Does accent define a person? Ask Pranav Mistry

If you are are a technology buff and/or a follower of TED Talks, it’s very likely you know about Pranav Mistry. It’s also likely you are fascinated by his known work like SixthSense, Mouseless, SPARSH, Quickies, Blinkbot. You may also be aware that he is the head of Think Tank Team and Director of Research of Samsung.

If you do not know much about Pranav Mistry, you can read the Wikipedia page on him.

On September 4, 2013, Samsung’s new smartwatch, Galaxy Gear was presented to the world in Berlin. Instead of discussing the new product, or celebrating Pranav Mistry’s accomplishments, a section of India’s urban, educated, English-speaking class made disparaging comments in the social media on Pranav Mistry’s accent.

Most people can only dream of achieving in a lifetime what he has already achieved by the age of 32. Yet, some of us choose to focus on his accent!

What did Pranav Mistry himself say on the subject? According to this report, he tweeted:
“They say I have a strong Gujarati and Indian accent. Yes, because i am a strong and proud Gujarati, and very proud Indian :)” – @pranavmistry

Speaking of accents, I have always wondered how easily we Indians acquire American accents. I know many persons who:
1. Grew up in India, but have been living in the US of A for the last few years, or
2. Grew up in India, lived in the US of A for a few years and have returned to India, or
3. Live in India, and visit the US of A occasionally, or
4. Live in India, and have visited the US of A once, or
5. Live in India, and have relatives/friends living in the US of A, or
6. Live in India, and work (in India) with a US-based multinational company, or
7. Watch TV programmes (sorry, programs!) from the US of A, or
8. Visit the US Consulate frequently/occasionally, or
9. Have visited the US Consulate once, or
10. Drive past the US Consulate frequently

Quite a few such persons have distinct American accents, sometimes more American than the accents of third-generation Americans! In contrast, I know quite a few persons of Indian origin who have been living in the US of A for many decades now, but whose accent has changed only very slightly.

A slight accent is understandable, but, in many cases, it is apparent that the person has put in a lot of effort to acquire the accent! I’ve always wondered why we find it so easy to acquire an American/British/Australian accent in a short time, but somehow none of us acquire a new accent even many years after shifting to another Indian state or even to non-English-speaking countries. Can anybody offer an explanation?

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9 thoughts on “Does accent define a person? Ask Pranav Mistry

  1. Am still laughing at points 7-10 of your post which strike me as the reason that most of us develop an American accent in the first place 🙂

    And, in my opinion, the reason that none of us develop a Kannadiga accent to English or a Tamilian accent to English despite living in Bangalore and Chennai for many years is the conscious effort we put to hide any of our Indianness whenever we speak English.

    That being said, we try our level best to increase the American accent to our English as that shows how ‘sophisticated’ and ‘cultured’ we all are when we present ourselves to the world.

    And this is precisely why someone like Pranav Mistry makes news when he speaks English on stage, the way we all speak it in our minds 😀

    Nice, thought provoking post, as is the norm from you, sir.

  2. Perhaps they have some kind of inferiority complex(?) and feel superior by putting on an accent.
    I am just guessing. Not only that they put up an accent, they are ashamed to speak in their own language.

  3. Recently I heard an Indian girl not older than 10 put on an accent here in Dubai. It was quite obvious that she goes to an Indian school. My daughter and I couldn’t stop laughing! It is so obvious when someone puts on an accent. I have seen young kids studying abroad in the UK and the US develop an accent. That is because they learn it at school. No other form of accent acquisition makes any sense to me either:)

  4. And here I am, no matter who I interact with, or where I live, my native accent becomes a little more pronounced as time moves on. My redeeming feature is I pick up the local language very quickly. My pet hate is the absolutely put on, contrived accent combined with feeling ashamed to be Indian. So unforgivable. I enjoyed your post as much as I enjoy your comments over at my place(s). Thank you.

  5. This is something that even I have wondered often. My aunt who has been living in US for almost 30 yrs or more has not acquired the accent, but one of my friends acquired it within 2 years of staying in US. The only explanation I can think of is that some people fake it.

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