By Steven Baker

30 October 2015 - 07:52

'India has the largest youth population in the world and the main users of Hinglish can be found within this age group.' Photo (c) Emilien ETIENNE under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.
'The main users of Hinglish can be found within India's great young population.' Photo ©

Emilien ETIENNE under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

Hinglish, a blend of Hindi and English, is increasingly common in India and beyond – novels have even been written in the language. The British Council's Steven Baker, resident in India for the last ten years, tells us more.

Although examples of Hinglish date back to the 19th century, with evidence of poetry and verse from that period written in a mix of Hindi and English, it did not gain widespread popularity until much later. Author Shobha De, known as 'the Jackie Collins of India', began to use Hinglish in her writing in the 1960s. It was not until the late 1990s, however, with the arrival of music channels like MTV and India’s own Channel V, that such combining of Hindi and English really exploded.

The difference between Hinglish and Indian English

In his lecture, 'What are your views on the trajectory of Indian English?', David Crystal clarifies the difference between Hinglish and Indian English. Unlike Hinglish, which he explains is a blend of Hindi and English, Indian English can be defined as any of the forms of English characteristic of the Indian subcontinent.

Reaching a consensus on the number of speakers who use Indian English is challenging. Crystal puts the figure at 300-400 million. In his British Council publication English Next India, David Graddol argues that '[n]o one really knows how many Indians speak English today – estimates vary between 55 million and 350 million – between 1% of the population and a third.' The challenge lies in agreeing on what level constitutes being able to 'speak' the language.

'What is your good name?' and other characteristic expressions

Any traveller or visitor to India will tell you that this variety of English can be found from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Meeting someone for the first time, you will often be asked the question 'What is your good name?', which is a direct translation from the Hindi 'Aapka shubh naam kya hai?'

Catching a train 'today morning' is another example of first-language influence. Other Indian English phrases have their origins in history, anachronisms from the military English of the East India Company. 'Where are you putting up?', typically asked to enquire where you live, has its roots in the erecting of field tents. The rather archaic 'I am going out of station' would be used in the same way as you might say 'I will be out of town'. In India, you can also meet your friend at the 'backside' of the building, lend them a book which is 'too' interesting and arrange to meet them again 'next to next' week.

Hinglish and Bollywood

India has the largest youth population in the world and, as you might expect, the main users of Hinglish can be found within this age group. One place where Hinglish is ubiquitous is in the Bollywood film industry, which prospers from young cinema-goers. It is not just its characters code-switching between the two languages within a single line of dialogue; there’s also been a recent trend with Bollywood film titles to embrace a hip combination of the two tongues. Examples from the past few years include Ek Tha Tiger (Once There was a Tiger), Love Aaj Kal (Love Today Tomorrow) and Shaadi Ke Side Effects (The Side Effects of Marriage). Why simply attach a '2' to a sequel when you can come up with a title like Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara (Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Again). Although once seen as a spoken variety of the language, the appearance of Hinglish on film posters and in advertising has resulted in a growth of Hinglish in print.

The 2012 Bollywood film English Vinglish features veteran Indian cinema star Sridevi as an Indian housewife in New York, who enrols on a 30-day English course after struggling to navigate the Big Apple. The film’s title makes use of the feature of reduplication where the root or stem of a word is repeated with a minor change in its form. So in the English language where we attempt to 'razzle-dazzle' with our 'easy-peasy', 'super-duper' 'boogie-woogie', India prefers to take 'chai-vai' (tea and snacks) at the 'kursi-vursi' (chairs and other furniture) while everything is still 'garam-garam' (very hot).

Hinglish will spread as India becomes more powerful

India’s most recent export, the Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra, who plays the lead role in the ABC drama series 'Quantico', has been in the headlines as much for her accent as for her acting. Crystal concludes his argument by saying that language spreads because of power. If India becomes an even more significant global power, he states that a once relegated variety of English will be perceived as 'sexy'. Sounding something like Priyanka Chopra may well become the preferred variety of English that we all aspire to.

Find out about the UK-India relationship in our report, India Matters.

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