Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Searching for the Welsh-Hindi link

A BBC journalist is urging helpful linguists to come forward to help solve a mystery - why the Hindi accent has so much in common with Welsh.

Sonia Mathur, a native Hindi speaker, had her interest sparked when she moved from India to work for the BBC in Wales - and found that two accents from countries 5,000 miles apart seemed to have something in common.

Ms Mathur explained that when she moved to Wales, everyone instantly assumed she was Welsh from her accent.

"I would just answer the phone, and they would say 'oh hello, which part of Wales are you from?'," she said.

We tend to pronounce everything - all the consonants, all the vowels

"I would explain that I'm not from Wales at all - I'm from India.

"It was just hilarious each time this conversation happened."

Her interest aroused, Ms Mathur spoke to a number of other people whose first language is Hindi.

One Hindi doctor in north Wales told her that when he answered the phone, people hearing his accent would begin talking to him in Welsh.


No-one in Kerala or Bangalore over Christmas and the New Year last year mistook me for an Indian because of my voice. Maybe its because my accent has moved up the M4 over all the years I have been in London, but then again they are not really native Hindi speakers in Kerala and Bangalore where the local languages are Malayalam and Kannada.

In fact I got the impression that, in Southern India, Hindi was rather resented as a Northern imposition. In the big towns in Kerala all the signs were in Malayalam, English and Hindi but as you moved out to smaller places the Hindi disappeared although the English almost always remained.

Kumakorum; Malayalam and English but no Hindi.
(Click for a larger image)

One remarkable language experience that I did have in Bangalore was a visit to a call centre.

They have a device there called a dialer that is constantly calling target numbers. I learned that this only connects you to an operator in India if you answer the phone. Also, the operator's rig over in Bangalore does not even have any mechanism for him or her to finish a call, or "put the phone down". The conversation will not end until the person on the other end calls time. There is a socket in the rig however that will allow a roaming manager to jack in and take over the call if it gets too fraught.

The class room was great as well, as you could see the training materials pinned to the wall to support the high intensity instruction in Eastenders, David & Victoria Beckham etc. that is deemed necessary to comprehend the culture of UK residents while dealing with them.

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