Hopeless linguists

“Banni, banni,” a shopkeeper ushered me on my maiden shopping venture here in the Garden City two decades back. 

‘Sheer euphoria’ is how the shopping experience at Commercial Street was described to me, and I was looking forward to that euphoria. 

But the banni instantly put me off. “What’s the problem?” my spouse asked me with the strange enthusiasm that only newly-wed husbands exhibit, and only for a brief spell. 

“Look at his audacity, he is calling me panni (meaning pig in Tamil, which I understood),” I complained. 

My husband knew then that he had married a hopeless linguist!

Speaking languages has always been a sore spot with me. 

I believe it is an art so fine that it can be compared to tightrope walking. 

A small slip and communication can almost become catastrophic and repugnant. 

From vocabulary to grammar and from the tenses to spoken tones it is an adventure into the world of words. 

Master it and the world is at your fingertips, miss it and your world can come plunging down!

Picking up languages, I have also realised, is inversely proportional to one’s literate state. 

Working and the blue-collared categories are far more intuitive in picking up languages than their scholarly counterparts. 

The point brings to my mind a math professor in my MBA course who taught us ‘Operations Research’. 

Though a wizard at his subject, he was a hopeless linguist. He probably never got to do any research on spoken English. 

Yet, with his daring spirit, he was a chatterbox of sorts and always ended up tickling our funny bones with his broken English. 

Mixing some high vocabulary with all the wrong tenses, his class was a two-hour session of ‘how not to speak English’. 

“Students, no doing copy in the test, I espying you from my chair,” he would warn us before surprise tests.

The course being an evening part-time diploma with most of the students employed during the day, the average class performance read quite like the batting scores of a bowler. 

“I taking care not to be frightened of your papers. Clutching my wits, I reading your paper and then, like shooting star come your wrong answers,” he would yell at us. 

“Please wait a minute for five minutes, no single person talk at the same time,” was his most famous line during a class mayhem.
 
Picking up bits and pieces and speaking a foreign tongue at the end of the day also requires guts, something that the political class has in abundance. 

Before the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was coached in a bit of English. 

Upon meeting Clinton, he was to say, “How are you?” 

The response was supposed to be, “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” Mori was to answer, “Me too.” 

When they actually met, Mori was said to have made a slip-up by saying, “Who are you?” 

Clinton replied, “I’m Hillary’s husband.” To which Mori replied without a hint of hesitation, “Me too.”

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)