LinguEast: Indian English

(INTRO: This post was first published on February 25, 2008. I am re-using it today)

Indian English is my favourite variety of English. Eclectic, manifold, ridden with errors if observed from the point of view of “real” Englishes, passionately old-fashioned, full of exotic Indian influences on its grammar and vocabulary, English used in India and by Indians abroad is simply music to my eyes and ears.

English is one of the official languages in India and is spoken by approximately 100 million people. Speakers of non-standard deviations from British or nowadays also American English are often ridiculed, but some authors (like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth etc.) have given some of their Indian English (InE) speaking characters a very powerful presence in their works. According to Amrit Dhillon, the growing economic prosperity of India has changed the puritan attitude towards the more idiosyncratic uses of English, which are now experiencing some real acceptance in India.

I would like to present some of the main characteristics of Indian English in a series of texts, with a little help of Wikipedia. I did write a seminar paper on the topic a few years ago, but I cannot find its digitalised version and wouldn’t like to type my own old words once again.

Let me start with:

Casual References and Interjections

Speakers of InE may use Hindi and other native expressions like bhai (brother), bhaiyya (elder brother) and yaar (friend, buddy, dude, mate) in the same way speakers of American English (AmE) will casually address a person as man or dude.

Arey! (also: arre, arrai) and accha! are the most common interjections to express emotional content.

They even have their own form of OK, which is T-K and comes from the Hindi phrase theek hai, meaning something like alright then.

Another important exclamation is Wah! and is used to express admiration in some contexts.


a) Long time no see, bhai.

b) Accha, means what?!

c) T-K, see you later.

(On 26.02.2008 I continued with:)

British and American Influences

British English (BrE) is the standard most English speaking Indians adhere to, though American English (AmE) has become significant, too.

AmE is gaining ground among the younger population, in technical and scientific publications, and is thus an example of a modern language use in modern times, just like everywhere else.

But ever since the independence in 1947, Indian speakers of English have preserved many forms of BrE that are nowadays considered old-fashioned – could be the same process that generally makes immigrants worldwide retain older forms of their mother tongue.

An interesting question regarding the use of old-fashioned BrE expressions is, how many people out there still recognise them as such? Rather than just noticing something’s unusual there. Here’s one of the examples in Wikipedia:

a) Welcome to the gymnasium cum swimming pool building.

The word cum with this meaning was common in BrE in the past – but how many of us would notice that historical component at a first glimpse now?

It must be getting more and more difficult to ridicule users of Indian English for using antiquated expressions…

What should be added here, is the fact that we are NOT discussing all those Indian speakers of perfect (be it British or American) English here. They do not interest us, we (well, I do) want to discuss the hybrids.

Next time, we will take a closer look at some examples and sources of hybridisation.

One response to “LinguEast: Indian English

  • matilda

    ta zanimivi post sem prebrala v indijski angleščini in takoj je dobil zlato fuksia odsev:)

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