Next stop: Hi-dehr-a-where?

In December, I was in Delhi’s brand new Terminal 3, waiting with my mother for a flight to Chennai. The terminal itself is pretty consistent with most such new constructions in India – one enters and is immediately transported to Anywhere, Cosmopolitania – shiny floors, ginormous ads for stylish bathroom fixtures, and food courts featuring the generic and exotic (Subway and dosas, respectively).

Eventually we made our way to the gate, where we listened to the departure announcements.

Friends, it was hilarious.

First, an automated voice would make an announcement in English butchering the pronunciation of the destination city (presumably for the phoreign ear). A few seconds later, the announcement in Hindi would pronounce the city name perfectly.

Here’s Chennai:

Guwahati via Bagdodra:

Khajuraho via Varanasi:

Srinagar via Jammu:

If that wasn’t enough, my mother was back in the same terminal a week later. To her surprise, this time boarding announcements came in French and German. When she asked the ticket agents why, they told her that there were French and German nationals on those flights.

Of course it would never strike anyone to make announcements for the Chennai flight in Tamil, the Bengaluru flight in Kannada, the Ahmedabad flight in Gujarati, or the Hi-dehr-a-baaaaaad flight in Telugu…

28 thoughts on “Next stop: Hi-dehr-a-where?

  1. You’re right – that is hilarious – it sounds like they got some English chav to say the place names! I guess it kind of makes sense as most people probably wouldn’t catch the names if said properly. I’m not sure if any other airport in the world does it, but hey, that’s India for you – bend over backwards to please phoreigners even if they couldn’t give a monkey’s about you!

  2. In most automated speaking systems, you can alter the spelling while programming the announcements to make non-standard pronunciations. I guess they did not bother to do that,

  3. To expand on my previous post, For example you would type in Srinagar as Shreenuger or something like that (My knowledge of phonetics is limited). When spelled this way, the computer announces a more accurate pronunciation. I have some experience with automated voice systems.

  4. Yeah. it does sound like the English announcement is done by a text to speech software, whereas the Hindi announcement is done by a live person

  5. oh man dont get me started on this! i almost ran out of the flight in brussels when i heard something in hindi & thought i had boarded the flight to delhi instead of the madras one!then i saw the mama/mami headed to ashok nagar who i had chatted w/earlier, sitting a few rows ahead of me & confirmed that i wasindeed going home but getting the ‘national language’ treatment on the way!i quizzed the flight attendant on this abt those who dont speak hindi or english – how they would get the ‘shouldnt hesitate to approach the cabin crew’ part when they needed something. he just shrugged off. the funny thing is all the phoren ones like british/lufthansa & delta for the short time that they touched down in minambakkam had tamil announcements but a desi airline cant serve its own citizens!

  6. What @Chunky Daddy said. It appears that this is not an attempt to cater to phoren folk; rather a failure to communicate with the programming staff. Chalta hai.

  7. It’s funny how they run the English first and then Hindi – again clarifying the status that the citizens have relative to phoreigners!

    • The announcements in English are not only for the benefit of foreigners. They benefit the desi population too. A lot of desis don’t understand “Shudh Hindi”. A lot of desis, especially middle-class folks speak a mixture of English and Hindi. Having announcements in English and Hindi allows them to figure out the meaning much more easily.

      • The average Indian is more likely to understand the name pronounced correctly in Hindi than in English especially the way the names have been butchered by the English announcer. As for the middle class folks who speak both English and Hindi, clearly again, they would find it easier to understand the Hindi pronunciation rather than the English version, which is not even correct.

  8. I don’t agree that the English voice is necessarily from a text-to-speech machine – to my ear it is consistent with a British-accented enunciation from a real person, where the person has not bothered to check the correct pronunciation of city names, and just uses an arbitrary phonetic convention. This was par for the course during British rule in India, and continued much after – for example, in English news read on AIR by the ‘convent-educated’ news readers.

    On the other hand, I have heard the Hindi from a text-to-speech machine – this January – at Mysore railway station, where they spent what seemed like several hours announcing the impending arrival of a train from Bangalore – in Hindi, over and over and over and over and over and …through the text-to-speech machine, while the Kannada version came less often, read by a real person….

  9. How are Dosas exotic in Dilli? How is Subway generic? Pliss Saar, I am not understanding all this only. Why-why you are saying all this things?

  10. Of course it would never strike anyone to make announcements for the Chennai flight in Tamil, the Bengaluru flight in Kannada, the Ahmedabad flight in Gujarati, or the Hi-dehr-a-baaaaaad flight in Telugu… seriously – i wondered the same thing through my recent trip to india: while traveling from madras (and back) to delhi, pune, and bombay, not a single flight translated any announcements in tamil (the exception being the departure area in MAA). i can somewhat understand the use of hindi in the flights to/from delhi, pune, and bombay. but what use is hindi upon a brussels-madras flight? i could only surmise that, since it was jet airways, there was no tamil-speaking staff, but they felt they had to include some indian-language announcement.

    btw that first clip does have a surprisingly correct pronunciation of chennai, but most of the announcements i have heard use the much more common che-naay.

  11. As an aside, what about indians who go to foren and drawl their names out in hinglish ? Example, rosh-nee where osh rhymes with tosh, & suri pronounced as soor-yee. Such utter pretence. How can they promote themselves as ambassadors of India when they mangle their own ids ? I tell ya …

  12. The domestic flights are not announced in french, german, etc…only in hindi & english.

    But an Air France flight would announce in French..etc

    Domestic is only in Hindi & English

  13. “I was in Delhi’s brand new Terminal 3″

    Haha that was funny. You should hear the announcements for international flights in Indian accent/Hindi: “Istanbul, Hong Kong”.

