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Indian English or South Asian English comprises several dialects or varieties of English spoken primarily in the Indian Subcontinent. These dialects evolved during and after the colonial rule of Britain in India. English is one of the official languages of India, with about ninety million speakers according to the 1991 Census of India. Fewer than a quarter of a million people speak English as their first language. With the exception of some families who communicate primarily in English, as well as members of the relatively small Anglo-Indian community numbering less than half a million, speakers of Indian English use it as a second or third language, after their indigenous Indian language(s), such as, Assamese, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi, Sindhi, Pushto, Bengali, Balochi, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, etc.
Several idiomatic forms, derived from Indian literary and vernacular language, also have made their way into Indian English. Despite this diversity, there is general homogeneity in syntax and vocabulary among the varieties of Indian English.
British and American English
A form of English that Indians and all the other people of the subcontinent are taught in schools is essentially British English. A socially-superior accent is deemed to be that of Received Pronunciation. However, even during the time of the British Raj, before the partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh, Indian English had established itself as an audibly distinct dialect of the language with its own quirks and specific phrases. Indian spellings typically follow British conventions.
After gaining independence in 1947, Indian English took on a divergent evolution, and many phrases that other English speakers consider antiquated are still popular in India. The legacy of the East India Company and its practices still prevails in official correspondence in India. Official letters include phrases such as "please do the needful" and "you will be intimated shortly", which are directly lifted from East India Company correspondence from the seventeenth century.
Because of the growing influence of American culture in recent decades, certain elements of American slang are now used by some Indians, especially by the younger ones. American-English spellings are also widely prevalent in scientific and technical publications, while British-English spellings are used in other media.
Influences from other languages
- Tag questions: The use of "isn't it" as a generic question tag, as in "You're lying, isn't it?" (instead of "You're lying, aren't you?"). More recent tag questions include "no?" (used colloquially) as in He's here, no? ('na' often replaces 'no' in Hindi/Urdu speaking areas; the South replaces 'no' with the 'ah' sound, as in Ready, ah?, an influence of colloquial Tamil ,Telugu and Kannada.)
- Use of the words but or only as intensifiers such as in: "I was just joking but." or "It was she only who cooked this rice" Or even "I didn't go only" to mean "I didn't end up going after all". (Influenced by Hindi syntax.)
- Adding "U" to all English words e.g. LeftU for left, BusU for Bus; especially people from South Indian states mainly Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have the habit of when speaking Tamil and Kannada and Telugu respectively
- Use of yaar, machaa, abey, arey in an English conversation between Indians, mainly by people of native Hindi-speaking origin; 'ra', 'da', 'machaa' is more frequently used in the South.
- Use of "baazi"/"baaji" or "-giri" for the same purpose, as in "business-baazi" or "cheating-giri". (Also prevalent mainly in Hindi-speaking states.)
- Use of word "wala" to denote occupation or 'doing of/involvement in doing' something, as in "The taxi-wala overcharged me", "The grocery-wala sells fresh fruit" or "He's a real music-wala: his CD collection is huge".
- Use of the word maane (Bengali) , "Yani" (Urdu) and matlab (Hindi/Urdu) to mean, loosely, "meaning" ("What I mean is..."), as in "The problem with your idea, maane, what I feel is missing, is ki (ki is an equivalent to 'that')' it does not address the problem of overstaffing" or "Your explanation, matlab, your feeble attempt at one, was sorely lacking in cohesiveness".
Idioms and popular words/phrases
- B.A. - fail - someone who was admitted to college, took college classes, but did not pass the final examinations, as opposed to someone who did not go to college. 'Higher Secondary (fail)' and 'M.A. (fail)' are similar. (B.A stands for Bachelor of Arts, M.A for Master of Arts)
- B.A. - pass - used as the opposite to the above
- Gone for a six - to mean something got ruined. (Origins linked to game of Cricket)
- Eve teasing - 'Sexual harassment'
- Convented - 'A girl educated well in Christian convent-style school'
- I got a firing/I was fired by him - 'I got yelled at by him'. Means "I was dismissed (from employment) by him" in almost every other English variety.
- Where are you put up? means 'Where do you live'?. Heard often in S.India.
- Where do you stay? is the same as 'Where do you live?' or 'Where's your house?'. This is also used in Scottish, South African, and African American Vernacular English.
- Shift - to move as in "I shifted my things from my old apartment to my new one".
- I don't take meat/milk/whatever - 'I don't eat meat/ drink milk' etc
- She is innocently divorced or divorced (innocent)- part of matrimonial advertising terminology, it means the marriage was not consummated.
- Wheatish complexion - Seen in matrimonial ads. Means 'not dark skinned, tending toward light'
- "What is [your] good name?" to mean "What is your full name?," where a questioner wants to know the person's formal or legal given name that may appear on a passport, as opposed to the pet name they would be called by close friends and family. It is a carryover from the Hindi expression "Shubh-naam" (literally meaning "auspicious name") or the Urdu "ism-e shariif" (meaning "noble name"), or in Bengali, bhalo-naam (meaning quite literally "good name" or "proper name"). This is similar to the way Japanese refer to the other person's name with an honorific "O-" prefix, as in "O-namae" instead of the simple "namae" when referring to their own name.
