Sunday, September 23, 2007

English, Indian style

Indian- English

(culled from the Globe and Mail and The Daily Telegraph)

"Binoo John, a 50-year-old Indian journalist, has compiled a collection of expressions found in Indian English. His book's title, Entry From Backside Only refers to a phrase commonly used on signposts to indicate the rear entrance of a building.

Mr. John was inspired by years of reading Indian newspaper reports of politicians "air-dashing" to a destination, "issueless" couples (those without children) and people "preponing" (bringing forward meetings). Such phrases are entrenched.

In India, a driver, when asked what he does, may refer to his occupation as "drivery." Housemaids on their way to buy vegetables say they are going "marketing." Receptionists ask "What is your good name?" before informing them that the boss has gone "out of station" (out of town) with his "cousin-brother" (male cousin). A government official urged farmers in Rajasthan to grow "herbs in their backsides" (backyards).

English is finally being claimed by Indians as their own, instead of a relic of the Raj."

According to John, "...economic prosperity has changed attitudes towards Indian English. Having jobs and incomes, and being noticed by the rest of the world, have made Indians confident, and the same confidence has attached itself to their English."

While I have never used the term to "grow herbs in one's backside", I have to confess to being quite partial to using the word "prepone". It does sound so much more efficient than "bring forward to", right? I also use, on occasion, the phrase "love marriage" which simply refers to a marriage that has not been arranged by one's parents. Another favorite expression of mine and many other Indians, is "pindrop silence". Infact I was using it quite happily in my conversations with Canadians until my children pointed out that the term is not common parlance here.

Indian-English is a sub-genre that has taken on a life of its own, the phraseology might not always make sense to a speaker of English in the west, but it will delight and entertain you! It even has its own dictionary these days:


jenclair said...

I love the variations of language in different cultures! Thanks for the links, Lotus!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Jenclair!

I do too! I especially love books where the author allows his/her characters to speak in the colloquial ( Chimananda Adichie's "Half of a Yellow Sun" and Thrity Umrigar's "THe Space Between Us" comes to mind.)

Radha said...

Indian-english is really bizzare at times if you're not used to hearing it that way :-)
Its so Indian to say "Where all did you go?" instead of "which places did you go to?". Or ending a sentence with "no" as in "You'll have dinner at home no?" :-)

Lotus Reads said...

HI, Radha!

So true! I say "Where all did you go" all the time! Also, when I ask for the time, I will say, "What is the time, please" but the sentence construct bewilders some people because they are so used to hearing, "Do you have the time"? :)

Sanjay said...

Lotus, I loved this post!! It is always fascinating to see how English has evolved within its former colonies and places were it is not the native tongue. I remember using some of the Indian-English expressions a few times when I was new here (lift instead of elevator) and after seeing the confused looks I lost that rather fast.

I have heard some of those terms but never heard of drivery or herbs in their backsides. I have heard reschedule being used but hardly ever prepone So while I have stopped using some of these words I do recall them now and those and your post made me smile.

I do remember one of my teachers saying "Please open the doors and windows and let the atmosphere come in". It made me crack up even then, the teacher was Marathi and was doing a literal translation of the Marathi line. So perhaps Indian English might also have more regional flavors?

I think one of the most commonly heard that I recall is "jampacked" as is the train is jampacked as opposed to crowded. I am sure more will come to mind later.

I guess the book means Indian English has finally arrived even though it will be uniquely Indian, it must serve as a great point of interest for the Anthropologist in you?

Thank you for the wonderful links and for a post where once again we learn something new. :-)

Nyssaneala said...

That looks like a fun book! Having lived in America and Australia, and visited India and the UK, the variations in the English language, and the overlaps always fascinate me!

tanabata said...

Hehe! The variations of English are always fun to hear about. The Japanese also talk about 'love marriages' as opposed to arranged marriages although arranged ones aren't so popular anymore.
'prepone' is a great word. I may have to use if from now on. :P

Breeni said...

Really interesting! I'm surprised "pindrop silence" isn't used more widely. It seems to be a pretty common phrase to me. The terms are so colorful and interesting! (And a few made me giggle.)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay

Your writing tells me you have got American-English down pat! :) I'm having a very hard time shedding my Indian-English or maybe I just don't try hard enough? :)

Thanks for sharing what your teacher said. "Please open the doors and windows and let the atmosphere come in" is a gem, it's like you said, when you do a direct translation, it can come off sounding hilarious!

And I had to smile when you mentioned "jampacked", I use it all the time!

THanks for stopping by Sanjay!

Lotus Reads said...

