Approximation of Indian English towards British RP due to increased language contact

Exemplified by actress Aishwarya Rai Bacchan

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

28 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Analysis of Aishwarya Rai's use of English with regard to a possible development towards Received Pronunciation
1. Introduction of actress Aishwarya Rai Bacchan
2. Use of Indian English in India
3. Characteristic features of Indian English (vs. Standard English)
4. Setting and register of the interviews
5. Methodology
6. Discussion of results
6.1. Analysis of the interviews
6.2. Comparison with A-rated features in the eWave Atlas

III. Conclusion

IV. References

V. Sources

VI. Statement of Plagiarism

VII. Appendix
1. First Interview
2. Second Interview
3. List of A-rated features in Indian English in eWave atlas

I. Introduction

Even though language proficiency improves over time naturally, this term paper will try to analyze whether an individual’s Indian English (IndE) will approximate towards the British English Standard due to increased language contact in an international context, especially with regard to the change of pronunciation towards RP. As the person of interest, actress Aishwarya Rai Bacchan, is a native Indian woman who became famous very quickly all over the world, it might be possible to observe a certain development in her language due to the sudden increased contact with English. Due to India’s postcolonial status, the British English variety seems to serve as a model for learners of English in this country, so that this seems to be the right variety to base the analysis on.

After a short introduction of the actress and some theoretical facts about the use of English in India, the setting and register of the chosen interviews will be presented in this term paper. This will be followed by an explanation of the methodology used and a discussion of the outcomes of the analysis of the interviews. The comparison of prominent features in the actresses’ speech with A- rated features of the eWave atlas will complete the paper.

II. Analysis of Aishwarya Rai's use of English with regard to a possible development towards Received Pronunciation

1. Introduction of actress Aishwarya Rai Bacchan

Aishwarya Krishnaraj Rai was born in the South Indian City Mangalore (once Mangalapura) in the state of Karnataka on November 1, 1973. After moving to Mumbai (then called Bombay), she grew up striving for an academic career. Her father Krishnaraj was a merchant navy officer with recent contact to clients with international background. According to the website IMDb, Aishwarya a member of a South Indian community, the so-called Bunts, who mainly speak Tulu (a Dravidian language). In addition to that is also fluent in the languages English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, and Urdu. Being a part of the traditional middle class, her parents encouraged their children to always focus on education (Ghosh 2004, 18-19).

Having started her studies of architecture, however, she was discovered as a supermodel and went on winning several beauty contests, including the Miss India and the Miss World title in 1994. Soon after, she chose to become a professional actress, as she mentions in The Frost Interview herself. A few successful Bollywood and Hollywood movies and projects later, her career enabled her to travel around the world and to interact with many different people internationally. This must have led to a remarkable change in her due to higher language-contact and increased exposure to the English language.

2. Use of Indian English in India

After India’s independence in 1947, English remained the language of administration, the legal system and of higher education and has the status of a neutral lingua franca in the multilingual society (Lange 2012: 22). In Schneider’s Dynamic Model of the evolution of Postcolonial Englishes IndE is placed between the stages three and four. Schneider postulates five stages for the development of Postcolonial Englishes: Foundation, Exonormative stabilization, Nativization, Endonormative stabilization and Differentiation (Lange 2012:20- 22). Basically, this means that English is a means for communication in this country, but it has not reached the status of being a carrier of national identity. Even though secondary education is mostly available in Hindi, India’s national language, higher education is often only accessible through English. This is why high social prestige and the educated elite is associated with this language nowadays (Sedlatschek 2009: 1-2, 22).

The IndE speech community consists of three groups of English speakers: a few people with near-native language proficiency, a significant number of people with a medium level of English skills, which is accepted as the educated variety and the benchmark for ELT (English Language Teaching) as administrators, teachers, journalists or businessmen speak this kind of English and the rest who communicate on a lower level of English, mostly in their own restricted domains, for example shopkeepers or waiters (Mesthrie 2008: 233).

3. Characteristic features of Indian English (vs. Standard English)

The most prominent feature of Indian English is its specific pronunciation and phonology, which therefore will be the focus of the analysis. Change in pronunciation approximating RP can be a significant indicator of change in language overall. Grammatical and syntactical aspects will be broached during the comparison with the prominent features of IndE in the eWave atlas, as well.

