English to French or French to English ?

In the daily life that I eat, drink and live, English is my spoken medium. However, I come from an entirely 90% of French background from my upbringing in an ex colonised island by both the British and French. Hence, the duality of my linguistic affinities further plumped by other languages due to my Indian ancestry, ethnicity and regional influence. To cut the lard shorter, let us come back to my main concern. I think and breathe in French, but speak in English. Which makes my ear slightly more sensitive to linguistic mishaps when they do happen. Like nowadays the French influence is more than every swarming the cuisine, cooking, interior decor, expressions, statements of belonging to a certain class, and so forth. The snub Brit’s nose however, never lost its tangent. It remains firmly where it has been through the centuries. That is upward. Taking, mentioning or slipping a French word or two is very posh in some cases. But pronouncing it in the very English way. Which, of course, makes it difficult to admit, is wrong by its own utterance. All things said, you will be strung with glazing eyes if you ever pronounced those words in their proper way. That be French ! As if to say, what a disgrace you can be not to pronounce an English word properly.

What many many people don’t realise is how much the French language has influenced English.

English pronunciation owes a lot to French as well. Whereas Old English had the unvoiced fricative sounds [f], [s], [θ] (as in thin), and [∫] (shin), French influence helped to distinguish their voiced counterparts [v], [z], [ð] (the), and [ʒ] (mirage), and also contributed the diphthong [ɔy] (boy).

The other day, watching the much adored Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cooking a classic bean dish on TV, I almost gulped in more air that I should take, when I heard him repeating ‘haricots’ with a heavy ‘ha’ giving all the weight on the ‘h’. A mega mistake in French. I was taught with taps on my palm when I got it wrong, that ‘haricot’ as a golden rule never gets its poor ‘h’ pronounced. It is called an ‘h’ muet, that is, mute ‘h’. And here it, to sound posh and different, crossing the Channel, our mute ‘haricot’ suddenly has been given speech !

Such blatant mistakes keep happening in every sphere, and intellectuals also repeat them, for the sake of being British, not informed British. But who should i blame it upon ? When did this all happen ? Why do the Brits carry on with such blunders ? My recent re-visit to Bayeux gives me the answer to those questions.

Bill Bryson calls the Norman conquest of 1066 the “final cataclysm [which] awaited the English language.” (1) When William the Conqueror became king of England, French took over as the language of the court, administration, and culture – and stayed there for 300 years. Meanwhile, English was “demoted” to everyday, unprestigious uses. In fact, since English was essentially ignored by grammarians during this time, it took advantage of it’s lowly status to become a grammatically simpler language and, after only 70 or 80 years existing side-by-side with French, Old English segued into Middle English.

My recent ‘Ideal Magazine’ had pages of the recent trendy buys and among them, I found the much loved pouf of the 70s which has made its come back. A double-page spread of them from different sources extolled their quality and design, but all spelled ‘pouffe’. Wrong. What do I do ? I can’t believe that editors of these magazines don’t check their journalists’ or contributors’ writings before publishing them. Our dear pouf which is an adorable seat, has turned into a verb ! How you conjugate it, is entirely up to your imagination. Similar to some people who say they are going to take the ‘apperrriteef’ when they could just say cocktail. It is not wothout chuckle that I overheard at the supermarket, a poor women’s woes looking for ‘jus’ which is a French word used as a new adage given to the clear gravy in certain dishes by chefs and cooks on TV. Poor thing !

During this festive season, I encounter ‘Noel’ on many items which would mean Christmas in French. Why not use English ?

It is afterall hugely important as an international language and plays an important part even in countries where the UK has historically had little influence. It is learnt as the principal foreign language in most schools in Western Europe. It is also an essential part of the curriculum in far-flung places like Japan and South Korea, and is increasingly seen as desirable by millions of speakers in China. Prior to WWII, most teaching of English as a foreign language used British English as its model, and textbooks and other educational resources were produced here in the UK for use overseas. This reflected the UK’s cultural dominance and its perceived ‘ownership’ of the English Language. Since 1945, however, the increasing economic power of the USA and its unrivalled influence in popular culture has meant that American English has become the reference point for learners of English in places like Japan and even to a certain extent in some European countries. British English remains the model in most Commonwealth countries where English is learnt as a second language. However, as the history of English has shown, this situation may not last indefinitely. The increasing commercial and economic power of countries like India, for instance, might mean that Indian English will one day begin to have an impact beyond its own borders.

