I have always loved speaking to people from various parts of the word, and listen with rapt attention on their language, how they speak, the pronunciation, syntax, accent, tonality and more. Just thinking about the diversity of languages in the world gives me goosebumps and makes me want to learn more about them.
Language has myriad contours. Off late I have been thinking about the accents we have in India. A Punjabi, a UP or Bihari Hindi, a Tamil or a Mumbai Hindi accent is rich and diverse and has been accorded cult as well as eminently recognizable status via the popular medium of Indian Cinema. We may listen to one admiringly and the other with a sense of amusement or even pity according to our set of biases and associations formed through years of popular or personal encounters. But that’s not the topic I want to talk about here.
There’s a very interesting observation I have in the way alphabet pronunciation changes in the Gangetic plains as we move from the west (Haryana) to the east (Bengal).
Vowels and in turn consonants are pronounced differently as we move west to east. In Delhi and Western Uttar Pradesh, अ (like uh as in about) is the first letter of the alphabet. So the constant series starts from ka(क), kha(ख), ga(ग), gha(घ) as a so on. However to the west in Haryana the same letter is pronounced as ae . So it’s kae (कै), khae(खै), gae(गै) and so on. So a chahal pahal (चहल पहल ) is pronounced as chaehael paehael (चैहैल पैहैल ). It’s another matter that this provincial pronunciation has seeped into mainstream Hindi now. But what is mainstream, but a collection and arbitrary refinement of provincial collections.
This ae (ऐ) gives way to the simple a/uh (अ) in the central plains of western and central UP or the Doab region it’s known as. Braj bhasha, Khari boli and the Ganga-Jamuni versions of Urdu stem out of here.
By the time we enter Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India to some, and a most fascinating place nonetheless, there’s a sea change in the way Hindi and other local languages or dialects are spoke. From ae(ऐ) in Haryana, to a/uh(अ) in Delhi, west & central UP, it’s now a slight tilt, though not much noticeable, towards au(औ) being the default rendition of a(अ). This actually becomes distinct as you enter Bihar, especially the northern Bihar region of Mithila. Here Maithili is the lingua-franca, which as a language, is part of the eastern Indo-European language group as opposed to Punjabi, Haryanvi, or Rajasthani which are part of the western Indo-Aryan group of the larger Indo-European family of languages. There’s a central group too comprising Khari Boli Hindi, Bhojpuri, Magahi, Bundeli, Chhatisgarhi etc. Other Eastern group languages include Bengali, Oriya, Nepali, Assamese etc. That explains their relative similarity vis-a-vis other groups of the larger family; however similiarities also accrue on the geo-neighbourhood factors and cultural shifts in behaviour over time.
So in Maithili, we have a distinct pronunciation of the default vowel as au/aw(औ). So it’s Kau(कौ), Khau(खौ), Gau(गौ) and so on. As the Ganga prepares to leave Bihar and enter Bengal, we again see a shift, natural and as per the trend, yet distinct. It’s now more o (ओ), than Au (औ); or is somewhere in between. So we have Ko(को), Kho(खो), Go(गो) and so on. So instead of Ravindra Sangeet, you here the sweet sounding Robindro Songeet. Of course sweetness and coarseness are totally arbitrary notions which shift with time. However this trend from ae(ऐ) to a(अ) to o(ओ), lends itself to a variety of languages, dialects, people, cultures, accents, pronunciations and associations.
The world and India are so much richer and colourful in lieu. A true unity in diversity..