    The memory I have most from Terminal 3 is all the Desi flight attendants smiling at me (it sent me to heaven). The perks of being a good looking north indian guy in Delhi is awesome ;) .

    What I miss most about India, beside the food, is the casual smile, Indian women give you — every now and then — it makes life easier. I don’t get the same attention in US or anywhere else — only India. Jai Hindi for that.

    Girls of Delhi, don’t worry, Timofey Mozgov fan will come back soon (sorry don’t mean to be silly but wanted to add a little sense of humor — hope you don’t mind).

    Thanks!

  14. “It’s funny how they run the English first and then Hindi – again clarifying the status that the citizens have relative to phoreigners!”

    You’re assumption is that citizens = hindi-speakers. Another hindi-chauvinist, it seems.

    • No, not really. English is not the language of India, it is merely a convenient tool. Hindi is A language of India, however. The decision was made to use Hindi (rightly or wrongly) and yet it goes after English to please the phoren! Classic India!

  15. I just went on a trip to India. My parents are Telugu and I too wonder why Hindi should be on par or considered more important than the local language for those routes. In fact, it should be the local language and English. Hindi should be rotated in on an occasional basis. Those who do not know English but know Hindi in states like Tamilnadu or Andhra (with the exception of Hyderabad) probably know the local language already. So there is no need for Hindi to be on an equal basis in those areas. English and the local language make the most sense. ANd yes, English is now a valid Indian language. Indian culture has had many foreign influences over the centuries. English is just one of many.

    • Your attitude epitomizes why India can never be truly independent. The minds of Indians have been colonized to such an extent that the language of their oppressors has become superior to their own languages. English is a language that was forcibly brought to India by colonialists who set out to destroy Indian culture. They have done a remarkably good job, but Indians are blind to the way they have been manipulated and still kowtow to old traditions which aren’t even theirs. Most of the languages that exist in India today have grown indigenously and not been artificially implanted by colonial powers. Again, an obvious point.

      Why do people not see that until India embraces its rich cultural heritage and discards the aping of the west they cannot stand on their own two feet and be a strong, independent country. It is so blindingly obvious to even the casual observer that it hurts.

      The idea that India has had many influences over many years is true. The ability of Indians to accept and deal with these influences is certainly a strength in some ways. The problem arises when acceptance leads to passivity and allows for stronger, better organized powers to take control of the country and treat the citizens like second class citizens. Indians need to learn to respect themselves. Passivity and acceptance are one thing but allowing others to rule your country and your mind is wrong, however you look at it.

      Perhaps local languages should be used more, that is true, but putting English before everything is just silly. No other country in the world does these type of ridiculous things except India.

  16. I find it funny that here in the USA, English isn’t our official language (we have no “official” language at the federal level, though obviously English is the de facto language), but both India and Pakistan list English as the secondary official language! I didn’t know that until now. When I was in Pakistan a couple of years ago, I took a plane from Karachi to Peshawar, and they made announcements in Urdu first, followed by Pashto and English – this seems like a fair way to do it. I think in India, it makes sense to do announcements in the local language first, followed by Hindi, since Hindi-Urdu is the primary language spoken in South Asia.

  17. Status, Hindi is not native to most of South India either. And “Hindi”, while more people may indeed understand Hindi than English, I am willing to bet that a lot of those people know their local language as well. So if you start off announcements in a non Hindi state with the local language, I have no problem with English being the second language used and Hindi the third.

    I am still waiting for Hindi people to take up Telugu or Tamil as a third language in their schools the same way some south indian kids do with Hindi. Or for Hindi people to watch south Indian movies.

  18. “food courts featuring the generic and exotic (Subway and dosas, respectively).”

    Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    Hmm, I was just at the Delhi airport in Jan and I don’t recall the hideous English accent… Maybe I blocked it out? It really it quite awful. It reminds me of watching Lagaan when the British guy tries to speak Hindi and says “dooblaaah lagaan la gen gey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” repeatedly. What is up with the Brits complete inability to pronounce Indian cities and places? And how the hell did the Ganga becomes the gaaingeeez. ?? I mean. Really. How.

  19. @Lindsey – You’ve got to the cut the Brits some slack, at least they’re making an effort….here in Amreeka, people are enraged over Obama’s correct pronunciation of Pakistan (http://thinkprogress.org/2008/10/08/obama-pakistan/) It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic :/ Literally, people are upset that he tried to pronounce the name of another country correctly

    • That IS pathetic… The only person I found annoying who pronounced Pakistan correctly was an old professor… but thats because she repeatedly said “My husband is a PAAAAAAAWK-istani cricketer.” in exaggerated sing-song.

      People are weird. Do I have to be an American anymore?

  20. Hmmm… not saying it is right, but I think the reasoning for the Delhi Term 3 is probably that English and Hindi are the two “official” languages and both to some extent act as a lingua franca in India– More so Hindi in N. India and English in S. India.

    Plus it’s an airport and the likelihood that people are of upper-middle to upper class is much higher, and therefore the chance of them being educated in English is much higher (not to mention that Many study their local language, Hindi AND English in many places). And what about large cosmopolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore? They may have an official local language, but the population is often made up of people from all over India.

    And then there are the foreigners from non-English speaking countries– but I think foreigners are more likely to know English (since it is often taught as a second language in Europe and some places in Asia).

  21. I flew through Delhi from Pune to Bagdogra this past December, and was cracking up at the “Day-hera-doon/Hi-dehr-a-bad/Goowaa-hotty” announcements. I figured they were catered toward the European/UK crowd ignorant of/unfamiliar with Desi languages/pronunciation.