IndE is influenced by the phonological patterns of different Indian mother tongues and there is a high amount of regional variation in the utterance of sounds. Most of the time, the pronunciation is rhotic, but speakers with higher education tend to use the non-rhotic version (Mesthrie 2008: 240-241). Table 1 gives an overview of the vowels of IndE, which will be discussed in more detail in the analysis of the interviews.

table 1. Adapted from Mesthrie 2008: 233-234

illustration not visible in this excerpt

In general, word-stress and intonation patterns are closer to those of Indian languages than those of RP. A syllable of a word is more prominent than in RP, according to its weight and position. Weak forms of vowels are rare in unstressed positions (Mesthrie 2008: 240-241) which leads to a higher amount of time to produce certain expressions in Indian English in comparison to British English pronunciation and to a different word stress pattern in some cases.

The eWave atlas will serve as a tool to compare Aishwarya Rai’s English to the general English speaking population in India. It is a research tool in comparative, cross-dialectal and cross-varietal studies to demonstrate grammatical variation in Anglophone areas around the world and enables comparison of certain information with other large databases (like The WALS, The World Atlas of Language). Covering 76 varieties like Indian, Malaysian or Singaporean English, it can be categorized into five classes of variety types: the traditional L1 varieties (L1t), which are established, non-standard mother-tongues with little influence from other languages since the beginning of the colonial era; the high- contact L1 varieties (L1c) with a high level of interaction between different dialects (e.g. former settlement colonies) or a shift of varieties like for example Welsh in Great Britain; two kinds of indigenized L2 varieties, where contact with the native language is limited and English has been introduced via ELT; English- based Pidgins, like Butler English, as a lingua franca for communication in specific domains, e.g. trade situations; and the English-based Creoles (Cr) (Kortmann 2013).

Pronouns, Noun phrase, tense and aspect, modal verbs, verb morphology, negation, agreement, relativization, complementation, adverbial subordination, adverbs and prepositions, discourse organization and word order are the 12 linguistic domains covered by the 235 features of the eWave atlas. Features are rated by their frequency. Rate A means that the feature is pervasive or obligatory, B stands for an average frequency, C features are extremely rare and D represents the complete absence of a feature (Kortmann 2013).

This term paper will look at A-rated features of Indian English only, as these might have more significance for the analysis and demonstrate certain features of speech habits of the majority of the population. As it is a very general and abstract summary of otherwise very diverse speech communities, the validity of such an analysis is limited to a certain extent.

4. Setting and register of the interviews

The first interview was aired in November of 1994, right after Aishwarya had won the Miss World competition. It was part of the NDTV Classics series called “The World This Week” and is described as “an exclusive Interview in London”. It is set in a very professional and official context and is conducted by a professional interviewer. Furthermore, it is aimed at an international audience. At the same time, by having a setting which resembles a living room, it is intended to create the illusion an intimate atmosphere, giving the impression of a talk between two friends. Nevertheless it appears to be very polished, formal, prepared and practiced. Also, unsuitable scenes have obviously been cut out in the final version.

The second interview is part of a series called “The Frost Interview” and it also includes well-chosen speech, controlled language and choice of words. The popular and well-known British broadcaster Sir David Frost included Aishwarya in his series of intimate Interviews with influential people. The interview was aired in December 2012.

Both settings are comparable in their level of formality, register, topics discussed and international audience. For this reason it should be possible to derive changes in Aishwarya’s language due to the time span lying between the beginning of her career and the time of the second interview (after her maternity leave).

5. Methodology

After finding two differently dated but otherwise comparable interviews and their transcription in order to create an own corpus with approximately 10-12 minutes of speaking of the person of interest, prominent features, characteristics and peculiarities of speech were marked and analyzed with respect to pronunciation, striking choice of words and frequency of discourse markers (e.g. “you know”). In order to detect outstanding grammatical, syntactical or lexical features, a comparison with A-rated features of IndE in the eWave Atlas were added to this analysis in order to see how Aishwarya compares to the general population in India with regard to linguistic qualities. For this reason, all 31 A- rated features of Indian English were examined and reduced to the relevant ones (marked in color) for further analysis.

