indian English

Marathi English – unofficial but officially so

Today is the final day of Indian English and we have one final guest blog for you, from Gauri, a linguist and polyglot in the USA. Gauri writes as Litterateuse at her blog, 42, and tweets as @gau3. If you liked this guest post, you might like her post on Indian English here.


As someone fascinated by languages in general and English in particular, what interests me most is how every language develops its own version of English based on the comfort of its syntax. In fact, I’d go so far as to confess I’ve made a pastime out of guessing people’s native tongue based on what syntax they fit English in, how they articulate consonants, and what two sounds they tend to use interchangably. The endearing part is that the ‘wrongness’ – if one could call it that – is so consistent and universal, that it could well pass off as an independent (but unofficial) version of English.

My native language is Marathi, spoken in the state of Maharashtra, India. You will be told that among other things, we speakers of Marathi are proud of the fact that:

“we are not making 1 any mistakes when we are speaking English language. It is only by the chance that we are sometimes using definite article 2 in an arbitrary manner. You are amused? 3 I will provide explanation.” [sic]

1 Marathi does have both present continuous as well as simple present tense. Yet, it is not uncommon for a speaker of Marathi – while speaking in English – to use the present continuous tense where one would generally use the simple present. When a Maharashtrian asks you “You are going to school?” he probably means one of two things:

Are you going to school (now)? [As opposed to going to the store.] Do you (generally) attend school? [As opposed to attending college / work.]

How do you know which is which? Well, that’s what context is for.

2 Marathi has no articles. The correct usage of the definite article does not come instinctively to a Marathi speaker. That should explain our capricious use of the definite article:

“When you will come back from market?”
“Why you are watching the TV just now?”
“How you came here? You took bus or you came by the car?”

3 Lastly, you are noticing how we are asking “You are noticing?” and not “Are you noticing?” ?

Again, this has to do with syntax – in Marathi, there is no change in the word order or sentence structure when you change a statement to a question – it’s only marked by a rising intonation while speaking and a question mark at the end when in print e.g.:

Tula ice cream avadta? (Do you like ice cream?)
Tula ice cream avadta. (You like ice cream.)

So when your Marathi friend emails you “You like orange pants with purple frill” – the odds are she only wants to know whether you do, and forgot to add the question mark. It’s less likely she’s accusing you of questionable taste. (Although what made her ask to begin with is something to think about.)

In a more formal context, we do use the particle ‘ka’ to indicate something is a question e.g.:

Tula ice cream avadta ka? (Do you like ice cream?)

Thankfully, in the written form, this will hardly be mistaken for a statement even when the question mark is missing. But then it comes with its own quirk – “ka” by itself can mean “or”.

Marathi speakers often tend to translate this literally and ask “You like ice cream or what?”

And then of course, there are other things that people never actually say, but we love to deliberately joke about. Like the diff-different ways in which English is spoken by var-various people, but not so much when they have two-two or even three-three Master’s degrees from foreign. Well, we all come with our own bag-baggage and lug-luggage of culture, and I am really loving it!

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  • Hey, you are making fun of Marathi people. Or what? Hahah, I love how you capture these little details! This is precisely the way it’s spoken. Some even use the “ka” like: “Are you coming ka?”

    Great job!

  • This is such a delightful article! Enjoyed it thoroughly. There is another peculiarity with indian languages which I don’t think is shared by other tongues – I refer to the delightful use of rhyme words – really don’t know what to call them – things like
    English – I don’t like chocolate
    Indian English – I don’t like chocolate-biclate
    English – Please don’t be late
    Indian English – Don’t be late-beat, ha?

  • Brilliant.
    Some I can remember…” Come no man” …a direct translation of “Ye na re”
    Similarly ” You are coming na” “Tu yenar aahe na”
    “He is not looking at me only” “To majhyakade pahatach nahi”

  • Good one, but I see this with other Indian languages also not just Marathi (e.g. : Kannada)..Nice compilation

  • Mayur: At times I’m guilty of that myself. I shouldn’t be doing it ka? 😉

    Shail, Yochi: Thanks; glad you liked it! 🙂

    Naren: Thanks! Yes, my draft included “rhyme-bim” and “H-I-Zey-K” 😉 Also, how at times people say “they” to refer to an elderly (but just ONE) third person to show respect 🙂
    “Oh my father couldn’t come; they had work.” I edited it considerably to keep it within the reader’s attention span 😉

    Vivek: Thanks! And yes to all 🙂

    Thanks for reading, guys!


  • that was very nice .i would like to add some more.maybe you will notice it.

    Marathi speakers especially from the Konkan have the habit for saying ” Ani mag kai zhale ? ” which actually means ” And guess what happened next ” before describing any event .That is literally translated to ” And then what happens , ”

    Also in spoken Marathi ,many people end their sentences with a ” na ” for example , ” Mi tula sangat hoto na ” , which is used as a nasal sound, to assert a fact or a point.that is literally translated as ” i told you ,no “.We tend to add the word ” no ” after such sentences .

  • Superb…
    I too often use Marathi English!! Comes to me naturally…unless I take some effort to speak proper English. I guess thats because we are taught to think in our mother tongue and then unconsciously translate into English.
    Brilliant post. When I started reading, I presumed (wrongly so) that this post is going to be all about “Phathers” and “Shtories” of Marathi English…I am glad I was wrong.

  • I beg to differ here though. As far as I have been observing, I did not see this happening only with marathi speaking people. I am marathi myself but most of the people in my cloud are Gujju and believe me, they do the same thing and not only them, most of the Indians for that matter.
    Also, it’s noteworthy that girls seem to pickup the language far too quickly compared to guys. I am sure this has to do something with the way male and female brains function :S

  • You’re right in saying that this was not a grammar class. I hated those classes way back in school. But it is refreshing to see many of us deal with English the same way.

    We as Indians love to use our mother tongue in English, be it Hindi, Marati, Punjabi, kannada or whatever

  • Despite the name I am not a Maharashtrain but it didn’t stop me from enjoying your post tremendously. I am a journalist and love the English language, in all its global forms. You have encapusulated everyting I ever wanted to tell my American colleagues and friends about Indian English. You are a professional linguist no? 🙂

  • We, Marathis do not ‘buy’ train / movie tickets, we ‘remove’ them, a literal translation of the marathi ‘kaadh’.
    We do not disconnect phone connections, we ‘keep’ the phone, as in “Arrey, we are speaking for so long, I am now keeping the phone, chal bye”. Keep being the translation of “thevto / thevte”.

  • Another recent entrant is the use of ‘ch’ instead of the southie sounding ‘only’. My daughter’s friend telling her ‘Aga, I went to that shop na, but I didn’t find it-a-ch’. (Mala sapadlach nahi). My daughter’s imitation of her biology teacher in one of the schools here (“The birds are having the biks and the pheethers”).brought home to me another aspect, apart from the present continuous tense and the definite article: In Marathi, there are no short ‘a’ (aa) or ‘e’ (ay) sounds, no fricative ‘f’ or ‘v’, so if you learned English by writing down the ‘pronounciation’ in Marathi, you are gonna sound like him. “It is unphortunate that the childs (plural of child??) prepher to phorget the phundamentals, they phind it more easier to just ‘ratofy’ their books.(It’s better not to sit in phront oph such phellows.)

  • hahahahaha my mother in law talks like this actually my whole wife’s family talks like this 😉 good one!

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