Characteristics of Indian English


Today I’m happy to post a guest article by community member and English teacher Jovana Čenejac. Jovana is involved with the development of Saundz English Pronunciation Software and was generous enough to share with us some of her expertise on the infrequently recognized Indian English,


Characteristics of Indian English

Since the early seventeenth century, when the East India Company established trading posts in the East Indies, English has been used widely throughout the country and quickly gained importance in the fields of economy, industry, education, as well as in India’s political and social life.

Consequently, the English language became the official language of India.

Apart from English, India’s other official language is Hindi. Another 18 other languages are recognized as regional languages, while at least 400 languages and hundreds more dialects are spoken on the subcontinent.

In the midst of such linguistic variety, English serves as a medium to unite people who do not share the same mother tongue. As mentioned above, the English language plays a pivotal role in administration, international communication and its usage enables technological progress.
What is Indian English?
The English spoken on the Indian subcontinent has some distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other international varieties of English such as RP (Received Pronunciation) and GA (General American).
These differences arose as a result of a long period during which English was in constant contact with languages spoken natively in India. As a result, the variety of English spoken on the subcontinent is frequently called Indian English.
Vocabulary differences
When it comes to words, English spoken in India has been under the dominant influences of the native languages of the subcontinent, which is reflected in its lexicon.English: Map showing Mountains and Rivers of India
Many words from Indian native languages have been introduced into the global English language spoken worldwide; some notable examplesbeing jungle, bungalow, punch, shawl, and verandah.
What is more, there are some words which are unique to speakers from India and instances of misunderstanding are not uncommon. Such words are airdash which is used for someone who is in a hurry, or badmash which denotes a hooligan.
Sometimes, speakers of English in India add a new level of meaning existing words. For instance, if a person wears a hi-tech outfit, it does not mean that they are equipped with the latest digital gadgets. Instead, a hi-tech outfit stands for fashionable and modern, following the latest trends. It often happens that a word from Hindi replaces an English word.
If you hear achchaain the middle of conversation led in English, do not be surprised. It only means good.
Differences in Pronunciation
Differences in vocabulary are not the only characteristics that make common communication more difficult. Certain differences in pronunciationare also distinguishable.
For instance, the speakers of English in India do not make any difference when it comes to the sound /v/, which is produced using one’s lower lips and top teeth; and sound /w/ in the production of which both lips are used. Also, the two th sounds /θ/ and /ð/ are usually replaced by /d/ and /t/.
The reason for this replacement is because these sounds do not exist in Indian languages and therefore, they are harder to master. Also, central vowels are /ə/ and /ʌ/ most commonly disregarded and replaced by the vowel /a/.
Another characteristic of the sounds used by speakers of English in India is the replacement of two adjacent vowels by a single long vowel followed by /r/sound. So beer becomes /bir/ and pear is pronounced as /per/.
Following all this, there is no doubt that the English language spoken on the subcontinent bears its own special traits. It is vibrant and follows its own rules of development.
However, in order to maintain proper communication and transmit the message in a correct manner, I believe that every speaker should try following the rules of the target language at least when it comes to pronunciation.
There is no doubt that today’s latest trends in digital technology can help us be better language learners and master our pronunciation skills.


About the Author:

Jovana Čenejac is an English teacher whose major focus is phonology and accents. She currently works on developing curricula for pronunciation software that is intended to help English students all over the world improve this critical skill.

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  • Aloka

    i wrote a comment and it vanished after i signed in to disqus 🙁 short version: different regional languages affect the accents and pronunciation differently; i always considered the use of badmaash to be an instance of language switching, which is done all the time here (vernacular+hindi+english in all possible combos); i think indian english is defined by usage rather than words: e.g. ‘no?’ for ‘right?’/’isn’t it’? or ‘leave it’ for ‘forget it’/’never mind’

  • Good question. Trying to see if I can get Jovana to comment, but I think it’s pretty late in Europe right now. 🙂

  • Jovana

    Hi, Aloka and BrianJ
    Thanks for your comments! I’m glad that we agree that regional languages affect
    the nature of English spoken in India… When it comes to the second part of your
    comment, vocabulary and pronunciation are just two out of many characteristics
    that define Indian English. We could also discuss the role of body language, I’m
    sure it plays important part in communication as well as in shaping Indian
    English, especially if we bear in mind the differences between the Western and
    the Eastern body language etiquettes. Perhaps we could cover this next time,
    Brian? Of course, another interesting “shaper” of Indian English is vocabulary
    usage. But, can we really observe words without paying attention to the context?
    This is why the section is called “vocabulary differences”J

  • Adi Rajan

    A point to note on the pronunciation differences you’ve shared. /θ/ and /ð are not replaced by /t/ and /d/ in most Indian languages. They are conflated with /t̪ʰ/ and /d̪ʱ/. In eastern and north-eastern Indian languages, these sounds may be articulated as dental plosives /t̪/ and /d̪/. The description of the conflation of /v/ and /w/ is also oversimplified. Most Indian languages except Bengali have a phoneme /ʋ/ which speakers use in English in place of /v/ and /w/. Bengali does not have /ʋ/, instead it uses /b/. I’m afraid the bit on vowel sounds is also not entirely accurate. Additionally, any description of the phonology of Indian English is incomplete without discussing retroflex sounds.

    And I must disagree with “However, in order to maintain proper communication and transmit the message in a correct manner, I believe that every speaker should try following the rules of the target language at least when it comes to pronunciation.”

    Are you aware of Jennifer Jenkins’ extensive phonological research in English as a Lingua Franca?

    I’m afraid this is a little bit of a shallow look at Indian English. You may need to consider issues such as code switching, the use of particles from Indian languages, social differences, idioms, the language of Bollywood and the role of the clerical language of the East India Co. and the Raj to really describe Indian English as it stands today.

  • Jovana

    Dear Adi Rajan,

    I agree with you that this is a topic that requires covering
    several aspects such as sociocultural, historical and linguistic. But I’m afraid that neither time nor space let me cover it in a greater detail.

    As far as my comment on following particular standards in
    pronunciation is concerned, this is something I’ve learned from my experience.

    Despite the fact that teachers encourage international Englishes and regional pronunciation, students still feel uncomfortable about them, especially when they interact with native speakers.

    Their lack of confidence can leave a huge psychological impact on them and further influence the development of other language skills. English is indeed a lingua franca, and we should celebrate the diversity, hence the article; but unfortunately, accent is still an important factor in defining social identity.

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  • Maria Smith

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