Manmeet Sodhi

I was born in California and ever since I was young, my parents and the community around me prioritized English. When I moved to India, I started learning English from the “Monolingual Oxford Picture Dictionary through my mom and picture association. I never understood what the word “monolingual” meant until I discovered Hindi.

In preschool, I was proficient at English to the point where my teachers moved me up by a grade. Later on in life, I came to the conclusion that it was my first memorable experience with privilege. Somehow, I wasn’t fluent in the native language, Hindi, but I was considered smarter than others. With India being a recovering colonized nation, it was clearly problematic now that I think about it. Over the years, I learned how to converse in Hindi through my parents and friends—neglecting my Hindi class because I thought it wasn’t useful.

The aim of this project was to reflect on my lingual identity through the use of technology, a medium that I mainly use to speak the two languages. The project started off with Google Translate and its inaccuracy. I would use it as a way to understand things in class but it lacked context. I wanted to create an interactive simulation with both languages playing at once but after further discussion, it felt childish. Interactivity can easily become a mode for play, something that the project wasn’t about.

At the end, I decided to focus on the core of the project—the languages, picture dictionary, audio visualization and the technology. The audio visualization was a way to convey the way English and Hindi work in my head.

The projection contained the English and the monitor contained the Hindi. After brainstorming further, I noted down the qualities of each language and what they mean to me. Hindi was a language that I spoke when I was angry or frustrated. English, for me, was a language of positivity. It was ironic since it was the language of the colonizers.

The next step of the process was to record every single word of the Oxford Picture Dictionary in English and Hindi. It was an arduos process for Hindi, screenshotting every column through Google Translate and saying it out load in one go. The recording was close to an hour long for Hindi because I barely knew any words. Every time I struggled with a word for too long, I mumbled “Mujhe Pata Nahi” (I Don’t Know”). It started to become more frequent as the complex pronouns started to show up.

While visualizing the audio, I focused on making Hindi jarring and broken up whereas English was smooth and had depth. The starry landscape that serves as the background of the projection is meant to evoke the limitless possibilities I have access to with English. The visualization for Hindi is dotted to emphasize the pauses I take while speaking mainly because I am trying to translate. The circular form shows how connected I feel when speaking English, whereas Hindi is less structured and mixed with English a lot of the times. My parents always asked me to speak English, projecting the language onto me because it meant that I was educated.

The projection bleeding off the screen implies that there is more knowledge of English in my head and the shadow cast by the projection is the void that my brain tries to fill all the time. With Hindi rendered at 24 FPS and English rendered at 60 FPS, it is a subtle nod to the smoothness of the different components of the installation. Additionally 24 FPS is a standard for cinema and for Hindi, I learned a lot from Bollywood.

The title of installation was placed in the shadow being cast, to imply the void that English has created in my knowledge of Hindi. The monitor in the installation was my own and I borrowed the projector from a white institution, highlighting that Hindi is my own language whereas English has always felt like a foreign language at times. Hindi being trapped within a monitor is an added layer of meaning as my knowledge of constructing sentences is finite and the only time I ever speak Hindi now is when I call my parents (on a screen).

Overall, this project could definitely become a multi-monitor installation with layers of projections overlapping and overwhelming audio. I want to learn more languages but simultaneously want to connect more with my roots. This entire project was reflective and focused on acceptance.

I was able to accept the privilege of being able to speak English “well” and the professional advantages that I have from being able to form comprehensive sentences. I am a writer that decided to tell my story through design and technology. I struggle with the gift that is bilinguality because I start to lose a sense of who I am.