Linguistic and Social Characteristics of Indian English

Jason Baldridge
Fall 1995

TABLE OF CONTENTS (abbreviated)

Discussion and Analysis
Discussion Transcriptions

Discussion and Analysis


Some good friends of mine from India were watching TV in their apartment in Toledo, Ohio when a repairman came to fix something. They talked to him periodically while he was working, and after a while, he asked them how long they had been in the United States. When they told him that it was their third month here, he was evidently very impressed that they had learned to speak English so well and so quickly. He complimented them on that, but what this well-meaning fellow did not realize was that my friends had all started learning English by the time they had begun kindergarten, that the majority of their school course work had been in an English medium, and that they were very familiar with English books, movies, and newspapers. Also, English was the medium in which they communicated with each other here in the United States because they all came from different states in South India and each person spoke a different native language.

English has been with India since the early 1600's, when the East India Company started trading and English missionaries first began their efforts. A large number of Christian schools imparting an English education were set up by the early 1800's. The process of producing English-knowing bilinguals in India began with the Minute of 1835, which officially endorsed T.B. Macaulay's goal of forming "a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern - a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect" (quoted in Kachru 1983, p. 22). English became the official and academic language of India by the early twentieth century. The rising of the nationalist movement in the 1920's brought some anti-English sentiment with it -- even though the movement itself used English as its medium.

Once independence was gained and the English were gone, the perception of English as having an alien power base changed; however, the controversy about English has continued to this day. Kachru notes that "English now has national and international functions that are both distinct and complementary. English has thus acquired a new power base and a new elitism" (Kachru 1986, p. 12). Only about three percent of India's population speak English, but they are the individuals who lead India's economic, industrial, professional, political, and social life. Even though English is primarily a second language for these persons, it is the medium in which a great number of the interactions in the above domains are carried out. Having such important information moving in English conduits is often not appreciated by Indians who do not speak it, but they are relatively powerless to change that. Its inertia is such that it cannot be easily given up. This is particularly true in South India, where English serves as a universal language in the way that Hindi does in the North. Despite being a three percent minority, the English speaking population in India is quite large. With India's massive population, that three percent puts India among the top four countries in the world with the highest number of English speakers. English confers many advantages to the influential people who speak it -- which has allowed it to retain its prominence despite the strong opposition to English which rises periodically.

Purpose and collection methods.

The English which is spoken in India is different from that spoken in other regions of the world, and it is regarded as the unique variety which is called Indian English. The purpose of this folklore project is to show some of the various ways Indians have intentionally and unintentionally customized English to better suit their needs and to discuss some of the problems and situations which can and do arise when Indians use or experience English in different settings. Attitudes about English and English speakers in India are also explored.

The collecting was done in two separate discussion groups in which various aspects of Indian English were talked about. The first discussion was with N.G., N.J., and S.Shah in their apartment. I had visited them several times before and engaged in lengthy discussions on various issues, so when I came with my recorder in hand and a topic already in mind, very little was needed to establish a good rapport. The second discussion was held with B.C., A.S., and S.Singh in B.C. and S.Singh's apartment -- the same apartment that I had lived in for the previous two years with S.Singh as one of my flatmates. With this established link, I had little trouble getting the conversation moving. Languages are often a subject of casual, though often heated, conversations between Indians, so both groups were very interested in the topic, Also, I found that in both groups, individuals were able to play off each other and, in doing so, delve further into the issues than they would have alone. I learned a great deal from the discussions, but I was very thankful for my two years of living with Indians and my month-long trip to India which prepared me for understanding and participating in the discussions. I also received input from several other Indian friends (Murali Kota and Aditya Mulukutla especially) in informal conversations about Indian English.

Distinguishing characteristics of Indian English

Indian English is a distinct variety of the English language. Many Indians claim that it is very similar to British English, but this opinion is based on a surface level examination of lexical similarities. Of course, one must keep in mind that not every linguistic item is used by every Indian English speaker and that a great deal of regional and educational differentiation exists. Even so, items can be identified which are indicative of Indian English speech and which are widely used. These operate on various phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic levels, which I will characterized with items brought up in the recorded discussions, in my previous experience with Indian English, and in scholarly writings about Indian English. References to the transcription excerpts (pages 17-26 of this report) are written, for example, as 1.3.4, which indicates Discussion 1, Excerpt 3, Item 4.


I was able to do very little on the phonological level. I set up a test to see if the English alveolar /t/ would be articulated as the Indian retroflex /t/ or as the dental /t/ in different phonological environments. The result was that the retroflex completely replaced the alveolar; in fact, it has been found that the entire series of English alveolar consonants tends to be replaced by retroflex consonants (Trudgill & Hannah 1994, p.128). One item that did come out of the experiment was that some Indian English speakers had a tendency to drop the -ed ending after /k/ and /t/ (ex: walked became walk) (1.6.5). Some interesting things seemed to be happening with the articulation of // (as in then), which normally is pronounced as an interdental /d/, but which sometimes seemed to become alveolar. Also, listening to the taped discussions revealed that sometimes a was used in front of vowel-initial words (1.4.2) before which North American English and British English speakers would use an. This a very natural adjustment for native speakers, yet it is apparent that a conscious effort to do this is sometimes required by Indian English speakers (2.2.3). To discover whether or not these observations are significant would require further testing.

