Indian English is the register of the English language characteristic of the Republic of India. The Constitution of India designates the co-official language of the Government of India as English, along with Hindi.
Status of English in India
Hindi is the official language of the Union Government of India. However, even after 70 years of Indian Independence from Britain, English is still retained with a status of the "subsidiary" official language. Only a few hundred thousand Indians, or less than 0.1% of the total population, have English as their first language.
According to the 2001 Census, 12.6% of Indians know English. An analysis of the 2001 Census of India concluded that approximately 86 million Indians reported English as their second language, and another 39 million reported it as their third language. No data were available whether these individuals were English speakers or users.
According to the 2005 India Human Development Survey, of the 41,554 surveyed, households reported that 72% of men (29,918) did not speak any English, 28% (11,635) spoke at least some English, and 5% (2,077, roughly 17.9% of those who spoke at least some English) spoke fluent English. Among women, the corresponding percentages were 83% (34,489) speaking no English, 17% (7,064) speaking at least some English, and 3% (1,246, roughly 17.6% of those who spoke at least some English) speaking English fluently. According to statistics of District Information System for Education (DISE) of National University of Educational Planning and Administration under Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, enrollment in English-medium schools increased by 50% between 2008–09 and 2013–14. The number of English-medium school students in India increased from over 15 million in 2008–09 to 29 million by 2013–14.
India ranks 22 out of 72 countries in the 2016 EF English Proficiency Index published by the EF Education First. The index gives the country a score of 57.30 indicating "moderate proficiency". India ranks 4th out of 19 Asian countries included in the index. Among Asian countries, Singapore (63.52), Malaysia (60.70) and the Philippines (60.33) received higher scores than India.
English, according to the Indian Constitution, is the language of the Supreme Court and all the High Courts of India. The legal system in India is based on British Common Law. The Indian parliament has the power to change this law, but it has yet to do so. However, in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan there is use of Hindi in courts because of Presidential approval. In 2018, the Punjab and Haryana High Court also await Presidential approval for Hindi use as well.
Indian English generally uses the Indian numbering system. Idiomatic forms derived from Indian literary languages and vernaculars have been absorbed into Indian English. Nevertheless, there remains general homogeneity in phonetics, vocabulary, and phraseology between various dialects of Indian English.
English language public instruction began in India in the 1830s during the rule of the East India Company (India was then, and is today, one of the most linguistically diverse regions of the world). In 1835, English replaced Persian as the official language of the Company. Lord Macaulay played a major role in introducing English and western concepts to education in India. He supported the replacement of Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction in all schools, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, primary-, middle-, and high-schools were opened in many districts of British India, with most high schools offering English language instruction in some subjects. In 1857, just before the end of Company rule, universities modelled on the University of London and using English as the medium of instruction were established in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. During subsequent Crown Rule in India, or the British Raj, lasting from 1858 to 1947, English language penetration increased throughout India. This was driven in part by the gradually increasing hiring of Indians in the civil services. At the time of India's independence in 1947, English was the only functional lingua franca in the country.
After Indian Independence in 1947, Hindi was declared the first official language, and attempts were made to declare Hindi the sole national language of India. Due to protests from Tamil Nadu and other non-Hindi-speaking states, it was decided to temporarily retain English for official purposes until at least 1965. By the end of this period, however, opposition from non-Hindi states was still too strong to have Hindi declared the sole language. With this in mind, the English Language Amendment Bill declared English to be an associate language "until such time as all non-Hindi States had agreed to its being dropped." This has not yet occurred, and it is still widely used. For instance, it is the only reliable means of day-to-day communication between the central government and the non-Hindi states.
The view of the English language among many Indians has gone from associating it with colonialism to associating it with economic progress, and English continues to be an official language of India.
While there is an assumption that English is readily available in India, available studies show that its usage is actually restricted to the elite, because of inadequate education to large parts of the Indian population. The use of outdated teaching methods and the poor grasp of English exhibited by the authors of many guidebooks, disadvantage students who rely on these books.
The term, "Hinglish", is a portmanteau of the languages English and Hindi. This typically refers to the macaronic hybrid use of Hindi, or any South Asian language and English. It is often the growing preferred language of the urban and semi-urban educated Indian youth, as well as the Indian diaspora abroad. The Hindi film industry, more popularly known as Bollywood, incorporates considerable amounts of Hinglish as well. Many internet platforms and voice commands on Google also recognize Hinglish.
