Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ways People Talk

It can be a most engaging pastime, if you care to notice, and you don't quite need to have a linguistic bent for its appreciation either. Really, observing how people talk never ceases to amaze me, for it brings out how there are as many languages inside a language as there are people speaking it. You can always find out a great deal about a person from how s/he says whatever s/he has to say. An example that comes to mind readily is the typical vocabulary people in a particular profession get soaked into so completely, that they end up using weird words at the most inopportune moments, unwittingly verifying the Freudian sub-consciousness theories. A distant Uncle of mine who owns a medical store has perhaps been so busy flogging off curious supplements to his enervated customers all his life that his staple adjective for anything praiseworthy is 'powerful'! 'How cute is his little daughter, Uncle, isn't she just so angelic?' I asked only to hear 'Yeah, Powerful!'

And then, almost all students of my college would be aware of the swiftly repeated loud cries of 'DCE college' that the RTV conductor makes at the Metro station, because for the life of him he wouldn't give a damn to what DCE could stand for, whether Deesee is a bollywood bombshell or a sacred cow; but has to and indeed does take due measure to ensure that this lot of 'college'-goers standing near him doesn't, by any chance, leaves him unnoticed. But then this whole profession-vocabulary angle has been dissected so exhaustively by the now omnipresent TV's comedy kings, that there is hardly any novelty left about this entire exercise that I should explore. So, I'll just get back to some more of the oddities that I happened to spot recently.

A very good friend of mine, a mysterious character however, reveals some of his mysteries thus. An ardent lover of caps and hats, he often tells me he is always on the lookout for 'different-different kinds of caps' whenever he is out shopping. Yes, precisely that. Because, in his mind of minds, he actually looks out for alag-alag tarah ki topiyaan, he found it obligatory to add that extra 'different', and not because he was actually trying to be different, which he actually is! To think in one language while talking in another can be shoddier than not thinking at all while talking I'd say, unless hilarity is your first aim. This, then, is what I identify as the translator's plight. Of course, no language completely renders itself into being converted into another; not without the sprinkling of such amusing slips. This is also why one often finds many dubbed-into-Hindi movies hilarious enough to earn awards for their comedy, only to find out later that they have already won many for the excellence of their depiction of tragedy or action. Watch the 'Rocky' movie series in Hindi after you have watched it in English already, and you'll discover how Rocky's typical filler-words '..ya know' are each and every time so meticulously translated, as if they impart the dialogue all the meaning, into 'tum yeh khoob jaante ho'. So, 'It's gettin cold ya know' becomes 'ab yeh thanda ho raha hai, tum ye khoob jaante ho' and many more similar gaffes! Really, it is so clumsy it is actually great fun.

An old friend was to get married a week ago, and the occasion called for many of my other old friends to get together - it proved to be a reunion of sorts; all marriages are, on second thoughts. Some things derive their pleasure-quotient from their rarity, and this was just that. I know how bored we were three years ago hanging out with each other day after day after day, that once it had got down to all of us discussing how our social lives sucked, and each of us undisputedly accepting the conclusion that it sucked because each of us stuck it out with the rest of all of us. Ironically, we were in agreement upon the assertion that too much of being in agreement with each other all the time wasn't such a great thing after-all. But meeting after all these years was the best thing that could have happened to us at this time, we all agreed, yet again. However, as soon as I reached the venue, I was greeted with 'Saale tu bhi aa gaya' by the groom's brother as though 'the lesser the invitees turn up the preferable' was the mingy dictum that reigned supreme. Of course, it wasn't so. As I awkwardly took a seat close by, I saw that this was how everyone else was greeted too, some of them even more strangely, like - saale aaj nahi absent hoga chahe kabhi class na gaya ho. Perhaps someone had got it into his head that this was a particularly pleasing way to welcome people. The point I am trying to make here is that no matter how much you read into people's language to try and know about them, it isn't an ISO certified yardstick. For all you know, what you think as strange or stranger, could well have been funny or funnier, in intention. So, a fair bit of allowance had better be kept in these matters.

True, as much as how you mould a language can bring you embarrassment, the impact you generate is also a strikingly straight-line function of what treatment you give your words, your own way of putting the same old thing. This is so important it cannot be over-emphasised, but then it is so universal that it needn't be emphasised at all. The endearing Short-Film 'Historia De Un Letrero' (Story of a sign) made the most of this principle all the way to the bank, besides grabbing numerous international awards on the way. Since films are always better viewed than explained, I won't bore you with what happens in the film. Instead, I'll leave a link for you to entertain yourselves.

Totally unrelated, but since it has come down to pasting links in any case, I thought I'll paste this too. I found it awesome.


  1. Reading all of this, words like Poduction and Pocess strike my mind.... and yes, they speak highly of the speaker... for I surely have some affection for him...

  2. I know what you mean. I read HP 1 in hindi. I almost died laughing.

  3. @ Abhineet : It's incredible that you still have affection for him, after all that he did to you for that harmless 2-seconds smile ..

    @ Aarushi : Yeah, the same thing .. I suspect it would have been more fun than those that you read in English