Other items listed by Trudgill and Hannah (1994) are that Indian English tends to have a reduced vowel system; /r/ tends to become a flap or retroflex flap; the consonants /p/, /t/, and /k/ tend to be unaspirated; and in some regions, /v/ and /w/ are not distinguished (volleyball is the same as wallyball), while in others, /p/ and /f/, /t/ and //, /d/ and //, and /s/ and /s/ are not (1.4.4). They also note that "Indian English tends to be syllable rather than stress-timed. Also, syllables that would be unstressed in other varieties of English receive some stress in Indian English and thus do not have reduced vowels. Suffixes tend to be stressed, and function words which are weak in other varieties of English (of, to, etc.) tend not to be reduced in Indian English" (p. 128).


Indian English morphology is very creative and it is filled with new terms and usages. Indian English uses compound formation extensively, as in English-speaking classes (1.3.1) or convent-going (1.2.1). The compounds cousin-brother and cousin-sister allow the Indian English speaker to designate whether their cousin is male or female -- a function which is inherent in the terminology of most Indian languages. Others include chalk-piece, key-bunch, meeting notice, age barred, and pindrop silence. Indians also pluralize many English mass nouns and end up with words such as litters, furnitures, and woods (Trudgill & Hannah, pp. 129-130). Sometimes words which should be pluralized are not; for example, S.Shah says, "One of my relative" (1.6.1). A quintessential Indian English term which comes from compound formation is time-pass, which denotes something as non-exciting, as in "That movie was real time-pass." It can also indicate the act of passing time without a specific purpose or motivation.

Indians also shorten many words to create commonly used terms. Enthusiasm is called enthu; as such, it can be used in new ways. One can say, "That guy has a lot of enthu." While this is simply an abbreviation, enthu can also be used as an adjective where enthusiasm cannot, as in "He's a real enthu guy." The same applies for fundamentals, which is shortened as fundas. "She knows her fundas." What is interesting about fundas is that when the -as ending is dropped and -u is added, it takes on a new meaning and can be used in a new way. Fundu basically means wonderful or brilliant. One can say "He is a fundu person" or even "He is fundu."

When bringing Indian words into English, terms such as roti (bread), which are already plural, will be pluralized for English by the addition of -s (rotis). English suffixes are also appended to Indian terms. An example which was brought up in the first discussion is the practice in Bombay of adding -fy to a Hindi word to indicate that an action is being done to someone by someone. From the Hindi word muska, to muskafy means to flatter somebody or to butter them up. Similarly, to pataofy is the action of wooing someone. Other suffixes such as -ic (Upanishadic), -dom (cooliedom), and -ism (goondaism) are used to create new usages for Indian terms. Prefixes can also be used in new ways. In Indian English, pre- is substituted for post- in postpone to create prepone, which indicates, for example, that a meeting has been moved to a sooner time.


The Indian English lexicon has many distinct terms which are commonly used by its speakers. Some arise through the use of old and new morphological features, as discussed above. Others come from acronyms and abbreviations. Many terms from Indian languages are utilized, and new usages for English words or expressions are created. It must be noted that many of these terms and usages are specific to the population of Indian English speakers who are currently between twenty and thirty years of age.

Examples of the use of acronyms include the following:

MCP = Male Chauvinist Pig
FOC = Free Of Charge
MPK = Maine Pyar Kiya (a popular movie)
QSQT = Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (a popular movie)
ILU = I Love You (from a song; pronounced ee-lu)
ABCD = American Born Confused Deshi (native of India)
FOB = Fresh Off the Boat

FOB is actually used by American-born Indians against Indian-born Indians who come to America and tease them for being ABCD's. Other acronyms stem from entire Hindi sentences.

Many abbreviations are used by Indians. For example:

Jan = January
Feb = February
subsi = subsidiary
supli = supplementary
soopi = superintendent
princi = principle
Gen. Sec.
or G. Sec. = General Secretary
Soc. Sec. = Social Secretary
lab ass = laboratory assistant
ass wardi = assistant warden

What is interesting about Indian English abbreviations is that they are pronounced the way they are spelled after they have been shortened. A North American English speaker will generally read an abbreviation as though it were the entire word (i.e. Sec. is read as Secretary). Also, North American English speakers tend to abbreviate phonetically when spoken abbreviations are used (i.e. Soc. is pronounced soash). When read by an Indian English speaker, Soc. Sec. is pronounced sock seck. Actually, many English words which are pronounced quite differently than their spelling would indicate are pronounced as they are spelled by many Indians. Vowels which have been dropped by North American and British English speakers are typically articulated by Indians. For example, typically is generally pronounced ti-pick-lee, but Indian English speakers will often say ti-pick-ah-lee.

