Pun-gli-hili anyone??! – A Re-hash!

I’m having a little thought of a post I may do soon, and it reminded me of this one I posted last year, so I thought I would rehash it for your pleasure ( I hope!).

And I speak fluent CAT!!!!

I was reading a post by Mariana on Scribbles On The Wall regarding bilingualism, and its importance, and how it affect children too, and felt that it was a topic hugely worth blogging my views on too!

Due to where my parents were brought up, they spoke their mother tongue, Punjabi, the language taught at school, English, and the national language of the country, Swahili, as they were both born in Kenya.

My brother and I grew up with a mish mash of all three, (Pun-gli-hili anyone?!) and it took us an age to decipher why people outside of our whole family, didn’t understand certain things… still, it hasn’t hindered our lives… Enriched more like.

My Mum went to a British boarding school in Kenya. She speaks the Queen’s English.  No slang or dropped Haitches for her, EVER!  And at home with her mother, and grand mother, and other elders in the family she was fluent in Punjabi. To speak with the natives, she spoke Swahili form a very young age.  When the time came for her to continue education, she was sent to the University of Bath, where she lived with a proper English family.

My Pops didn’t go to a posh school. He was at the local school in the nearest town.  Yes, he learned English, but with a slight pidgin accent, Punjabi was the focal point, and everyone in the family, more or less spoke Punjabi at home.  He spoke Swahili fluently, and also, some of the other tribal languages learned from the people who worked on their farm, like Nandi, or Jalu-o.  He then went to Mumbai, Bombay still in those days, and spent the years required getting his Dentistry degree. So along with Punjabi, Hindi was in the mix too!

They married, and there was no issue, they both understood what each other was saying, they had the same three languages in common. They moved to England, and settled in fine, there was no issue, both spoke the lingo, my mum actually spoke better than some English people!  Slowly other members of our family moved over too. Some were there before my parents.  Then I was born.

It became an unspoken rule that you were to speak Punjabi to your children at home, so they didn’t forget their roots.  And my parents did that.  To the extent that I hadn’t got an awful lot of English when I was 3, starting nursery.  A friend who I studied with from 3-18 years old remembers my first day. She says that she came up to me and said “Hello!”, and I answered back “Hello!”. She asked my name, and I said “Hello!” She enquired about my age, I said “Hello!” So that was a good start eh!  Still, I was young, I picked it all up fast and within a couple of weeks, instead of gabbling away constantly in Punjabi, I was now whittering away in English instead!

Some people didn’t like it in the family, that I was speaking less Punjabi, but was it a good or bad thing? I understood what was being said to me, I could answer questions, but my language of choice was English. It was what I spoke every day at school, the language I read and wrote in, the language I watched TV in… ok, yes, once a week we would sit crowded around the VCR and TV watching the grainy copy of the latest Bollywood film, and I understood that enough!

But we socialised with my family enough that I was never going to forget my roots, language or culture.  My brother was the same though he spoke Punjabi less from a young age.  With his sports commitments, while I was at functions with mum, Pops was ferrying him around from hockey match to cricket match.

As we grew up, when my parents needed to discuss something not for small ears, they would talk in Swahili, as my brother and I didn’t really understand much of that… a few words, the basics, but nothing more, after all we didn’t really need to!

I learned traditional songs and dances, the more modern stuff, I even started Punjabi classes with an older sister in law of mine, but after starting to master the alphabet, we went on holiday, and I never carried it on, so I forgot the reading/writing aspect of Gurmukhi, the name of the Punjabi script.

At school, there were no Indians around until I was at least 11 so within school confines I was always going to speak English. But when I went to university, there was a huge, diverse community, and I quickly became firm friends with many other Punjabi folk, like me.  It was great being with so many others ‘like me’ who weren’t related to me! I relished in the fact that I could speak my ‘home lingo’ with others and it felt pretty cool, actually!

Then I hit a brick wall.  I was chatting away to a good friend, who always laughed at how I spoke, but in a good way… Punjabi is quite a gruff language, but in my family, and for most Kenyan-origin Punjabi families, our accent is quite soft, it almost has an Urdu lilt to it, which has a grace of its own. It sounds more polite.  She said to me “Your Punjabi is so meethi (sweet), it’s not like mine! When I speak I speak “chappehr marke!” Loosely translated she said I speak sweetly, she speaks like she is giving someone a slap around the face! Ok, I could cope with that.

One day I asked for the ‘pasi’, she said “What?” I said the “pasi”. She had not a clue what I was on about.  I said “The Iron!” And she was like, that’s not how you say iron! Its “Press, or istri!”. Huh??! But this is what we called an iron at home!

I called mum, and it all fell into place! I wasn’t speaking Punjabi, all my life we had, in our family spoken Pun-gli-hili! A mix of Punjabi, English and Swahili!  She explained that so many words that I used, like kisu (knife) was Chaku in Punjabi, and boga(vegetable curry) was sabji in Punjabi, ghasia (waste/garbage) was koora in Punjabi! So all this time I had probably been right royally confusing my friends on campus with some words as I really wasn’t speaking the right language! We had mixed a lot of Swahili in there, as that was whet everyone did in Kenya, and as the whole family did it, we were none the wiser!

My cousin then told me a funny story from when she got married. She married into a family from India, no Kenya connections whatsoever! It is traditional for the bride to have to get dressed up, for a few weeks after the wedding, and sit there, all dolled up, for the boys side family and friend to come, and gawp at her. One morning, her  mother in law told her to get things ready, the Koorey waley were coming that day. She obediently got dressed, with her new clothes and finery on, and sat down waiting.  Evening came and she wondered why no one had come. Her mother in law asked her if the Koorey waley had been. She said that no, no one had turned up to visit.  “Silly girl!” her mother in law exclaimed! “The Koorey waley are the rubbish men, come to collect the garbage! Not some visitors!”

