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INDIAN ENGLISHFormerly also Indo-English. Short forms IndE, IE. The English language as used in the Republic of India, a South Asian nation and member of the COMMONWEALTH. The term is widely used but is a subject of controversy; some scholars argue that it labels an established variety with an incipient or actual standard, others that the kinds of English used in India are too varied, both socially and geographically, and often too deviant or too limited, to be lumped together as one variety. They also argue that no detailed description has been made of the supposed variety and that the term is therefore misleading and ought not to be used. However, the length of time that English has been in India, its importance, and its range, rather than militating against such a term, make the term essential for an adequate discussion of the place of the language in Indian life and its sociolinguistic context. An estimated 30m people (4% of the population) regularly use English, making India the third largest English-speaking country in the world. Beyond this number is a further, unquantifiably large range of people with greater or less knowledge of the language and competence in its use. English is the associate official language of India, the state language of Manipur (1.5m), Meghalaya (1.33m), Nagaland (0.8m), and Tripura (2m), and the official language of eight Union territories (at the time of writing): the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; Arunachal Pradesh; Chandigarh; Dadra and Nagar Haveli; Delhi; Lakshadwip; Mizoram; and Pondicherry. It is one of the languages of the three language formula proposed in the 1960s for educational purposes: state language, HINDI, and English. It is used in the legal system, pan-Indian and regional administration, the armed forces, national business, and the media. English and Hindi are the link languages in a complex multilingual society, in which English is both a library language and a literary language. The National Academy of Letters/Sahitya Akademi recognizes Indian English literature as a national LITERATURE.


The first speaker of English to visit India may have been an ambassador of ALFRED the Great. The ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE states that in AD 884, Alfred sent an envoy to India with gifts for the tomb of St Thomas. His name appears in one later record as Swithelm, in another as Sigellinus. After this, there was little if any contact until the 16c, when European commercial and colonial expansion began. In 1600, English traders established the East India Company, and in 1614 James VI wrote to the Emperor Jehangir, accrediting Sir Thomas Roe as ambassador to the Moghul court:
James, by the Grace of Almightie God, the Creator of Heauen and Earth, King of Great Britaine, France and Ireland … To the high and mightie Monarch the Great Mogor, King of the Orientall Indies, of Chandahar, of Chismer and Corazon … Greeting. We hauing notice of your great fauour toward Vs and Our Subiects, by Your Great Firma to all Your Captaines of Riuers and Offices of Your Customes, for the entertaynment of Our louing Subiects the English Nation with all kind respect, at what time soeuer they shall arriue at any of the Ports within Your Dominions, and that they may haue quiet Trade and Commerce without any kind of hinderance or molestation.

The use of English dates from the trading ‘factories’ started by the Company: Surat (1612), Madras (1639–40), Bombay (1674), Calcutta (1690). European traders at that time used a form of PORTUGUESE, current since Portugal had acquired Goa in 1510. Missionaries were important in the diffusion of English in the 18c: schools such as St Mary's Charity Schools were started in Madras (1715), Bombay (1719), and Calcutta (1720–31). By the 1830s, an influential group of Indians was impressed with Western thought and culture, and its scientific advances, and wished to encourage the learning of English as a means through which Indians could gain a knowledge of such things. In a long official controversy over the medium of education for Indians, the Anglicists supported the transplant theory and the Orientalists the nativist theory. Thomas B. Macaulay, a member of the Supreme Council of India, settled the question in favour of English in an official Minute (1835):
To sum up what I have said, I think it clear that we are not fettered by the Act of Parliament of 1813; that we are not fettered by any pledge expressed or implied; that we are free to employ our funds as we choose; that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing; that English is better worth knowing than Sanscrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanscrit or Arabic; that neither as the languages of law, nor as the languages of religion, have the Sanscrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our engagement; that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars; and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.… We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions who we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

In 1857, the first three western-style universities were established at Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. Allahabad and Punjab (the latter now in Lahore, Pakistan) were added by the end of the 19c. By 1928, English was accepted as the language of the élite, and after independence in 1947, its diffusion increased. However, because IndE is essentially a contact language, convergence with Indian languages and socio-cultural patterns have resulted in many processes of Indianization.


