Dialect Illustration of Indian English

Essay, 2014

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Basic information on Indian English
2.1 Demography
2.2 Official status
2.3 Domains of use
2.4 “Indian English”

3) Models of Varieties of English: Indian English
3.1 Tom McArthur’s Wheel model of English
3.2 Braj Kachru’s Circles model of English
3.3 Edgar Schneider’s Dynamic model of Postcolonial Englishes

4) Phonological Features
4.1 Standard Indian English Pronunciation (SIEP) vs. local varieties
4.2 Speech rhythm and stress
4.3 Consonant sounds
4.3.1 [r]
4.3.2 [t̪, t̪ʰ] and [d̪] for [θ] and [ð]
4.3.3 [ʈ] and [ɖ] for [t] and [d]
4.3.4 [ʋ] for [v] and [w]
4.4 Vowel sounds
4.4.1 The short monophthongs
4.4.2 The long monophthongs
4.4.3 Diphthongs

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

After two hundred years of British rule, followed by more than sixty years of independence, English is the most evident heritage of the colonial period in India. The number of native speakers of English in India is small, but the language plays an important role as a second language, not least because it is an official language in India (Mehrotra 1998:1). English is omnipresent; in TV, in radio, in print media, at every corner of larger urban areas. Indian English is considered as one of the most important English varieties throughout the world. “It nevertheless constitutes a minority lect” (Schneider 2007:161), since only approximately 11 percent of the Indian population have a command of English (2001 Census of India). Indian English comes in a range of varieties with distinct phonological features, highly influenced by local languages. But India has also produced its own standard variety, which is comparable to standard (British) English, yet has some features characterizing it as Indian (Kachru 1983:73).

I chose to write my paper about Indian English, because during my study abroad at the University of Kansas from August, 2012, until May, 2013, I was exposed to Indian English nearly every day. At the beginning of my study abroad I have made friends with Abhinav Gupta, an Indian pursuing a Master’s degree in the United States, and in the next ten months I spent a lot of time in company of Indians. I have been very fascinated by the fact what an importance English does have for them. Without proper knowledge of the English language they would not be able to study and work in the United States and thus having a perspective of a better life. I was astonished at seeing Indians from different parts of the Indian subcontinent, who could only understand each other by speaking English. I watched Indian cricket matches, which were only broadcasted in English, and ate Indian food, the packagings of which were labeled in English. For Indians, English is a language that unites them and having a good knowledge in English brings privileges and opportunities to succeed. However, being only used to hear American and British English accents hitherto and then coming in contact with a South Asian English variety for the first time, made it very difficult for me to understand my new friends. There are indeed some phonological differences as compared to British English and American English, which may cause problems in terms of intelligibility.

This essay presents the context and current position of Indian English and discusses this English variety within McArthur’s, Kachru’s and Schneider’s models of English. Moreover, it outlines the most striking phonological features of Indian English, which mark this English variety as Indian.

2. Basic information on Indian English

2.1 Demography

According to 2001 Census of India, the Indian population stands at around 1,127 million. The number of those living in urban areas amounts to 285 million people (25 %). The same census reveals that almost 230,000 people in India claimed English as their native language. They are referred to as Anglo-Indians – people of mixed British and Indian ethnic origin (Goelho 1997:564). Thus the number of English native speakers in India is very small. However, the number of Indians speaking English as a second language stands at about 125 million (2001 Census of India). This makes India the second largest English-speaking country in the world; only the United States has more speakers of English language. In fact, India has a greater number of English speakers than United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand put together and India accounts for the largest number of non-native English speakers in the world (Melchers & Shaw 2003:138). English in India is mostly spoken by people living in urban and semi-urban areas (Sailaja 2009:2).

2.2 Official status

The Constitution of India, which was adopted in 1949, defines by Article 343 English along with Hindi as an official language of the Union. The official status of English was initially granted for a period of fifteen years from the date when the Constitution came into effect, which happened in 1950 (Sailaja 2009:4). Through the Official Languages Act of 1963, the Indian government extended the use of English as an associate official language to an indefinite period of time. The Act also specifically states that English, in addition to Hindi, “shall compulsorily be used for certain specified purposes such as Resolutions, General Orders, Rules, Notifications, Administrative and other Reports, Press Communiqués” (Official Language).

