indian English

From one extreme to the other

Indian English month continues with a guest post from freelance writer, blogger and movie critic Amodini Sharma.


The many dialects of Indian English are as varied as the country itself. In my own family, there’s my Punjabi uncle who will ignore verbs, and vowel sounds will disappear down his throat never to be heard of (or from) again, as in “Trnto good” (Toronto is good). Then there are other relatives of mine who are verbose and unfailingly flowery in their emails, generally ending with “Kindly do the needful”, and I have to restrain myself from letting them know that needs are subjective.

Verbosity in the English language is a disease which affects many Indians. I have listened to speeches by elderly gentlemen who droned on and on, heaping praise upon individuals, comparing them to various parts/types of a flower, e.g. “her countenance is like a lotus”. Do note that such phrases will generally serve to bring up already digested-food, and as such, must never be repeated within earshot of another human!

The younger folk have understandably rebelled. They shorten things. Nieces and nephews email and sign off with a cheery “luv”, because apparently vowels cost money now. When I am in India, my ears are subjected to, and scarred by, the spoken “OMG” (Oh my God) and “TTFN” (Tata Tata for now). Yes, I want to tell them, life is short, but it’s not that short.

College-speak has resulted in some very interesting interpretations of English words. A “cutting” of chai or tea, has come to mean a small amount of it. An intelligent person would be “fundoo” or the “one with fundas” as in the “the one with the knowledge”. Anything “time-pass” is entertaining, so if a film is “time-pass” you’d better go into the theatre with plenty of popcorn.

Since Hindi and English co-exist, they have spawned the very popular Hinglish. It’s Hindi with a smattering of English or vice-versa. An easy way to speak it is to end each Hindi verb with “ing”, as in “are you khana pakao-ing?”. Khana in Hindi means food, and pakana means to cook, so that would mean “are you cooking food?”. Of course that is very different from “I am so pakao-ed”. The phrase, if taken literally, would mean “I am so cooked”, but is generally taken to mean “I am bored out of my skull”. In Hinglish one has a choice of suffixes, so -fying is also added, as in, “stop funda maro-fying” (stop going on about your “fundas” or knowledge).

Now, I am in the US; I have parents who speak in strongly-accented Indian English, and kids whose English is as Yankee as it gets. Conversation between my parents and my kids is generally a great source of entertainment for me and my husband. When the weekly phone call goes through and it is time for the grandkids and grandparents to speak to each other, we switch on the speakerphone, lay back and listen (and laugh). We would get popcorn too (because really, these conversation are so “time-pass”), except for the fact that we are split as to who should do the actual popping!

My son is now also developing his own brand of English; I call it “less is more”. Conversations with him go thusly:

Me: “Why haven’t you finished your broccoli?”

Him: “Because.”

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Amodini Sharma


  • However you look at the way the Indian people speak in their own country, or indeed in their adopted country, you need to understand that they have not “grown with the times”. Their English is from Colonial times and has remained, almost untouched, since then. The age of the internet has changed their style some what but not completely. Because, as a response to a question such as: why don’t you finish your broccholi? is not modern at all. I used to say this some 60 years ago and I am British. I seem to remember a funny “book” the Indian English – English Indian English Dictionary it could be quite funny sometimes to check out what you were saying to the people and vis-versa.

  • I really enjoyed the post.I have some experience talking to Indians inEnglish and had hard time understanding them.After the Indian english month I will understand more.I also would like to add that some Indians speak very fast and it gives me more troubles understand ing them.

  • As a teacher of spoken English in India, I often note with amusement the surprise on the faces of my students when told that what is generally expected as English by their generation would be a foreign tongue to a speaker outside the subcontinent or indeed the country, as confirmend by Alla her post. They are keen to be understood by their international customers, colleagues and associates, and the awareness session on Hinglish always makes for a lot of eye openers. But how much unlearning of HInglish and learning of English happens is a matter of conjecture for me. Though English school likes mine create awareness, their overall impact is miniscule in the larger picture. Hinglish or Indian English is growing richer and finding firmer grounds all the time.

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