Most Indians speak with a native tinted accent for their English speech, whereas the modern generation tends to speak with an accent similar to the Received Pronunciation.
Indian English phonology is ultimately based on Received Pronunciation.
In general, Indian English has fewer peculiarities in its vowel sounds than the consonants, especially as spoken by native speakers of languages like Hindi, the vowel phoneme system having some similarities with that of English. Among the distinctive features of the vowel-sounds employed by some Indian English speakers:
- Modern Indians, especially a minority of English students and teachers along with some people in various professions like telephone customer service agents, often speak with a non-rhotic accent. Examples of this include flower pronounced as /flaʊ.ə/, never as /nevə/, water as /wɔːtə/, etc.
- Many North Indians have a sing-song quality as they speak English, which perhaps, results from a similar tone used while speaking Hindi.
- Indian English speakers and thus do not make a clear distinction between /ɒ/ and /ɔː/ unlike RP i.e. have the cot-caught merger
- Diphthong /eɪ/ is pronounced as /eː/
- Diphthong /əʊ/ is pronounced as /oː/
- /ɑː/ may be more front /a/
- Most Indians have the trap–bath split of Received Pronunciation, affecting words such as class, staff and last (/klɑːs/, /stɑːf/ and /lɑːst/ respectively). Though the trap-bath split is prevalent in Indian English, it varies greatly. Many younger Indians who read and listen to American English do not have this split. The distribution is somewhat similar to Australian English in Regional Indian English varieties, but it has a complete split in Cultivated Indian English and Standard Indian English varieties.
- Most Indians have a hoarse-horse split.
The following are the variations in Indian English resulting from inability to articulate few vowels
- Pronunciation of /ɔ/ as /o/
- Pronunciation of /æ/ and /ɛ/ as /e/
- Pronunciation of /ɔ/ and /ɒ/ as /a/
The following are the characteristics of dialect of Indian English most similar to RP:
- It is non-rhotic.
- The voiceless plosives /p/, /t/, /k/ are always unaspirated in Indian English, (aspirated in cultivated form) 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 dialects. In native Indian languages (except in Dravidian languages such as 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. Native speakers of Indian languages prefer to pronounce the English alveolar plosives sound as more retroflex than dental, and the use of retroflex consonants is a common feature of Indian English. 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. Languages such as Tamil have true retroflex plosives, however, 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 Bihar) 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 plosives to voiced retroflex flap, and the nasal /n/ to a nasalised retroflex flap.
- All major native languages of India (except Bengali) lack the dental fricatives (/θ/ and /ð/; spelled with th). Usually, the aspirated voiceless dental plosive [t̪ʰ] is substituted for /θ/ in the north (it would be unaspirated in the south) and the unaspirated voiced dental plosive [d̪], or possibly the aspirated version [d̪ʱ], is substituted for /ð/. For example, "thin" would be realised as [t̪ʰɪn] instead of /θɪn/ for North Indian speakers, whereas it would be pronounced unaspirated in the south.
The following are the variations in Indian English
- Pronunciations vary between rhotic and non-rhotic; with pronunciations leaning towards native phonology being generally rhotic, and others being non-rhotic.
- Most Indian languages (except Punjabi, Marathi, Assamese and Bengali), including Standard Hindi, do not differentiate between /v/ (voiced labiodental fricative) and /w/ (voiced labiovelar approximant). Instead, many Indians use a frictionless labiodental approximant [ʋ] for words with either sound, possibly in free variation with [v] and/or [w] depending upon region. Thus, wet and vet are often homophones.
- Related to the previous characteristic, many Indians prefer to pronounce words such as <flower> as [flaː(r)], as opposed to [flaʊə(r)], and <our> as [aː(r)] as opposed to [aʊə(r)].
- South Indians tend to curl the tongue (retroflex accentuation) more for /l/ and /n/.
- Sometimes, Indian speakers interchange /s/ and /z/, especially when plurals are being formed, unlike speakers of other varieties of English, who use [s] for the pluralisation of words ending in a voiceless consonant, [z] for words ending in a voiced consonant or vowel, and [ɨz] for words ending in a sibilant.
- 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.
- Whilst retaining /ŋ/ in the final position, many Indian speakers add the [ɡ] sound after it when it occurs in the middle of a word. Hence /ˈriŋiŋ/ → /ˈriŋɡiŋ/ (ringing).