- "Out of station" to mean "out of town". This phrase has its origins in the posting of army officers to particular 'stations' during the days of the East India Company.
- "Join duty" to mean "reporting to work for the first time". "Rejoin duty" is to come back to work after a vacation.
- "Tell me": used when answering the phone, meaning "How can I help you?"
- "Too good": intended to mean "very good", in place of "so" or "very". For example: This mobile is too good.
- "order for food" instead of "order food", as in "Let's order for sandwiches".
- "pass out" is meant to graduate, as in "I passed out of the university in 1995".
- "on the anvil" is used often in the Indian press to mean something is about to appear or happen. For example, a headline might read "New roads on the anvil".
- "tight slap" to mean "hard slap".
- Timepass - 'Doing something for leisure but with no intention or target/satisfaction' For example, "Hows the movie?" reply - "Just timepass man... nothing great about it".
- Timewaste - Something that is a waste of time. Presumably not even useful for leisure.
- Dearness Allowance - Payment given to employees to compensate for the effects of inflation.
- Pindrop silence! - Teachers in schools may say this to the kids, to get them to be quiet (It means to be quiet enough to hear a pin drop).
- chargesheet: n. formal charges filed in a court; v. to file charges against someone in court
- "I won't give him a single pai" to mean a "single cent". Pai is an Indian denomination of the anna, which in turn was one-sixteenth of one rupee/taka.
- redressal: n. redress, remedy, reparation
- "Hill Station" means mountain resort.
- "Hotel" means "restaurant" (as well as specifically "big hotel") in India: "I ate in the hotel". "Lodge" is used to refer to small hotels. Sometimes "Lodge" refers to a place where you stay (in rooms) and "Hotel" refers to a place where you eat.
- "stepney" refers to a spare tyre. The word is a genericized trademark originating from the Stepney Spare Motor Wheel, itself named after Stepney Street, in Llanelli, Wales.
- "specs" means spectacles or glasses (as in colloquial UK English).
- "cent per cent" means "100 per cent" as in "He got cent per cent in maths".
- "centum" is also frequently used to refer to 100.
- "updation" or "upgradation" from update or upgrade + suffix -tion
- get down - to disembark, usually from a train. "Where are you getting down?"
- "loose motion" - means diarrhea
Often the cause of undesirable confusion.
- Viral Fever: influenza
- Jaundice: Acute Hepatitis. While standard medical terminology uses jaundice for a symptom (yellow discolouration of skin), in India the term is used to refer to the illness in which this symptom is most common.
- Allopathy, used by homeopaths for conventional medicine.
- Brinjal : aubergines / eggplant
- Capsicum : called chili pepper, red or green pepper, or sweet pepper in the UK, capsicum in Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, bell pepper in the US, Canada, and the Bahamas; paprika in some other countries
- Curds : yogurt
- Coriander : cilantro
- Sooji or Rava : semolina
- Pulses : pulses, eg lentils
- Karahi : wok
- Dal : lentils
- Sago : tapioca
- Ladyfinger : okra
- Referring to elders, strangers or anyone meriting respect as "'jee'"/"'ji'" (Hindi: जी used as a suffix) as in "Please call a taxi for Gupta-ji" (North, West and East India)
- Use of prefixes "Shree"/"Shri" (Devanagari: श्री meaning Mister) or "Shreemati"/"Shrimati" (Devanagari: श्रीमती meaning Ms/Mrs): Shri Ravi Shankar or Shreemati Das Gupta. "Shreemati"/"Shrimati" is used for married women. "Kumari" (Devnagari: कुमारी literally meaning a virgin) can be used for unmarried (as opposed to single) women or girls. "Sushri" (Devnagari: सुश्री a more recent addition and appropriate translation of Ms where marital status cannot be determined or is unimportant)
- Analogous titles "Thiru" and "Thirumathi" are used in Tamil. The title "Tri" is used instead in old Telugu (hence the name "Tri-Pati").
- As with Shree/Shreemati, use of suffixes "Saahib/Sāhab" (Mr) and "Begum" (Mrs)(Urdu) as in "Welcome to India, Smith-saahib" or "Begum Sahib would like some tea".
- Use of "Mr" and "Mrs" as common nouns for wife/husband. For example, "Jyoti's Mr stopped by yesterday" or "My Mrs is not feeling well" (this use of "Mrs." or "missus" is also used in the UK.
- Use of "Ms" (also Mr, Mrs) with first name. For example, Swathi Ashok Kumar might be addressed as "Ms Swathi" instead of "Ms Kumar". This is the only possible correct usage in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, where most people don't use a surname (in order to have caste neutral name).