New words and new usages of standard words are introduced as well. A food grinder is simply called a mixi. Jangos are people who are very maud (modern) and fashionable - such people could be described as fast (untraditional and modern). A deadly movie or event is hard-hitting and action-packed. Something which is hi-tech is exceedingly incredible. It is not just limited to technology; for example, one could be wearing a hi-tech outfit. A reception is sometimes called an at home. An illiterate person may be called a thumbs-up because they use their thumbprint to sign documents. For an Indian doing math, two into four means "2 x 4" and six by three or six upon three means "6 3". A square root is known as an under root. Sometimes, a series of words is used to approximate a word which momentarily escapes one's mind, such as B.C.'s use of "over his self" to mean conceited (2.2.2). Indian English speakers use less to indicate that something is insufficient -- "There is less salt in the curry." Often this is extended to too less of. The extraneous of also appears in the expressions too much of and so much of, such as S.Singh's "so much of heat" (2.2.5). None of my informants were sure why of is used in those situations, but they all agreed it did not come from Hindi or any other Indian language's usage.

Hindi-influenced terms and expressions in Indian English.

Some items are directly related to characteristics of Indian languages. Indians will often ask, "What is your good name?" which is a somewhat literal translation of "Aapka shubh naam kya hai?" Shubh means auspicious or good, and it is basically used as a polite way of asking for someone's full name. An Indian English speaker says today morning (aaj subha) or yesterday night (kal raat) to mean this morning and last night. Indians also run the risk of offending U.S. Americans when they use certain literal translations which have the intended meaning, but which also have offensive connotations. N.G. mentioned that a U.S. American with whom she works told her that she was an "abrasive woman" because she told him to shut up. Shut up in Hindi is chup bet, which is generally used more casually (but which can be used offensively as well). Also, Indians commonly use you people when they want to address more than one person. They do not realize the belittling, racial connotations that it carries with it -- for them it is a simple translation of aap log or tum log.

Hindi terms and expressions used in Indian English.

When Indians use English, it is often a mixture of English, Hindi, and other languages. B.C., A.S., and S.Singh called this way of speaking kichiri (2.2.3). Kichiri is a meal which is composed of several random ingredients -- a rather accurate description of the way Indians often talk to one another. Even in "pure" Indian English, many Indian terms slip in frequently. Some expressions such as general mai (in general) and ek minute (one minute) are prevalent in Indian English. N.G. mentions the Gujarati expression take care karje (do take care) in 1.1.5. These mixtures come quite naturally when one is acquainted with two or more languages. When I began learning Hindi, I acquired many new terms, one of which was mausum (which means weather or season). I unwittingly coined the expression awesome mausum one afternoon when I stepped outside and discovered what a beautiful day it was. N.G. passed this expression along to her friends in Bombay, and supposedly it is starting to spread there. Her use of nahi (no) in 1.1.2, and S.Singh's use of kya (what) in 2.1.1 are typical of the sorts of ways Hindi terms are employed. Other commonly used Hindi terms and expressions include the following:

achchaa = good
arrai = hey
bahut = a lot
bus = that's it
ek = one (as a number)
ghotu = one who reads a lot
hajar (hazar) = a ton (more than a lot)
ho gaya = done; finished
koi bat nahi = no problem
kya hall hai = how are you
lakh(s) = one-hundred thousand
lekhin = but
masala = risqué; spicy; hot (like a film)
muthlab = meaning
paka = pure
teek hai = okay (lit: it is right)
yaar = buddy; pal

These are just a few of the most common ones. One must be fairly conversant in these and other terms and expressions if one wants to follow a discussion between Indians completely.


Hindi syntax affects Indian English syntax in several ways. There is a seemingly arbitrary use of the articles a and the, which do not have parallels in Hindi. Often, one is substituted for a; for example, S.Shah says "And one black lady..." (1.6.4). The and a are often dropped when they should be said (1.2.2; 1.6.2; 2.1.2; 2.2.6) and used when they should be left out (1.1.3; 1.4.5; 1.6.3; 2.3.1). It is not uncommon to hear something like, "We are going to temple." Whether or not these apparent misuses are actually arbitrary would require further study. I suspect they are not.

Something which Indian English has that is not found in other varieties of English is the use of only and itself to emphasize time and place. It comes from the Hindi word hi and produces sentences like "I was in Toledo only" and "Can we meet tomorrow itself?" Indian English speakers often use reduplication as a way of emphasizing an action -- I have been told before to "Come come! Sit sit!" Reduplication can also replace very for intensifying or extending something, as in hot, hot water and long, long hair. Such usage is common in spoken Hindi. Another thing Indian English speakers do is leave to out when giving a range of numbers. B.C. does this in 2.3.3 when he says, "...two three languages..." This often expresses exaggeration when larger numbers are used, as in "one hundred two hundred."

Certain verbs are used in Indian English in the same way they are used in Hindi. Indians use kolna and bandh karna when asking someone to turn a light on or off; the literal translation is retained, so some Indian English speakers say "open the light" and "close the light." The same is true of giving a test (from the Hindi verb dena) rather than taking a test. Take means consume when used with food and drink items -- "Will you take tea?" The verb lena is the Hindi equivalent of this. A.S. elicits another Hindi-based syntactic element, the tag question, in 2.2.4. He says, "Yeah, like this guy Gotham felt like when he went back, no?" This use of no (and the expression isn't it in the same manner) stems from the use of na in Hindi, which is exemplified by N.G. in 1.1.6, "...take care karje appli ker hai na?" This could be roughly translated as "...take care karje can be applied, can't it?"