@Nyssaneala ~ It's so true, every English-speaking country has its own variations on the language and it makes it so much fun to listen to and compare. We had cousins from Sydney staying with us last week and some of their expressions were priceless! For instance, (and you will be familiar with this probably) anytime they wanted to just relax or "chill" as we would call it here, they'd say they were "going troppo" or going tropical. Another great one was "liquid laugh" (to vomit). I collected a whole bunch of really cool Aussie expressions!

@Nat ~ lol, yes, do use "prepone" and raise a few eyebrows! :) "Arranged marriages" are still very popular in India, infact the "matrimonials" (advertisements in the matrimonial columns of the newspapers ) have their own lingo. Some day I might do a post on it! :)

@Breeni ~ Yes, "pindrop silence" sounds so familiar and apt doesn't it? This is why I used it so often, little did I realize it's not as common as I thought. I hadn't realized that "backbencher" ( a kid, usually a trouble maker, who sits at the back of the class) and "batchmate" (classmate) were also uniquely Indian terms!

david mcmahon said...

What a small world we live in. I just logged on to your site to tell you about this book.

No only because it's a great subject, but because the author and I are old friends and former colleagues.

And you've beaten me to the punch! Bravo!

Beenzzz said...

You're right about prepone. It does make more sense! In Guyana, a lot of the Indian folks have their own version of English. Of course, this was mixed in with African/English too. It certainly makes for a unique language that you can use around English speakers AND they won't know what you're talking about! :)

Booklogged said...

"Pindrop silence" is a great phrase and even if it's not common, it's easy to understand its meaning. Much more succinct than what I'm used to hearing - "so quiet you could hear a pin drop."

A Reader from India said...

Lotus, how do you manage to read and review such cool books as soon as they are published? A week or two after reading a review at your website, I find the same book reviewed by 'India Today' or 'Outlook' or even 'The Hindu'

Your post was lovely.

I vividly remember one of my teachers at school thundering 'PIN DROP SILENCE!' And yes, I used prepone very often too :-)

Lotus Reads said...

@David ~ Thank you so much for wanting to share this with me, I came across in the Social Studies column of our daily newspaper! I know Binoo John is a journalist at "Outlook", were you there, too, David? It's a brilliant magazine and I visit their online site whenever time permits.

@Beenzzz ~ You should do a post on the peculiarities of Guyanese-English , I am sure it will be fascinating! I love the Guyanese accent too, it is a little sing-songish, isn't it? Or am I mixing it up with the Trinidadian accent?

@Booklogged ~ Who knows, with globalization, "pindrop silence" just might become a widely used phrase the world over in the next few years! :)

@A Reader ~ Thank you! I generally look up the seasonal preview booklists of the big publishing houses and then, either pre-order my books with them or our local bookstore. I also look up Penguin India's list of "upcoming releases" and ask my mom or sister to buy books that interest me! :) I miss the "India Today", they don't feature their book review column online, do they?

ML said...

That is entertaining. I was laughing when I read the first bit of your post - "herbs in their backsides" :)

Happy Reader said...

Great post, Lotus! I remember reading this article in Telegraph.
'prepone' - I used it all the time. Nowadays, Anytime I want to say it, I bite my tongue and say "advance" instead..Habits die hard! LOL :) Should be an interesting read

Nix said...

lol... I took oodles of pics of funny sign posts when I was on holiday!
AND let's not even get into "Mac speak" ie Goan/Catlik talk! ;)

Lotus Reads said...

@ml ~ I know, that was hilarious, wasn't it? :)

@Chitts ~ We had a friend visiting not too long ago and he kept referring to the boot of the car as a "dickey", it was so hard to keep from laughing until I remembered when we were growing up that is exactly what we would call it!

@nix ~ Was this on your latest trip to Japan? :) Funny you should mention "Mac speak", thanks to Joan of "See Joan Write", I did a post on Bombay catlik speak not too long ago. I found Joan's hilarious write-up much too hard to resist!

Nanditha Prabhu said...

That was an interesting post!I too use pin drop silence and prepone often.Never knew it had roots in Indian English. There might be many more phrases i use ,that belongs to the sub genre Indian English. I still remember , just adding "fying" as a suffix to malayalam words when I was in school , and escape being caught for not speaking in English. For example if I have to say ," some one is poking me" I would say " someone is kuthalfying me" .
I do love to read Indian writing in English.And I will surely pick up this book. Thank you for this wonderful review!

Bybee said...

This is great! I love "pindrop silence" as well.

I'm also a big fan of Konglish.

Pijush said...

This is a nice post.
"grow herbs in one's backside" LOLZ..

My english is also not that good :-(

Anonymous said...

It was interesting reading this post...Its really wonderful how we have adjusted this language to suite our needs...It really has taken a life of its own and lighten up any kind of situation...lovely reading!

Lotus Reads said...