- Use of the English words 'uncle' and 'aunty' as suffixes when addressing people such as distant relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, even total strangers (like shopkeepers) who are significantly older than oneself. E.g., "Hello, Swathi aunty!" In fact, in Indian culture, children or teenagers addressing their friends' parents as Mr Patel or Mrs Patel (etc.) is rare and may even be considered unacceptable or offensive (in the sense of referring to an elder person by name). A substitution of Sir/Ma'am, while common for addressing teachers/professors or any person in an official position, would be considered too formal to address parents of friends or any other unrelated (but known) elder persons. On the contrary, if the person is related, he/she will usually be addressed with the name of the relation in the vernacular Indian language, even while conversing in English. For example, if a woman is one's mother's sister, she would not be addressed (by a Hindi speaker) as "auntie" but as Mausi (Hindi: मौसी) (by a Kannada speaker as Chikkamma Kannada: ಅತ್ತೆ). It is interesting to observe that calling one's friends' parents aunty and uncle was also very common in Great Britain in the 1960s and 70s but is much rarer today.
- Use of Respected Sir while starting a formal letter instead of Dear Sir. Again, such letters are ended with non-standard greetings, such as "Yours respectfully", or "Yours obediently", rather than the standard "Yours sincerely/faithfully/truly".
- Use of "Baba" ('father' in some languages, but colloquially meaning 'buddy') while referring to any person, such as "No Baba, just try and understand, I cannot come today".
- the phrase 'the concerned person' is widely used in oral Indian English.
- Sharma sir is not here - same as Sharma-ji is not here, a respectful address. No knighthood suffix.
Interjections and casual references
- Casual use of words yaar (Hindi: यार meaning - friend, buddy, dude, man, mate), bhai (Hindi: भाई meaning - brother) and bhaiyya (Hindi: भइया meaning - elder brother) much as with the American English 'man' or 'dude', as in " Arey! C'mon, yaar! Don't be such a killjoy!", "Long time no see, bhai" or "Ay, bhaiyya! Over here!" Yaar is the equivalent of mate in Australian and British English. The word boss is also sometimes used in this way, among friends but also to male strangers, as in "How much to go to the train station, boss?", or "Good to see you, boss".
- Use of interjections Arey!(Hindi: अरे) and acchha! (Hindi: अच्छा) to express a wide range of emotions, usually positive though occasionally not, as in "Arey! What a good job you did!", "Accha, so that's your plan" or "Arey, what bad luck, yaar!"
- Use of the word "chal" (Hindi: चल - Imperative of the verb "to walk") to mean the interjection "Ok", as in "Chal, I gotta go now" at the end of a phone call
- Use of oof! or "oh fo!" (Hindi: ऊफ़ - an interjection in Hindi) to show distress or frustration, as in "Oof! The baby's crying again!"
- Use of "Wah" (Hindi: वाह) to express admiration, especially in musical settings, as in "Wah! Wah! You play the sitar so well!"
- Use of "just" and "simply" in a seemingly arbitrary manner in southern India, especially Kerala. e.g. Q:"Why did you do it?" A:"Simply!" or "Just I was telling to [sic] him."
- Use of "chumma chumma" (Tamil: சும்மா means simply) at the beginning of a sentence, as in "Chumma chumma, don't talk."
- Overuse of the word "Please" as an interjection, often over-stressing the vowel. This could stem from "please" being implied within the verb conjugation in Hindi, causing speakers to overcompensate for its absence in English.
- Use of the verb "sit" in place of "located" e.g. "Where are you sitting?" for "Where are you located? (for one's location in a school or office but not home)"
- Repetition of a word to emphasise a word. Used mostly with words like "yes", "no", "right", and "okay", as in "A: Did you finish reading the book? B: Yes yes!"
- Use of "Aiyo!" or "Aiyaiyo!" as an interjection meaning "Oh no!" or "Alas!"
- Although not mainstream, the insertion of "as" in describing a designation, where it would be omitted in Standard English: "Mahatma Gandhi is called as the father of the nation". "Bangalore is termed as the Silicon Valley of India". "Yogurt is called as curd in Indian English". This is similar to the American English usage of the phrase, "different than", a form that would be considered erroneous, in Britain.
- Substitution of "one" in place of the indefinite article "a": "Let me tell you one story". This is because in Indian languages, the numeric word for one (e.g. Hindi एक ek) is also used as the indefinite article.
- "Kindly" used to mean "please": "Kindly disregard the previous message."
- "Paining" used when "hurting" would be more common in Standard American and British: "My head is paining."
- "Cover" to mean envelope or shopping bag in South India. For example, "Put the documents in a cover and post it", and "Put the vegetables in a separate cover." In Western India, especially Maharashtra, a shopping bag is called as a "Carry Bag".
- "Today morning" (afternoon, evening, etc.) instead of "this morning", as in"I met with him today morning." Similarly, "yesterday night" instead of "last night".
- The word "marriage" used to mean "wedding", as in "I am attending my cousin's marriage next month."
- Treatment of the phrase "I don't think so" as a unit, as in "I don't think so I can do that" instead of "I don't think I can do that".
- The word non-veg (short for non-vegetarian) is used to mean food which contains flesh of any mammal, fish, bird, shellfish, etc or eggs. Fish, seafood, and eggs are not treated as categories separate from "meat", especially when the question of vegetarianism is at issue (milk and its products are always considered vegetarian). E.g., "We are having non-veg today for dinner", whereas the native varieties of English would have: "We are having meat today for dinner". Also note that a non-veg joke is regarded as a joke with mature content.
