20 June 2009

Do you speak Indlish?

This post was inspired by an email I received which I’m copying here:

Dear Madam,

This is with reference to our telephonic talks. I am awaiting the details of the programme as understood by me during conversation. Please do the needful and oblige.


Dr. CS

This is a true masterpiece of Indlish!

The English spoken in India has its own particular charm and flavour and is peppered with local colloquialisms and idioms, old-fashioned figures of speech, as well as some innovations of its own.

Some examples of expressions you'll only hear in India:

“I’m here only.”

“I’ll come today itself.”

“It got over at 12:00.”

“He came today morning.”

“I go to temple thrice a week.”

“I’m a localite.”

There’s a book on ‘Indlish’ written by an Indian journalist, Jyoti Sanyal. He explains that the English used in India has been shaped by its Victorian legacy. Expressions which were used by the officials of the East India Company are still in use, like “Please do the needful and oblige.” Newspapers are also full of old-fashioned expressions and phrases. Sanyal gives the example of a newspaper article about ‘miscreants’ who ‘waylaid’ and ‘relieved’ unsuspecting women of their gold chains. In a travel review, I once read: “The manager informed us that our bamboo cottage would be ready in a few minutes and offered us coolants.”

The English used in official documents is even worse. A good example comes from my rental contract: “Lessee – which term shall unless repugnant to the context mean and include …” Further on it continues: “And whereas the lessor is desirous of giving on lease…”

Indian English also has it’s own creative innovations:

‘Updatation’ is an update

‘Upgradation’ is an upgrade

‘Localite’ is a local

‘Prepone’ is the opposite of postpone

Communication can be confusing in a country where cakes are called pastries, a dress is clothing, people ask you to off the light and on the fan, backside is not your rear end but the rear of a building, and people don’t die, they expire (like a gym membership or credit card). People also shift and not move house. And just to make things more confusing for foreigners, a cover is a bag or envelope, vessels are not ships but dishes, a hotel is actually a restaurant and a parcel is not a package to be sent by post but a take-away.

Come to India, and you’re likely to be asked what your ‘good name’ is. Someone may tell you that their head is ‘paining’ or that they have ‘loose motions’ (diarrhea). Be sure to ‘click some snaps’ and don’t forget to let others know that you’ll be ‘out of station’. You’ll also see many signs for ‘suiting and shirting’ and ‘boarding and lodging’. You’ll also notice that the cost of a cup of tea is ‘very less’.

Then there are the differences in pronunciation which can make communication a challenge. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked by waiters at the end of a meal if I wanted to order a desert. Then there was the time I was looking for 4th Cross (the streets in Bangalore are classified by a myriad of ‘mains’ and ‘crosses’. “1st Cross is there Madam!” is the reply I got. “No, not 1st Cross, 4th Cross,” I repeated. “First or Fort? You are confusing me Madam!” The tendency to pronounce ‘th’ as a hard ‘t’ sound common in many Indian languages also transforms third into ‘turd’, thin into ‘tin’ and thanks into ‘tanks’. And if things were not confusing enough, in South India ‘years’ are ears, ‘yearrings’ are earrings, and USA is pronounced You Yes Yay.

Indians also have a deep love for acronyms. They’ll tell you about the VVIP who spent a week in ICU with high BP and a persistent UTI. Or they’ll complain that the OTG broke down but luckily they had an AMC. A student might say that after his MSC he wants to work for a BPO or MNC. And if you want to phone home, don’t worry, there are PCOs everywhere where you can make ISD and STD calls.

On restaurant menus, you’ll often find creative spellings. I found some brilliant examples as I was having lunch today in a small ‘hotel’. The ‘desert’ menu proposed a variety of ice cream flavours, including: veneela, chock light, butter swatch and block current!

Indian English can be a bit confusing (and at times amusing) for the outsider, but the colloquialisms, idioms, old-fashioned usages and innovations of the language are part of the charm of India and what makes India, well, India.

As Indians say: “We are like that only!”


Anonymous said...

What cracks me up is

Anonymous said...

A signboard I read on a store
"Ladies bottoms-only Rs.25 per pair"
It meant pants..

Shubha said...

Try this experiment.Next time you want to ask for 1st cross.
Say"where is FUST cross?" and you will be given perfect directions.

shubha said...

Oh I remembered one more.
When they are getting married,they say"my marriage is fixed."

Anonymous said...

What about 'exactly and approximately'? As in "the train leaves at exactly and approximately 3:00, Madam.".

roma said...

Very amusing indeed...I didn't realize most of the things you've mentioned. I cant stop laughing :)

Nina said...

I remember one place had "burgarazzas" - I think those were burgers. My brother and I (who were raise in India)laughed so hard we cried.

Felix Jackson said...

there was this restaurant which sold "snakes". (what they actually meant was snacks) :p

Sohan said...

Not to mention cutely creative abbreviations, like "calci" (CAL-SEE) for calculator, "senti" for sentimental, and "apti" for aptitude test.

Lighthouse said...

I am not an NRI. most of the phrases mentioned above are quite common in India. please tell what should be the equivalent correct usages. then these post will become most useful. thanks in advance. you know number of English speaking people in India is bigger than the population of Britain. knowledge of English language gives us an edge in this era of globalization.

Anonymous said...

A friend was telling me once when I used to work in Bangalore, "My parents are so carrying." I got alarmed and asked, "What are they carrying?" She meant that her parents are so caring. :-)

Btw, I am from India. Thanks for the lovely posts on this blog.