Further, the Constitution of India grants the states the possibility to choose their official language. Thus they are free to determine English as their official language, though English does not belong to the twenty-two languages of India, such as Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Sanskrit, etc., which can be found in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution (Kachru 2006:100) . The states of Nagaland and Meghalaya in the north-eastern part of India have chosen English as their official language (Mehrotra 1998:2).

Although Hindi is the first official language in India, English has at least an equal importance. Not least the Constitution of India itself was originally written and adopted in the English language (Sailaja 2009:5).

2.3 Domains of use

As already mentioned, English is the language of administration and inter-state communication in India. English is frequently used in the Indian parliament and many newly elected representatives of the parliament are sworn in in English. Further, English is used as a language of communication at the level of higher education, trade, industry, tourism, military and banking system. English is the language of the High Courts and the Supreme Court (Mehrotra 1998:11-12). State schools in India have a “three-language policy”, meaning that children learn the language of their state, Hindi (in Hindi-speaking states another Indian language) and English (Melchers & Shaw 2003:138).

English also plays a major role when it comes to media, especially the print and audio-visual media. India publishes about 28,000 English books every year, which makes the country the third-largest publisher of English titles in the world, after the United States and United Kingdom. Out of a total of 62,483 registered newspapers and periodicals in India in 2006, those in English accounted for 9,064, following Hindi which leads the list with 24,927 publications (Sailaja 2009:3-4). Out of seven dailies which have been published for more than one hundred years, four are published in English, including The Times of India, which has the largest total circulation of 1,695,954 copies (Kachru 1983:71). For entertainment, people in India mainly listen to their regional music in the radio and most popular films and TV shows are in Indian languages. However, when it comes to news and sportscasts, Hindi and English are the dominant languages. Thus news in English and Hindi get 100 minutes a day each and at least 25 percent of sportscasts are broadcasted in English (Kachru 2006:101). Furthermore, 57 percent of TV advertisements are aired in English, whereas only 20 percent in Hindi (Mehrotra 1998:10).

In everyday life, English plays an important role and is considered to be necessary when it comes to information. The names of shops and other establishments even in the smallest of towns are often in English. It is very uncommon in India to use only a local language for naming commercial establishments. In cases where a local language is used, it is usually code-mixed with an English term, for example, Morarji Fabrics, Vimal Suitings, Alok Industries (Sailaja 2009:5-6).

Among educated Indians, English is the primary language of communication. English is regarded as a high language, closely linked with privileges and opportunities as well as with innovations and modernization (Mehrotra 1998:2). Formal conferences and discussions are commonly held in English (Melchers & Shaw 2003:138). When family and friends are involved, however, the primary language of communication is not English but a local language. The topic which is being discussed often determines the language. Thus topics concerning politics, sports or education are likely to be discussed in English, but emotions and relationships are rather discussed in a local language (Sailaja 2009:6).

2.4 “Indian English”

Not all Indians accept the term “Indian English”, which over the years has been used in a derogatory way and has been regarded as “bad English”. Thus many Indians would not label themselves as speakers of Indian English but rather as speakers of British English or American English respectively (Kachru 1983:73). Especially educated Indians become indignant about hearing that their English is supposed to be Indian (Sailaja 2009:14).

The term “Indian English” has two applications. Referring to Indian English in a broader and less precise way would cover the area of the old India before 1947, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, often together with the Indian neighbor states, such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. Those are countries which share many features in their English varieties. However, the use of the term “Indian English” in a broader way has been rejected by many scholars, so as not to label people who are not Indian in a contemporary political sense as speakers of Indian English (McArthur 2003:312). Kachru (1983:69) instead prefers the term “South Asian English” to characterize “Indian English” when it is used in a broader and less precise way.

The application of the term “Indian English” in a narrower sense is also controversial. It is not controversial for political reasons stated above or because the term is perceived to be derogative but rather for socio-linguistic reasons. Some commentators suggest that the term refers to a standard English variety in India, while others argue that the varieties of English in India are too divergent both geographically and socially to be put together as just one variety. Thus “Indian English” as a term is misleading and should not be used, at least not at the academic level (McArthur 2003:312).

