English became Indian in the hands of Lord (Thomas Babington) Macaulay, who lived in India for about four years — from June 10, 1834 to early 1838. He came to India as a member of the Supreme Council when William Bentinck was governor general and he left for England to resume his writing career there.
While he was in India, he accomplished a number of tasks related to political administration and justice two of which stand out as his towering contributions. The second of the tasks was the development of the Indian penal code and the first, which placed English above education in Sanskrit or Arabic, was his Minute on Education.
There was a debate going on at the time over which language should be used as the medium of instruction. The Orientalists favoured the classical languages, such as Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic and the Anglicists favoured English. And none of the groups spoke against native tongues. They all agreed that education should be imparted in native tongues during the initial years of education.
The Minute on Education was dated February 2, 1835 and it received a seal of approval by Bentinck on March 7, 1835 that decided on the educational policy in British India.
Macaulay in his minute on education wrote: “… it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”
Lord Hastings, governor general of India, passed a resolution in October 1844 that all government appointments should have a preference to the English knowing people.
And that has changed the Indian culture and promoted education of English in India. And thereby the English language became Indian, setting to roll on bilingualism of a sort, which, in course of time, gave birth to a variety of English, widely spoken by the Indians, known as Indian English in the same fashion as other varieties such as American, Australian, Canadian, Caribbean, Hiberno-English, Hong Kong and others.
English of this sort has a grammar a bit different from the standard, different pronunciation with a set of different phonemes, different words and a bit different usage. Such a happening has also prompted the English language to make many words of Indian origin its own resources.
A major portion of such loan words are from Hindi, Sanskrit and Tamil. The Hindi words in English are bangle (an ornament worn by ladies in their hands), bindi (a decoration worn on the forehead by many women), bungalow (a single-storey house), cheetah, coolie, cummerbund (a waist band), dacoit, dinghy, ghee (purified Indian butter), gunny (a coarse heavy fabric made of jute or hemp), jungle, kedgeree, loot, pukka (genuine), sari, samosa, shampoo, thug, verandah and the like.
The Sanskrit words that have entered the English vocabulary include Aryan, avatar, guru, juggernaut (a large moving object), jute, mongoose, palanquin, pundit, yoga, etc. The Tamil words in English are cheroot, curry, ginger, mango, mullingatawny, pariah, rice, teak and others.
Other words of Indian origin in English are anaconda from Sinhalese, bandicoot from Telugu, coir from Malayalam, and the like.
But what the process has brought about in India in relation to the language is that a distinct variety of English came to be spoken by the Indians, especially among those not highly educated, as the language continues to play the role of a lingua franca in a country where its constitution recognises 18 languages as official — Assamese, Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
And English continues to remain diglossic of a sort — a social situation where the English tongue spoken by the less educated people is in a transitional shift in relation to the language spoken by the highly educated.
The Indian variety of the English language is featured by syntax, phonology and words of the native languages of the speakers. Most of the time, Hindi syntax surfaces in the English sentence constructions; Hindi words or English words with assumed Hindi connotations get into speech and the pronunciation and intonation become dependent on those of the local languages.
Standard English is valued most in the Indian sub-continent. This is chiefly British English, in spelling and grammar, spoken, in cases, with an Indianised British accent. Although old grammar textbooks such as the ones by PC Wren and H Martin and JC Nesfield continue to be taught in Indian high schools, the higher grammar of the British English is considered the only correct system.
The Oxford University Press once published a dictionary of Indian English, with all its peculiarities; but the venture failed to attract the Indians as they still follow the proper British dictionaries.
The Indian variety of English often employs progressive tense for the static verbs: “he is being stupid”, “she is knowing the answer” or "he is having very much of property". It uses prepositions at wrong places or wrong prepositions at proper places: “he is not paying attention on me”, “they were discussing about the election”, and “convey him my greetings”, or it drops prepositions at some places: "I insisted immediate payment". Indian English speakers often use wrong verbs: "I'll take tea" to mean "to have tea"; and "keep the book there" to mean "to put".
The Indians often use variations in noun number and determiners: “he has performed many charities” or “she loves to pull my legs”. The constructions of tag questions are markedly different from the standard and are enough to drive a native English speaker up the wall: “we're meeting tomorrow, isn’t it?” “he’s here, no?” The word order is highly troublesome: “who you have come for?” “they’re late always”, “my all friends are waiting.” “You didn’t come on the bus?” and an Indian English speaker would probably reply by saying, “yes, I didn’t”, leaving many an uninitiated English speaker at fault. There is an arbitrary use of articles — "a" and "the"; and "a" is often replaced with "one": "we are going to temple" and "one white lady".