- Syllabic /l/, /m/ and /n/ are usually replaced by the VC clusters [əl], [əm] and [ən] (as in button /ˈbuʈʈən/), or if a high vowel precedes, by [il] (as in little /ˈliʈʈil/). Syllable nuclei in words with the spelling er/re (a schwa in RP and an r-coloured schwa in GA) are also replaced VC clusters. e.g., metre, /ˈmiːtər/ → /ˈmiːʈər/.
- Indian English uses clear [l] in all instances like Irish English whereas other varieties use clear [l] in syllable-initial positions and dark [l] (velarised-L) in coda and syllabic positions.
The following are the variations in Indian English that are often discouraged
- Most Indian languages (except Urdu varieties and Assamese) lack the voiced alveolar fricative /z/. A significant portion of Indians thus, even though their native languages do have its nearest equivalent: the unvoiced /s/, often use the voiced palatal affricate (or postalveolar) /dʒ/, just as with a Korean accent. This makes words such as <zero> and <rosy> sound as [ˈdʒiːro] and [ˈroːdʒiː] (the latter, especially in the North). 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.
- In Assamese, /tʃ/ and /ʃ/ is pronounced as /s/; and /dʒ/ and /ʒ/ is pronounced as /z/. Retroflex and dental consonants are not present and only alveolar consonants are used unlike other Indian languages. Similar to Bengali, /v/ is pronounced as /bʱ/ and /β/ in Assamese. For example; change is pronounced as [sɛɪnz], vote is pronounced as [bʱʊt] and English is pronounced as [iŋlis].
- Again, in Assamese and dialects like Bhojpuri, all instances of /ʃ/ are spoken like [s], a phenomenon that is also apparent in their English. Exactly the opposite is seen for many Bengalis.
- Inability to pronounce certain (especially word-initial) consonant clusters by people of rural backgrounds, as with some Spanish-speakers. This is usually dealt with by epenthesis. e.g., school /isˈkuːl/.
- 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 /f/ is used by native speakers instead of /pʰ/, or the two are used interchangeably.
- Many speakers of Indian English do not use the voiced postalveolar fricative (/ʒ/). Some Indians use /z/ or /dʒ/ instead, e.g. treasure /ˈtrɛzəːr/, and in the south Indian variants, with /ʃ/ as in <"sh'"ore>, e.g. treasure /ˈtrɛʃər/.
A number of distinctive features of Indian English are due to "the vagaries of English spelling". Most Indian languages, unlike English, have a nearly phonetic spelling, so the spelling of a word is a highly reliable guide to its modern pronunciation. Indians' tendency to pronounce English phonetically as well can cause divergence from Western English.
- 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 realisations such as <which> [ʋʱɪtʃ], found in no other English accent. This is somewhat similar to the traditional distinction between wh and w present in English, however, wherein the former is /ʍ/, whilst the latter is /w/.
- In unstressed syllables, which speakers of American English would realise as a schwa, speakers of Indian English would use the spelling vowel, making <sanity> sound as [ˈsæniti] instead of [ˈsænəti]. This trait is also present in other South Asian dialects (i.e. Pakistani and Sri Lankan English), and in RP, etc.
- 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 [ˈdɛʋləpd] instead of RP /dɪˈvɛləpt/.
- Use of [s] instead of [z] for the "-s" ending of the plural after voiced consonants, for example <dogs> may be [daɡs] instead of [dɒɡz].
- Pronunciation of <house> as [hauz] in both the noun and the verb, instead of [haus] as noun and [hauz] as verb.
- In RP, /r/ occurs only before a vowel. But some speakers of Indian English, primarily in the South, use /r/ in almost all positions in words using the letter 'r', similar to most American and some Irish dialects. 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.
- In certain words, especially Latinate words ending in ile, is pronounced [ɪ] in America and [aɪ] in Britain. Indian English, like most other Commonwealth dialects, will invariably use the British pronunciation. Thus, <tensile> would be pronounced as [ˈtɛnsaɪl] like the British, rather than [ˈtɛnsɪl] like the American; <anti>, on the other hand, use i, as [ˈænti] like in Britain, rather than [ˈæntaɪ] like in America. Similar effects of British colonisation are 're', 'ise', and 'our' spellings in words like 'metre', 'realise', and 'endeavour', respectively, which Americans would spell as 'meter', 'realize' and 'endeavor'.