- The word "mutton" is used to mean goat meat instead of sheep meat (and sometimes in a broader, euphemistic sense to mean any red meat, i.e., not poultry or fish).
- The word "hero" is used to mean a male protagonist in a story, especially in a motion picture. The protagonist need not have any specifically heroic characteristics. More significantly, "hero" is used to mean a movie actor who is often cast in the role of the protagonist. Thus, "Look at Vik; he looks like a hero", meaning "he is as handsome as a movie star."
- "Music director" is used to mean a music composer for movies.
- The word "dialogue" means "a line of dialogue" in a movie. ("That was a great dialogue!" means "That was a great line!") "Dialogues" is used to mean "screenplay". In motion picture credits, the person who might in other countries be credited as the screenwriter in India is often credited with the term "dialogues". Note the usage of British spelling.
- The word "timing" is used to denote hours of operation or a scheduled time, such as "office timings" or "train timings", as opposed to the standard usage such as "The timing of his ball delivery is very good."
- The word "amount" is used to denote a sum of money, such as "Please refund the amount." or "The amount has been billed to your credit card."
- The word "damn" used as an intensifier, especially a negative one, far more frequently and with far more emphatic effect, than in other dialects of English, as in "That was a damn good meal."
- The word "elder" used as a comparative adjective in the sense of "older". For example, "I am elder to you", instead of "I am older than you."
- Use the word "only" where the word "just" would be used in other dialects. For example, "These people are like this only."
- The word "healthy" as a euphemism for fat people, in North India and in general as in "His build is on the healthy side" to refer to a overweight person.
- The word "dress" (noun) is used to refer to clothes for men, women, and children alike: "She bought a new dress for her son", whereas in international varieties of English a dress is a woman's outer clothing with a bodice and a skirt as a single garment. The usage of dress as clothes does exist in international varieties but only in very rare occasions and in relevant context., e.g. schooldress. Young girls in India invariably wear a dress, which is called a frock by the Indians.
- "Full Shirt" is used for "Full Sleeves" and "Half Shirt" for "Half Sleeves" or "Short Sleeves". Similarly full-pant means trousers and half-pant means shorts. (Telugu speakers may say "Half Hands" and "Full Hands" in a similar fashion).
- "Shirtings and suitings" used for the process of making such garments and also to refer to shops specializing in men's formal/business wear.
- "Bath" and "bathe" are also used interchangeably. In Telugu, there is no clear distinction between the words bath and shower.
- The use of "also" in place of "too" or "as well"; as in "I also need a blanket" instead of "I too need a blanket" or "He was late also" instead of "He was late as well"
- Intensifying adjectives by doubling them. This is a common feature of most Indian languages. For example: "She has curly-curly hair"; "You are showing your hairy-hairy legs"; "We went to different-different places in the city in search of a good hotel; "You will get used to the humidity slowly-slowly"; "Don't worry about small-small things" to mean very insignificant issues.
- Use of "reduce" to mean "lose weight" as in "I need to reduce!"
- Use of "this side" and "that side" instead of "here" and "there". "Bring it this side." "We went that side."
- Use of "engagement" to mean not just an agreement between two people to marry, but a formal, public ceremony (often accompanied by a party) where the engagement is formalized with a ring and/or other local rituals. Indians will not speak of a couple as being "engaged", until after the engagement ceremony has been performed. Similar to the use of term "marriage", a person may say "I am going to attend my cousin's engagement next month". Afterwards, the betrothed is referred to as one's "would-be" wife or husband. In this case, "would be" is used to mean "will be" in contrast with the standard and American and British connotation of "wants to be (but will not be)".
- "Gentry" is a generalized term for social class - not specifically 'high social class'. The use of 'good', 'bad', 'high' and 'low' prefixed to 'gentry' is common.
- "Graduation" used exclusively to mean completion of a bachelor's degree: "I did my graduation at Presidency College" ("I earned my bachelor's degree at Presidency College"), whereas in the United States it refers to completion of Highschool, Master's or PhD as well.
- "Metro" to mean large city (i.e. 'metros such as Delhi and Chennai') This is a shortening of the term Metropolis. This can be confusing for Europeans, who tend to use the word to describe underground urban rail networks. However, following the popularity of the Delhi Metro, the word Metro now tends to be used to describe both the metropolis and the underground rail network.
- Use of the word "shift" to indicate "move" (oneself with belongings to a different house or city), as in "When are you shifting?" (instead of "When are you moving?").
- Use of "blood pressure" or "BP" to refer particularly to high blood pressure, as in "I have BP!" to mean "I have high BP or hypertension".
- Use of the word "small" to mean "a small amount of" as in "some small smoke came out of my radiator".
- The word "shit" is generally not considered to be offensive.
Words unique to (i.e. not generally well-known outside South Asia) and/or popular in India include those in the following by no means exhaustive list:
- batchmate or batch-mate (Not classmate, but a schoolmate of the same grade)
- "eggitarian" for a person who eats vegetarian food, milk and eggs but not meat.