Indian English speakers often use certain verbs in ways that are confusing to speakers of other English varieties. Keep is used for put, so one finds Indians saying things like "keep the ball there" or "keep the ball back" to a person who is still holding the ball. Leave replaces keep's lost function of allowing something to remain somewhere. Put is often used without an explicit destination or direction, so an Indian might say, "Shall I put the tape?" or, like B.C. in 2.2.3, "- put an image."

One of the most indicative signs of Indian English grammar is the use of the progressive aspect with habitual actions, completed actions, and stative verbs. This produces sentences such as "I am doing it often" rather than "I do it often"; "Where are you coming from?" instead of "Where have you come from?"; "and "She was having many sarees" rather than "She had many sarees" (Trudgill & Hannah, p. 132).

The word order of questions is often unique in Indian English. Sentences such as "What you would like to eat?" and "Who you will come with?" show the absence of subject-verb inversion in direct questions. S.Shah provides an example in 1.1.1, "...what is your companion," in which an inversion does not take place where it should. Another aspect of grammar that is often inconsistent is the use of also (a very popular word in Indian English). It can be found in various parts of a sentence, but it tends to be placed at the end, like N.J. does in 1.1.4 - "We never even used Hindi word also."

Having fun with English.

Indian English speakers play around with the language as much as any other group. English is an important part of life for them, especially in school and when they come to the United States. They circulate documents on their e-mail on things such as a list of ways to change from an Indian conversation to a more American conversation. A common saying among Indian graduate students in the United States jokes about how routine their lives sometimes become:

Apartment, Department.
Advisor, Budweiser.

This is joined by other items such as ABCD (mentioned earlier). Actually, ABCD extends to Z, and it makes fun of the Gujaratis who operate motels in the United States:

American Born Confused Deshi,
Emigrated From Gujarat,
Housed In Jersey,
Kept Lotsa Motels,
Named Omkaranath Patel,
Quietly Reached Success Through Underhanded, Vicious Ways,
Xenophobic Yet Zestful.

Another item utilizes the English alphabet in rhyme:

Sheesha mati daru pi. (Drink liquor from a bottle.)

Indians are also acutely aware of the vast differences in accents in spoken Indian English which are caused by India's different linguistic regions. N.G.'s Guju jokes (1.4) are good examples of how Indians make sometimes make fun of their own and each other's accents:

What does a Guju have for breakfast?
Snakes. (Snacks)(1.4.1)
What does an eighties Guju wear?
Foos nu pant and smace nu shirt. (F'us pants and a Smash shirt) (1.4.3)
What does a nineties Guju wear?
Jins jicket,
low loacket.
Comb in bayck poaket,
and goagles on eye soaket.
(Jeans jacket, love locket, comb in back pocket, and goggles on eye socket)(1.4.6)

Encountering North American English and the United States.

Indians are very cognizant of the differences between North American English and Indian English. Those who come here find themselves bombarded by new expressions, new terms, and new slang. Often these are simply lexical differences between North American English and British English (with which Indian English has more terms in common), but sometimes Indians can be surprised when they try to translate a North American English expression into their own languages. S.Shah related a story about one of her relatives who ran into this problem:

"One of my relative was here before a few years ago, and he was kind of new. I mean, he just came to U.S., and he didn't know how to speak English, and he was just kind of new. So, he was going to somewhere in Chicago. He was traveling by the train, and he was sitting on the seat somewhere over there. And one black lady came up to him and ask him, "What's up?" And in Gujarati what's up means like upar shuche (Gujarati: what is above you). So he made it into Gujarati, so he said, "The sky." So that lady gave him ten cents and went away" (1.6).

Some Indians whose names have similar sounding words in English find U.S. Americans poking fun at them. One example is A.S.'s uncle Shambu, who was called Shampoo when he came to the United States (2.2.1). A friend of mine whose name is Mani was constantly chided by U.S. Americans because "it's always great to have Money around!"

There are also many regional stories and jokes about certain individuals who have gone to the United States and come back talking and acting in a peculiar manner. N.G. recounted the story of a fellow who seemed to think of himself as other than Indian when he returned from the United States, which he showed by speaking in English and using the possessive "your" when referring to India:

"There was this guy who stayed for some years in America and it was very difficult to come here (the USA) at that time. So, when he came back, he was wearing this really thick, woolen jacket around, and sporting it around and it was summertime in India. He was walking around with it, and he kept saying, "Your India is so hot! Your India is so hot!" So it's like, yeah, every time it's really hot in the house and people are complaining about it, that's what we say. "Oh, your India is so hot!" Ay, he was wearing a jacket, I mean he had no reason to complain" (1.5).

Using English in India.