Intrusion of many Indian words is also noticed in the English language of the Indians. Use of “but” or “only” as intensifiers is common: “I was just joking but”, “it was only he who read this book.” The variety of English also use Hindi “ki” (that), or Bangla “mane” (meaning) more frequently: “what I mean is ki I will go there.” Non-English suffixes such as “-baazi”, “-giri” or “-wallah” also continue to be used, even in writing: chandabaazi, cheating-giri or taxi-wallah.
Native-tongue idioms often get translated in the Indian variety of English. A Hindi expression carryover, "what is you good name, please?" (literal translation of "aapka shubh naam kya hai?" — a polite way of asking for someone's full name) is commonplace. Many words have changed their meaning: in the Indian variety, "deadly" means "intense", "high-tech" means "stylish" and "sexy" means excellent. Expressions such as "the movie was deadly, yaar", "your shoes are high-tech", and "a sexy car" are common in Indian English.
Strangers, elders or anyone deserving respect are addressed by the name followed by the suffix "-ji", "call a taxi for Kabir-ji"; other honorifc words such as "sahib" and "begum" for "Mr" and "Mrs" are also used: "welcome, Taylor-sahib", or "Begum Taylor would like this".
Interjections and casual references of the native language often come into the spoken Indian English: "thik hai", "arey, yaar, c'mon!", "forget it, bhai", "ay, bhaiyya, over here ".
The Indianised variety of English has a number of words typical of or originating in India. Such words are not generally well known outside South Asia. The Indians have coined words such as "batchmate" or "batch-mate" to mean the fellow students of the same grade, but not of the same class. In India, "brinjal" mean "aubergine"; "cousin-brother" is the male first cousin and "cousin-sister" is the female first cousin as opposed to "own brother or sister". Harassment of women is known as "eve-teasing" in India; bridges meant for pedestrians are called "foot overbridges"; a warehouse is a "godown", a grave mistake is a "Himalayan blunder"; eye-glasses are "opticals", the opposite of postpone is "prepone" and a fiancé or fiancée is "would-be". A chalk is "chalk-piece" and dead silence is "pindrop silence".
Uncount nouns are often pluralised in the Indian variety: litter becomes "litters", furniture "furnitures" and wood "woods". Some words which should be used in the plural are often used in the singular: "one of my relative". Shortened forms in the Indian English are a feature, than a convenience: enthusiasm is "enthu", also as an adjective: "he is a real enthu guy", or "he has a lot of enthu". Fundamentals is often called "fundas"; "fundu" is used to mean something or someone brilliant or wonderful: "he is a fundu person" or "he is fundu." Principal becomes "princi", supplementary "suppli", superintendent, "soopi" and laboratory assistant becomes "lab ass" in the speech of students in colleges or schools.
Many Indian words in the variety, which are already plural, are pluralised with an ending -s: roti (bread) becomes breads. The tongue at many places employs the -fy suffix to make verbs from Indian words: Hindi word "muska" results in "muskafy" (to flatter somebody); "pataofy" means "to woo someone"; other suffixes used with Indian words are -ic (Upanishadic), -dom (cooliedom), and -ism (goondaism).
The Indianised British accent has developed certain phonological features which make the spoken form of the Indian variety of English stand far out others. English speech at all other places are more or less stress-timed; but the speech in the Indian variety has fast tempo with choppy syllables — a syllabic rhythm, which can make comprehension difficult at times.
English alveolar plosives, the consonant sounds in the word "date", are perceived by the Indians to be retroflex, pronounced with the tongue hitting against the palate far backward. And the sub-continental (inter)dental plosives, which are present in most Indian languages, replace the English dental fricatives in almost all the cases. The sound "r" after vowel sounds, which was a fashion even in the 1920s in British English, is still retained by many in India. But younger educated people have been trying to avoid the sound in the context. Unstressed syllables of the standard English are often stressed in the Indian variety; suffixes also receive stresses; and function words are often not reduced.
Published in the 0x0x0 New Year Special of New Age.
Revised: 5 April 2011