- Deletion is not commonly used. For example, "salmon" is usually pronounced with a distinct "l".
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 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 some Indian speakers speak, they appear to put the stress accents at the wrong syllables, or accentuate all the syllables of a long English word. Certain Indian accents are of a "sing-song" nature, a feature seen in a few English dialects in Britain, such as Scouse and Welsh English.
The Indian numbering system is preferred for digit grouping. When written in words, or when spoken,
numbers less than 100,000/100 000 are expressed just as they are in Standard English. Numbers including and beyond 100,000 /
100 000 are expressed in a subset of the Indian numbering system. Thus, the following scale is used:
|In digits (International system)
||In digits (Indian system)
||In words (long and short scales)
||In words (Indian system)
||one hundred thousand
||one lakh (from lākh लाख)
||ten lakh (from lākh लाख)
||one crore (from karoṛ करोड़)
Larger numbers are generally expressed as multiples of the above (for example, one lakh crores for one trillion).
Indian English has political, sociological, and administrative terms of modern India: dharna, hartal, eve-teasing, vote bank, swaraj, swadeshi, scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, NRI; it has words of Anglo-India such as tiffin, hill station, gymkhana; and it has slang.
Some examples unique to, or chiefly used in, standard written Indian English include:
- academic (noun) (also Canadian and U.S. English): In pl.: Academic pursuits in contrast to technical or practical work.
- Example: 1991 Hindu (Madras) 6 Dec. 27/2 For 14 years he immersed himself in academics and was a fine achiever.
- airdash (verb intransitive) Indian English, to make a quick journey by air, especially in response to an emergency.
- Example: 1973 Hindustan Times Weekly 25 Mar. 1 Governor B. K. Nehru, who airdashed to Shillong yesterday, flew back to Imphal.
- Cinema hall (noun) a cinema or movie theater/theatre.
- Example: 2018 Times of India (India) 03 Jan., Cinema halls in Uttar Pradesh will soon display the newly-unveiled logo for Kumbh Mela, right after the national anthem is played, to make youths understand the importance of the religious festival, a senior official said on Wednesday.
- Do the needful: To do that which is necessary or required, with the respectful implication that the other party is trusted to understand what needs doing without being given detailed instruction.
- Example: 2018 The Pioneer. When asked if the UP government could reduce Value Added Tax (VAT) on petro-products to bring down prices, the CM said that the state government was aware of the situation and will do the needful.
- English-knowing (adjective) originally and chiefly Indian English (of a person or group of people) that uses or speaks English.
- Example: 1941 J. Nehru Toward Freedom vii. 40 The official and Service atmosphere... set the tone for almost all Indian middle-class life, especially the English-knowing intelligentsia.
- freeship, Indian English. A studentship or scholarship that offers full payment of a student's fees.
- Example: 1893 Med. Reporter (Calcutta) 1 Feb. 57/1 Two permanent freeships, each tenable for one year and one of which is for the second and the other for the third year class.
- Example: 2006 Economic Times (India) (Nexis) 12 Oct., Private institutions can only develop if they are allowed to charge reasonable fees, while also providing need based freeships and scholarships for a certain percentage of students.
- matrimonial (noun) B. 3b. Chiefly Indian English. Advertisements in a newspaper for the purpose of finding a marriageable partner.
- Example: 1999 Statesman (Calcutta) 10 Feb., (Midweek section) 4/3 When I have a job I'll have to begin a whole new search for my better half... Back to the newspaper matrimonials on Sundays.
- press person n. (chiefly Indian English, frequently as one word) a newspaper journalist, a reporter, a member of the press
- Example: 2001 Hindu (Nexis) 20 June, The Prime Minister greeted the presspersons with a ‘namaskar’ and a broad smile.
- redressal (noun) now chiefly Indian English. = redress (noun)
- Example: 1998 Statesman (India) (Nexis) 2 Apr., There is an urgent need for setting up an independent authority for redressal of telecom consumer complaints.
- Example: 2002 Sunday Times of India 15 Sept. 8/4 Where does he go for the redressal of his genuine grievances?
- upgradation (noun) Indian English, the enhancement or upgrading of status, value or level of something
- Example: 1986 Business India 8 Sept. 153/1 (advt.) Our Company lays great stress on technical training and knowledge upgradation.
Spelling and national differences
Indian English generally uses the same British English spelling as Commonwealth such as Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and South Africa, occasionally with minor differences.
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