Michael Finance Law
Professional Teacher
Indian English: what to make of it

This may be a sensitive topic so I hope I don't offend anyone.

I don't know what to make of Indian English.  To what extent should I, as a native speaker of UK English, recognise it as an equal variant of English?  Are there standard differences in grammar and the usage of common words?  To what extent is it influenced by Hindi or other Indian languages?  Have those influences shaped Indian English in what is now an established way?  Or is Indian English just more relaxed about some grammar issues and the usage of vocabulary?

Or is the EFL industry in the grip of political correctness with regard to Indian English and unable to accept that it is not really a standard variant of English?  

I have to admit I could do some research on this but I haven't.  I'm interested in seeing any personal perspectives first because many people here have a lot of experience that I value.

Thanks for reading.

Apr 5, 2017 3:31 PM
Comments · 9

Michael, India has a large community of people communicating in Engish among themselves. It is working language of some institutions (including governmental and educational), newspapers are published in English by Indians and for Indians, and note that majority of Indians don't speak Hindustani as their first language. So I guess both Hindi and English are used as lingua franca by some:)

In such situation certain conventions inevitably develop, unless the community is strongly motivated to follow British or another standard (or even in this case).

Besides this, I'm personally interested in learnign how to speak English in such a way, that Indians can understand me with ease. Two Russian learners of English (or a Russian + a German) normally have less problem understanding each other than one of those Russians and an Englishman. Learnign something about peculiarities of local English... even the most broken variety seems reasonable to me.

April 5, 2017

Hello Mr. Chambers,

As someone who has lived in India, I can tell you that most of the prestigious schools teach British English, however, when it comes to conversations, Indian English has a lot of implied meaning or words that we use on a daily basis that are close but not exactly how other people might use them. We have gradually integrated English into our daily native languages and so words have slightly altered meanings.

In terms of whether some board considers/should consider it a standard variant, it has practically no implications to anyone. Something that is nationally/regionally accepted might not be internationally recognized yet but as the presence of people who are not ready to change their English when in a different country and when people from different countries get to experience English of Indian people, I think that that's when the change will start.

All that being said, I personally do not think that Indian English is so drastically different from British English (It being the basis of how we learned) that it should be recognized as a different variant of English.

April 5, 2017

Hi Michael,

While Indian English can sometimes be difficult to understand for many of us who don't speak it, I don't have an issue with it. We obviously cannot expect a group of people to adopt a language brought to them by a colonial power exactly as the colonizers would speak it; seeing it influenced by what they were already speaking was inevitable.

I know it's often frowned upon in certain English-speaking countries for various reasons, but just like any other form of English, it's treated on equal footing by linguists because it's a fully comprehensible form of English that is understood by a significant population of the planet, and who am I to question the judgment of those who study languages for a living?

As for what its status should be, I think that, as time moves forward, it'll gradually gain more acceptance among other English-speaking countries as an acceptable norm, especially as India rises and starts projecting its strength globally. Hey, it worked for American English, right?

April 5, 2017

@Jerry, it's in jest, but there is some truth to it. There was a time when the British frowned upon American English and considered it inferior (and there might still be some Brits who do so today, although most Brits who declare American English as inferior do so jokingly). Now, American English is acceptable worldwide thanks in large part to the role that the United States has played (and still does play) around the world.

Indian English could see the same path toward acceptance as India's power and prestige around the world rises.

April 6, 2017

I don't really take seriously what people state on italki. On italki everyone is a native English speaker. Thinking of Indian people I know personally, relatively few of them claim English to be their native language and those few speak it without that typical Indian accent. Others have other native languages. Therefore, my understanding is that most Indian people speak English as a second language, just like the rest of us whose English is fully understandable but definitely not native. I could be wrong about this though.

Also, all Indian people I know, both native and non-native English speakers, speak and write English with correct grammar, as far as I can judge. It may have something to do with them being more educated than average though.

April 5, 2017
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