As noted earlier, English is not appreciated by many Indians who consider it an elite, oppressive language. It is used by many upper class Indians to show off their status. All of my informants agreed that while many people respect a person for being able to speak English, they also feel that English-speakers are snobbish (1.2; 2.3). In fact, using English in the wrong situations can lead to a serious scolding, as B.C. discovered in Tirupathi:

"Like it happened once with me. I am not very familiar with my mother tongue. So I'd been to this holy place of Tirupathi. Okay? So I went there, and this was the time I went alone. And I didn't know how to converse with him properly. Basically, the thing out there is between Tamil and Telegu, it's a bit mixed, ah, up, you know, the dialect. So I was trying to converse with him and I wasn't successful, so I thought I'd do it in English.. So I started talking to him in English, and like that fellow got really pissed. He was telling - like he was real mad. If you don't know, just get out, or something like that. It was all for booking of a silly room. That's it. All I had to do was get a room" (2.1).

Such reactions mostly depend on the individual attitude of the person one is dealing with. However, it seems that a person is given respect not only for knowing English, but also for knowing when to use it.

Speaking English correctly.

My background experience with Indian English allowed me to notice that in the taped discussions, certain attempts were made by individuals to speak more "properly" and with fewer Indian terms and slang words. Indian English as it is spoken between Indians is quite different from what I recorded during the discussions. One obvious reason for this was my presence as an active participant in the discussion, thereby necessitating the use of English in a way that would be understandable to me. Another reason is that there is a predominating preoccupation with many Indians in regard to approximating British English when they are speaking -- particularly when they are conversing with a native North American English or British English speaker. Outright discussions about the correctness of a particular word or usage arose several times during both discussions (1.3.2).

I am often told quite earnestly by many Indians that their English is more like British English than North American English is. They cite many examples of words they use in common with the British -- not realizing that when analyzed on deeper linguistic levels, Indian English differs from British English just as much as North American English. The question to raise then is - who really cares what is correct? They are all mutually distinct varieties, and that uniqueness should be valued and appreciated. Even so, many Indians seem to hold British English up as the paragon; perhaps this is because how well one approximates British English often determines how well one's educational level is regarded in India.


This leads to the question - do Indians appreciate their own English? Ultimately, I think they do. It has been said that Indians have made English into a native language with its own linguistic and cultural ecologies and sociocultural contexts. My informants indicated that in many ways, Indian English is very much their own. Its special functions have engraved English into the cultural life of India, and it is very much a part of the experience of being Indian -- even if one does not speak it. Many Indians feel that the use of English should be actively encouraged because of the many advantages it confers - the greatest of which is its universal character. The Indian writer and philosopher Raja Rao wrote,

"Truth, said a great Indian sage, is not the monopoly of the Sanskrit language. Truth can use any language, and the more universal, the better it is. If metaphysics is India's primary contribution to world civilization, as we believe it is, then must she use the most universal language for her to be universal.... And as long as the English language is universal, it will always remain Indian.... It would then be correct to say as long as we are Indian -- that is, not nationalists, but truly Indians of the Indian psyche -- we shall have the English language with us and amongst us, and not as a guest or friend, but as one of our own, of our caste, our creed , our sect and our tradition" (quoted in Kachru 1986, p. 12).

Many others fear, perhaps legitimately, the loss of India's native languages. English has changed Indian languages in many ways -- mostly through the incorporation of new words. However, the population of English speakers in India, though socially influential, is a small minority compared to the rest. Also, most of these individuals are conversant in at least one, if not two or three, other languages, and unless the situation necessitates English, they usually speak in their native language. Even N.G., who approximates British English very closely, would switch to Gujarati when asking for confirmation from N.J. or S.Shah (1.1.6). It seems that multiple languages can function together when they each have their particular domains of use. The sheer number of speakers of India's native languages more or less insures that they do not face extinction.

English is in a slightly more precarious position. Although it has a strong base in the elite class of India and in the general culture, it could easily fall victim to an anti-English movement -- if one ever arose. Public fervor is known to be especially forceful in India, and a skillful leader could use it to create such a movement. Hopefully, this will not happen. Indians have a lot to gain from knowing English, and the world has a lot to gain from Indians knowing English. Some Indians complain that English brings in too much Western thought, but English in India also exports a vast amount of Indian culture and thought to the rest of the world. This increases the diversity of experience that people around the world receive as part of their education. Rather than worrying about whether or not English should be used, people should focus on extending an education to more children which allows them to learn and use English, but which also puts a great emphasis on using and understanding their native languages.

Discussion Transcriptions

Collector Information.

My name is Jason Baldridge. I am a fourth-year student majoring in anthropology at the University of Toledo. I was born on January 16, 1974 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I grew up on a farm in Rockford, a suburb of Grand Rapids. My mother was very much into Indian philosophy, so I grew up in a rather Vedantically oriented environment. I came to Toledo in the fall of 1992, and that winter, I became friends with Kota Murali Krishna and several other Indian graduate students. I lived with Kota, Jayant Ghoshal, and Achyut Jajoo in the Kenwood apartment complex (sometimes called Little India) during my second-year. That winter, I traveled to India for a month to see Achyut's wedding and to visit Kota's family. Last year, I lived in the same apartment with Kota, S.Singh (one of my informants), and Matt Meyers. With two U.S. Americans and two Indians in one apartment, many things about the different ways we spoke were discussed frequently. This year, I am a Resident Advisor in the International House Residence Hall on campus. I am able to read Spanish, I can get by in conversational and written Hindi, and I am minimally acquainted with Arabic. I plan to enter a Ph.D. program in linguistics next year, after I graduate from the University of Toledo.