- compass box for a box holding mathematical instruments like compasses, divider, scale, protractor etc. Also widely referred to as a "geometry box".
- cousin-brother (male first cousin) & cousin-sister (female first cousin); used conversely is one's own brother/sister (of one's parent, as opposed to uncle or aunt; English brother/sister): most Indians live in extended families and many do not differentiate even nominally between cousins and direct siblings.
- foot overbridge (bridge meant for pedestrians)
- Funda (fundamentals) as in "I cant understand the funda behind this chemistry formula."
- intel (intelligence) is used by the media mostly when describing about an intelligence team or bureau
- godown (warehouse)
- godman somewhat pejorative word for a person who claims to be divine or who claims to have supernatural powers
- gully to mean a narrow lane or alley (from the Hindi word "gali" meaning the same).
- Himalayan blunder (grave mistake)
- long-cut (The "opposite" of short-cut, in other words, taking the longest route).
- mugging or mugging up (studying hard or memorising, and having nothing to do with street crime, what the word would mean in British/American English).
- nose-screw (woman's nose-ring)
- prepone (The "opposite" of postpone, that is to change a meeting to be earlier). Many dictionaries have added this word.
- tiffin box for lunch box. The word is also commonly used to mean a between-meal snack.
- co-brother indicates relationship between two men who married sisters, as in "He is my co-brother"
- co-inlaws indicates relationship between two sets of parents whose son and daughter are married, as in "Our co-inlaws live in Delhi."
- vote-bank is a term commonly used during the elections in India, implying a particular bloc or community of people inclined to cast their votes for a political party that can be best promise to deliver policies, favouring them.
Words which are considered archaic in some varieties of English, but are still in use in Indian English:
- Curd, where yoghurt would be more common in British/American English.
- Dicky/dickey the boot/trunk of a car or rarely, to refer to someone's rear.
- Into to mean "multiplied by", as in 2 into 2 = 4, rather than 2 times 2 = 4, which is more common in other varieties of English. The use of into dates back to the fifteenth century, when it had been common in British English.
- Use of the phrases like nothing or like anything to express intensity. For example, "These people will cheat you like anything". Such usage was part of colloquial English language in seventeenth century Britain and America.
- ragging for hazing(US).
- In tension for being concerned or nervous. Phrased another way, "He is taking too much tension". Found in eighteenth century British English.
- Use of thrice, meaning "three times", is common in Indian English.
- Use of double and triple for numbers occurring twice or three times in succession, especially for a phone number. For example, a phone number 2233344 would be pronounced as double two, triple three, double four.
- Use of "the same" instead of "it", as in "I heard that you have written a document on .... Could you send me the same?"
- Word pairs "up to" and "in spite" compounded to "upto" and "inspite" respectively.
The role of English within the complex multilingual society of India is far from straightforward: it is used across the country, but it may be a speaker's first, second, or third language, and the grammar and phraseology may mimic that of the speaker's Indian language.
While Indian speakers of English use idioms peculiar to their homeland, often literal translations of words and phrases from their native languages, only standard British English is considered grammatically correct.
The distinct evolution of regional variations in contemporary usage has led to terms such as Hinglish (Hindi + English), Manglish (Malayalam + English),Kanglish (Kannada + English), Telgish (Telugu + English), Tanglish (Tamil + English), and Minglish (Marathi + English). Hinglish and other variations are popular in the field of advertising. In this context, the aim of reaching a large cross-section of society is fulfilled by such double-coding. Many words borrowed from Indian languages find their way into the ostensibly-English media.
- The progressive tense in stative verbs: I am understanding it. She is knowing the answer. Also, "I am working at XYZ Company" instead of "I work at XYZ Company". This is an influence of traditional Hindi grammar; it is more common in northern states.
- The pluperfect tense used in verbs where International English speakers would use the simple past. I had gone for I went.
- Use of would instead of will as in "I would be going to New York this weekend".
- Use of do the needful as in "do whatever needs to be done"
- Anglicisation of Indian words especially in Chennai by adding "ify" to a local Tamil word, usually humorously and not used in general speech.
- Idiomatic English for quantification in use of preposition "of", as in "There is so much of happiness in being honest".
- Use of "open" and "close" instead of switch/turn on/off, as in "Open the air conditioner" instead of "Turn on the air conditioner", and "Open your shirt" for "Take off your shirt". This construction is also found in Quebec English and also among Arab speakers of English etc.
- Use of "off" and "on" as verbs rather than adjectives, as in "On the light" instead of "Turn on the light" or "Off the fan" instead of "Switch off the fan".
- Use of "y'all" for "you all" or "all of you", as used in Southern American English, especially by Anglo-Indians. However, unlike Southern American usage, it is only used as a subject or object in a sentence, never to address a group of people.
- Swapping around the meanings of "slow" and "soft" as in "I shall speak slower for you" meaning "I will speak softly" and "Make the fan softer" to mean "Make the fan go slower". This is because of influence from Indian languages. In Telugu, for example, the word 'melliga' can refer to either slow or quiet, and in Hindi "Dheere" or Urdu "Ahista" can mean both slowly or softly.
