Saturday, July 16, 2011

To bhi or not to bhi

Reminder: In case your pronunciations are already pretty awry, please refrain from reading this blog post. You might end up feeling a bit screwed up!

"dheere dheere my englis becoming so gooding ki now when I speak in English people say -wow Mrs. Sharma what command over the language, what pronounciation, to which I politely reply-I beg your pardon, it's not pronounciation, its pronunciation"...
This is the transcript of my all-time favourite ad! A delightfully wonderful masterpiece, which, in a mere 58 seconds, encompasses the entire point-of-view of the great Indian bourgeois towards the fabled language. A closer look at this advertisement would tell you that, at least in our society, pronouncing a word correctly, is as important as using it at the right place, and at the right time.

This brings me to the larger picture. What exactly is the right pronunciation?
English is exclusively inclusive. No other language has adopted, borrowed and sheltered so many words from other languages. This has been English's forte, its idiosyncrasy, its X factor. However, on the flip side, this has also created probably the most challenging task for a wannabe angrezi scholar. The native languages have a typical way in which the words are meant to be pronounced. These porridges, when kept in isolation and restricted to a certain sect, are completely unambiguous. The problem arises when we mix these porridges together in the cauldron to make the ultimate potpourri.
In Britain alone, there are quite a few accents(which is pronounced as 'aksent' and not 'assent' by the way). Those familiar with cricket commentary might well have observed(and laughed at) Sir Geoffrey Boycott's famous Yorkshirish accent. A few might well have drawn parallels between his, and David Lloyd's who happens to be a fellow Yorkshireman too. So, what's the corrent pronunciation of the word 'gully'? Is it 'guully', as Boycott or Lloyd would say it, or is it 'galli', as Sidhu would say it? The answer is, surprisingly, both (conditions applied).

I vividly remember an incident that happened almost 15 years ago. Dad used to teach the various parts of speech to my sister and I. To put things in perspective, my dad spent most of his childhood in Bettiyah, a lost district in Bihar's rural heartland, where people seldom forsake Bhojpuri for Hindi, leave alone English. He went on to join the most backward of the country's 'alleged' forward looking organisations, the Indian Air Force, where you're taught to say yes, before asking what, and where the vocabulary is well defined and A right is known as 'righto', transfer as 'posting', any public service bus as a 'PSI', a shopping mall as a small 'canteen', and a message as a 'signal'. Its not tough to imagine that not much of the emphasis is on pronouncing a word correctly.
So, one fine day, my English teacher(who was a grumpy old lady herself) asked us to recite the various parts of speech! I, knowing the 'poem', did a Hermoine Granger and raised my hand as high as I could. "Noun-pronoun-adjective-verb-adverb-preposition-conjunction-interjection". I didn't expect her to squeal '50 points for Gryffindor', but neither did I expect her to say/do what she did. For the first few minutes there was completely pandemonium. The noise of students giggling and feet thumping could've been heard from miles away. I stood there, chagrined, wondering what wrong I had said. I repeated the 'poem' in my mind, again, and again. My words weren't wrong, but my pronunciation(as she pointed out later), was. I had made the grave mistake of pronouncing 'verb' as 'bherv' and 'adverb' as 'adbherv', something that my dad had always done, and passed on to me. I went home and confronted my dad, cried myself dry, frivolously accused him of teaching me the wrong things and locked myself in the bathroom till the point the smell of the gutter got the better of me.
I was made the laughing stock of the class. Fellow pupils, girls, and teachers alike would look at me and say the dreaded 'bhi' word. I started hating my name too, for it began with the dreaded 'bhi' letter as well. I would fight, throw a few things back at them, but I soon realised that all my efforts were futile. I resigned to my fate. Fortunately, time, for once, proved to be the best healer.

Fifteen years down the line, I know that I wasn't wrong. If 'verb' can't be 'bherv' then neither can 'Punjab' be 'Puunjab', 'bathing' be 'bating', 'Bhatinda' be 'Pathinda', 'future' be 'fusure' and 'rasgulla' be 'roshogulla'.
No exam tests you on pronunciation. It just can't. So if someone tells you that Gavaskar can't pronounce 'McGrath', then go and tell him that 'McGrath' can't pronounce 'Gavaskar' either. And that none of them can pronounce 'ten Doeschates'. Pronouncing is one of the most arduous tasks! If given a chance, people would certainly opt to implement the 'Dijkastra's algorithm' as compared to reading out aloud his name.

However, there are a few words which have standardised pronunciations. 'Edict' should be 'edite' and not 'edikt' while 'champagne' should be 'shampane' and not know what.
The relief is that these words are few, and far between. So the next time someone tells you that verb is not 'bherv', tell him to shut up and go get a 'laiph'.


  1. loved ur post...I myself could never understand why we go awwww...over foreigners' wrong pronunciation of Hindi words while at the same time we make fun of our own countrymen....specially those from Bihar and UP....

    'go get a laiph'....i like that.

  2. that ij why i love eating biscuts in the pa-r-k!!!