Informant information.

Note: Because I am making this available on the internet, I have replaced the informants' names with their initials to protect their privacy.

N.G. was born in Bombay on September 24, 1971. She grew up in Bombay and attended only English-medium schools. Her native language is Gujarati (Kutchi dialect), and she also speaks English, Hindi, and Marati. She is currently a graduate student in psychology at the University of Toledo.

N.J. was born in Jamnagar, Gujarat on September 4, 1973. She grew up in Ahmedabad and attended an English-medium school until fourth standard (grade) and completed the rest of her education in Gujarati-medium schools. Neha and her family have lived in Chicago for several years. Her native language is Gujarati, and she also speaks English and Hindi. She is an undergraduate pharmacy student at the University of Toledo.

S.Shah was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on April 4, 1975. She grew up in Bombay and attended Gujarati-medium schools until tenth standard, after which she studied in English-medium schools. Her native language is Gujarati, and she also speaks English, Hindi, and Marati. She is an undergraduate pharmacy student at the University of Toledo.

B.C. was born in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh on December 8, 1972. He grew up in Bahrain and studied only in English-medium schools. His native language is Telegu, and he speaks English and Hindi and can understand Tamil. He is currently a masters student in manufacturing management at the University of Toledo.

A.S. was born in Roorkee, Uttar Pradesh on May 5, 1970. He attended English-medium schools. His native language is Hindi, and he also speaks English. He is a masters student in civil engineering at the University of Toledo.

S.Singh was born in Jamshedpur, Bihar on May 4, 1967. He studied in Hindi-medium schools until seventh standard, after which he studied in English-medium schools. He worked for several years as an engineer in India. His native language is Hindi, and he also speaks Bhojpuri and English. He is a masters student in mechanical engineering at the University of Toledo.


The following pages include excerpts from the discussions. The first six are from the discussion with Neha, Neha, and S.Shah. The last three are from the discussion with B.C., A.S. and S.Singh. The excerpts are numbered so that items may be referred to in the text; thus, 2.2.5 refers to S. Singh saying "so much of" in discussion two, excerpt two. This is primarily to provide examples of Indian English actually in use, rather than just reporting the things I was told explicitly.

Excerpt 1.1

Transcribed from Tape 2 (11/20/95)

Informants: N.G., N.J., and S.Shah

Topic: Language mixing.

JB: ...when you were, like say, out having coffee with your friends in college, what would you generally converse in? Anybody...

NG: All sorts of languages. It would be, um...

SS: Mixture.

NG: Oh, yeah, Hindi, Marati, um, English, Gujarati, and English - English words that are not English really -- slang, Gujarati, anything... anything goes.

SS: Depends on what is your companion1 - like if it is Hindi speaking guy, then we'll speak in Hindi, Marati, whatever -

NG: Nahi2 (Hindi: no), even if the person is a non, if the person is in Bombay -

SS: If the person does not understand in Marati, then we can not speak, we cannot communicate with that guy in a 3 Marati.

NG: No. What I meant was that we don't speak in one language continuously, it's like... we, we pick up words from other languages. All the time.

SS: [at the same time] Yeah, it's like mixture. Everything. We use words from other languages also.

JB: So it gets mished.

NG: Total.

SS: Depends.

JB: Big jumble. [laughter]

NJ: But for me, we only speaks in Gujarati, like everything, so... But still like - I don't know. We never even used Hindi word also4. Everything is in, like, Gujarati.

JB: Okay. Um, okay, I guess I'll just go on to my next question -

NG: There's something that I thought of that might be of interest. Um, Gujarati's in the U.S., when they come and stay here, they use certain words which are very typical of, um... take care karje5 appli ker hai na6? Take care karje -- I've heard it so many times! Take care, and karje is do.

JB: Oh, karje? Is kar- is it the Gujarati form of karo (Hindi: do)?

NJ: Karo.

NG: Yeah, karo. Now, if you say take care, it just means take care, you don't need to add anything else.

JB: Do it.

NG: It's like take care karje. [laughter]

Excerpt 1.2

Transcribed from Tape 2 (11/20/95)

Informants: N.G., N.J. and S.Shah

Topic: Attitudes towards English speakers in India.

JB: The question is - how are people who speak English, um, you know, in India viewed by people who do not speak English in India. You know what I mean?

NG: Viewed by others who do not speak English.

JB: Yeah, the people who can speak English - how are they viewed by those who do not? Can you answer that?

NG: Snobbish. I've been called snobbish, I've been called convent-going1, you know it's like - [in a sing-song voice] oh, you go to a convent and so you have certain attitudes and, which are very different from - and, um, I guess, sometimes even superior, and... you know... looked-up to.

NJ: Yeah. In Ahmedabad they usually think that whoever speaks in English and whoever studies in convent2 or St. Xavier's or those kind of - that they think they are superior, than them. Usually they think that way.

JB: But at the same time they're kind of thinking that they're snobbish too.

ALL: Yeah.

JB: Respect, but a little bit of apprehension there or something.

NG: Sometimes it's even just, you know, plain respect just because you're able to speak in English. It depends on the person actually.

