Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mallu English

I dislike the word mallu – especially when Malayalees concede to that diminutive nickname. But pardesi Malayalee youth tell me I am being oversensitive. So be it and mallu shall it be, at least in this piece, ‘cos it’s all about another term that I dislike even more – Mallu English.

Browse through mallu blogs and you’ll find end number of them on mallu English. We don’t find Tamilians or Kannadigas or Bongs ridiculing their own use of English. Why is the mallu different? Why is he so apologetic about his accent, intonation, vocabulary?

Here’s my take on this issue.

The first issue here is why mallu English has become such a national joke that it should figure in Hindi movies and serials, and also become a source of embarrassment to pardesi mallus? It is not as though people from the other states speak Queens English. All non- native speakers of English (or any language) carry over the linguistic habits from their mother tongue. Then why is mallu English alone targeted? The obvious reason is Kerala has greater literacy than other states and exports more personnel to other parts of India than other states. Only a negligible percentage of this number has received education in elite schools and colleges. The bulk comes from government schools and vernacular medium. Unlike other states where English medium public and convent schools have a large presence in the metros, Kerala has less than a handful of such institutions. It is to our credit that this underexposure to spoken English has not deterred the Malayalee from seeking his fortune outside the state. Their ubiquitous presence in areas usually dominated by the products of elite schools from other states, makes mallu English constantly heard. It’s the snobbery of the products of such institutions like Doon school and Hill Station schools that makes them ridicule the mallu English, but let us Malayalees not echo that stupidity.

The next issue is: Why are the mallus tongue-tied when it comes to speaking in English?

The answer is, he suffers from a terrible Anglophobia rooted in an attitudinal problem. Unfortunately, the mallu labours and groans under the misconception that being able to speak English like a ‘sayip’ is the ultimate achievement in life. This ridiculous notion is the undoing of the otherwise well accomplished mallu. While in Kerala some time back, I overheard several discussions on the Inzamam – Hare confrontation. There was not a single conversation on that topic where undue weightage was not given to Inzamam’s poor English, and believe it or not, there was this repeated comment that competence in English is an essential requirement to play international cricket!!!!! Well well well! I thought one played cricket with the bat and the ball and not with the tongue! On and off, you hear this wishful thinking that P.T. Usha spoke better English - almost as though, better English would have made it possible for her to run faster so as to enable her to make up that th of a second which cost her a medal in the Olympics! Surely one doesn’t run in English, Malayalam or, for that matter, in any language. Then again there is this equation (in Kerala)of smartness with ‘adipoli English’. A good-for-nothing wastrel is pardoned if his English is good.

As a teacher of English language in the state of Kerala, I have been unsettled by the attitudinal problem of students who come from Malayalam medium schools. They look up at the teacher in terror when she begins the lecture in English and nearly faint when the question session arrives requiring individuals to answer in English . Of course there are several reasons for the fall in the standard of English in Kerala but that’s not the issue here. My concern is the unholy reverence with which this foreign language is treated in the state. Had I not been an English teacher paid to teach the language, I’d have spoken thus to my students:

“Dear students, it is our birth right to make mistakes in English. We have no business to speak impeccable English. English is just another language like our own. Let us not forget that long before this Anglo-Saxon language took shape (post 6th century) we had highly evolved languages in India, and literature and sophisticated aesthetics in Tamil and Sanskrit. So why are drooling over this language which is but a reminder of our shameful history of subjugation? Agreed. English has its uses. Bur let us give it only the respect it deserves – that of a utility object, instead of allowing ourselves to be overawed by it. Even in UK, the concept of Standard English and RP is pooh poohed. Then why on earth are we striving to sustain those outmoded concepts? Do you think Tony Blair would be able to speak Malayalam like you and me even if he had learnt it as his second language?”

Only such a devil-may-care attitude can loosen the tongue of the Mallu.


  1. I believe the thoughts expressed by you were prevalent more in the mid-90s. It was mainly due to the cultural shock that a literate state experienced due to the media, immigrants to Gulf, US and other part of the globe. We don't hear (Atleast I haven't heard) the accent comment that often now. Pun was made primarily due to the way words involving an "L" were pronounced (and which I believe still exists). But then I have heard them pull legs if u r a Marathi, Gujarati or a Bengali ....

  2. I would like to note something, as I am looking from the outside.

    This is not only a case in Kerala. Even Tamilians and Telugus have the same superiority issue about English. There are countless movies where if hero/heroine speak fluent english, everyone around them becomes quiet in awe. Inferiority complex is a universal issue.

