English pronunciation features of Malayalis
Pronunciation mistakes that Malayalis make while speaking English
No doubt Malayalis (people of Kerala) are one of the few Indian communities who have scripted success stories in a number of fields in different parts of the world. It is often said that there may not be any country in the world where there is no Malayali. Whatever part of the world you are in, the chances are high that you might spot a Malayali, typically with a well-trimmed thick rectangular moustache covering the upper lip, doing some kind of decent work or business and earning a standard income.
A good majority of them are obviously educated, hardworking and intelligent too. Their grip on English grammar and written English is much better than the rest of Indians. However when a Malayali opens his or her mouth to speak English, the strong influence of mother tongue shows its ugly face which often spoils the general impression they have projected globally. Having said this, I do not mean that all the people from this part of the world speak that way; the number of English speaking Keralites with nearly-native-like fluency, pronunciation and accent is not very low. Therefore, whenever I use the term Malayali or Keralite, it only refers to the awkward English speaking Keralite brethren. Ironically, they constitute the huge majority.
The underlying causes
It is not so easy to pinpoint the exact reason behind the poor accent and pronunciation of these people. A few out of many reasons are lack of corresponding sounds of certain English sounds in their native language (Malayalam), improper and outdated English teaching methods, the tendency to speak out each sound or syllable precisely as it is written unaware of the stress and intonation patterns of English and, to some extent, the we-are-always-right mentality.
Interesting characteristics of Malayali English
Let’s look at some interesting characteristics of Malayali English (Manglish?). The vowel sound ‘ə’ (the sound of ‘a’ in about, above around etc) is pronounced as ‘e’ (like the first ‘e’ in elephant). So about, above and around are ebout, ebove and eround for a Malayali. When they utter fresh as frush, they don’t make any difference between flush and flesh; friend and front; font and fond; bent and bend etc. What more? Even their own country’s (India) name is Intia or Intya for them.
Malayali English also lacks some diphthongs (sounds formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable). As a result, for a Malayali both got and goat sound similar. The same is the case with bought and boat; cot, caught and coat; rod and road; roll and role; so, saw and sow etc. The other day I was literally taken aback when one of my Malayali friends asked for two large cocks at a cinema refreshments stall during the intermission of a movie. The crowd around him became abruptly silent for a moment. I heard a few chuckles too. Anyway, after staring at him for a few seconds, the vendor handed over two large bottles of Coke to him, obviously with a suppressed smile on his face!
Another drawback of Malayali English is due to the lack certain corresponding English sounds in Malayalam phonology. As there is no equivalent to the English vowel sound æ (the sound of ‘a’ in cat) in it, the speakers deal with the English words with æ in them in a funny way. For example, cat is pronounced as kyat while captain is kyaptain and his cap is kyaap. What about cancel, cancer and camera? They roll out of a Malayali’s mouth as kyancel, kyancer and kyamera. The sound ‘z’ is another one that Malayalis are still struggling with. You might see a number of zoos in Kerala but the number of people who can pronounce the word zoo correctly is as rare as the population of Bengal tiger. For a Malayali, zoo is soo and zebra is sebra. Though the state is well known for its zig-zag roads and rivers, for the natives they are all sig-sag. The fate of zip, buzz, Zen and zenith is also the same in the hands of English speaking Keralites. Rice (noun) and rise (verb) are pronounced differently in English but not in Manglish in which both are ‘rice’. Same is the case with price and prize, vice and wise, mace and maze, and face and phase – all of them end with a hiss. Another common word bass is baas for them whereas treble is trouble!
Time to relearn the alphabet
Not only words but certain letters of English alphabet also fall prey to their misuse. When the letters f, h, l, m, n, s and x reached God’s own country (a pet name of Kerala), their pronunciation changed into yef, yech(yeich), yell, yem, yen, yes and yex. A good number of Malayalis pronounce the sounds ‘v’ and ‘w’ in the same way hence both vine and wine sound the same to them. Van and wan too are treated alike while speaking. What about the last letter of English alphabet ‘z’? While the British pronounce it as zed, the Americans prefer zee. For the 100-percent-literate-claiming Keralites, ‘z’ is something like ised (isɛd).
Errors extend to numbers
Is that all? No. Malayali’s butchering of the English language extends to numbers as well. The number 20 (twenty) is tonty for them whereas 12 (twelve) is mispronounced as tolve. When the rest of the world says triple eight for 888, the Kerala version is thrible eight (even eight is ‘yate’ for many). A googling of the word thrible brought no sensible result; the word was alien to Oxford, Cambridge and Longman dictionaries. Even www.urbandictionary.com made fun of me by asking back ‘thrible isn’t defined. Can you define it?’