- Creation of rhyming double-words (rhyming reduplication) to denote generality of idea or act, a 'totality' of the word's denotation, as in "No more ice-cream-fice-cream for you!", "Let's go have some chai-vai (tea, 'tea and stuff')" or "There's a lot of this fighting-witing going on in the neighborhood". (Prevalent mainly in Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking states.)
- Use of the word "since" instead of "for" in conjunction with periods of time, as in "I have been working since four years" instead of "I have been working for four years" or "I have been working since four years ago". This usage is more common among speakers of North Indian languages such as Hindi where the words for both "since" and "for" are the same.
- Use of "Can you drop me?" and "We will drop her first" instead of "Can you drop me off?" and "We will drop her off first"
- Omission of the definite article: e.g. "Let's go to city" instead of "Let's go to the city"
- Use of "told" instead of "said". An example would be "Ravi told he is going home" instead of "Ravi said that he is going home" or "Ravi told me he is going home". This feature is more prevalent in South India.
- Usage of "to" instead of "than" following comparative adjectives. For example, "I am older to you" instead of "I am older than you".
- Use of 'could be able to' or 'can you able to' to indicate 'could' or 'can' respectively. For example, 'I could be able to log in to the website' or 'Can you able to access the website'.
Indian accents vary greatly. Some Indians speak English with an accent very close to a Standard British (Received Pronunciation) accent; others lean toward a more 'vernacular', native-tinted, accent for their English speech.
Among the distinctive features of the vowel-sounds employed by some Indian English speakers are:
- Many Indian languages (with the exception of Western Hindi and Punjabi) do not natively possess a separate phoneme /æ/ (as in <trap>). Thus, many speakers do not differentiate between the vowel sounds /ɛ/ (as in "dress") and /æ/ (as in <trap>), except in cases where a minimal pair such as <bed>/<bad> exists in the vocabulary of the speaker. Such a speaker might pronounce "tax" like the first syllable of "Texas". Speakers of Southern languages and Sinhalese, which do differentiate /ɛ/ and /æ/, do not have difficulty making this distinction.
- Chiefly in Punjab and Haryana states, the short [ɛ] becomes lengthened and higher to long [eː], making <pen> sound like <paenn>.
- When a long vowel is followed by "r", speakers of Indian English usually use a monophthong, instead of the diphthong used in almost all other accents. Thus "period" is pronounced [pirɪəd] instead of [pɪəɹɪəd].
- Indian English often uses strong vowels where other accents would have unstressed syllables or words. Thus "cottage" may be pronounced [kɒtedʒ] rather than [kɒtədʒ]. A word such as "was" in the phrase "I was going" will be pronounced [ʋɒz] or [ʋas] in Indian English: in most other accents it would receive the unstressed realization [wəz]. Another example is that many Indian English speakers often pronounce <the> as /d̪iː/, irrespective of whether the definite article comes before a vowel or a consonant, or whether it is stressed or not. In native varieties of English, <the> is pronounced as [ðə] when it is unstressed and lies before a consonant, and as [ðiː] when it is before a vowel or when stressed even before a consonant.
- Continuing the above point, the indefinite article <a> is often pronounced by many Indian English speakers as [eː], irrespective of whether it is stressed or unstressed. In native varieties of English, <a> is pronounced as [ə] when unstressed and as [eɪ] when stressed.
- The RP vowels /ʌ/, /ə/ and /ɜː/ might be realized as /ə/ in Indian English. Bengalis often pronounce all these vowels as a, including the <r>-colored versions of these vowels. Thus, <firm> may be pronounced the same as [farm].
- General Indian English realizes /eɪ/ (as in <face>) and /oʊ/ (as in <goat>) as long monophthongs [eː], [oː].
- Many Indian English speakers do not make a clear distinction between /ɒ/ and /ɔː/. (See cot-caught merger.)
- Unlike British, but like General American English, some Indian speakers don't pronounce the rounded /ɒ/ or /ɔː/, and substitute /a/ instead. This makes <not> sound as [nat]. The phoneme /ɔː/, if used, is only semi-rounded at the lips.
- Words such as <class>, <staff> and <last> would be pronounced with a back <a> as in British English but unlike American English, i.e., [klɑːs], [stɑːf] and [lɑːst] rather than American [klæːs], [stæːf] and [læːst].
Among the most distinctive features of consonants in Indian English are:
- Most pronunciations of Indian English rhotic, but many speakers with higher education are non-rhotic.
- Standard Hindi and most other vernaculars (except, at least, Bengali) do not differentiate between /v/ (voiced labiodental fricative) and /w/ (voiced labiovelar approximant). Instead, many Indians use a frictionless labio-dental approximant [ʋ] for words with either sound, possibly in free variation with [v] and/or [w]. So wet and vet are homophones.
- Because of the previous characteristic many Indians pronounce words such as <flower> as [flaː(r)] instead of [flaʊə(r)], and <our> as [aː(r)] instead of [aʊə(r)].