There are three major variables for IndE: proficiency in terms of acquisition; regional or mother tongue; and ethnic background. In IndE there is a cline from educated IndE (the acrolect) to pidginized varieties (BASILECTS) known by such names as Boxwalla(h) English, Butler English, Bearer English or Kitchen English, and Babu English. The regional and mother-tongue varieties are often defined with reference to the first language of the speaker (Bengali English, Gujarati English, Tamil English, etc.) or in terms of a larger language family (Indo-Aryan English, Dravidian English). In this sense, there are as many Indian Englishes as there are languages in India. There are, however, shared characteristics which identify IndE speakers across language specific varieties. One variety, ANGLO-INDIAN English, is distinctive, because it emerged among the offspring of British servicemen and lower-caste Indian women, and is sustained among other things by a nationwide system of long-established English-medium private schools known as Anglo-Indian schools. Generally, however, when IndE is discussed, the term refers to the variety at the upper end of the spectrum, which has national currency and intelligibility and increasingly provides a STANDARD for the media, education, and pan-Indian communication. In grammar and spelling, standard BrE continues to have influence.


(1) IndE is rhotic, /r/ being pronounced in all positions. (2) It tends to be syllable-timed, weak vowels being pronounced as full vowels in such words as photography and student. Word stress is used primarily for emphasis and suffixes are stressed, as in readiness. Distinctive stress patterns occur in different areas: available is often stressed in the north on the ante-penultimate, in the south on the first syllable. (3) The alveolar consonants /t, d/ are retroflex. (4) The fricatives , ð/ are aspirated /t, d/, so that three of those sounds like ‘three of dhose’; /f/ is often pronounced as aspirated /p/, as in ‘phood’ for food. (5) In such words as old, low the vowel is generally /o/. (6) Among northern (Indo-Aryan) speakers, consonant clusters such as /sk, sl, sp/ do not occur in initial position, but have an epenthetic vowel, as in ‘iskool’ for school in the Punjab and ‘səkool’ in Kashmir. (7) The distinction between /v/ and /w/ is generally neutralized to /w/: ‘wine’ for both wine and vine. (8) Among southern (Dravidian) speakers, non-low initial vowels are preceded by the glides /j/ (as in ‘yell, yem, yen’ for the names of the letters l, m, n) and /w/ (as in ‘wold’ for old and ‘wopen’ for open). (9) South Indians tend to geminate voiceless intervocalic obstruents, as in ‘Americ-ca’. Because gemination is common in Dravidian languages, double consonants in written English are often geminated: ‘sum-mer’ for summer and ‘sil-lee’ for silly. (10) Distinct kinds of pronunciation serve as SHIBBOLETHS of different kinds of IndE: Bengalis using /b/ for /v/, making bowel and vowel HOMOPHONES; Gujaratis using /dʒ/ for /z/, so that zed and zero become ‘jed’ and ‘jero’; speakers of Malayalam making temple and tumble near-homophones.

A large number of IndE speakers, sometimes referred to as speakers of General Indian English (GIE), have a 17-vowel system (11 monophthongs and 6 diphthongs): /iː/ as in bead, /i/ as in this, /eː/ as in game, /ɛ/ as in send, /æ/ as in mat, /ɑː/ as in charge, /ɒ/ as in shot, /oː/ as in no, /ʊ/ as in book, /uː/ as in tool, and /ə/ as in bus; /ai/ as in five, /ɔi/ as in boy, /aʊ/ as in cow, /ɪə/ as in here, /eə/ as in there, and /ʊə/ as in poor.


There is great variety in syntax, from native-speaker fluency (the acrolect) to a weak command of many constructions (the basilect). The following represents a widespread middle level (the MESOLECT): (1) Interrogative constructions without subject/auxiliary inversion: What you would like to buy? (2) Definite article often used as if the conventions have been reversed: It is the nature's way; Office is closed today. (3) One used rather than the indefinite article: He gave me one book. (4) Stative verbs given progressive forms: Lila is having two books; You must be knowing my cousin-brother Mohan. (5) Reduplication used for emphasis and to indicate a distributive meaning: I bought some small small things; Why you don't give them one one piece of cake? (6) Yes and no as question tags: He is coming, yes?; She was helping you, no? (7) Isn't it? as a generalized question tag: They are coming tomorrow, isn't it? (8) Reflexive pronouns and only used for emphasis: It was God's order itself It was God's own order, They live like that only That is how they live. (9) Present perfect rather than simple past: I have bought the book yesterday.

