Thursday, 17 April 2014

Indian English?

Unlike today, there was a time when there was only one English language (with its local variations which continue even today). Attempts to standardise spellings, sound production and structuring sentences were made and certain standards emerged. Educated users of English as their first language have followed these standards while several variations continue to exist in all the countries where English is the medium of communication among the populations.

And then the desire to find new trade routes took the English out of their tiny little island and in the process English became the common language medium in these new settlements (between the rulers and the ruled)—North America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and variations, for whatever reason, occurred in pronunciation, spelling and even sentence structuring. Thus we have three or four native English varieties.

The next step from trade occurred, and the English became rulers of the countries with which they had begun the trade. Consequently, such a transition in relationships gave birth to several varieties of English. And Indian English is one. History tells us the French lost out to the English in the fierce competition for trade and rule.
You’ll find below how we Indians pronounce sounds of the English language, how we use words and construct sentences. The standard for comparison has been British (that of the educated); and of course, in recent times, North American English has its influence, too, over how we Indians express ourselves.  

Indian English as a term is a misnomer and has somehow come into existence and is persistently being used to how generally ALL Indians speak the English language.

We Indians pronounce all the letters we see or say in a word in our languages, that is, we don’t miss any sound in a word. We use this practice when we pronounce sounds in an English word. For example we pronounce the sound represented by the letter ‘r’ wherever it appears: word, world, flower, work, river, floor, person.

We pronounce ‘cotton’ adding a vowel sound between ‘t’ and ‘n’, we say ‘honest’  pronouncing the ‘h’, we utter words like ‘debt’, ‘lamb’ pronouncing all the sounds, we speak ‘robot’ as ‘robo’.  

We pronounce all the sounds in a word equally, that is, we say all the sounds equally as in words like ‘about’, ‘address’, competitor’ , ‘condition’.

Some of us put stress at the wrong syllable. For pronunciation purposes, words in English are divided into syllables (ask your teacher to help you with this).We say ‘psychology’ placing stress on ‘lo’ and all words ending in ‘logy’. We say the ‘o’ in ‘opponent’ as in ‘operation’, we pronounce the ‘a’ in ‘cassette’ and place the stress on ‘ca’, we stress the ‘vi’ in ‘video’
making the ‘i’ longer.

We pronounce ‘tw’ in ‘twelve’ as  , we utter ‘eleven’ without the initial ‘e’ sound ‘cassette’, some of us tend to add a sound to certain words: ‘school’ as ‘ischool’, ‘screen’ as ‘sacreen’.

6. We pronounce certain words the same way whether they are used as nouns, verbs or as
    adjectives. For example we use the adjective pronunciation of  ‘content’ even when we use
    it as a noun.  A few other words are:
       conduct, conflict, contest, contrast, converse, convict, compound, decrease, import,
       object, perfect, permit, present, produce, progress, project, protest, subject

We pronounce ‘w’ as ‘v’. We don’t form our lips like a circle and pronounce it as ‘v’ with our upper teeth touching the lower lip.

Some of us pronounce ‘z’ as ‘j’ as in ‘zero’ as ‘jeero’. Some of us pronounce ‘measure’ as

When a meeting date or an activity is brought forward, we use the word ‘prepone’ which is not considered an English word but now you can find it Oxford Concise English Dictionary with ‘India’ as the place of origin.

We tend to add ‘about’ after ‘discuss’ and ‘describe’; we add ‘back’ after ‘return’. We also add ‘back’ after ‘revert’. We use ‘again’ with ‘repeat’, which is unnecessary. We shouldn’t add ‘together’ after ‘join’. We use ‘enough’ with ‘sufficient’, which is wrong. There’s no need to use ‘forward’ with ‘advance’.

