Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Correct Speaking Habits in North India

I just finished eating dinner. Television was on while we were eating and there was Dekha Ek Khwaab (Have a Dream), one of many Indian soap operas, playing. In the programme a character (some member of the royal family) is teaching the protagonist princess Manyata history when suddenly the focus turns to language after the princess utters a word incorrectly. 

The word in question is [ʊmr] (umr, age). The princess instead says [ʊmʌr] (umar, age) and a funny scene ensues when her instructor tries to correct her. She just doesn't get it. Then the would-be prince appears and, as if by magic, and the princess learns the correct pronunciation in a single attempt. The programme aside, the episode does bring up an interesting situation that is prevalent in much of North India.

We North Indians have developed really bad pronunciation habits. I often try to correct my sisters when they say [dʒəmɪ:n] (jameen, earth) instead of [zəmɪ:n] (zameen, earth) or [vəkʌt] (waqat, time) instead of [vəkt] (waqt, time). Guess what I get in return - mockery.

I am not a professional linguist so I don't know the basic underlying factors. Nonetheless there is this visceral feeling that makes wrong pronunciation so repelling and I find it so 'uncultured.' I don't think speaking habits can be changed by a government decree but at least the education system should be such that it at least inculcates in children correct speaking habits.