Excerpt 1.3

Transcribed from Tape 2 (11/20/95)

Informants: N.G., N.J., and S.Shah

Topic: English-speaking classes

NG: We have, in India, we have, uh, conversational English classes. So, you learn how to speak English. Even after you have - you might be a doctor and-

JB: And who teaches those?

SS: Private -

NG: They have, um, there is an Indo-American society where they have this class. I taught some classes.

SS: Call it also English-speaking classes1.

[Everyone speaking at the same time]

NG: Yeah, they call it English-speaking or it's -- conversational English would be a better way to say it2.

JB: Well, don't necessarily think that there's a better way of saying it, because part of it is, I mean - you know what I mean? Perhaps there's a more British way of saying it or a more American way of saying it, but maybe-

NG: No, but what I meant was the label. The English-speaking versus-

JB: Yeah, but what I'm saying is that English-speaking is a kind of - that's a sort of-

NJ: Yeah, but usually they - that's what I have said, like usually they have English-speaking classes.

NG: Yeah, that's what people understand-

NJ: Understand better, I believe.

NG: Yeah, if you put conversational, they might not get it.

JB: And that's an Indianism. And that's significant, so-

ALL: Yes. [laughter]

Excerpt 1.4

Transcribed from Tape 2 (11/20/95)

Informant: N.G. (N.J. and S.Shah present also)

Topic: Guju jokes

JB: Are there any jokes, riddles, or stories related to English and/or speaking English?

NG: Yeah, there are jokes on how certain people talk in English. Specific things - and they have another meaning in English, so - it kind of...

JB: Oh, okay. So, do you know of any?

NG: Yeah! My Guju jokes! [claps hands] I'm gonna say those! [laughter]

JB: Go for it! Anything!

NG: What does a Guju have for breakfast? -- Snakes. [laughter] Snakes is the way they say snacks1. And, um, what else....

Okay, there is one - I don't know how, how you would get it, but there is this company, um, for T-shirts in Bombay which is Smash. And, there is a jeans which is F'us. Okay, F-apostrophe-U-S. And you say it as eff-uze -- F'us Jeans.

So, what does a eighties Guju2 dress up in? -- Foos nu pant and smace nu shirt3. [laughter]

SS: That's smart... [gestures]

NG: That's the nineties, that's a nineties Guju! Okay... The eighties Guju are Foos nu pant. Now, F'us is just Foos.

JB: Instead of eff-uze.

NG: Yeah, foos. And foos is supposed to mean... [laughing] [clapping] Foos means... I don't know how to say it.

NJ: I don't know how to like-

JB: Is it a Gujarati term?

NJ: No, no, no.

NG: Yeah. Yeah, Foos appli ker - foos.

NG: Well, like it just went flat. [Claps hands horizontally]

SS: Poosh!

[Everyone talking at once and laughing]

NG: It just went flat, you know.

NJ: Flat, yeah, it went flat.

NG: Like, uh, if you pierce a balloon.

JB: Oh... oh... It, um, compressed?

NG: Yeah, and the kind of funny noise that come out of it.

JB: Oh... [raspberry sound] - a fart!

NG: Yeah, a fart. So, that's foos new pant.

JB: A fart new pant, more or less?

NG: Nu pant. Nu is of (pronounced off).

NJ: Of pant.

JB: Off? O-F-F?

NG: No, O-F. Of.

JB: Oh, okay. Okay, so, fart of pant? A farting pant!

NG: [laughing] Yeah, that's what it would mean.

JB: And then-

NG: Smace nu shirt. Smace doesn't mean anything, but it's just the way they say it. [laughter]

SS: Smash.

NJ: Actually it's like smash, but its said smas.

NG: It's smash. But it's like smace - smace, that's the way it's spoke. They don't say the sa and sha4.

-- Digression --

NG: Okay, you must listen to the nineties Guju! [laughter]

What does a nineties Guju dress up in now?

Jins jicket- [laughter]

JB: Oh, okay, like jeans and jacket?

NG: Yeah. Jins jicket, low loaket - they never say love as love. It's always - in any Hindi song it'll always be mispronounced low. So low locket, you know there's this locket that the5 people wear where it is written love or whatever. Okay, where was I?

Jins jicket,

low loaket,

comb in bayck poaket,

and goagles on eye soaket.6


(Jeans jacket, love locket, comb in back pocket, and goggles on eye socket).

Excerpt 1.5

Transcribed from Tape 2 (11/20/95)

Informant: N.G. (N.J. and S.Shah present also)

Topic: Your India is so hot!

NG: There was this guy who stayed for some years in America and it was very difficult to come here (the USA) at that time. So, when he came back, he was wearing this really thick, woolen jacket around, and sporting it around and it was summertime in India. He was walking around with it, and he kept saying, "Your India is so hot! Your India is so hot!" So it's like, yeah, every time it's really hot in the house and people are complaining about it, that's what we say. "Oh, your India is so hot!" Ay, he was wearing a jacket, I mean he had no reason to complain.

Excerpt 1.6

Transcribed from Tape 2 (11/20/95)

Informant: S.Shah (N.J. and N.G. also present)

Topic: What's up?