Like American English, English in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa has evolved such that they are distinct from British English. However, cultural and political ties have meant that until relatively recently British English has acted as the benchmark for representing ‘standardised’ English — spelling tends to adhere to British English conventions, for instance. Elsewhere in Africa and on the Indian subcontinent, English is still used as an official language in several countries, even though these countries are independent of British rule. However, English remains very much a second language for most people, used in administration, education and government and as a means of communicating between speakers of diverse languages. As with most of the Commonwealth, British English is the model on which, for instance, Indian English or Nigerian English is based. In the Caribbean and especially in Canada, however, historical links with the UK compete with geographical, cultural and economic ties with the USA, so that some aspects of the local varieties of English follow British norms and others reflect US usage.

Talking of US English, that’s another note to be written. For it is as broad as it is long. The Americans have developed a form of English that differed in a number of ways from the language spoken back in The British Isles. In some cases older forms were retained — the way most Americans pronounce the sound after a vowel in words like start, north, nurse and letter is probably very similar to pronunciation in 17th century England. Similarly, the distinction between past tense got and past participle gotten still exists in American English but has been lost in most dialects of the UK.

But coming back to dear Blighty, for more than half a century, immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies have added variety and diversity to the rich patchwork of accents and dialects spoken in the UK. British colonisers originally exported the language to all four corners of the globe and migration in the 1950s brought altered forms of English back to these shores. Since that time, especially in urban areas, speakers of Asian and Caribbean descent have blended their mother tongue speech patterns with existing local dialects producing wonderful new varieties of English, such as London Jamaican or Bradford Asian English. Standard British English has also been enriched by an explosion of new terms, such as balti (a dish invented in the West Midlands and defined by a word that would refer to a ‘bucket’ rather than food to most South Asians outside the UK) and bhangra (traditional Punjabi music mixed with reggae and hip-hop).
The recordings on this site of speakers from minority ethnic backgrounds include a range of speakers. You can hear speakers whose speech is heavily influenced by their racial background, alongside those whose speech reveals nothing of their family background and some who are ranged somewhere in between. There are also a set of audio clips that shed light on some of the more recognisable features of Asian English and Caribbean English.

However, I still do not fall in the categories above as the Indian Ocean English has not been catalogued as yet. But you can spot it. Mauritians who look a lot like Indians. They speak clearly with a slight French accent without overdoing it. The obvious ‘z’ is left to the French only or to Berenger ( a Mauritian politician of French decent). For now, am still in my muddle with my Welsh accented husband living in an English evironment speaking Middle class English. I never got the accent contrary to my departed father who has been a Londoner for more than five decades. So, and am still tearing my hair profusely for the above named reasons.



Afro Hair – A thing of Beauty or a Curse?

Walking in those new shops in town, where your eyes go crazy by the view of such an amount of hair products for the African hair to make them straight. I am amazed by this new breed of products, where do they come from? why this need?.

By default, many African origin women alter their hair texture by straightening, either chemically or thermally. This is because natural hair carries many negative connotations.This tendency has baffled my imagination when I see my beautiful African origin friends try out all means to get their hair relaxed, hot brushed, and ironed to become straight. Here, I am when one curl will never form in my hair, no matter how much effort I put into it, and yet here are those pretty god gifted curls which are violated, pinned, tied to become as miss everybody.

From the curly hair also has its own variation ranging from very loose curls to the very tightly packed afro textured hair, curls never enjoyed so much of rejection from its owner, African, Hispanic, Arab, or Indian. Straight hair enjoys a higher prestige and is more widely accepted in both professional settings and everyday settings.

This social stigma attached to having curly hair has created an entire economy around hair care products and treatments to straighten hair. And yet, we find from the representation of the Brontë sisters and their contemporaries adorning their fineries to tight spiralling curls with candy coloured satin ribbons to look their best. Then why this two viewed society?

Its answers rest in the heavy and brutal colonisation of many countries in the African continent. No one ever chronicled whether they got a king or a queen of a tribe in their lot of newly converted or subservient workers, but all were hailed as captives, worse given the name of slaves. The deep stigma of this horrible past is deeply etched in the minds of all the generations since their freedom. And this stigma has now taken the ugly face of fashion, young teens know nothing but to iron their hair and hide any curls they can. Those with a stronger personality brave it to show their curls off. But most, dunk under the hot iron to conform. Some to a new gained status, some to blend in the crowd, others to look more acceptable in their work place, and sadly some make the dryness of the hair texture a good shield to hide behind and transform their hair.