6. Discussion of results

The following two subchapters are intended to give an overview of the results of the interview analysis. First, the interviews will be examined individually, before a table will serve as a graphic demonstration of the differences and coherencies of the results and the development of Aishwarya’s language during the 18 years lying between the two interviews.

6.1. Analysis of the interviews

In the first interview, the monophtongization of certain diphtongs is very striking, for example [e] instead of /eɪ/ in “age” (7:20, 7:34), “names” (8:12), “play” (12:06), “face” (12:55) and [ɔ] instead of /ou / as in “(world) over“ (9:18, 19:22, 9:38), “role” (12:07), “rose” (12:51). Regarding vowels, it is noteworthy that she pronounces “men“ like “man“ with an [æ] instead of an /e/ one time at 12:15.

The liquid /r/ is thrilled at the beginning of “really“ (6:58, 7:28, 7:30), or “Theresa“ (7:06), but it is realized as an approximant /r/ in many other contexts like “really“ (7:00), “restrict” (10:02, 10:04) or “from” (9:20). Postvocalic /r/ is dropped sometimes and equals the non-rhotic BrE equivalent of pronunciation, e.g. “work“ at 7:36. Also, “girls“(9:14, 9:20) is pronounced in a non-rhotic way like [gɜːls]. The same goes for “person“ at 13:26 and 13:37.

The interdental fricatives [θ] and [ð] are almost non-existent and articulated as the alveolar stop [t], for example in “thought”, [t ɔt] at 10:54, “thankfully” (13:21) and “thanking” (13:22), as the fricative [f] as in “think” (10:55, 11:05) and as the voiced stop [d] as in “another” at 11:57.

The plosives [p], [t], [k] are articulated in a prominent way like in “title“ (11:23), especially when they are located at the end position of a word with a vowel at the beginning of the following word. Examples for this are “like“(8:38), “quite“ (9:43), “appreciate“ (9:44), “think about it“ (11:13-11:14), “it at the same time“ (12:49-12:50).

The amount of monologue is longer and the actress seems more confident in the second, i.e. The Frost Interview. There are fewer word repetitions, breaks, incomplete sentences, fillers like “ehm”, “eh”, “ah” and colloquial expressions during this talk. While in the first interview expressions like “gonna” (11:06, 11:07, 11:10), “gotta” (11:12) or “one hell of” (11:03-11:04) are used relatively often, “gonna” is mentioned in the second interview only once at 10:08.

Also, monophtongization has almost completely disappeared over time, except for a few utterances like “stage” (9:08), “year” (9:09, 9:41) and “embraced” (13:09-13:10, here she corrects herself when starting to utter the monophtongized version of this word). Later on, a few more monophtongizations are noticeable, like for example “moment” (19:28, 19:32) and “emotions” (19:49), probably owed to the spontaneity of this part of speech.

Furthermore the pronunciation of the interdental fricatives [θ] and [ð] is more refined in the conversation with Sir David Frost, so that the pronunciation almost resembles RP, e.g. in third (14:19, 14:36), “thankful” (5:50) or “things” (11:15-11:16).

Her pronunciation is almost completely non-rhotic, with just occasional thrilled or post-vocalic /r/ like in “a very real life” (15:36-15:38). The plosives [p], [t], and [k] do not stand out as prominent as in the NDTV interview, so that her way of speaking becomes softer overall and resembles the British English Standard and the RP even more.

Table 2 gives an overview about the results discussed in this section, with a comparison of specific features of the two interviews and a short comment on the observed change or development in Aishwarya’s language.

table 2. Comparison of striking linguistic features of both interviews

illustration not visible in this excerpt


Excerpt out of 28 pages


Approximation of Indian English towards British RP due to increased language contact
Exemplified by actress Aishwarya Rai Bacchan
LMU Munich
World Englishes
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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830 KB
approximation, indian, english, british, exemplified, aishwarya, bacchan
Quote paper
Olga Schäfer (Author), 2014, Approximation of Indian English towards British RP due to increased language contact, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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