in personal

Being a global communicator

I just noticed how it is an effort for me to talk to pretty much any of the Assamese peo­ple.
Ziv said a very inter­est­ing thing: Peo­ple with their own accents and lan­guage, actu­ally ‘hear dif­fer­ently’. I thought the prob­lem was only an inca­pa­bil­ity of ren­der­ing the same pro­nun­ci­a­tion I was say­ing. I say my name is, most ele­men­tar­ily bro­ken, ‘Wish-aysh’. The lat­ter half’s vowel pro­nun­ci­a­tion, in the rare case that you don’t under­stand, is pretty much the stan­dard way any one enun­ci­ates ‘A’ as the first let­ter of the alpha­bet.
There were three dif­fer­ent pro­nuni­ca­tions the Amer­i­cans piked up on pro­nounc­ing my name. The few peo­ple who knew my name by spelling and tried to gen­er­ate the pho­net­ics for them­selves, pro­nounced it a Veesh-aaish. The aai is the best approx­i­ma­tion I can think of, for a stretched ay sound almost like the vowel part of ‘ack!’. That was David [Roe] and Susan, as far as I remem­ber. Then there was a mix­ture of Wish-eesh (which I find the most accept­able incor­rect pro­nun­ci­a­tion, because I spell my name with an ‘e’, which pro­nounced like an… e, is mostly fine), and Vaash-eesh. That was the most con­fus­ing. I would say my name and this was one of the most com­mon things they heard my name as. And I’m pretty sure it is not a fault of my speech, because peo­ple in India can under­stand my name rather eas­ily.
Also because the best pro­nun­ci­a­tion Dan and a few oth­ers picked up because I spent some extra time get­ting my name across to them, and because Henry made up funny ways of say­ing it, went like Veesh-aysh. Next time I meet them, I need to tell them about the shorter e in the first half of my name. I was also envi­ous about how I didn’t have as cool a single-syllable name as all of htem have. My name is so point­lessly.
Another inter­est­ing thing hap­pened recently which had hap­pened before, but I hadn’t noticed it in the same con­text. Proper regional Biharis are com­pelled to pro­nounce my name first as Bish-aysh. It’s not like they can’t say V. It’s just that they default hear any V as B. And try to say it like that. They would only switch to V when it seems com­pul­sory. B appar­ently, on some level, is a more con­ve­nient con­so­nant to pronounce.

So, the point of this nar­ra­tion, was less to get across the cor­rect pro­nun­ci­a­tion of my name — more to com­ment on how it is not entirely easy to talk to Amer­i­cans — I need to repeat myself occa­sion­ally if they weren’t pay­ing enough atten­tion; or even with locals of Indian states. I momen­tar­ily felt annoyed. I seem to not ‘belong’ to any place, where I can be com­pre­hended eas­ily. And I just real­ized that I do. It’s been a long time since I spent time there, but I really do belong in Delhi, in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Also the really cool part about that is, I can talk, to a large extent, any­where with Hindi, and/or Eng­lish. I saw the point/coolness of being ‘global’. Of being in a metro where the kind of expo­sure I have had, does not region­ally local­ize me, because if I were able to talk per­fectly to Amer­i­cans or to the Assamese, my com­mu­nic­tion with the other would be much more dithered, and unde­sir­ably tilted towards incomprehensibility.

  • Ankur Baner­jee

    Grab a beer with me some day when we meet again cholo. Psy­cholin­guis­tics and speech recog­ni­tion is what I’ve been doing research projects on and if I ever plan to take up research later this is prob­a­bly what I’ll do.

    • Mys­tic Ranger

      That seems like an awe­some thing to work on.
      So does pyscholin­guis­tics have to do with learn­ing lan­guage, under­stand­ing lan­guage, or under­stand­ing how peo­ple lis­ten to/comprehend lan­guage? That obser­va­tion made the last seem most spe­cial to me — that peo­ple instinc­tively *hear* the same things dif­fer­ently. I was also think­ing about the con­struc­tion of lan­guages, on that joke by Rus­sell Peters about !Xobile, if you’ve heard that one. Would love to meet up some time (though I’m not into beer and such, yet. :P).