Wednesday, September 23, 2015

megaVOICE: Quirks of American English

By Meghavaty Suresh
Contributing Writer

International travel and study involve quite a few barriers, and language is usually the biggest one. However, being brought up in a former British colony, English is the medium of instruction I’m most familiar with. I grew up speaking the language. The 26 letters of the English alphabet are like the holy doctrine to me. And considering the fact that I’ve always watched Western television – sitcoms, romcoms, Tom Cruise movies, you name it – I knew I could speak English. I didn’t think that the way I spoke and understood the language would be a problem in the U.S. And it wasn’t, for the most part, but I did notice some interesting differences that made me stop and reevaluate my perception of American English compared to British English, and ultimately Indian English. Here are a few of them:

School – University – College
School in America means middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate school. The latter two are known as “university” in England and “college” in India. So, when you talk about school, and how you much you loved your hot pink backpack, people here may wonder why a grown graduate student has so much affection for a questionably colored (but mostly awesome) backpack. They don’t realize that you’re talking about third grade.

Trunk – Boot – Dickey
The trunk of a car in New York is the boot in London and a dickey (not kidding!) in Mumbai. I remember once saying “boot” to refer to the trunk and being laughed at. At least I didn’t use the Indian version of the term.

Schedule and Sked-ule
England and India stand strong on this one. Isn’t there an “H” in “schedule”? So, I say “SHED-ule” as it’s meant to be said. Not the American way with a “K” thrown in. Where did that “K” come from, anyway? (Editor’s Note: It makes perfect sense to us Americans!)

Herb and erb
Herrbb. Why does the “H” disappear in America? Seems like “H” isn’t much liked over here.

A slang term, apparently. I still haven’t figured out what this means in America. If you have, do let me know. Thanks.

Meghavaty Suresh is a brand engagement specialist at The Guardian. She is originally from Mumbai, India. She earned a master’s in new media at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she realized what it truly meant to be an international student and how best to enjoy the experience. The megaVOICE column is her opportunity to give a voice to the whispers of international students. Megha lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @meghasuresh.

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