For Kachru (1983:2-3) “Indian English” is an acceptable term. However, he does not imply that there is a complete uniformity in the use of the English language in India or that all Indians are homogenously proficient in English. Thus Kachru (2005:215) does differentiate in social terms between different types of Indian English spoken in India using a spectrum of three measuring points. Uneducated speakers, such as domestic staff, guides and postmen, are at the zero point or the basilect, referring to Indian English most distinct from standard English. Decently educated speakers, such as clerks and notaries, are at the central point or the mesolect, referring to all intermediate varieties. Finally, the very well educated speakers of English, such as educationists and creative writers, are at the ambilingual point or the acrolect, referring to “educated” Indian English, which can reach the proficiency of British standard English speakers.

Sailaja (2009:15) also states that there is a variety of English that can be characterized as Indian and which has many different features. For her there are “Indian Englishes no doubt but they are Indian English first.”

3) Models of Varieties of English: Indian English

3.1 Tom McArthur’s Wheel model of English

In his Wheel model, Tom McArthur characterizes World Englishes in a single conceptual scheme. His model consists of a hub representing a world central variety called “World Standard English”, which is supposed to be an idealized variety and is probably best described as “written international English” (Mesthrie & Bhatt 2010:27). The next circle, encircling the hub, consists of eight regions and depicts standard forms of regional varieties, such as “American Standard English” or “Caribbean Standard English”. The third and last layer outlines subvarieties of regional standard varieties. These subvarieties are, for example, “Hong Kong English”, “Kenyan English” or “BBC English” (McArthur 1998:95).

McArthur`s model is not ideal because it has some flaws in the way how it tries to characterizes World Englishes. From the geographical point of view there is nothing to criticize; however, the second circle connects three fundamentally distinct types of English, namely English as a native language (ENL), English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL). There are doubtless standard forms of American and British English, but one can argue if there is something like “East Asian Standard English” or not. The same issue arises when it comes to EFLs: do they have standard forms or not? Finally, European Englishes are not included in Arthur’s Wheel model (Mesthrie & Bhatt 2010:27).

Indian English can be found in the outer layer, in the same layer as Pakistani English or Sri Lankan English. According to McArthur, Indian English is a subvariety of the regional “South Asian Standard English”. India has doubtless produced its own standard English variety, but, again, one can linguistically argue whether there is something like South Asian Standard English, not least because South Asia encompasses many countries with their own range of languages.

3.2 Braj Kachru’s Circles model of English

In comparison to McArthur’s Wheel model, Braj Kachru’s Circles model conceives English in a different way. In his model there is no hub holding the whole structure together. Circles model consists of three circles, namely the “Inner Circle”, “Outer Circle” and “Expanding Circle” (Mesthrie & Bhatt 2010:29). The Inner Circle includes countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, thus world’s primary English native-speaking communities. These countries are “norm providing”, which means that the English language norms were developed there. The Outer Circle features postcolonial countries, such as Malaysia, Pakistan and Ghana, where English is spoken and learned as a second language. These countries may have their own varieties of English, thus English used there is regarded as “norm-developing”, but they still rely on models from the countries of the Inner Circle, especially in terms of formal written English (McArthur 1998:97-98). Englishes spoken in the Outer Circle countries are also often called “New Englishes”, which is not a satisfactory term because Indian English, for example, is older than varieties spoken in Australia or New Zealand and which are not regarded as New Englishes (Mesthrie & Bhatt 2010:3). Finally, the Expanding Circle comprises countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, where English is spoken and learnt as a foreign language. These countries were not colonized by members of the Inner Circle and have not developed their own varieties, thus their English is considered as “norm-dependent” and relies completely on the English language norms set by Inner Circle countries (McArthur 1998:97-98; Mesthrie & Bhatt 2010:29).

Kachru’s model is not based on geographical aspects but rather on history and politics. In contrast to McArthur’s model, the Circles model does not meld Inner Circle Englishes with Outer Circle Englishes. However, it also does not include European Englishes and omits socio-ethnic varieties when it comes to Inner Circle countries (Mesthrie & Bhatt 2010:29-30).

Indian English belongs to the Outer Circle Englishes. India is a postcolonial country, where English is mainly spoken and learned as a second language. The country has developed its own varieties, such as Bengal English or Hindustani English, but India still relies on British English or more recently American English, especially in terms of formal writing.


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Dialect Illustration of Indian English
University of Stuttgart  (Institute of English Linguistics)
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dialect, illustration, indian, english
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Alexander Welker (Author), 2014, Dialect Illustration of Indian English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/293216


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