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.
Lol to the #indianenglish trend. People are actually spitting out the truth ie. what they actually use in their daily life.
— Singha (@ishwinderjit) June 26, 2014
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.
The hashtag #IndianEnglish curated many examples of these, such as a distinctly Indian way of describing when someone whiles away his or her time:
“I'm doing timepass” #IndianEnglish
— Yussir (@Ojasism) June 26, 2014
This expression meaning hopeless or beyond help might require an explanation when used in a non-Indian setting, tweeted blogger and podcaster Kamla Bhatt:
Gone case. Used that in a sentence last week & had to explain to my American companions what it meant :-) #indianenglish
— Kamla Bhatt (@kamla) May 16, 2013
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':
I am तो very happy ;) #IndianEnglish
— ⚽Paglu Piggu⚽ (@PagluPiggu) June 26, 2014
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:
Small childrens shouldn't open their mouths in the middle when two elder people are talking #indianenglish
— Indian औरत (@Nakhrewalii) June 26, 2014
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:
What is your good name? #IndianEnglish
— Pratik Chavda (@StorageSE) June 28, 2014
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:
— IBNLive Buzz (@IBNLiveBuzz) June 27, 2014
— Soumyadip Choudhury (@soumyadip) June 27, 2014
— Don (@Juuism) June 26, 2014
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!