SS: One of my relative1 was here before a few years ago, and he was kind of new. I mean, he just came to U.S.2, and he didn't know how to speak English, and he was just kind of new. So, he was going to somewhere in Chicago. He was traveling by the3 train, and he was sitting on the seat somewhere over there. And one4 black lady came up to him and ask5 him, "What's up?" And in Gujarati what's up means like upar shuche (Gujarati: what is above you). So he made it into Gujarati, so he said, "The sky." So that lady gave him ten cents and went away.

Excerpt 2.1

Transcribed from Tape 3 (11/21/95)

Informants: B.C., S.Singh, and A.S.

Topic: Anti-English sentiment.

JB: I know there's, um, some Hindi films where this particular fellow will walk up to a guy at a desk and start speaking in English, and the guy will chastise him and say, "Ahh! What are you doing, this? Speak Hindi!" You know, something like this. Do you know any of those kind of....

SS: Kya1 (Hindi: what), actually, I don't remember. There are quite a few.... Amitabh Bachchan's...

AS: Yeah, Amitabh Bachchan's movies there will be quite a few. Cuz he...

JB: But not just movies, I mean like, um, instances where you know of this actually happening.... where somebody gets, you know....

BC: Yeah, it's pretty common. Like it happened once with me. I am not very familiar with my mother tongue. So I'd been to this holy place of Tirupathi. Okay? So I went there, and this was the time I went alone. And I didn't know how to converse with him properly. Basically, the thing out there is between Tamil and Telegu, it's a bit mixed, ah, up, you know, the dialect. So I was trying to converse with him and I wasn't successful, so I thought I'd do it in English. So I started talking to him in English, and like that fellow got really pissed. He was telling - like he was real mad. If you don't know, just get out, or something like that. It was all for booking2 of a silly room. That's it. All I had to do was get a room.

JB: You speak Telegu, right?

BC: I speak Telegu.

Excerpt 2.2

Transcribed from Tape 3 (11/21/95)

Informants: B.C., S.Singh, and A.S.

Topic: Going to and coming back from America.

JB: All right. Um, do you know of anybody, like, stories of, um, people who've gone, say to America, and something happens to them there or stories of somebody who goes to America and comes back and some interesting situations go on. Do you know any of those?

AS: Yeah, there is my uncle and his name was Shambhu, and the way people referred him as Shampoo1 out here [laughter]. So he was like -

SS: Went back?

AS: No no. He came here for a Fullbright scholarship - three months. It was pretty (?) as shampoo.

JB: Um, how about that-where somebody, say comes back from America, and then maybe talks big or does something like that, you know.

BC: Yeah, that's a natural tendency for a guy to act a bit... over his self2.

AS: At least he talks about the technology.

BC: He'll try to put a - put an image3 which is not himself.

AS: Depends from person to person. Yeah, and, um, mostly people do fall sick after going from this place (the USA).

SS: Lost all the immunity to the -

AS: Yeah, like this guy Gotham felt like when he went back, no4?

JB: [Relates the "Your India is so hot" story.]

SS: Yeah, people go back and talk about a lot of dust [laughter]... so much of5 heat. So the place where they have stayed for past6 twenty years or twenty-five years. I mean, they come here, stay here for one year or two years and come, go back and complain about that. That has happened with my relatives who have gone back there. And then people don't like very... those types.

Excerpt 2.3

Transcribed from Tape 3 (11/21/95)

Informants: B.C., S.Singh, and A.S.

Topic: Speaking English in social situations; kichiri language.

JB: Okay, how are people who speak English viewed by non-speakers, you know like, people who can't speak it? How do they look at those who can?

BC: That's a tough one.

AS: Depends.

SS: Depends, yeah, it depends on the situation.

AS: But he will definitely treat you as an educated person.

SS: Yeah, it's a measure of your education. How much you know. And sometimes the1 people don't know, I mean they will look at you as if... um, only you know something, and...

AS: Yeah, they'll look up to you -

JB: Respect.

SS: With respect. Sometimes...

BC: Sometimes with disdain also.

SS: Sometimes like indifferent. Sometimes disdain.

JB: Sometimes do they look upon it as snobbish?

ALL: Yeah.

BC: Showing off.

SS: Show off, yeah.

JB: So does that make you more careful about speaking it... in a general situation, like if you are with a friend at a restaurant.

SS: You could, um...

AS: See, I mean if I am talking to, just as you said, workers, I will never speak in English. In fact, I will not even speak in Hindi - I'll speak in a dialect where I'm - that's very different from Hindi, so.... that's what we do.

BC: Depends on the person whom you are conversing with. Okay, he is on the same level as you, you normally tend to speak in a language which is understandable by him and which he feels comfortable with, right? That's the normal course.

JB: Often times it's a mixture though, right?

SS: Most of the times, yeah.

BC: Kichiri2. [laughter]

JB: Wait - what's that?

BC: Mixture of all, like, two three3 languages will combine into...

AS: There's a dish, like, which we cook. It's called kichiri. It's like with pulses and rice and so many things -

BC: Whatever else you can find.

JB: Kichiri?

AS: Kichiri, yeah.

JB: And that's what you call talking in this sort of, sort of way?

SS: Kichiri language.


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