- The voiceless plosives /p/, /t/, /k/ are always unaspirated in Indian English, whereas in RP, General American and most other English accents they are aspirated in word-initial or stressed syllables. Thus "pin" is pronounced [pɪn] in Indian English but [pʰɪn] in most other accents. In native Indian languages (except Tamil), the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated plosives is phonemic, and the English stops are equated with the unaspirated rather than the aspirated phonemes of the local languages. The same is true of the voiceless postalveolar afficate /tʃ/.
- The alveolar stops English /d/, /t/ are often retroflex [ɖ], [ʈ], especially in the South of India. In Indian languages there are two entirely distinct sets of coronal plosives: one dental and the other retroflex. To the Indian ears, the English alveolar plosives sound more retroflex than dental. In the Devanagari script of Hindi, all alveolar plosives of English are transcribed as their retroflex counterparts. One good reason for this is that unlike most other native Indian languages, Hindi does not have true retroflex plosives (Tiwari,  2001). The so-called retroflexes in Hindi are actually articulated as apical post-alveolar plosives, sometimes even with a tendency to come down to the alveolar region. So a Hindi speaker normally cannot distinguish the difference between their own apical post-alveolar plosives and English's alveolar plosives. However, languages such as Tamil have true retroflex plosives, wherein the articulation is done with the tongue curved upwards and backwards at the roof of the mouth. This also causes (in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) the /s/ preceding alveolar /t/ to allophonically change to [ ʃ ] (<stop> /stɒp/ → / ʃʈap/). Mostly in south India, some speakers allophonically further change the voiced retroflex plosive to voiced retroflex flap, and the nasal /n/ to a nasalized retroflex flap.
- Many Indians speaking English lack the voiced postalveolar fricative (/ʒ/), the same as their native languages. Typically, /z/ or /dʒ/ is substituted, e.g. treasure /trɛ.zəːr/, and in the south Indian variants, with /ʃ/ as in <"sh'"ore>, e.g. treasure /trɛ.ʃər/.
- All major native languages of India lack the dental fricatives (/θ/ and /ð/; spelled with th). Usually, the aspirated voiceless dental plosive [t̪ʰ] is substituted for /θ/ and the unaspirated voiced dental plosive [d̪], or possibly the aspirated version [d̪ʱ]. is substituted for /ð/. For example, "thin" would be realized as [t̪ʰɪn] instead of /θɪn/.
- South Indians tend to curl the tongue (retroflex accentuation) more for /l/ and /n/.
- Most Indian languages (except Urdu variety) lack the voiced alveolar fricative /z/. While they do have its nearest equivalent: the unvoiced /s/, strangely, it is not used in substitution. Instead, /z/ is substituted with the voiced palatal affricate (or postalveolar) /dʒ/, just as with a Korean accent. This makes words such as <zero> and <rosy> sound as [dʒiːro] and [roːdʒi:]. This replacement is equally true for Persian and Arabic loanwords into Hindi. The probable reason is the confusion created by the use of the devanagari grapheme < ज > (for /dʒ/) with a dot beneath it to represent the loaned /z/ (as < ज़ >). This is common among people without formal English education.
- Many Indians with lower exposure to English also may pronounce / f / as aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive [pʰ]. Again note that in Hindi (devanagari) the loaned / f / from Persian and Arabic is written by putting a dot beneath the grapheme for native [pʰ] < फ >: < फ़ >. This substitution is rarer than that for [z], and in fact in many Hindi-speaking areas /f/ is replacing /pʰ/ even in its native words.
- Inability to pronounce certain (especially word-initial) consonant clusters by people of rural backgrounds. This is usually dealt with by epenthesis. e.g., school /is.kuːl/.
- Sometimes, Indian speakers interchange /s/ and /z/, especially when plurals are being formed. Whereas in international varieties of English, [s] is used for pluralization of a word ending in a voiceless consonant, [z] for that ending in a voiced consonant or vowel, and [ɨz] for that ending in a sibilant.
- Again, in dialects like Bhojpuri, all instances of /ʃ/ are spoken like [s], a phenomenon which is also apparent in their English. Exactly the opposite is seen for many Bengalis.
- In case of the postalveolar affricates /tʃ/ /dʒ/, native languages like Hindi have corresponding affricates articulated from the palatal region, rather than postalveolar, and they have more of a stop component than fricative; this is reflected in their English.
- While retaining /ŋ/ in the final position, Indian speakers usually include the [ɡ] after it. Hence /riŋ.iŋ/ → /riŋ.ɡiŋɡ/ (ringing).
- Syllabic /l/, /m/ and /n/ are usually replaced by the VC clusters [əl], [əm] and [ən] (as in button /buʈ.ʈən/), or if a high vowel precedes, by [il] (as in little /liʈ.ʈil/). Syllable nuclei in words with the spelling er (a schwa in RP and an r-colored schwa in GA) are also replaced VC clusters. e.g., meter, /miːtər/ → /miːʈər/.
- Indian English uses clear [l] in all instances like Irish English whereas other varieties use clear [l] in syllable-initial positions and dark [l] (velarized-L) in coda and syllabic positions.
