English in India –vibrant and Growing

English in India has a unique identity of its own. With such a big population of people speaking the language, it could really influence the way English is spoken in the future.

The perception of English in India is best described in a very famous Indian film, called “Namak Halal” (can be translated as -Loyal To The Hand That Feeds You).

Its protagonist, played by the superstar Amitabh Bachchan, when looking for work in a fancy hotel is asked if he can speak English?

He replies in way that reflects the essence of Indian English, “I know such English that I will leave the British behind. You see sir, I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English, I can run English, because English is such a funny language.”

India has a peculiar relationship with English, especially with political and social interference. A person who speaks English well is respected, because it is the language of the privileged. At the very same time, he or she is also looked down upon, as anglicized and completely out of touch with the roots.

This goes back to the spread of English to strengthen British colonialism. The Indians who initially learnt it were seen to be a part of the upper class oppressors, who at the same time had to be respected because they were the representatives of the rulers.

Over time the attitude to English has changed, today it is very much at the mainstream of Indian life. Everyday a huge number of children are enrolled into “English medium schools” or schools, with English as the main medium of instruction. An equally large number of young adults enrol into expensive spoken English classes. Prestigious institutions like the National Defence Academy in Pune (NDA) add “language labs” to ensure the cadets English reaches an “acceptable level.” (Indian Express, Pune Newsline May 25th 2006)

With the emergence of new technologies and globalisation the number of English speakers has steadily increased. Today India has the second largest number of English speakers in the world, with over 150 million people speaking English in the country. (Wikipedia – Demographics of India.)

Indian English is a dialect on its own, sing – song in pattern, different in the way some words are pronounced, with the habit of using too many adjectives and turning the most unlikely nouns into verbs.

Hindi, and other Indian languages have contributed extensively to it, many vernacular words are used in everyday language. One suspects that it would be very difficult for most Indians to speak pure English, without adding in at least a few Hindi or vernacular language words, the most common one being, “Han” or yes.

Many Indians who learn English as a second language will learn most of their coursework in school in their native mother tongue and have English as a subject. Of course, they learn to think in
their native tongues and then translate their thoughts into English as they speak. Impressive sounding words, very formal and studied English is liked. This is best seen in the Hollywood film called “The Party”, where Peter Sellers plays the character of Haroon D. Bakshi. He uses these fascinatingly polite and large words, stringed together they make no sense at all.

Today, however there is a change in the way many people speak and even write English. Many children actually start learning English very young and as it is the medium of instruction, right through school, it becomes a language that they know best, and they can really “walk English, laugh English” and think in English.

The young educated English speakers, growing up in modern towns would find the language of the convenience store owner in “The Simpsons” called “Apu Nahasapeemapetilon”, as funny as their American counterparts.”

Today’s with the exposure to Hollywood films, numerous music and news channels and of course the internet, English in India is global in character and sound. So not only is it written correctly, it is spoken with ease. Among peers street slang and metaphors are freely used, and in formal occasions, the language would be absolutely correct.

There was a time when old humour writers like P.G. Wodehouse was very popular, with time Dan Brown, Harry Potter and the latest best sellers are making their way here. Many linguists feel that the English of the educated modern Indian is often far better than the “Englishes” spoken around the world.

Modern English in India is essentially British English, however Americanism is also used because of the increasing business in USA. Hinglish, Tamlish, Benglish and a variety of “Englishes” are creeping in. This has actually added to the beauty of the language. In the everyday colloquialism however, the habit of creating verbs out of nouns still exists, especially, when young Indians say “I am smsing the number to you” or more intriguingly, “I will mobile you!”

The essential reason for the success of English in India and across the world is that it is ever growing and absorbing the sounds, words and even structures from languages from everywhere. In India English is vibrant and kicking!

Professor David Crystal, Professor of English Studies UK, the world’s foremost linguist and a member of the Board of the British Council, says that “Indian English has a greater degree of politeness and effusiveness than English spoken anywhere in the world.” (Indian Express, Dehli Newsline – October 08, 2004)

The “effusiveness” probably goes back to the sheer vitality of the Indian languages, which are very descriptive. Professor David Crystal, further points out that some of best writers today use non-standard English to express their ideas; Salman Rushdie is sited as an example. And these writers have enriched modern English literature. With his first book written in Indian English, “Midnights Children”, Salman Rushdie became a force in language and literature.

India is an IT power to reckon with, it is slowly “bangloring” its way to the top. IT is changing the way people in India think and the even in the way it is perceived in the western world. It is no more a mystical magical tour, but a very happening country. Perhaps it is India’s success in this sector that could change the way English is spoken in the country.

There are pundits who say that while the Indian written English is getting better, the pronunciation leaves much to be desired. This of course is very debatable. Recently some of the best IT brains have actually used their power of English to forage out critical information like credit card numbers and passwords from unsuspecting Britons and Americans, and earn ill-gotten wealth of thousands of dollars. In the call centers there are Indians who speak “British and American”, English, and it can be tough pinpointing where they really are from.

But, away from work chatting with each other, and emailing across the net or even while “SMSing”, the language is quite different. English is at once vibrant, expressive and full of delightful colloquialism.

With ever growing population of young go-getting Indian English speakers, the language is undergoing a change. Professor David Crystal significantly says, “Indian English, I think, will soon be one of the most spoken forms of English in the world.” It has been seen that Asians find it easier to understand Indian English rather than British or American English. Increasingly teachers of spoken English in these countries are Indians. Indian English seems to be like a link between the two distinct cultures.

Perhaps in the very near future Standard English will be spoken the Indian way, with an American, British and a definitive Indian twang.