Saturday, October 19, 2013

Language Shifts

It was inevitable and only a matter of time: my language is changing.  I have decided it is better to sound odd to myself but be understood by the Indian to whom I am speaking in certain circumstances.  Here are some changes that I find myself using pretty naturally….
“Let’s make a SHIFT”:  Indians use SHIFT like we use MOVE, or GO, so basically you’re saying “Let’s go.”   This is NOT to be misconstrued to think your group will then automatically get up and go somewhere.  It’s just to let people know you’re thinking about it….
SPECS:  for glasses, because when I don’t say SPECS, I end up pointing to my glasses so people understand what I am talking about
TIMINGS:  Hours of Operation. I started using that last year to ask about hours of an establishment. Then I discovered that, particularly for the morning opening, there are things that remain undone when the shop opens that prevents you from knowing exactly when it's a good time to show up to shop.  There is a puja to be done, and the sweeping and mopping of the front stoop, and so on.  I usually give it an extra half hour.                                
Local Temple for Durga
BATCHMATE:  This means classmate, and I don’t use this because it sounds like cookies are involved, and it makes me sad to remember there are no good cookies here anywhere in this country that I can find. French pastries I can find, but the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip variety, or, a direct-from-God oatmeal raisin, forget about it.  I occasionally entertain thoughts of flying to London just to raid a great cookie shop I was lucky enough to smell at Heathrow. It’s still a half-baked idea….
There are a few lexical items I still resist using.
1.“From my/our side”:  This one is tricky, basically it means, “I am offering to pay”, or “This will be on me.”  But it’s hard to put in a sentence correctly, so I don’t use it but have a passive understanding of it when someone offers to give me something or pay.  There are perks to understanding this one, after all.
2. LORRY for Truck, and FLAT for elevator:  Sorry, they both still sound silly to me, like they belong in a Monty Python skit, so I can’t use them with a straight face.
While on the topic of language variants, many times the teachers I work with will try to be charitable and quietly point out what they think is a spelling error, like COLOR or LABOR, or THEATER.  I hold my ground for profession and country and refuse to change it.  I like reminding people I'm an American, because many times people will think I'm from the United Kingdom.  As if.....


  1. Quite an interesting blog posting! I love language shifts. That's another thing I do like about the US South. They have vivid words for things like fainting--"falling out" or a phrase like going to the grocery store shifts to "making market". Please share more shifts as you collect them.

  2. Interesting... My first graders have some of these.. how they got them I am not sure. This week..rut.. "who knows what a rut is?" ( I mean I need some entertainment after 34 yrs of this) Hand flies up immediately- " Hat! it s a hat you wear. " Okay.. "how about cot?" excitement abounds.. " a little monkey" I decide to quit asking. Language shifts first grade style