The Changing Face of Indian English

IndianEnglishEnglish language has left a dramatic effect on the Indian society post the Independence. Today, in every part of the country English is used in one or the other form. English words have deeply penetrated the Indian rural landscape as well. The fine assimilation with the folk language and the culture can make anyone wonder. The marketing tactics adopted by popular brands and corporates, which are capable of sweeping the human psyche especially that of the children, seems to have played the biggest role in making English as the most familiar language in India. Most of the Indians still might not understand or speak English but majority of them are familiar with several words which have become part of their daily conversation. Pardon me if their accent makes the English words sound weird to an average English speaker.

Earlier English has been a language of the elite and of governance. Today it is graduating to the next level and has begun to be the second common language in India while first being the local in any part of the country. However, it will still take time to become the second mainstream language to the lowest middle class. In India, a well-educated person is supposed to speak and understand English. Ironic it may sound but true. There is a valid reason behind this. Eventually Indians have come to believe that their nation’s prosperity, as well as their own, is wholly dependent upon learning English. If they are to be believed, this gives them an upper hand or great advantage over those who do not know it. Nevertheless slowly the effect of this advantage is diluting. The number of English knowing people are fast increasing in the country.

Not to worry since it is a good sign as English has begun to mix with vernaculars. As a result English language as we speak it today in India is far different from the English spoken in the West. To get a sense, we can recall a recent South Indian hit song “Why this Kolavari Kolavari di”. The song underlines the Indianized English influence. It is not surprising that hundreds and thousands of words from vernaculars have learned to live with English tongue, or the other way round.

Academic challenges

Teaching English in India has its basic challenges as teachers in schools and colleges are walking on the same old path. Their focus is still teaching it the old way. Though it is good, it does not meet the expectations of the students who want to go up on the learning curve. This problem mainly exists in the government and remote schools. In the tier 1 and tier 2 cities, the teaching of English has evolved significantly as new methods are being adopted. Children begin to learn it from the start. Teaching tenses is not done in the traditional way. Isn’t it a dramatic shift? If not, it certainly is the effect of the evolution of languages which can be seen in any part of the globe. A language does not have to remain the same. If it does, it restricts, subsides and eventually becomes a dead language like the Sanskrit or the Latin.

Confused between the US and the UK

In India, we follow British standards for English especially for aphorisms, acronyms and spellings. But this rule mainly applies in the government departments. Private sector is heavily inclined to the US English, since the private sector gets most of its business from their USA clients and customers. And customer is king, as the business veterans say. Our people mainly in the IT industry has to keep their tongues and spellings in sync with those from America. This big change is the result of the BPO and offshore product development boom. It wouldn’t be surprising if tomorrow the US English becomes a de facto standard even in the government circles. However, it is too early to say. Indian students are often confused with the spellings used in both the Englishes.

Only about 30% can speak English

The statistics on English show that even today only 30% Indian can speak English. If it is true it is a huge number and a market for outsiders especially for the US and UK companies. These numbers might be inflated. But there is truth hidden in them since we have of late seen the rise of thousands of desi English authors. Chetan Bhagat is one of them. People read more English books in India than any other language books. In other words, the shift is taking us into a different future than our forefathers would have ever imagined hundred years ago. But Indianized English will, indeed, give us new identity. Inclusion of several Hindi and other Indian languages in the global English is an evidence. Believe it or not, words taken from Indian vernaculars will play huge role in the global English. Demographics favor this thought.

Social Media effect

In the extent of English in India, the Internet especially Social Media is playing a key role. Today’s youth wants to connect with others on popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or others. English is the common thread in all social networks. It is believed that English would be a dominant language even in the future on the popular Internet tools such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and WhatsApp, etc.

In essence, the above discussed trends give us a sense of the future we are going to have. However, only time will tell what our posterity is going to speak. If there is a time machine and if it can transport us into the future to help us see what our great grandsons and granddaughters are speaking, we might perhaps get surprises since the changes are happening at a great pace. Especially social and political influences are primary factors coupled with commerce.


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