, studied Hindi in Delhi for a year augmented mid-way by a very helpful 6-week stint at the Landour Language School (near Mussourie).
What follows is generally “Aaah! That explains it!” type response. Because the ‘real’ Hindi is naturally from North India!
Yet I’m aware that my vocabulary has shifted between what is typically heard in Delhi to ‘Mumbaya’ words. And has deteriorated abysmally as my universe in Bombay is almost exclusively English.
When I lived in Delhi (1995-96, 2003-05) there were multiple daily opportunities to speak Hindi or at least ‘Hinglish‘ – in which one switches effortlessly between English, Hindi, blending words from each language. Today, I’m honest enough to know that when folks complement my Hindi, they are being terribly kind – even I can hear how badly I mess up!
However I have a few perspectives on this… and wonder if anyone else agrees?
The accent ‘trick’ – get as close as you can!
The trick. I think, is the accent – which DOES make a significant difference to effective communication. Even with poor grammar and limited vocabulary, if at least part of what is said SOUNDS close to the correct ‘accent’ (ie a tiny bit closer to how the words are pronounced by a native speaker), the results are pretty good!
However, if the pronunciation is ‘off’ or not quite right, quizzical looks and frustration is more apt to be the response even if the grammar and vocabulary is technically correct. A German friend is Professor of Hindi and, naturally, completely fluent in Hindi. And yet, her strong German ‘accent’ in Hindi sometimes ‘interferes’ with comprehension. Occasionally, it takes me a few seconds for the synapses to go “Got it! That’s what she just said!”
This is compounded in some languages where intonation is everything and radically changes the meaning – often with hilarious or highly embarrassing mistakes!
For me, accents are a reflection of the variety and richness of a language with a window into a particular culture. The different nuance or flavour that comes with the accent of a particular part of the world or community brings a wealth of insight, triggers memories and more. When I speak with anyone from the Canadian prairies, I’m instantly transported to the ‘home’ of my birth. Similarly, as I meet people from a place I’ve spent time, their accent is a miniature plane / train / car trip to both the place and memories of it.
In a recent interview in Jakarta, one candidate mentioned how he lived in France as a child. When he wanted to back to school to get another degree, did so in French. He joked “My French accent is better than my English.” And honestly, in my humble opinion he was 100% correct. I could ‘hear’ Paris when he spoke French. As for his English…. not exactly fluent. However who am I to judge with only 2 – 3 words of Bahasa!?
Fe… Fi… Fo.. Fum… Faking French
With French, I rarely get an opportunity to practice these days. And, in Asia, it is most likely to be someone from France. Having studied in Cannes long ago, there was a time I could attempt (fake?) that accent. However, I must confess, I spent more time that spring enjoying the free passes to the Cannes International Film Festival than truly mastering French!
Today, my paltry French has rather garbled grammar and atrocious vocabulary as Hindi words keep popping into my head where French used to reside. Who knows what my French ‘accent’ is these days!?
Which is what made our July trip to Canada so delightful! In the ‘Green Room’ at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, several of the musicians were from Quebec. Ahhhh…. It was music to my ears and brought back a flood of memories from living in Montreal!
Yet while I could understand most of what was said and rejoiced in the familiar sounds of Quebec French, found it a more than a bit challenging to slip back into a Quebecois accent. Yup! Gotta admit, just too rusty to do justice.
Even if I can’t fake French anymore, will leave you with a taste of my favourite francophones from the festival – d’Harmo – a quartet of mad, fun, guys playing harmonium…
PS This post was prompted by a friend’s post “My Mandarin Accent” sharing her Taiwanese influenced beginnings replaced by Shanghai sounds and words. And how she was reminded of the distinction during a recent trip to Taiwan.
Comments and counter-arguments welcome!
- “Can you drop the Indian accent?”
- Winnipeg Folk Festival – Part 1
- Hinglish (deniseburchette.wordpress.com)
- Hinglish (photosandstoriesfromwhereiam.wordpress.com)