A number of distinctive features of Indian English are due to "the vagaries of English spelling". Most Indian languages have a very phonetic pronunciation with respect to their script, and unlike English, the spelling of a word is a highly reliable guide to its modern pronunciation.
- In words where the digraph <gh> represents a voiced velar plosive (/ɡ/) in other accents, some Indian English speakers supply a murmured version [ɡʱ], for example <ghost> [ɡʱoːst]. No other accent of English admits this voiced aspiration.
- Similarly, the digraph <wh> may be aspirated as [ʋʱ] or [wʱ], resulting in realizations such as <which> [ʋʱɪtʃ], found in no other English accent.
- In unstressed syllables, native English varieties will mostly use the schwa while Indian English would use the spelling vowel, making <sanity> sound as [sæ.ni.ti] instead of [sæ.nə.ti]. Similarly, <above> and <ago> can be heard as [e.bʌv] and [e.go] instead of [ə.bʌv] and [ə.go].
- English words ending in grapheme < a > almost always have the < a > being pronounced as schwa /ə/ in native varieties (exceptions include words such as <spa>). But in Indian English, the ending < a > is pronounced as the long open central unrounded vowel /aː/ (as in <spa>) instead of schwa. So, <India> is pronounced as /ɪn.ɖɪ.aː/ instead of /ɪn.dɪ.ə/, and <sofa> as /soː.faː/ instead of /soʊ.fə/.
- The word "of" is usually pronounced with a /f/ instead of a /v/ as in most other accents.
- Use of [d] instead of [t] for the "-ed" ending of the past tense after voiceless consonants, for example "developed" may be [dɛʋləpd] instead of RP /dɪvɛləpt/.
- Use of [s] instead of [z] for the "-s" ending of the plural after voiced consonants, for example <dogs> may be [dɒɡs] instead of [dɒɡz].
- Pronunciation of <house> as [hauz] in both the noun and the verb, instead of [haus] as noun and [hauz] as verb.
- The digraph <tz> is pronounced as [tz] or [tdʒ] instead of [ts] (voicing may be assimilated in the stop too), making <Switzerland> sound like [svit.zər.lænd] instead of [swit.səɺ.lənd].
- In RP, /r/ occurs only before a vowel. But many speakers of Indian English use /r/ in almost all positions in words as dictated by the spellings. The allophone used is a mild trill or a tap. Indian speakers do not typically use the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ for <r>, which is common for American English speakers.
- All consonants are distinctly doubled (lengthened) in General Indian English wherever the spelling suggests so. e.g., <drilling> /dril.liŋɡ/.
- <Here> is pronounced as [heə(r)] (like in <hair> and <hare>) instead of [hɪə(r)].
- English pronunciation of the grapheme < i > varies from [ɪ] to [aɪ] depending upon the dialect or accent. Indian English will invariably use the British dialect for it. Thus, <tensile> would be pronounced as [tɛn.saɪl] like the British, rather than [tɛn.sɪl] like the American; <anti> would be pronounced as [æn.ti] like the British, rather than [æn.taɪ] like American.
Any of the native varieties of English produce unique stresses on the language. English is a stress-timed language, and both syllable stress and word stress, where only certain words in a sentence or phrase are stressed, are important features of Received Pronunciation. Indian native languages are actually syllable-timed languages, like Latin and French. Indian-English speakers usually speak with a syllabic rhythm. Further, in some Indian languages, stress is associated with a low pitch, whereas in most English dialects, stressed syllables are generally pronounced with a higher pitch. Thus, when Indian speakers speak, they appear to put the stress accents at the wrong syllables, or accentuate all the syllables of a long English word. The Indian accent is a "sing-song" accent, a feature seen in a few English dialects in Britain, such as Scouse and Welsh English.
- ^ Census of India's eCensusIndia, Issue 10, 2003, pp 8-10, (Feature: Languages of West Bengal in Census and Surveys, Bilingualism and Trilingualism). 1991 statistic.
- ^ Wells, p. 624
- ^ http://www.amritt.com/IndianEnglish.html
- ^ BBC. Also see the OED.
- ^ dicky, dickey, n., Oxford English Dictionary, 2009, Accessed on July 1, 2009
- ^ multiply, v., Oxford English Dictionary, 2009, Accessed on July 1, 2009
- ^ like, a., adv. (conj.), and n.2, Oxford English Dictionary, 2009, Accessed on July 1, 2009
- ^ http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=like%20anything Reference.com, Accessed on July 1, 2009
- ^ 1756 BURKE Subl. & B. IV. iii, "An unnatural tension of the nerves"
- ^ a b c d Wells, p. 627
- ^ a b Wells, p. 626
- ^ Wells, pp. 627-628
- ^ a b c d Wells, p. 62
- ^ a b c d e Wells, p. 629
- ^ Wells, p. 630
- ^ Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 1995), page 360
- ^ http://www.linguistics.uiuc.edu/sala25/verma.htm "Onset of Rising Pitch in Focused Words in Hindi: an Experimental Study"
- ^ Varshney, R.L., "An Introductory Textbook of Linguistics and Phonetics", 15th Ed. (2005), Student Store, Bareilly.
- Wells, J C (1982). Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521285410.
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