What is Common To? Answered

Six months back I had asked:

What is common to Sanskrit, Brahmin, Sion and Matunga?

The answer is that they are all Indian words written in English that would have been correctly pronounced if they were pronounced the way a native English speaker would  pronounce them, but mispronounced because of  the way Indians pronounce English.

In “Sanskrit” and “Brahmin”, the “i” is supposed to be pronounced the way it is in “Sir” and the pronunciation would have been correct. Instead, we Indians pronounce them as “Sanskreet” and “Brahmeen”  thinking that we are anglicizing them.

“Sion” comes from the Marathi word “Sheev”, which means border.  (Sion is the northern border of Bombay city. Beyond it is suburban Bombay.)  It is supposed to be pronounced “Seeon”. But everyone pronounces it “Saayan”.

If  you were to pronounce the “u” in “Matunga” like the “u” in “but”, you’d be close to the original name of the suburb, which is “Mathanga”, so called apparently because an elephant stable used to be housed there. But everyone calls it “Matoonga”.

Incidentally, the last two examples tell us something about the original inhabitants of Bombay, viz. how few actually exist. They also tell us a lot about the state of Hindi and Marathi scripts in Bombay till recently.

10 thoughts on “What is Common To? Answered

  1. I think it’s incorrect to say “the way a native English speaker would pronounce them”. To begin with not all “native English speakers” have the same pronunciation (depending on which part of the world they come from). But more importantly, there’s no real “correct” English pronunciation for a new word. Given a set of letters (that isn’t already an English word) there isn’t one correct way to read it out (in English). English is not a phonetic language. The pronunciation depends on the word and not the spelling. See what I’m saying?

  2. May be you should say “Indian words written in English containing a phonetic ingredient that would have been correctly pronounced if” or so… – I doubt native English speakers, especially Americans, get the “Sans” part right in “Sanskrit”.

  3. Interesting bit of history, this, about the origins of the names Sion and Matunga. The BEST bus names in Hindi/Marathi (Sheev for Sion, and Vesave for Versova) are perhaps one of the few conspicuous indicators left of the difference between English and Hindi/Marathi names of these places, as also subtle hints to their origins.

  4. Ravikiran, Nice post.

    In French, almost always, as a rule , they pronounce “i” somewhat like “i” in Sir. For example, they write “Tintin” (comics), and read it as “Tantan”. “Institute” is pronounced like “Anstitute”. So I guess this rule might apply to many languages in Europe (at least in the medieval times). And words like “Sankrit”, I am guessing, might have reached Europe in the medieval times, much before Brits coming into picture. So isn’t it likely that the spellings of the words like Sanskrit & Brahmin were decided by non-English speakers ?

  5. What is the Indian way? And who are “we” Indians?

    I don’t know anyone who pronounces those words the way you write them. All the people I know carry Indian passports.

  6. First, “native English speakers” are, for the purposes of this post, the chaps who coined these spellings back in the 18th or 19th century. I daresay that the English of the time had a stronger influence of French than it has now. I am not sure if “i” is instinctively pronounced as in “sir” anymore now.

    Secondly, I do not claim that the English speakers at that time pronounced these words perfectly themselves.

    Third, yes, lots of people do pronounce Sanskrit and Brahmin as “Sanskreet” and “Brahmeen”, especially when they are speaking in English.

  7. Interesting disc. Re. SanskRIT, North Indians seem to go the “sir” mode whereas South Indians go the RUT (cant find exact equivalents in English, I’m referring to the letter Ru and Southie pronunciations of rithu, rishi).

    Several ppl I know (all Indians) have different modes of pronouncing these words, even in English. In a local setting its the localized Northie/ Southie version but if there are people around who look “phoren” or sound vaguely NRI from their accent, both South and North Indians go with “s-ann-skrit” (skrit rhymes with kit).

    Maybe we should be happy we are mostly united in the ‘alien’ way of pronouncing this word.


  8. Nice post. And appreciated comment by Ranjith too. Btw, how did Ganga become Gaa-n-jes? And Shindes (of Gwalior) Scindia?

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