This is the place where I’d dropped the wallet. (x)
This is the place where I’d dropped the wallet. (correct)

In each of the following pairs, the word given in brackets should replace the underlined word:

Will you show your willingness with a tick?  (indicate) 
He indicated his marriage album to me. (showed)

I neglected my father’s advice.  (ignored)
He ignored his duties to his family. (neglected)

The supervisor was dismissed for misbehaviour. (misconduct)
Being indulgent to a child will lead to more misconduct on his/her part. (misbehaviour)

We made the error of leaving the bedroom window open. (mistake)
The doctor committed the appalling mistake of judgement. (error)

He always deceives when we play cards. (cheats)
My parents cheated me by showing the photo of the wrong girl. (deceived)

Sentence structuring
We should use the second verb in –ing form, not to infinitive form after the following expressions:
        I look forward to meet you in the Conference next week. (x)
        I look forward to meeting you in the Conference next week. (correct)

        I’m accustomed to take a walk in the park in the evenings. (x)
        I’m accustomed to taking a walk in the park in the evenings. (correct)

        It’s no use / good to talk to her. (x)
        It’s no use / good talking to her. (correct)

  We say:                                                                        instead of saying:
Shall I ask the time to that woman?                          Shall I ask the woman the time?

The boss arrived late because of rain.                       The boss arrived late because of the rain.

I’ll inform to you before I’ll leave.                            I’ll inform you before I leave.

The post office is in front of my house.                     The post office is opposite my house.

I shifted my house yesterday.                                     I moved house yesterday.

My sister is born in 1999.                                           My sister was born in 1999.

He can’t able to speak French.                                    He can’t speak French.

His speaking is good.                                                  He speaks well.

They can to speak French well.                                  They can speak French well.

My children do nothing but watching the TV.           My children do nothing but watch TV.

I think you haven’t met my wife.                                I don’t think you’ve met my wife.

I don’t hope it rains.                                                    I hope it doesn’t rain.

Give me five ten-rupees notes.                                    Give me five ten-rupee notes.

Why you are crying?                                                    Why are you crying?

She asked me what was my name?                             She asked me what my name was.

Here’s the book you asked for it.                                Here’s the book you asked for.

She told that she was getting married soon.            She told me that she was getting married
The police is looking for the suspect.                          The police are looking for the suspect.

Please borrow me a hundred rupees.                           Please lend me a hundred rupees.

I want to borrow me ten rupees.                                  I want to borrow ten rupees.

I used to live in Ethiopia for nine years.                      I lived in Ethiopia for nine years.

Can you suggest me a good dentist?                            Can you suggest a good dentist?

Although I was tired but I went to work.                     Although I was tired I went to work. /
                                                                                      I was tired  but I went to work.

Everybody slept late. Also my cousin.                         Everybody slept late. Even my cousin.

I’ve had the car since three years.                                I’ve had the car for three years / since

How to tell her?                                                           How shall I tell her? /
                                                                                     I don’t know how to tell her.

Who to invite?                                                             Who shall I invite? /
                                                                                     I don’t know who to invite.

The boss looked angrily.                                             The boss looked angry. /
                                                                                     The boss looked at me angrily.

You make many mistakes.                                           You make lots of/ too many mistakes.

She went early to bed.                                                 She went to bed early.

My brother is engineer.                                                 My brother is an engineer.    

I bought gold chain to my wife.                                  I bought a gold chain for my wife. /
                                                                                     I bought my wife a gold chain.

I saw fox in forest.                                                       I saw a fox in the forest.                                                        
He don’t like you.                                                        He doesn’t like you.

Have everyone left for the day?                                   Has everyone left for the day?

Smoking cigarettes are dangerous to health.            Smoking cigarettes is dangerous to health.

Arjun never get angry.                                                   Arjun never gets angry.

He’s coming, isn’t it?                                                     He’s coming, isn’t he?

They’re leaving, isn’t it?                                                 They’re leaving, aren’t they?

I have seen the film two days ago.                                   I saw the film two days ago.

Suddenly I listened strange noise.                                  Suddenly I heard a strange noise.

Only few people were present.                                       Only a few people were present.

He made me to do his homework.                                  He made me do his homework.

I’m having headache.                                                 I have a headache.

She’s having temperature.                                          She has a temperature.
                                                                                    She’s running a temperature.
                                                                                    She has a fever.   

