Want to Do Some ‘Timepass’ (Kill Some Time)? Spice Up Your Vocabulary With #IndianEnglish

An example of Indian English - no sense of punctuation! Image from Flickr by user AK. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Image from Flickr by user AK. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

When the Twitter hashtag #IndianEnglish began trending late last month, the resulting flood of tweets from Indians sharing humorous examples of their country's unique spin on the English language was good for more than just a chuckle (though, there are certainly many chuckles to be had scrolling through the timeline).

It also offered a glimpse of an India that is today quite unapologetic and unabashed about not speaking the Queen's English. An increasing number of Indians aspire to speak and be understood in English, but have neither the patience nor the training to imbibe the nuances of either British or American English. Instead, they are happily making their own rules.

Love it, hate it or ridicule it, the importance of Indian English cannot be denied. India comes in second by number of English speaks, with 125 million behind the United States’ 298 million, and that number is expected to grow. Even if ‘English-educated’ Indian elite turn up their noses at so-called Indianisms, Indian English continues to gain popular acceptance and momentum. Some words have even managed to worm their way into that hallowed book, the Oxford English Dictionary, such as badmash (which could mean anything from naughty to scoundrel) and prepone (the opposite of postpone).

In fact, since the days of British rule, India has contributed many words and phrases to the English language, like shampoo, juggernaut, guru and pariah. Today, the tables have turned — instead of just introducing Indian words into English, Indians are creating English words and phrases of their own. 

Poster inside a bus in Hyderabad, India, provides an Interesting example of #IndianEnglish. Image by Aparna Ray

Poster seen inside a bus in Hyderabad, India – an #IndianEnglish mutation of Thank You, where ‘Q’ basically takes a part of the K from Thank and happily adds it to You  . Image by Aparna Ray

The hashtag #IndianEnglish curated many examples of these, such as a distinctly Indian way of describing when someone whiles away his or her time:

This expression meaning hopeless or beyond help might require an explanation when used in a non-Indian setting, tweeted blogger and podcaster Kamla Bhatt:

Some Indians pepper their English with words from other languages, such as in the tweet below, where the Hindi word तो replaces its English equivalent of ‘indeed':

Others directly translate a sentence structure from another language. This sentence in Hindi (जब दो बड़े बात कर रहे हों, तो बच्चों को बीच में मुंह नहीं खोलना चाहिए) in English becomes:

Some other common examples of thinking in Hindi (or even Bengali) when speaking in English can be seen during introductions. In India, people often have two names: a nickname (or pet-name as it is sometimes affectionately referred to) generally used by family and friends to address the person, and a formal name (also referred to as the ‘good’ name) used for official purposes and by acquaintances.

So the Hindi phrase (आपके शुभ नाम क्या है?) or the Bengali (আপনার ভাল নাম কি?) becomes the following in English:

Just like English speakers elsewhere in the world, the disconnect between a word's pronunciation and its spelling can lead to some comical mistakes in India. Photos posted on Twitter showed billboards, signs and other printed material from across the country:

On Facebook, Bharat Pathiabadi took a tongue-in-cheek view of Indian English. “The raison de etre for Indian English: The British messed with our motherland, we mess up their mother tongue,” he wrote.

Not everyone was a fan of the hashtag, however. Some thought it showed Indians in poor light. “You guys are purposefully making fun of people who speak in #IndianEnglish,” self-described SAP software whiz @Ace_Of_Pace observed.

Cocking a snook at all the language puritans out there, the unapologetic irreverence of the #IndianEnglish speaking masses can be best summed up in this humour-laden post by blogger Gauri a.k.a ‘litterateuse‘. She openly and confidently declares in Indian English, we are who we are:

No apologies, we’re Indian – and so is our English. What to do? We are like that only!

The post was co-authored by Aparna Ray.

1 comment

  • Mrigyank

    LOL :).. Great article! I know how hard it is to cope up
    with the “hinglish” version of English. I have heard people using
    the words from their native language along with English. In this case I would
    rather recommend people to first join some language training institute like
    inlingua, in order to improve their communication skills so that they can
    develop a command over the language and speak it properly. These institutes
    have specially designed courses which help people to understand the basics of
    spoken English and help them to gradually speak fluently.

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