Ramesh describes the background to his arranged marriage.
Ramesh Bhargava (1936/06/20 - Lahore; male, Marriage Bureau Director)
C900/05100 © BBC

Transcript for Slough

Ramesh: Well, my marriages was typical arrange marriages, because when I came to this country I just could not think that I could marry anybody in this country. There was no way. And I knew when I came to this country that I will have to go back to my parents, uh, to find a match in my own country. And, uh, so what happened, uh, that my parents found a suitable match. My, our two sisters met in a party in different town where our parents lived. And they happened to talk to each other afterwards and saying that, one said, “I got a sister,” and I, the other said, “I got a brother.” And then they exchanged the details. Then they found that we were, uh, compatible in certain ways. And we were from the same community, religion, caste etcetera. So both these sisters passed our respective details to our parents. Then our parents arranged to meet. So my parents went with my albums and, uh, details to my wife’s house and there they showed the album. And in return they checked all the details of my wife: her educational degrees; she has done masters; and edu, uh, in and she has won so many prizes at debate level and music and other things; uh, in, embroidery and other things. They were very pleased to see that she is very intelligent girl. And so they wrote me back. They said, “We met this girl and we liked her and she’s very intelligent, although they are not very rich, but she’s very intelligent girl.” So they send me photograph, which I approved and m, m, my wife, uh, pinched, uh, one photograph from the album. So obviously she like, uh, the photograph. And, and she said later that she was very keen to come to this country and she liked the photograph. Her [clears throat] parents were initially against sending a girl to abroad, because in India, you see, people have the impression that anybody who go to foreign land, they would marry a white girl or they may have girlfriend as if they are so cheap here, you know, but that’s not true. And, uh, so that’s the impression they had. So they, and anyway our two families, they only met the family, but they had already worked out the marriage and decided everything and after my approval from the photograph. S, so twelve days before the wedding I went there for three, four weeks and, but three days before the wedding I insisted, well, some of my friends said, “You’re a fool: you have lived in England and you haven’t seen your wife before the wedding? What’s wrong with you?” So I insisted my parents and they arranged three days before the wedding to meet at a hotel where she was accompanied by her brother and sisters and I was accompanied by my brother and sisters and we were all sitting on a big table in a hotel. And I looked at her and I found her OK, but we were not, we could not talk to each other in front of so many people. And she tried to look at me few times, but as she found me looking at her she could not look at me. Her sister, uh, was kicking under the table, uh, saying to her, “Why don’t you look?” But she could not look. So the h, that’s how the, uh, you know, wedding was arranged and, and then on the twelfth of December nineteen-sixty-four we got married and she came to our house – the first time then we spoke to each other.

Matthew: That must have been very strange; the first time you could actually talk to her and look at her?

Ramesh: Well, uh, no, that’s how we knew it happens. You see, it was very common, uh, you know, and, uh, that’s the way we expected. But it was more romantic, you know, even the look at each other and the touch of each other was very romantic. And as we go along all through our life of thirty-four years of marriage now, the love grows, you see, and it, all the time we are more caring of each other, uh, than anybody would be before that, you see. Uh, we understand each other; we respect each other; we love each other; we would be prepared to do anything for each other.

Commentary for Slough

Punjabi influences

Ramesh demonstrates perfectly the instantly recognisable accent of a first generation speaker from the Indian subcontinent. He is fluent in English, but his accent betrays traces of interference from his first language – probably Punjabi or Urdu. Most people would immediately recognise aspects of Ramesh’s speech that betray his linguistic heritage. Listen, for example, to the way he pronounces the consonant sounds <v, w>. In common with many speakers from the Indian subcontinent, Ramesh does not always distinguish between <v> and <w>. Listen particularly to the statements then they found that we were, uh, compatible in certain ways and they were very pleased to see that she is very intelligent girl, where Ramesh varies between <v> and <w>, regardless of the spelling. Listen also to the way he pronounces the sound represented in writing by the letters <th>. He uses an articulation that is in fact very similar to an Irish pronunciation as is demonstrated, for instance, in the statement I just could not think that I could marry anybody in this country.

Indian consonants

Finally listen also to the way Ramesh pronounces the consonants <p, t, k>. In most British accents speakers release a very brief burst of air after the consonants <p, t, k> when they precede a vowel sound in words such as pit, cut and ten – a process known as aspiration. Speakers from the Indian subcontinent often tend not to aspirate these consonant sounds and although this might actually seem a very minor phonetic detail, it produces a strikingly different pronunciation, as can be heard very clearly, for instance, on the statement our two sisters met in a party in different town where our parents lived. Interestingly this is also true of speakers with a very traditional East Lancashire accent.

Phonetic similarity

The reason Ramesh pronounces these consonants in this way is because he uses a consonant sound from his native language. This sound, although not identical to the target English consonant, is nonetheless very similar. This is a perfectly natural process and one that research suggests is incredibly hard to avoid unless one is immersed in a second language before the age of twelve. As we all probably acknowledge from learning a foreign language at school, we tend to be able to produce unfamiliar sounds when concentrating on individual words, but slip back into what feels more comfortable when producing longer utterances. We might, for instance, be capable of producing the harsh ‘guttural’ <ch> sound in German machen and its softer equivalent in ich, when saying the words in isolation. However, we often drift back into the nearest equivalent English sounds – perhaps saying ‘macken’ and ‘ish’ – when trying to hold a conversation. We are also acutely aware that many Europeans find it extremely difficult to reproduce English <th> sounds consistently -often resorting to <s> or <f> in think or <z> or <v> in brother. In fact the <th> sounds are remarkably rare in languages worldwide and so it should come as no surprise that they are often insurmountable hurdles for many learners of English.


Fascinatingly, many speakers who are completely fluent in a second language find that their accents are often influenced by the sound patterns of their first language unless they have been exposed to the second language early enough in their childhood. Pronouncing a sound or series of sounds is incredibly complex – it involves deeply automatic processes, requiring minute adjustments of the lips, tongue, jaw, soft palate and vocal cords. This process is acquired up to the age of about twelve and although we continue to adapt our speech as we grow, certain processes become automatic reflexes and it becomes very difficult to change them. Ramesh’s early exposure to language will have been to the sounds of Urdu rather than English, and so those sounds will be extremely natural, while newer sounds are less familiar.