    As far as being ridiculed in Hindi films, that maybe due to exposure of Malayalees there. There are jokes about Tamils too. Most people in the North don't know anything about the south, except Madras(everyone is from Madras, be you Malayalee, Telugu, Kannada, or Tamil) and Idlis:-) It is, I guess, the Souths duty to prosper economically and socially to rid ignorance.


  3. Even today in most of the metros like Mumbai, Mallu English has not lost its ability to be a center of attraction due to its infamous accent and intonation. Many people still think that Mallus have got very thick accent which, they say, causes most of the 'problems'. Often we come across north indians and marathis making public comments about such silly mistakes in "their own" english. The fact is that unless one succeds to unlearn whatever he/she has learnt in his/her childhood, the mother tounge would keep on affecting whatever comes out of one's mouth...it just acts like a universal filter adding unwanted intonations here and there ... and ofcourse, to get rid of that inferiority complex, nothing is better than what kochuthresiamma has said...

  4. great post.

    i totally agree with you regarding the "mallu english" and your analysis is great.

    its sad that keralites continue to resist anything that can bring some good. and so it is with english. despite knowing deep within, and even pushing their children to english medium schools, people still refuse to openly acknowledge the importance of english, and even go to the extent of ridiculing english speakers. and over the years, it has only got worse. and with it, the youth are less prepared for the current day world.

  5. ammai, great piece! from personal experience i know that the "mallu accent mocking" is still top-class prevelant everywhere! and somehow everyone has got to be happily complacent about it as well... in fact they even have tantra t-shirts that now say moon: yem-oh-yet yanother oh-yen that mallus wear for emphasis!! actually i think this is a good transition since we are probably getting used to the fact that it really doesn't matter... and it's also time we start realizing that none of our nearby states at least are free from vernacular accents... and sometimes i believe the mallus are much more "understandable" even with their accent... i am yet to see someone who says "wonly" and "bheri bheri good!!" lol!

  6. Much as I love Malayalam, I cannot bring myself to hate English, because my world would be quite limited if I were to devote myself solely to learning Malayalam. English has opened my eyes to other cultures, attitudes and perspectives that would have remained limited to Malayalam literature. Hence, I do not see it as a remnant of our history of subjugation.

    On the contrary, as English is practiced now, it is as much Indian as it is British English. We have infused the language with our own words and contributed heavily to it with our prose. The recent Booker Prize book, The Inheritance of Loss, is an excellent example.

    If we view language truly objectively, then we can only arrive at one conclusion: that each language opens up a new world, and he who is wisest will try to learn as many as he can while interacting meaningfully. Learning English is not mutually exclusive of learning Malayalam and vice versa. Rather, the two can complement one another.

    On the topic of accents, I think Tamil English (particularly, the kind where you see these stereotyped clean-shaven, bald, priests in Bollywood movies) is just as frequently mocked. However, you are right that mocking the accent reveals a deep ignorance of the environment that have led to the development of these accents. Chalk that up to the elitist nuts you mentioned and the second-generation Malayalee who gives Kerala a passing thought and nothing more.

  7. vee mallus are cambleetly pravud of ovar aaksant.

    "yit yis awar barth rite"

    vai aal this talk talking yabaout avar inglish i simbly nat at aaal undarstanding.


  9. aunty ji,don wory k,as far as i knw people frm AP&orissa speak heart breaking english than our mallu english,then y wory

  10. i think all indians born in india got the same accent.... ............n they shud b proud of their knowledge n intelligence........the worst ting i hate is wen sum ppl who liv in big cities of india tries to copy american accent..........n i heard thers this international skool in mumbai wich teach english in 'american accent,,,,,,,,shameful ! i tink evryone shud stop havin this complex n b proud of their culture n country!

  11. Amazing post....Came acroos your blog by chance..but was glues to it for 2 hours plus..and this is the best i have read..echoed a lot of my personal sentiments on the same...And it is really great to see English teacher's able to say so"Dear students, it is our birth right to make mistakes in English. We have no business to speak impeccable English. English is just another language like our own. Let us not forget that long before this Anglo-Saxon language took shape (post 6th century) we had highly evolved languages in India, and literature and sophisticated aesthetics in Tamil and Sanskrit. So why are drooling over this language which is but a reminder of our shameful history of subjugation? Agreed. English has its uses. Bur let us give it only the respect it deserves – that of a utility object, instead of allowing ourselves to be overawed by it. Even in UK, the concept of Standard English and RP is pooh poohed. Then why on earth are we striving to sustain those outmoded concepts? Do you think Tony Blair would be able to speak Malayalam like you and me even if he had learnt it as his second language?”"

