Coming to terms with Indian English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
Fri Jun 24 13:12:11 UTC 2005

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Coming to terms with Indian English
M.J. Warsi

Indianization of the English language media has become a reality nowadays,
which cannot be overlooked. It is a bi-product of the Indian cultural
renaissance of the nineteenth century. English of the Indian sub-continent
can be traced back to the incident of December 31, 1600, when Queen
Elizabeth- I granted a charter to a few merchants of London, giving them a
monopoly of trade with India. English became the language of education in
India in 1835, and was made the official language in 1837. The Indian
variety of English news media is significantly different from the native
varieties, in choice of words, in imagery, and in nuances. Indian English
newspapers have more or less acquired an Indian flavour.  Braj Kachru who
has considered the process of Indianization of English in detail,
maintains that features of the English language here have been
considerably influenced by the Indian socio-cultural norms.  More often
than not word and meaning are interwoven into a complex network of
relationship. Therefore, to appreciate an expression fully, a decoder must
know not only what it refers to, but also where the boundaries are that
separate form from expressions of related meanings.  The importance of
recognizing the boundaries between lexical item can further be illustrated
by a brief look at polysemy: term that is used to describe a single word
from several different but closely, related meanings. In English, for
example, we can talk about the 'head' of a person, the 'head of a pin' or
the 'head of an organization'. Knowing that a single word denotes a
particular set of things in one language is, however, no guarantee that it
will denote the same set of things in another language.

Native speakers have a whole series of associations with certain items and
these are common to the society as whole. Those who are not familiar with
these socio-cultural norms cannot fully appreciate these associations.
These socio-culturally specific concepts reduce the communicative
affectivity of a message.

The use of native words makes an interesting study. A close look at Indian
words used in leading English newspapers reveals that they are drawn
mainly from two sources; Hindi-Urdu, and regional languages. Interpolation
of indigenous items, especially where there are no near-equivalents, is a
dominating phenomenon of the language of English newspapers. Words like
hawala, lathicharge, khadi, satyagraha etc. are among the commonest of
terms used in English newspapers.

If we look at the examples, the preference is for simple adaptable
expressions like (a) We have come to ask for Insaf; (b) Vote for Vikas,
nothing else; (c) Bandh disrupts life in valley; (d) Mulayam: An officer
in the family of Jawans, (e) I am protecting Izzat for everybody; (f)
Dumpy may have the reputation of being Goonda; (g) Dharna against the
construction of Tehri dam; (h) Chandraswami gave Ashirvad to bride; (i)
Bandh cripples life in Darjeeling; G) A group of Sadhus to campaign
against Pilot; (k) Amarnath Yatra from August 16. The notion of
timelessness again goes in favour of these expressions because the mind
easily selects it as a suitable label from the billions of traces stored
in our minds. It also indicates that the management of the language of
these newspapers is mainly based on the principles of accuracy, digging up
of facts, and thoroughness of news coverage. These newspapers have
employed different practical mechanisms to make its language simpler,
adaptable, and highly communicative. Loan words: The most common mechanism
is a straight borrowing from Indian languages. The news editors of English
dailies prefer these Indian words because of their brevity and wide
currency. Examples: dharma, fatwa, hindutva, hawala, bandh, manuwad,
hartal, ashirvad, burkha, talaq, mazedar, swad.

Borrowing: Borrowing to a greater extent is responsible for blending of
expressions. The process of blending is used to nativise the expression. A
foreign word along with the native word reduces the foreignness of
expression, and thus becomes naturalized in course of time. Kachru
observes that there are structural and contextual constraints on blended
items. For example, in expressions such as lathi-charge, the Indianised
element lathi cannot be substituted by another Indian expression danda.
Nowhere in English newspapers has an expression like danda-charge been

However, there are certain blended expressions where elements are
interchangeable. For example, police station or police-thana is equally
acceptable. Such expressions have become an integral part of the language
of the news media. Blended expressions are Perfect swad; Police chowki;
Police thana; Mazdoor Union; Meat masala ;Rice thali; Complete bandh;
Conditional samjhauta;; Kitab Centre; Railway fatak; American Kutta;
Political pandit and Block pramukh. Loan Translation: Loan translation is
a linguistic process that helps in lexical innovations in the language. An
analysis of the vocabulary of English newspapers reveals that loan
translation helps in coining new expressions in imitation of Indian
languages. For example, the expression like dumb millions, your good name,
any service for me, rice-eating ceremony, bride showing, village elders,
marriage season, etc. are literal translations of Indian expressions, and
they have become expressions in the English news media.

Loan Creation: The mechanism of loan creation has also helped the language
of English news media to fashion new expressions to match existing
demands. For example, the expressions like Goondaism, Nehru-vian
Socialism, Brahmanism, Mandalisation of politics, Hinduism, Manuwad or
Manuism, have been established in Indian English through the newspaper
usage. The language of English newspapers, which is the media for
communicating local, national, and international events, is therefore, a
fascinating area underlying the formation of new expression and styles,
which are intended to bring information to English news readers.

We may mention that our mental lexicon is highly organized and efficient.
Psycholinguistic research provides evidence that semantically related
items are stored together. Most scholars appear to agree that those items
are arranged in a series of associative networks and are possibly
organized in one large master file, and that there is a variety of
peripheral access file which contain information about spelling,
phonology, and syntax. News editors prefer all such expressions that can
easily be recognized and retrieved.

Thus, a lexicon item, which occurs most frequently, enhances the
communicability of expressions. Indian expressions with high frequency of
occurrence are therefore kept at the top of the pile in the minds of the
news editors. Recent usage is another variable, which increases the use of
these expressions in the language of English news media. The high
frequency of occurrence of Indian words attests our hypothesis that they
have enough semantic potentialities to communicate in the most accurate

The Writer is a Professor, University of California, Berkeley, USA.


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