Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bulgaria... and Clichés on Pronunciation

Four years ago, I was shooting a short film in Goa. We were behind the schedule, tired and irritated. Budget was hiking up. We didn't know it would cost so much getting the lighting unit from outstation. We all were angry. But, we had to finish the shoot. After ten days of onsite pre-production the shoot began. And during the second day lunch, I faced Bulgaria.

I don't remember why Bulgaria came up in our discussion. It was my pronunciation of the name that caught everyone's attention.

Everyone else in that room laughed at my pronunciation, and tried to force the idea on me that the correct pronunciation was Bullgaria - Bu to be pronounced in a way same as Mu in Must. I didn't see any reason to follow their order. My girlfriend's roommate was Bulgarian, and I talked to her often on Skype. I knew exactly how she pronounced her country's name.

This incident showed me, however, how people reacted to unfamiliar associations.

I learnt English in childhood in a peculiar way. Faced with the challenge to start with ABCD in teenage, owing to the government decision to teach English from an advanced age, I had to master English fast. Unlike most others, taking the usual route of following regular conversation and repeating them looked too difficult for me.

I took the alternative, more rigorous route. Grammar books and dictionaries.

I attempted at memorizing the entire Webster New Collegiate Dictionary. I couldn't manage that. But, I succeeded in memorizing the Samsad English-Bengali dictionary in full. Not a mean feat.

This is exactly how I learnt Sanskrit too. Every morning, I would start with a chapter in the English and Sanskrit grammar books; and an alphabetical entry in the respective dictionaries. Say, I would start with Noun clause today, and with the alphabet A. Especially for the dictionary entry, it would be interesting to memorize each and every word starting with A, along with its etymology, cultural history, pronunciation and synonyms.

I would take up listings under B, the next day; and so on until I reach Z. Then the whole process would be repeated, ad infinitum. I did this daily for the first five years of English learning (and Sanskrit.)

However, there was a hitch in this approach. Although pronunciation can be followed from a printed dictionary, accent was very difficult to guess. Stress and stops are normally given at the syllabic break up for words; but they change in conjunction with other words, and with mood.

The only way to lose the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI) and speak like a native is to speak to natives all the time for months, preferably in their own milieu.

Same goes for getting the native flavor and nuances correct in the written and spoken usage of the language. Reading a lot helps there. But, unless one lives totally in that culture, one may not really appreciate exactly how an opera performance appeals to a native mind - the subtle cultural impressions which come out through use of words.

This is one reason Sanskrit, or Vedic, cannot be the modern Indian language in the same, puranic sense, without changing the face of the society to how it was two thousand years ago. But, that is another story.

I digress, anyway. What the Bulgarian experience showed me, much to my irritation, that most people were not ready to accept the native pronunciation. They are conditioned to the malinformed childhood - the first information they got about the word. Not only they are resistant to change, they force others to believing their own, flawed, pronunciation to be true.

Unfortunately, this is not only restricted to pronunciation of words alone. This applies to almost any cultural practice. And that means almost everything in life.

One common word example readily comes to mind. Renaissance. The popular Bengali pronunciation for this word is Reh-neh-saan (রেনেসাঁ). The average Bengali would argue on the pronunciation, saying this is a French word. It's interesting that s/he argues with you without any basic knowledge in French, and precisely that's why the argument is wrong.

Here is the French pronunciation for the word.

                                                 And here is the American one.

Eether or Aither (for either)? Spatula with a soft t or a comparatively hard one? Zee or Zed? These are contextual questions. If I go for Eether, or spatula with a soft t, I should say Zee, and not Zed. I am following the prevailing Boston accent in the US in this case.

But, who cares in the age of globalization?

To conclude, I must narrate a hilarious incident which happened to me on the Christmas day. I was standing at Andheri station, waiting for a train to Bandra. Suddenly a guy came and asked me if Silo trains come to the same platform.

I was in deep thought about something. It took me three minutes to understand he meant slow train. But, the guy was confident that it was silo, and not slow, train.

I am pretty sure he would force his way to convince his folks that they call it silo.