However, all hope is not lost, as I have observed gladly, where there is a close group of those typed hair women, they get together and share their hair woes and tips. In always comes a hairdresser who is the wonder woman who can give respect and justice to the quality of hair. Out comes fabulously styled happy women to sport their ‘new’ hair with pride, as they feel pretty and acceptable once again. In the lot, little girls also get their plaits, and styles. They don’t understand the difference but they surely can get respite from the tugging at school and feel at peace that they look well kept. Sadly, the seed of stigma has already been sown.

China and Korea are making the hair products destined to such textured hair with tons of products so heavily loaded with chemicals that if all of them are poured into the rivers and soil, the planet will go barren for multiple hundreds of years. And yet no one is ringing the bell. While nowadays all straight hair products if containing Paraben or ammonia have a straight label to warn one off it ! Deforrestation is happening at an alarming rate, coconut palm trees are getting depleted by natural erosion from unkept neglected environment they strive in. And yet, they are the saviour of a whole planet’s woe, that of maintaining curls healthy, soft and moisturised. Pure, and straight natural coconut and Karite oil have always kept the hair in its fine state. Nature having a solution planted always next to us. But we fail to see it, our eyes shrouded in the search of the neon flashing chemicals.

My fascination to the curls and the African type hair started on the bench of my early years in Primary school. The girl sat next to me had the most beautiful uniform dark brown skin with ‘crepu’ textured hair. Mustering my courage to my curiosity, I asked her one day whether I could touch her hair. She said a magical ‘Yes’ That was it ! It never left my senses. I understood as a child that hair can be so soft, beautiful and as good as you could touch it for hours. It is a texture lesser known to men. The second reinforcement of such a beauty came to my adult being as a student of Fine Arts, while studying Mucha.

During Mucha’s Art Nouveau era, there were very few images of positive images of women of African descent that idealised their beauty. In contrast, the trend of Black caricature was common in American advertisements. Combining African American women and Mucha’s style has been created on the cover of the Supreme’s album “Let Sunshine In.” It features a full body of Diana Ross in the center with the faces of the other two members on either side. The women were donned with Mucha’s signature oversized flora and fauna. Each woman’s face has been rendered to reflect Mucha’s graphic style of flat shapes. And the composition and text was heavily ornamented with motifs.

Shepherd Fairey created an iconic image of Angela Davis, titled Afrocentric, that featured the subject looking upward with her signature Afro. The slogans “power & equality” and “power to the people” were shown in the poster with patterned, Eastern ornamentation that features the peace symbol. Fairey cleverly hid these symbols seamlessly into the design. This work was connected to my work in its using Black females to convey pride in natural hair.

Advertisements and popular media left a gaping dearth of images of women with natural hair that Black women wanted to emulate. However, during the civil rights era, the Afro was a popular symbol of cultural pride and political empowerment.

Will we, during this century cross the barrier of social prejudice to embrace social aesthetics of the our differences ?

Happiness – Fib ?


One of the problems with the ‘H’ word is that we can’t all agree on what it is or how to hold on to it.

As humans we all get it free with the package, this ability to sense over 50,000 emotions, and yet there’s only about 50 words in our vocabulary to describe them. Of course, there are sensations that don’t need to be described to be felt; when you bang your elbow on something hard even if you’re in some Amazonian tribe who have to marry each other, you would still feel an “owww”. Sadness, too, is fairly universal, the reason for it changes, but we all have the same equipment and therefore all have the sense of salt water dripping out of our ducts.

All of the above, most of us would rather not experience if given a choice. Happiness is the big banana that we’re all after and want to keep forever; it’s why we face ice and wind and storms to get ourselves a hit. There are not many books written about the feeling of what actually happens when you bang your elbow but billions on happiness.

There’s no question when we make it through an emergency we get a pretty positive feeling. Here are but a few:

– You just crossed the Himalayas with no food for two weeks and suddenly see a rabbit.
– After 50 years of searching you found your birth mother and she’s rich.
– You’ve just been told they got it wrong, you haven’t got something terminal.

Some of these experiences may be more the “R” word as in ‘relief’ rather than full on happiness but let’s not get into semantics; it’s a fantastic zing if you’ve gone through any of the above.

If you aren’t in an emergency situation, happiness is more elusive – we all experience it differently.

