English, the Indian Way

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With English the commonly spoken language in India, Indians are contributing their bit at enrichment. The effect of Indian English, more commonly known as Hinglish as well as Indian words or Indianisms is being felt.

The latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the world’s favorite word store, is a reflection. The new collection of linguistic twisters (for Western people, that is) include “bindaas” (cool), “tamasha” (create a scene), “mehndi” (body color), “desi” (local) and “lehnga” (a form of dress). “Lollywood,” Lahore’s incipient film industry finds mention. So does “kitty party,” a social event for bored Indian housewives.

In an interview, the editor of the OED Catherine Soanes rejected criticism that misuse of English words was being legitimized. “We are merely reflecting the language as it is today,’’ she said. “Indian English is one of the growing areas of language, which is contributing to the language as a whole.’’

Indeed, it is not just the OED, the Collins English Dictionary has also included commonly used words by Indians. Distinctly Hindi words that form the vocabulary of a large section of English speaking Indians have been incorporated. They include “aunti-ji” and “uncle-ji,” “freshie” (a new immigrant), “filmi” (dramatic), “gora” (White), “kutta” (dog) and “kutti” (bitch), “haramzada” and “haramzadi” (bastards or obnoxious/despicable) and “yaar” (friend). In a statement the dictionary has officially acknowledged the role of Hinglish in the evolution of English.

Last year’s OED too had turned eclectic incorporating several Indianisms: “Adda” (local joint), “langar” (community eatery) and “dicky” (car), have become bona fide English words, adding to the Indian word store, which includes “Hindutva,” “history-sheeter” and others. Many words of daily use in English are of Indian origin, including words like “shampoo,” “bangle,” “bungalow,” “jungle,” “mantra,” “pundit” and “cot.” They figure in major English-language dictionaries.

Collins’ took the process further. Other words include “badmash” (bad person), “changa” (fine), “chuddie” (underwear), “desi” (native) and “machi chips,” Hinglish for the very English favorite, “fish and chips.” The words reflect the language commonly spoken by Asians in Britain imbibing a Punjabi flavor, thus denoting a meeting of cultures. Commonly used words in popular Asian soaps such as “The Kumars at Number 42’’ and “Silver Street,’’ which are watched by mainstream audiences, have been picked up. According to a statement by Collins, “the inclusion of Hinglish words in the Dictionary marks an exciting development and a new phase of borrowing by English.’’

“The beauty of English is that from the earliest times [India was a British colony] it has been able to incorporate and adapt words from other languages,’’ said editor in chief Jeremy Butterfield. “Already, we probably can’t get through the day without using several words derived from Indian languages. In the long run, we can expect Hinglish to influence English in many fields, in the same way that Latin and French have over several centuries.’’

Indeed, parents and schools across the world, including those in China, Germany and other non-English speaking European nations, want their kids to learn English, the only global instrument of communication. As cross-cultural exchanges happen and jobs require knowledge of English happen in a connected world, language remains in focus. There are reports that Indian call centers are advising their customer care executives to speak the native way rather than accented English to appeal to Western clients. The focus is on clarity and getting the problem solved rather than image to gain acceptance. This is in the wake of individual vigilantism due to job losses with racist and abusive hate calls aimed at harassing Indian call center operators.

According to Sabira Merchant, speech-voice consultant, on how Indians speak English, “Indians have excellent control over written English, yet when it comes to pronunciation, we do not always sound right. The problem is while Americans think in English, we think in our mother tongue and translate it while speaking. As a nation we do speak good English. That is why most Indians score easily over people of other nationalities. But, it will still take time for Indians to speak with a polished accent and fluency.’’

A group of such people working for MphasiS, a leading outsourcing provider, however had no such problems when they sweet talked American customers into blurting out credit card and bank account codes and passwords, using the same to transfer money to the tune of half a million dollars.

The outsourcing wave has helped India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, become the second modern city in the world to be turned into a verb after “shanghaied” — a word that broadly means to be forced to do something by fraud or coercion. To be shanghaied, in circulation since 1870, has acquired a 21st-century context due to Chinese goods flooding U.S. markets.

To be bangalored, yet to find mention in a dictionary, reflects the sentiments of those who have been laid off in the U.S. because their jobs have moved to Bangalore. “I am a software developer who is about to be bangalored. Fine. I am not going to pout about it,’’ a participant in an online forum wrote. Although there have been other geographical places that have been turned into words, called toponyms, (for example, “frankfurter” and “marathon), few cities have taken a verb form.

Indeed, as Hinglish enriches, Indians only try to be better at the original. The news from America is good as well. Indian American Anurag Kashyap, from Poway, California, has won the 78th Annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee competition. Anurag, 13, bagged the prize recently by spelling correctly the word “appoggiatura” (which means short note placed before a longer one). He had never used the musical word before he spelled it right to win the competition. Anurag took home $22,000 in cash, a $5,000 college scholarship, books and a $1,000 savings bond.

The Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, a well established American tradition, has 273 finalists, aged 9 to 14, competing at a plush Washington, D.C., hotel. Many of them are children of immigrants, often under pressure to achieve by their parents’ desire to see them fitting in an alien society.

All three runners-up hail from South Asia. Another Indian American, Samir Sudhir Patel, 11, from Texas, settled for a second place tie. He was the youngest in the keenly contested rounds and lost the championship when he misspelled “roscian.’’

A cool Anurag coasted through the toughest words. Apart from the word that won him the title, he correctly spelt “cabochon,” “Priscilla,” “oligopsony,” “sphygmomanometer,” “prosciutto,” “rideau,” “pompier,” “terete,” “tristachyous,” “schefflera,” “ornithorhynchous,” “agio,” “agnolotti,” “peccavi,” “ceraunograph,” “exsiccosis” and “hodiernal.” Tough for anybody.