Home » Language & identity

Saying Sorry

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on May 11, 2009 1 Comment

Living in the United States for the past five years, the extensive circulation of the word “sorry” is something I generally take for granted. However, I was revisiting some of the stories I collected while with some kids at an orphanage in a suburb of New Delhi, India, when it struck me how odd, or alien the word still seems back home. It’s just not very common to say “sorry” (where I grew up, in New Delhi), unless something egregious has occurred (“thank you,” also, by and large, meets the same fate). “ES-cuse me” is somewhat more common, and uttered in an exaggerated fashion, substituting the word “sorry.” Language in the rapidly changing urbanscape of the capitol and the National Capitol Region (of which this suburb is part) is constantly in a state of flux, and there is a whole host of contextual factors one must attend to in making any large claims about language use, but this is-so far-the sum of my experience with the word sorry: it’s not common at all. When I go back on my annual visits from Berkeley, I get a little flustered when the automatic “thank you’s” and “sorry’s” almost utter themselves, the syllables bleached of meaning in contexts that don’t really recognize them. Or worse.

So here’s what unfolded in the orphanage. It was early foggy afternoon, and the kids had just finished singing devotional songs in Sanskrit, and had a few hours to kill before the evening prayers. I asked them about their daily routines in the orphanage, and their life “back home” (they hail from villages in North Delhi). Just prior to this narrative, I was asking them about their aspirations in life, as well as questions about the role of English, Hindi, Bengali, and Sanskrit in their lives. Luv, a 5 year old boy, overhears another boy (Kush) tell a joke, and then retells it (I reproduce the Hindi notes, names are changed)):

लव: दीदी, दीदी, वह पता है क्या बोल रहा था? जब वह अमेरिका जायेगा ना, किसी को न धक्का लग जायेगा न,उसको फिर बोलेगा न, बोलेगा न “सॉरी,” तो उसको बोलेगा—एक दिन न हमारे इस्कूल की मैडम ने, वह चाकू मार देगा न तो फिर कहेगा “सॉरी”.

Luv: Elder sister, elder sister, do you know what he was saying? When he goes to America, no, when someone [an American] gets bumped into, no, he’ll [Kush will] say to him, no, he’ll say, no, “sorry,” then he’ll say—one day, no, our school teacher, says, the [the American] will have stabbed you with a knife, no, then say “sorry.”

What’s going on with the word “sorry” here? Because the discussion centers around English language acquisition, at some level Kush’s language skills are at stake here. His “sorry” is not a proper English equivalent, and leads to tragic-fatal-consequences. The English speaker is brutal with what he construes as a misspeaking, and turns it on Kush. Obviously, one must keep in mind that this is a five year old, retelling an anecdote he overhears. It’s tough to make any clear judgment calls on what’s going on in this story, except to say that…the “sorry” “stands to somebody for something in some way.” Heh.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Digg this!Add to del.icio.us!Stumble this!Add to Techorati!Share on Facebook!Seed Newsvine!Reddit!

One Response to “Saying Sorry”

  1. aaminahm on: 15 May 2009 at 8:27 am

    It’s interesting to me that sorry appears to coincide with sincere repentance for a tragedy in your depiction. I am accustomed to sorry in two forms. If it is sincere then it is coupled with another term which would heighten it’s meaning such as “so” or “really” or “very” or, even a two words like “Really, very” or “so, so”. When it is in jest, or perfunctory it’s just accompanied by “man” or “my bad”.

Leave a Reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  Copyright ©2009 Found in Translation, All rights reserved.| Powered by WordPress| WPElegance2Col theme by Techblissonline.com