  12. In my view every language is supposed to be spoken the way it is meant to be and if there is an influence of other vernacular languages then it does suffer from an accent issue. Harsh Fact but Malayalees do have a peculiar accent when they speak english. Probably they think in Malayalam and then try to translate it into English or Hindi. There is no need to get upset or angry on this fact when someone makes fun of this accent. People who are not malayalees and try to speak malayalam are made fun of. why? because they have a different way of saying..Malayalee English or Mallu English too is different.
    A good Clipping of Russell Peters for you guys to enjoy

  13. @ sr
    it is v unrealistic to expect every language to be spoken 'the way it is meant to be'. What is this way? English in England is spoken in not less than 15 ways! ask each the speaker of variety to speak queen's english in RP,you'll get a sharp reply.how does geoff boycott pronounce "run"?
    true. malayalees have an accent-but what about kannadigas, and mah'ians & bengalees & oriyas and and and? do they speak queen's english? then y r only mallus singled out for ridicule?

    the post is an explanation for y malayalees accent is so conspicuos. the malayalee diaspora across the country is much greater than it is from other states.and majority of those who go outside the state have not had english medium/convent/public school education - which is not the case with the diasoporic population fom other states.

    i can cite any number of malayalees with as neutral an accent as any from the other states. these are mallus who went to englis medium schools

  14. I don't agree that it is unrealistic to speak a language the way it is meant to be. If you study French would you speak that with a malayalee accent? Same with Deutch, Spanish, Chinese etc etc. Same theory goes with Indian languages, imagine someone speaking tamil or telugu in a malayalee accent.. that would be funny..Now language is something that differs with every region and English would differ too within Europe, North America and South America. That is why it is encouraged to pick up RP which is standard english and not some yorkshire or scottish accents. Schools regardless of being english medium or others, should have proper reading sessions when it comes to language. I guess that is what is missing. Students hardly know Phonology. We have to move forward and not sit with ancient history that we had some highly evolved languages like sanskrit that is nowhere in sight or sound now and yes anglophobia need to go. Its only a language after and not rocket science. Also these are just my humble personal views as I am no language expert and sorry for spamming your blog!:)

  15. Most welcome, seema-this is no spaming.
    am no language expert either but i honestly believe that learning rocket science is easier than learning language the way a native speaker speaks.one simply cannot help carrying over the linguistic habits of the mother tongue-unless of couse, u are brought up in the place where it is used as the first language(eg and Indian brought up in england).
    even in this case, laguage always carry the baggage of the community and its culture. listen to the english spoken by blacks in the US?
    And all indians who speak the languages of states other than their own do not speak like the native speaker.
    my point is why should we?

  16. When we speak Malayalam also we have completely different "spoken" and "written" Malayalam. Not just in the way the sentence is constructed (which is natural) but also in the way we pronounce. For example my relative Geetha is always called "Geedha" in Kerala, much to her irritation! Similarly "Pa" becomes "Ba"- kapi/kabi (simple/simble!!), "Ka" becomes "Ga"- makan/magan, "ksha" becomes "sha"- kshama/shama, "Phfa" becomes "Fa"- phfalam/falam etc. This also gets carried over to other languages we learn giving us the famous "Mallu accent"!

    It is almost as though we are lazy to put in the extra effort to stress the sounds. After all we were taught "Kayikagayiganga" in school. Phew did I has trouble when I moved to Karnataka in the 8th standard and started learning Kannada....

    The way I was taught English in Kerala left me with problems such as not knowing the difference in pronunciation of road vs rod, goat vs got, accept vs except, mani (as in bell) vs money (this I still can't figure out, though people insist there should be a difference!) and a lot more.

  17. LOL stupid mallus

  18. lol... We are wasting time by talking about Stupid mallu's.. Leave them alone.

  19. Does it REALLY matter how we malayalees speak English?! Oh geez! Ende eshooo!! Whether we have an accent or not, use improper grammer or not, at least we can speak the damn language enough so people can get across! Humf!