Vocabulary: loans

LOANWORDS and LOAN TRANSLATIONS from other languages have been common since the 17c, often moving into the language outside India: (1) Words from Portuguese (almirah, ayah, caste, peon) and from local languages through Portuguese (bamboo, betel, coir, copra, curry, mango). (2) Words from indigenous languages, such as HINDI and Bengali. Some are earlier and more Anglicized in their spelling: anna, bungalow, cheetah, chintz, chit/chitty, dacoit, dak bungalow, jodhpurs, juggernaut, mulligatawny, pice, pukka, pundit, rupee, sahib, tussore. Some are later and less orthographically Anglicized: achcha all right (used in agreement and often repeated: Achcha achcha, I will go), basmati a kind of rice, chapatti a flat, pancake-like piece of unleavened bread, crore a unit of 10m or 100 lakhs (crores of rupees), goonda a ruffian, petty criminal, jawan a soldier in the present-day Indian Army, lakh a unit of 100,000 (lakhs of rupees), lathi a lead-weighted stick carried by policemen, masala spices, paisa a coin, 100th of a rupee, panchayat a village council, samo(o)sa an envelope of fried dough filled with vegetables or meat, Sri/Shri/Shree Mr, Srimati/Shrimati/Shreemati Mrs. (3) Words from Arabic and Persian through north Indian languages, used especially during the British Raj: dewan chief minister of a princely state, durbar court of a prince or governor, mogul a Muslim prince (and in the general language an important person, as in movie mogul), sepoy a soldier in the British Indian Army, shroff a banker, money-changer, vakeel/vakil a lawyer, zamindar a landlord. (4) Words taken directly from SANSKRIT, usually with religious and philosophical associations, some well known, some restricted to such contexts as yoga: ahimsa non-violence, ananda spiritual bliss, chakra a mystical centre of energy in the body, guru a (spiritual) teacher (and in the general language a quasi-revered guide, as in management guru), nirvana release from the wheel of rebirth, rajas a state of passion, samadhi spiritual integration and enlightenment, sattwa/sattva a state of purity, tamas a state of heaviness and ignorance, yoga a system of self-development, yogi one who engages in yoga. (5) CALQUES from local languages: dining-leaf a banana leaf used to serve food, cousin brother a male cousin, cousin sister a female cousin, co-brother-in-law one who is also a brother-in-law.

Vocabulary: hybrids, adaptations, and idioms

The great variety of mixed and adapted usages exists both as part of English and as a consequence of widespread code-mixing between English and especially Hindi: (1) HYBRID usages, one component from English, one from a local language, often Hindi: brahminhood the condition of being a brahmin, coconut paysam a dish made of coconut, goonda ordinance an ordinance against goondas, grameen bank a village bank, kaccha road a dirt road, lathi charge (noun) a charge using lathis, lathi-charge (verb) to charge with lathis, pan/paan shop a shop that sells betel nut and lime for chewing, wrapped in a pepper leaf, policewala a policeman, swadeshi cloth home-made cloth, tiffin box a lunch-box. (2) Local senses and developments of general English words: batch-mate a classmate or fellow student, body-bath an ordinary bath, by-two coffee (in the south) a restaurant order by two customers asking for half a cup of coffee each, communal used with reference to Hindus and Muslims (as in communal riots), condole to offer condolences to someone, England-returned used of one who has been to England, for educational purposes, a been-to, Eve-teasing teasing or harassing young women, Foreign-returned used of someone who has been abroad for educational purposes, four-twenty a cheat or swindler (from the number of a section of the Indian Penal Code), head-bath washing one's hair, interdine to eat with a member of another religion or caste, intermarriage a marriage involving persons from different religions of castes, issueless childless, military hotel (in the south) a restaurant where non-vegetarian food is served, out of station not in (one's) town or place of work, outstation (cheque) a cheque issued by a non-local bank, prepone the opposite of postpone, ration shop a shop where rationed items are available, undertrial a person being tried in a court of law. (3) Words more or less archaic in BrE and AmE, but used in IndE, such as dicky (the boot/trunk of a car), needful (‘Please do the needful, Sri Patel’), stepney a spare wheel or tyre, and thrice (‘I was seeing him thrice last week’). (4) The many idiomatic expressions include: to sit on someone's neck to watch that person carefully, and to stand on someone's head to supervise that person carefully; Do one thing, Sri Gupta There is one thing you could do, Mr Gupta; He was doing this thing that thing, wasting my time He was doing all sorts of things, wasting my time.


It is not easy to separate the use of English in India from the general multilingual flux. In addition to CODE-MIXING AND CODE-SWITCHING, other languages are constantly drawn into English discourse and English into the discourse of other languages, especially Hindi. In the English-language press, hybrid headlines are common: JNU karamcharis begin dharna (The Statesman, New Delhi, 12 May 1981), Marathwada band over pandal fire (The Indian Express, New Delhi, 9 May 1981), and 55 Jhuggis gutted (The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 3 May 1981). Matrimonial advertisements in the English-language press are equally distinctive: ‘Wanted well-settled bridegroom for a Kerala fair graduate Baradwaja gotram, Astasastram girl … subset no bar. Send horoscope and details’; ‘Matrimonial proposals invited from educated, smart, well settled, Gujarati bachelors for good looking, decent, Gujarati Modh Ghanchi Bania girl (25), B.A., doing the M.A. and serving’.