Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lost in Translation - Part I

I've decided to break this post up into two (not necessarily sequential) posts. This first post will be about funny things Indians say, when speaking English. At least they are funny to my ears. Call it the British influence, or perhaps, a literal translation, but some things just ring funny in my ears. Here are a few examples:
Updation - The (I can't even call it a word, because it doesn't exist) "updation" often comes across in emails I receive from office colleagues. Generally it means, correction, or change. An example would be: "Kindly make the necessary updation, and revert." More on "revert" later. Except "updation" as an option in the English language, doesn't exist. Just ask Merriam-Webster.
Do the needful - You'll generally see this phrase preempted by "Kindly" or "Please." People use it when they want you to do something or need your help. Usually you'll get a rambling story about something, most often, something the requester messed up on, then they throw it back to you with a "Please do the needful." Generally I want to respond with: I NEED you to stop messing this up!
At Any Cost - Another plea for help, in many cases. Or sometimes it's taken as a vow to do something. If I tell someone they need to be committed to achieving department metrics, for example, they'll say: "Yes. I'll do it. I'll show you at any cost." Dude, whatever the cost, just pay up make sure it gets done. It's such an overly dramatic phrase and it gives me ZERO assurance that they're going to deliver.
Revert - While I find this to be a generally appropriate phrase, it still annoys me. I suppose it's more professional than saying: "Hey, let me know." But I find it completely overused. If you check my office inbox, you'll probably see it at the bottom of 75% of my emails something like "Kindly revert for any questions" (yes for any questions, not with any questions).
Is it!?! - This is like saying "Seriously" or "Are you kidding me?" The worst part of this phrase is, it's super catchy. I find myself saying it all the time.
Doubt - If you have a question about something, you would say instead "I have a doubt." This really threw me for a loop when I was training my then Indian counterparts on a new process and they kept coming back with doubts. I understood that to mean they didn't believe what I was teaching them was correct. I quickly realized what the phrase really meant and now go out of my way to inform trainers coming from the US about this little phrase.
Tensed/Tension - Instead of telling someone not to stress or get stressed out over something, you tell them: "Don't be tensed" or "Don't take tension."
Break Your Head - If faced with a tough decision, or trying to figure something out, people will tell you not to Break your head  on it. In other words, don't over think it.
Only - The word only gets tagged onto sentences where it's really not necessary. For example, yesterday I heard someone on the street talking on his cell phone. The caller on the other end must have asked him where he was. He responded with "I'm in Hyderabad only." As if he could be in two places at one time. Why he didn't just say "I'm in Hyderabad" is beyond me.
Happy - Don't be sad, nothing wrong with happy, but here, you don't buy someone a Birthday Card. You buy them a Happy Birthday Card. At year end, our director sent out an email to the management informing us when we should collect the "Happy New Year" cards for distribution to our staff. Another phrase that can be paired in this category is "Many Many Happy Returns of the day!" That's what you tell someone instead of "Happy Birthday" when you present them with their Happy Birthday card.
A few other things to point out: Indians feel the need to say a lot of phrases twice. For example, if I ask someone how many biscuits they would like, they respond with "Two Two." Just saying "Two" one time would have sufficed. Now I need to determine, do I give them two, or do I give them four? Another double phrase occurs when you didn't hear what someone said. In Hindi, the response would be "Kya Kya." Literally translated it means "What? What?" because saying it once, might not have sufficed.
Having studied foreign language, I do understand this next debacle, however, I still find it amusing, and a constant cause for correction. Tense, is often something that gets lost in translation. For example, someone will ask me "Did you ate your lunch." It makes sense to me, where the confusion comes in, because if they're asking whether I've already done it, then that would be past tense and ate would be the past tense version of eat, so it seems logical, right? If you answer "Yes" to the above question, then subsequent question will be "What did you ate?" One other phrase I love to lump in with this category, but might in fact belong in a category of it's own, is one of my husband's favorite phrases "Baby I said you." What he means is, "I told you." I try most times to just laugh to myself when he says that, but once out of every three or so times, I find the need to correct him.
I'm trying hard to not lose my own grammar but often feel that if I phrase something in the way an Indian would phrase it, they'll understand me better. I know that's an incorrect approach because it's not helping them improve their English, and is tarnishing mine, however I'm not a grammar teacher so who am I to correct it?

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