@Nanditha ~ Lovely to see you here! Check out the links to the Indian Dictionaries on my post and you will be amazed at the number of words/phrases we use that actually have their genesis in Indian-English, I was quite taken aback! lol@ "fying" many of your words, I think I used to do that too in school! Oh, those were fun days!

@Bybee ~ Thank you for stopping by. I would love to hear your favorite "Konglish" terms!

@Pijush ~ Hello! So glad you dropped in! Nah, your English is fine!

@Kalyan ~ Thank you for the visit and welcome! When you consider the population of India and our huge diasporic populations all over the world, Indian-English could soon become a world language! A heady thought, isn't it? :)

Andi said...

This book sounds SO interesting! Thanks for the heads-up!

Gentle Reader said...

I love this kind of thing. Will check out your links, too. Thanks!

heather (errantdreams) said...

How awesome! I love nifty linguistic things like this.

I remember growing up listening to my mother talk to relatives on the phone in Dutch. She'd be going along in words that I didn't recognize, and then "refrigerator" or "microwave" would be tossed into the middle. I was always fascinated listening to this.

s.H.a.S.h.I said...

ya indian english is strange at times ... but many countries have their own modification of contemporary English.. like american english or australian english...
And so india does have too... Im proud of this 'Hinglish' :)
btw thanks for those lovely comments in my blog... u have great blog.. lotta literature.. which is kinda alien to me..

Parth said...

The term "Issueless" is ingeniously creative :-)

starry nights said...

Lotus I just remembered that i am guilty of saying love marriage and pin drop silence. and actually many other words and have been corrected by my children. sounds like a fun book to read.Thanks for your kind words, I feel better already.

Olivia said...

I like the way non-native or mixed speakers view language usage, and adapt English accordingly. Sometimes they make it more efficient than it is because they apply rules to it, where rules do not exist or where we are not original enough to modify, and then we see our lumbering old language with new eyes.

I mean, prepone - indeed why didn't postpone have an opposite already? And pindrop silence is much more handy than the long phrase we use.

Lotus Reads said...

@Andi ~ You're welcome, I haven't read the book yet so I am not sure what sort of a read it will be, but I thought the subject made for good blog fodder.

@GR ~ You're welcome!

@Heather ~ Did you end up learning any Dutch from your mom? I love languages too, just wish I had a flair for learning new ones.

@Shashi ~ Thank you for returning my visit. I love "Hinglish" too but it's not to be confused with Indian-English. Don't worry about literature being alien to you, it's not everyone's cup of tea! :)

@Parth ~ I love the word "issueless". I also enjoy the creativity of "backbencher", "timepass", "use and throw" and so many others!

@Starry ~ So very nice to see you up and about in the blogosphere and to know you are feeling better. May you continue to heal well!

@Olivia ~ Sometimes they (non-native speakers) make it (English) more efficient than it is because they apply rules to it, where rules do not exist or where we are not original enough to modify, and then we see our lumbering old language with new eyes You said it so well, thank you!!!

diyadear said...

ha ha that was an interesting post.. yeah many interesting slangs we find in indian english :)
i think i better be careful when i speak English here.. :)

gs said...

hello lr
your wife's sister's husband is your "co-brother".when you attend a wedding lunch the host comes to you and asks you to eat "shamelessly"(without any restraint)
something has gone ask the person for the reason.he starts off"why because",.
every ethnic group has its own way of pronouncing english words.the bengalis will say "shit" for sit."breeze" for bridge and "bridge" for breeze.there are so many more verbal distortions that quoting them can run into english colleagues used to get dumbfounded when an indian would come up and try to talk like an englishman.we understood them but my colleagues could not make out head or tail of what they said.that is english with an indian accent.

Tara said...

I just love this post! Thanks for bringing a smile to my face.

Cereal Girl said...

I will definitely check out the links. I have a thing for post-colonial literature in general, Indian post-colonial in particular. I don't speak any Asian languages but I don't think you have to to enjoy watching the language evolve. English's great strength, from it's origins, is the way it absorbs new vocabulary and concepts from international sources.

On another note, I don't see why you should stop using a pithy phrase like "pindrop silence," because it's not common in Canada. To speak only in pre-fab idioms and cliches would be a shame indeed.

Lotus Reads said...

@diya ~ Nah, it's OK, be yourself! I have found people actually like our rather strange way of speaking English! :)

@gs ~ Hi! you have highlighted some really lovely Indian-English speak. Yes, each region in India puts its own spin on English and the variations are too many to list! And then, as you have rightly pointed out, add the various accents and you get quite a mix!

@Tara ~ Thank you for stopping by to read it...glad to have made you smile :)

@Cereal Reader ~ Yes, you make a good point...I love the variations, it's what keeps English vibrant, always changing and alive! If we all spoke a homogenized version of English it would be rather dull indeed. Thanks so much for your comment!