Saturday, November 14, 2009

Some Indians Americans go Boa(t/d)ing but how many go to Udah?

The topic of accents, pronunciation and mastery of language is frequent among Indian Americans and immigrants and is a definite icebreaker; sometimes leading to passionate debates about the right or wrongs of aping accents. A hint to you: the surest way to hit an Indian immigrant below the belt? Remark about his use of English attributable to the fact he is not native born. ;-) The converse also works great: want to brownnose your Desi boss? Complement her on her clear unaccented Indian English.

A few days ago we were at a friend’s place for dinner when the topic of Indians and accents came up (surprise?), and we began sharing our anecdotes. I remarked about a colleague of ours, Raj, who seemed to have the most Americanized accent among the few Indians in the team. Ms R, a colleague from Georgia was slightly amused. She mentioned a recent conversation with Raj who had talked to her about his recent family vacation to Udah. It is only after Raj completed his story that Ms R realized that he wasn’t talking about a trip to an exotic foreign land but to the state of Utah. Turns out Raj took his lessons on pronouncing his Indian American "T" and "D"s to an extreme. Hearing this, I was reminded of Bollywood movies depicting scenes of the British Raj where the Gora Sahib would make attempts to bond with natives, speaking thoda thoda hindi in his thick British accent

What about me? Having spent years in the west – England, Europe, Canada and the US –I guess I still haven’t made a conscious attempt to acquire a native accent. I retain a typical Indian accent with what some have remarked, a tinge of the South Indian accent.

Thanks to globalization and the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) boom, one can probably find scores of young Indians in Bangalore, Gurgaon or Hyderabad who speak much ‘better’ accented American English than most first-generation immigrants in Boston or Bay area. And between every Mohan who continues to retain a plain accent and Raj who work on his T’s and D's there are stripes in between.

A few interesting posts and blogs on the topic:

  • Can That Damn Accent!
  • The Venture Capitalist from Kanpur: Rekhi is a large and rumpled man with a heavy accent and a rapid-fire delivery. "I'm not smooth," he says, stating the obvious. The edges may be rough, but the sum is impressive
  • Are Indians the Model Immigrants? They have funny accents, occasionally dress in strange outfits, and some wear turbans and grow beards, yet Indians have been able to overcome stereotypes to become the U.S.'s most successful immigrant group