Tag Archives: malayalam

Do You Understand Malayalam?

My efforts to learn Malayalam have been pretty minimal. In two years, I know maybe 100 words and about three points of grammar. This isn’t because it’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, as I am often told; it’s because everyone speaks English. Thinking about my (lack of) Malayalam ability led me to consider its wider value, and also to think about how there is one language I have picked up since being here: Kerala English.

If I speak with my normal accent – Kiwi with flat vowels and mumbling at a mile a minute – very few are likely to understand. Instead, I’ve adopted a kind of attempted Malayali accent, and often seek assistance from my colleagues in perfecting it. For example, the number ‘twelve’ more closely resembles ‘toll’, while ‘po-TAY-to’ becomes ‘PO-te-to’ (needless to say, these are very rough approximations). It’s a source of great amusement for the others at work, and a genuinely valuable communication tool when speaking to a stranger or asking for something in a shop.

Read more at The NRI…

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Inside or Outside?

So, here in Kerala, I am a ‘saip’, or white man, and will be that before anything else as long as I am here. Whether I’m tucking into beef curry for dinner, wearing a lunghi, sporting an impressive moustache or even someday speaking fluent Malayalam, I am unlikely to ever escape the outsider category I came with.

I experienced a somewhat similar phenomenon in Japan, my previous home. The Japanese approach to foreigners tends to be dominated by the dichotomy of ‘uchi’ (inside) and ‘soto’ (outside). As a foreigner, you are destined always to be ‘soto’, regardless of how Japanese you have become – even if you renounce your country of birth and take Japanese citizenship. You look different, therefore you must be different.

…read more at The NRI…

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