 Thilak is having two sons.                                         Thilak has two sons.

The Thigala community is having population of 40 lakhs.
 The Thigala community has a population of 40 lakhs.
(‘a lakh’ is a counting expression used in India, ‘a hundred thousand’ is the English expression.)

Note: ‘be + having’ is correct in the following sentences
          He’s having a bath/his dinner. He’ having a whale of a time.
          Our project is having teething problems.

I’ve seen Thilak yesterday.                                        I saw Thilak yesterday. 

You must be knowing my cousin-brother.         I’m sure/I suppose you
                                                                            know my cousin-brother.  

But ‘must be’ in the meaning of ‘subject+ think(s)’ is correct:
      You must be wrong.            She must be at home.  ]

I went to my native (place) last week.   I went to native town/city last week.    

I’ll email it today itself.                                         I’ll email it today.
[words indicating specific time need no emphasis in English.]

They’re like that only.                                      That’s how they behave.
Children behave like that only.                    But that’s how children behave.


We also say these:
1. short responses:
    Sethu, ‘I don’t like coffee.’     Ramu, ‘I also don’t like it.’  (x)
                                                                 ‘I don’t like it also.’ (x)
                                                                 ‘I don’t like it, either.’  correct
                                                                 ‘Neither do I.’               correct

   Sethu, ‘I like coffee.’                 Ramu, ‘I also like it.’   (x)
                                                                  ‘I like it also.’   (x)
                                                                  ‘I like it, too.’    correct
                                                                  ‘So do I.’           correct                                                           
2. ‘yes’ as response to mean ‘no’

    Sethu, ‘Don’t you like coffee?’         } ‘Yes, (I don’t like it.’  (x)
               ‘You like coffee, don’t you?’ } ‘Yes, (I don’t like it.’  (x)

    This ‘yes’ answer/response is wrong because native English speakers don’t say ‘yes’ to
    mean ‘no’; they would say ‘No, I don’t like it.’

4. errors in letter writing
  • writing your address and the addressee’s address on the left of the page with ‘from’ and
      ‘to’ like this:
       K R Lakshminarayanan
       No.2, 6th Cross Street
       Thirumal Nagar Extn.1
       Thamizh Nadu 600 056

       The Editor
       The Hindu
       No.25 Mount Road      
       Chennai 600 002
Writing address like this is still being taught in schools, if I’m not mistaken.

       But the addresses should be written like this:

                                                                                                 No.2, 6th Cross Street
                                                                                                 Thirumal Nagar Extn.1
                                                                                                 Thamizh Nadu 600 056
                                                                                                  25 January 2014

       The Editor
       The Hindu
       No.25 Mount Road      
       Chennai 600 002
Note: your name should be printed below your signature at the left bottom below your signature, not as part of  your address .
    • In the closure at the end of the letter  we write your’s. This is wrong because ‘yours’ is
      already ‘possessive’ and doesn’t require the addition of ‘s’. ‘Yours’ is the right way.
       Some of us capitalise ‘f’ in Yours Faithfully. This is wrong. It should be ‘Yours

    • In official letters it is still common to mention both ‘subject’ and ‘reference’ below or
       above ‘Dear Sir’. This is unnecessary because the purpose of the first paragraph is to
       mention the subject and the reference(s) in sentence form.

These are only samples of how we Indians use English to express our thoughts.  The way we use English is different from the way the British or the North Americans use English. Though there are differences between these two versions, these differences are accepted as right. Unfortunately the Indian way of using English is thought to be faulty by either the British or the North American standards and are considered to be the result of ‘mother tongue interference’ and so are branded as ‘errors’ because like the British or the North Americans we don’t have a standard Indian English.

And we Indians accept this criticism or observation willingly and we teach corrections to our students. Why? Because we Indians don’t have our own standard. When will we? Will we at all? Who will bell the cat? Nobody seems interested (including the so-called ELT ‘experts’ and the institutions training teachers to teach English). Everybody is happy with the status quo.

Note: See also my post: A Case for Indian Grammar of English


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