Published: 05th March 2018
Indian Englishes: What it means and how often we use it
The English language is no longer the sole property of the English as English has transformed into “Englishes”
I am writing this column just a few hours before the release of the book Words in Indian English – A guide to English Communication in South Asia written by S Muthiah, editor of Madras Musings, columnist and freelance journalist. I have been honoured with the invitation by Madras Book Club to release the book and speak on Indian English.
I have written columns on the topic “Indian English” during the past 12 years as a columnist for this The New Indian Express. I have answered the questions whether Indian English (IE) is recognised as a variety just like other varieties of English, whether native speakers are reluctant to accept IE as a variety, etc. The issue whether Indian English is recognised by native speakers of English has been discussed in different forums. But now the question is whether our own people have recognised Indian English. Are they proud of the way they speak and write English? Do they make fun of those who use Indian English expressions? India is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country. It is widely believed that when someone from a northern Indian State speaks English, it is not understood by many in the southern States of India for various reasons. We have one variety known as Indian English but we have many dialects. If that is the case, is the term “Indian Englishes” not appropriate?
Now the language is widely spoken in different parts of the world and we have the term World Englishes” coined by Braj Kachru, an Indian linguist who taught at the University of Illinois. He used the term to refer to indigenised varieties of English, “especially varieties that have developed in territories influenced by the United Kingdom or the United States”.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) publishes four updates every year. According to the third update published in September 2017, seventy new Indian words were added to the dictionary. Some of the words include endearing terms such as “Abba” and “Anna”, delicacies such as “gulab jamun” and “vada” and commonly used terms such as “surya namaskar” and “achcha”. Words such as “timepass” are also added to the dictionary with typical Indian meanings. Now there are about a thousand Indian English words in the OED. Justifying the inclusion of Indian English words, Danica Salazar, OED World English Editor, says, “Indian speech etiquette features a complex system of kinship terms and terms of address, in which age, gender, status, and family relationships are marked by a highly specific vocabulary with no direct equivalents in English”. She also says that diverse cultural and linguistic influences have shaped and changed the English language in India.
The Global Language Monitor on 10 June 2010 announced that Web 2.0 has bested Jai Ho and Slumdog as the millionth English word or phrase added to the codex of fourteen hundred-year-old-language. The two terms from India, Jai Ho! and slumdog finished No. 2 and 4. Jai Ho! The Hindi phrase signifies the joy of victory. It also means “It is accomplished”. The term became popular thanks to the multiple Academy award-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire”.
There are many typical Indian English expressions which sound strange to native speakers of English. Here are some of the expressions:
1. Convent-educated girl, 26, homely, wheatish complexion, lecturer, seeks a foreign-returned boy. (matrimonial ad)
2. My brother is doing his graduation at the University of Madras.
3. You can find restaurants in every nook and corner of the city.
4. I asked the alumnus in which year he passed out of the college.
5. Don’t eat my brain.
The three terms “convent-educated”, “homely” and “foreign-returned” in the first example, which is an ad in a matrimonial column, have different meanings in the Indian context. In IE the expression “convent-educated” means studying in a school where the medium of instruction in English. The term “homely girl” is used to refer to a woman who is opposed to modern and western costumes and lifestyle. But in British and American English varieties “homely” has different meanings. In British English, it is synonymous with warm, pleasant, friendly, hospitable, informal. In American English, the term is used to refer to a person who is unattractive in appearance. The term “foreign-returned boy/girl” is used in India to refer to a person who has returned to India after spending a few years/months abroad.
The word “graduation” refers to the ceremony or an occasion when graduands dress up in a gown and cap to collect their degree certification. The equivalent sentence is “My brother is studying for his degree at the University of Madras”. Every nook and corner is a typical Indian English expression. The equivalent expression is “every nook and cranny”. The original meaning of “to pass out” is to faint or to fall unconscious. In India the phrase is used to mean “to graduate”. Another common expression that is used in different parts of the country is “to eat one’s brain”. When a person gets annoyed by someone, he/she says, “Stop eating my brain”. Native speakers of English will find it difficult to understand the meaning of the sentence.
India is one of the largest English-speaking nations in the world. Whether we proud of our own Indian English variety or not, it is going to stay and going to dominate in the years to come. Jai Ho!
(Albert P Rayan is an ELT resource person and a Professor of English)