  20. Mallus s**uck!!! I've been in south india for the last 9 years. I'm a north indian. I've came across and known people from all south indian state.I've the highest regards for kanadiga and tamil people. They are very civilised and respectable people who live their lives without interfering and helping people out(even if they are not from their state).We indians should learn from them about hospitality and humanity.I've made some very close kanadiga and tamil friends whom i can trust for the rest of my life. But mallus never,never can i trust a mallu again. They are a parasitic, psychologically ill and the most cunnning human species ever that have ever came into existence in the history of mankind.It may be an exception that 1% of the mallus maybe good (this maybe very rare). In college my mallu hostelite classmates were "News breakers", faster than BBC and CNN, if you want to break any new in college,just whisper to their ears. No shame, they feel nothing, they even gossip about one another even if they claimed to be "THE UNITED MALLUS".All they do is gossip about others 24x7 as if they really don't have any business of their own. And my god, they are the world's best actors and actresses who can change faces, gestures and body languages at the blink of an eye.I don't know why they don't opt for acting career, they would surely beat the best in Hollywood and bollywood. At least they can bring many OSCAR laurels to the country without an effort, by being just MALLUS. ;-).And in my office the mallus are like a political group, who try to rope in only mallus for development work or job selection. My lead, Rat...h(an asshole) plays such dirty politics that his reporting manager who was recently recruited (a technically excellent person) was pressurized so much that he left. This asshole used to go behind the most influential lady manager telling infront of everyone like, "I can't work under him, its either him or me.". And since he happens to be an old employee of the organisation, he got the support. He's leaving our company. I hope somebody screw his career . And he's selecting a mallu in his place. About this new mallu person, whom he selected ,he keeps on telling everyone that he's very good and he's a mallu. He has given recommedation for pulling a mallu gal who doesn't know any coding to development team and before also he gave false impression about a mallu guy that he's very good to the management, which was soon discovered as the module this fellow built delayed the release of our project. And he tried to pull other non-mallus, he goes and say to his reporting managers like they are not good enough, he only praises the mallu employees in our team to his managers. i never understood why he always tries to pull others down at the expense of the mallu employees. He's joining accenture or HP. I hope somebody screw his career than he'll understand the meaning of office politics.I've worked in Chennai and Bangalore before joining this company, but never ever faced any politics or biased treatment until i met this guy. My colleague(kanadiga) told me that she went for an interview and the interviewers(mallus) were cracking joke in Malayalam, to which she smiled as she can understand malayam. She cleared the interview without being asked a question. In the final round, the same interviewers asked her which part of kerala she came from, to which she answered that she is a kanadiga.She was straight away rejected even if she had answered most of the questions. And another colleague (kanadiga)'s younger sister (fresher) went for an interview (she was referred by a malayali fren). She was not selected and her malayali friend called her up and told her that her manager(mallu) told her to refer ONLY MALLU Fresher GALS and she was scolded for referring a kanadiga. When i heard this, i felt like kicking that manager's ASS, if he wants only mallus, why don't he open his own company exclusively for mallus!!!!!

  21. The mallus claim that they are hated because people are jealous of them and their achievements but i have some questions for them:
    I agree that individual mallus maybe be successful in politics,science and technology and may have represented the country.

    But why has kerala state failed (inspite of the United mallus being the native of kerala who claims to be the most literate people in the country)?
    1)If they are so literate then why don't they go back to their state and make Kerala an IT Hub or create jobs for their people?
    I don't think they lack in money matters to make it happen.
    2)Why do they go to the gulf and other countries to work as nurses,maid or other workers?
    3)If they are very intelligent people and skilled people (the engineers in bangalore,chennai and hyderabad), then why dont't they make trivandrum compete with the IT hubs bangalore,chennai and hyderabad.
    4)If they are the most literate people in the country then why don't they open enough good technical and medical colleges in Kerala instead of sending thousands of students to karnataka, tamil nadu and AP?
    These are very logical questions which will only benefit the revenue of their state. Instead of bragging around of being succesful people (and claiming that others are jealous of your success), please remember that you build your own home first instead of living in other's houses and talking tall claims

  22. I am working in Dubai since the last ten years , I am from the northern part of India, boy! the mallus there ,99% of them are only for their community.Firsty question they ask a person,Are you from Kerela? May be they are highly qualified get good jobs due to this but their mallu mentality can never change . I have a friend, a mallu ,high post,writes immaculate Queens English but the moment he opens his mouth its all over.God bless the Mallus.Mallus will always be Mallus no matter what.God bless U.K,united kerela.

  23. Excellently written.. honestly though, I would prefer to keep aloof any regional accent while speaking English. Not like you have to shift to a British or American accent, but just keep it straight and simple, without *any* accent.


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