I’m always amazed when people say or, even worse – shout, gleefully, “happy birthday”. Or worse again, “Happy New Year”. What’s to be happy about? That time is speeding by? We should send condolence cards that read, “I’m sorry you’re wilting and getting closer to death”. Again, I’m sure it’s just the way I see things so I’m sorry if I’ve ruined New Years Eve for you. If so, just do your count-down and ignore me.

Of course, we all get a volt of joy when selected for the girl’s volley team ( wasn’t, but I can imagine – still bitter) or when falling in love and the feeling’s mutual. The rub is that however high the hit is, it doesn’t last; none of us can keep up that emotional erection forever. Even if you hold onto that feeling long enough to marry some day, you’ll eventually look at him/her and think, “What was I thinking?”. The day will come when you’ll be sitting there, hating the way he/she chews food. We all eventually get that hard, cold reality slap in the face that everything passes. However talented, beautiful, intelligent, virile you are, at some point you will be replaced like an old toaster by the newer model (ex-film stars and ex-models usually like to take up saving cats… that said no more !).

So there it is, we spend our lives hunting for something that has a very limited life span, sometimes lasting only seconds, lucky if minutes (see sex). Whatever that rush of fireworks in the blood is; winning the lottery, making a billion, getting on to play on your sport’s club team, there will be a fall. We’ve known this forever (see Greek tragedy) and yet we never learn.

If we could get it into our heads that a life of chasing the dragon will ultimately exhaust us and as you get older, it’s not brain science, you’ll eventually lose your grip. We have to remember we are biodegradable and if we push too hard we can bring on early disease or even death (yes, it happens, even to you).

I can’t believe I’m saying this, me, who mowed over every stone to turn, thinking if I get a move of it I’ll be happy. In the pursuit I’ve tipped into illness many times, got up again but continued to stampede through any obstacle for that moment of elation, which I rarely experience because I’m already worrying who’s going to replace me.

So, now I’m finally getting it into my head what some people know already, that the idea is to try sometimes to stay not too high or too low, just balancing on the surfboard so you can ride the waves and not go under.

If we can’t even describe happiness accurately, we really have a hard time with contentment. It sounds like you’ve retired and are smiling benignly in your incontinent pants – it sounds like that but it isn’t. The problem is we have to learn to reach contentment. It’s not easy and doesn’t come to many of us naturally. Maybe it helps living in greenery but for most of us in cities or towns it’s hard to stay steady with all that hanging candy tempting us.

I know when you do something for someone else, someone who hasn’t asked for help, you get that feeling of warm syrup in your veins but only if you do it privately, not if you’re going for that high hit of egotism mistaken for happiness as if in, “Look at me, I got Sharon Stone to save Vietnamese pigs at an event at the Ritz I’ve organised and at the end I’m going to make a speech about pigs that will make you cry and applaud, then take your money”.

I think my aim is to maybe try for that not too high, not too low equilibrium. Not all the time. Are you kidding? If I didn’t get a big throw your head back druggy high once in awhile it wouldn’t be worth getting out of bed. But to just sometimes be able to lightly pull in the reigns when I feel I’m falling into ‘give me give me give me’ would be worth it all. This is why each day I try to practice a bit of mindfulness, I don’t know any other way to be able get that warm calm not too high not too low feeling.

Thankfully, Art plays a big role in my life. Bigger than myself at times, true to my own imagination. If only, this did not tell me to avoid showing nudes, he/she would have seen my mind unleashed in the realms that only neurones can understand when they meet a synapse.
Happiness, they say is when you have detached yourself from the material world and embrace nothingness, really ? even up to give up my dear paintbrushes I have been saving for more than two decades ? Swathed in droplets of far away moments and memorities encapsulated into invisible dust I brush each time. If I gave up the vehicle which insures my happiness, how can I be happy in nothingness then ? Sorry, Deepak Chopra, Krishnamurthy although I read you guys all since I was budding into puberby when I thought Krishnamurthi was a cynical egoistical man who never got what he wanted in life, little have I undestood of that firmament that is called Happiness.

Drilled, carved wearing a suave patina etched by time and experience, I cognize very little of that nine lettered promise of wonder. I rest, still bewildered in the simplicity of little things I see around myself which can pull my stiffened twelve or so muscles to pull a smile, which immediately sends a shiver down my spine, and I think, ” I am smiling, therefore I am happy “