Naseeruddin Shah’s deep purr, Anita Desai’s refined calm, Dharmesh Darshan’s effeminate exuberance… these are some of the voices heard in my latest extravaganza project which turns from the subject of dance to the world of Indian English Accents!
Why accents say ye? Well my latest YouTube obsession has been watching people try to reproduce various global accents in English. Given my interest in India, I of course have noticed the relative lack of South Asian accents, and when such accents do make an appearance they are almost always some variation of Apu from The Simpsons. YouTube user misscupcake1 once asked for examples of new accents to try so in my nerdiness I sent her a video of Preity Zinta as a sort of representation of a more “posh” Indian accent. Unfortunately, the result was this! And then there’s this very endearing chick xooropa who also uploads lots of funny accents including her Indian imitation which is a notch better than the previous but still in silly territory. I think part of the blame is that many folks here in the US have never heard varied Indian accents and even when they do they cannot pin down what they are hearing.
As I kept watching these pitiful attempts at the Indian accent, this grandiose idea hit me: why not make a video mashup (an extravaganza!) that shows the wide range of real Indian English accents!
My one problem in undertaking the extravaganza adventure was, of course, that I can’t identify which accents are from where, so I enlisted the help of rameshram to answer my relentless barrage of “what accent is this!!” emails and solicit name suggestions. His help has been greatly appreciated and I couldn’t have done the project with him.
I now present the finished product! It begins with a quick run-through of all the states represented in the video (I cannot stop giggling at the awesomeness of the visuals + music) and then begins the short clips of accents with notation underneath identifying the language, special characteristics, and state (in parentheses). The accents are presented in a clockwise tour around India starting with Maharashtra, and at the end of the video I throw in some non-Indian South Asian accents just for fun. Key point: Accents are not meant to be representative but are just examples from each area. More discussion below.
What started out as a project to enlighten others ended up completely fascinating me. I’m completely mystified by many of the accents because I just cannot verbalize their unique characteristics. The Delhi and Northeastern (Sikkim and Mizoram) accents are the only ones I can clearly pick out of the bunch, and I’m absolutely lost when listening to the most of the Southern accents (Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam). I’ve learned how Indian accents vary depending on whether the person lived in a rural area or a city, was educated in a convent school or a public school, what language was spoken primarily in the home, and a host of other factors. My “extravaganza” is really just a sampling because I was limited to who I could find clear, good-quality videos of speaking in English (much harder than it sounds!), and of course there are countless other accents not represented. In addition, the people I’ve chosen in the video may just have a “slight” accent or a more “urban,” cosmopolitan version of an accent. Or they may not even be from the area the accent originated but they have that accent nonetheless (or I’m trusting what I’ve been told :)). This accent business is tricky though; I expect some will disagree with how some accents are classified in the video.
The video does seem to have less representation of what I would term the more stereotypical “sing songy” Indian accents. You know, the accents that have more regional characteristics, perhaps unaspirated d’s and t’s, such as Kanimozhi’s Tamil accent or Nikhil Advani’s Sindhi accent. These accents are what I imagine many Americans would quickly identify as a classic “Indian” accent. The more “refined” accents with less “regional characteristics” are what really confuse the ignorant, such as Sunil Mittal’s Marwari accent or Sharmila Tagore’s Bengali accent.
A few clips in the video were chosen because of their charming backstory. For example, the second clip of the Dalai Lama has him playfully answering the user-submitted question “have you ever worn trousers,” and Juhi Chawla’s clips come from an interview in which she was so contagiously joyous I just had to bring her back for an encore!
Comments welcome; which accents do you particularly enjoy? Do you have other examples to share? Disagree with any classifications?
For reference, here’s a list of all the people and accents in the video:
Amol Palekar – Marathi (Maharashtra)
Girish Karnad – Marathi, Mumbai (Maharashtra)
Kajol – Hindi, Mumbai Urban (Maharashtra)
Siddharth Trivedi – Gujarati (Gujarat)
Kishore Biyani – Gujarati (Gujarat)
Sunil Mittal – Marwari Ethnic (Rajasthan)
Juhi Chawla – Punjabi, Urban (Punjab)
Manmohan Singh – Punjabi, Sikh (Punjab)
Omar Abdullah – Kashmiri (Jammu and Kashmir)
Om Puri – Punjabi, Jat (Haryana)
Aamir Khan – Hindi, Delhi (Delhi)
Kajal Agarwal – Hindi, Delhi
Preity Zinta – Hindi, Delhi – “Military Brat” (Delhi)
Naseeruddin Shah – Hindi, UP Urban (Uttar Pradesh)
Anita Desai – Hindi, UP Urban (Uttar Pradesh)
Irrfan Khan – Bihari-Bengali (Bihar/West Bengal)
Dibakar Banerjee – Bengali (West Bengal)
Sharmila Tagore – Bengali, Urban (West Bengal)
Danny Denzongpa – Sikkim (Sikkim)
Lal Thanhawla – Mizo (Mizoram)
Ram Gopal Varma – Telugu (Andhra Pradesh)
Rajnesh Domalpalli - Telugu (Andhra Pradesh)
Vikram – Tamil (Tamil Nadu)
Kanimozhi – Tamil (Tamil Nadu)
Prithviraj – Malayalam (Kerala)
Adoor Gopalakrishnan – Malayalam (Kerala)
Girish Kasaravalli – Kannada (Karnataka)
Remo Fernandes – Goan (Goa)
Dharmesh Darshan – Goan (Goa)
Ratan Tata – Parsi Ethnic Group
Nikhil Advani – Sindhi Ethnic Group
Prannoy Roy – “News Anchor”
Shyam Benegal – “City Indian”
Harsha Bhogle – “Generic Indian”
Salman Rushdie – “British Indian”
Imran Khan – Pakistan
Dalai Lama – Tibet (and in Dharamsala, Himalchal Pradesh, India)
Rookmangud Katawal – Nepal
Aung San Suu Kyi – Burma (Burmese-Indian)
Sanath Jayasuriya – Sri Lanka