See I wasn’t the only one then! but it does work both ways. I remember speaking to  my cousin’s wife, and she came from a full on Indian Punjabi family into our mish mash East African Punjabi family.  She would be asked to get things, or do things that she didn’t understand, and it took an age for everyone to remember that, of course, she wouldn’t understand half of the vocabulary we use!

I married into a Full Indian family, but my Hubby, like me, was born here, so we both speak English, like a native! His parents speak Punjabi mostly, at home, and I speak Punjabi to them… real Punjabi, not Pun-gli-hili! Though I have explained the differences, and they laugh and find it so funny, but its an education for them too!

So to my children… What do I teach them? It is natural instinct for me and Hubby Dearest to speak English, first and foremost to them, which we do, and they are totally fluent, never have been anything but. My in-laws speak Punjabi to them, my parents speak a mix of English, and Punjabi to them. I add bits of Swahili in there, but I let them know it’s not Punjabi in advance! I am constantly being asked if I would send my children to Punjabi school on the weekend, to learn the read and write the language too. They understand it, and are starting to try and reply back in it, but the reading and writing is another matter.  Its a big commitment, almost 2 hours a day Saturday and Sunday…when would they get to be kids??

(Update here – Lil Princess started Punjabi school, it is now nearly 4 hours on a Saturday morning… She doesn’t like it.  I probably won’t send her next year, unless she actually wants to go, but at least she tried it!)

I figure that I know more than most about my culture and religion through my parents teaching me, and my own thirst for knowledge.  I speak and understand Punjabi more fluently than a lot of people who went to Punjabi school.  It hasn’t hurt me, not knowing how to read and write it. So maybe that will be fine for my two too!

I count myself lucky actually, from a young age, exposure to more than one language has made it easier to pick them up, and now I don’t only speak Punjabi, and English. Yes I have a smattering of Swahili, but I can speak Hindi, converse in basic Urdu, and I speak French too! Working with EAL children at school means I have picked up some other language phrases too, in Slovakian, Roma, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian…  And don’t forget Cat… I now know Cat too, so I can speak to Sonu Singh! Now don’t go getting me to make a language name up for all that!!!!

I’m happy with my home language – Pun-gli-hili!

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: #SoCS May 13/17 – Language | But I Smile Anyway...
  2. Diana Frajman
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 19:55:01

    I had to laugh when I read the what Pun-gil-hili meant. I must confess I had no idea what this post would be about until then. But I enjoyed it none the less. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


  3. fattymccupcakes
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 19:41:22

    This was so interesting!!! I’m always envious of people who know more than one language! It’s so powerful and great for learning to be bilingual or even multilingual. Why was your mom in Kenya?

    Liked by 1 person


  4. josypheen
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 14:36:00

    I LOVE this post Ritu. 🙂

    I work in language education too (I promote Japanese, so give me a shout if your daughter’s school would like a free taster of Japanese!) You know there is a lot of research to show that learning other languages really helps with both literacy in English and with children’s results in maths. Your kids are so lucky to have exposure to lots of languages from a young age.

    Also, whenever I go to meetings about language education in the House of Lords, people always say that the UK needs to do more to support multilingual families. There are so many businesses (and MOD) who are desperate for British people that speak South Asian and African languages. You and your kiddies will be in demand. Even more so now we have the madness of Brexit.

    My husband’s mum is from Catalonia, so she grew up speaking five languages. However when my husband was at primary school, the teachers berated her and insisted that she should stop speaking Spanish and Catalan at home. So my husband now can’t speak or understand the languages he spoke when he was little. 😦 It is such a shame.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Ritu
      Apr 06, 2017 @ 15:01:27

      It is a shame that mother tongues get beaten out if you… we at nursery encourage mother tongue to be spoken at home but equally have to drink English vocabulary into the children. My school is a very high percentage EAL. It’s hard because they may have understanding but if it’s not in English they are ‘downgraded’ almost… so hard…

      Liked by 1 person


      • josypheen
        Apr 06, 2017 @ 15:12:40

        Yeah, it is really important to teach kids English if they are growing up in the UK. I just think it is also important to help them maintain their mother tongues (especially when they are a little older!) And let them know that all languages are assets.

        It must be hard at nursery when they are learning so many other social skills at the same time as language!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritu
        Apr 06, 2017 @ 15:27:39

        Oh man it is sooo tough! At least I have punjabi to help with the Indian kids… but we have many eastern European children too and aside from a few words… it is hard to understand them sometimes . Must be so frustrating for them too!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. emfletche
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 13:24:04

    Beautifully written and hilariously written as always Ritu!

    Liked by 1 person


  6. TanGental
    Apr 06, 2017 @ 11:03:31

    Fascinating. Looking back I wish my parents had made me speak a second language when I was young enough to absorb it. I bet your daughter will give you grief later for not forcing her to go to punjabi school!

    Liked by 2 people


  7. Ann GrubbsnCritters
    Apr 06, 2016 @ 06:21:17

    I’m so immersed reading your story, Ritu! Language is funny thing and it’s really cool that you’re able to speak 3 languages and mish-mashing them. Your mom’s language background is sooooo interesting! I picked up swahili when we were travelling in Tanzania and I thought that it’s such a cool language. I forgot most of them now but remembered “lala salama”.

    Liked by 1 person


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