Indian English as an ESL-variety: common core and interference

Term Paper, 2003

22 Pages, Grade: 1


Table Of Contents

I. Introduction

II. ENL, ESL and EFL varieties of English- a terminology
2.1 ENL
2.2 ESL
2.3 EFL

III. Development of the non-native variety ‛Indian English‛

IV. The Indianization of the English language in India
4.1 Acculturation and interference
4.2 Deviations on the lexical level
4.2.1 Research
4.3 Types of lexical innovations
4.3.1 Single item transfer
4.3.2 Hybridised items
4.3.3 Translations
4.3.4 Shifts
4.3.5 Indian English collocations

V. The ‘Indianess’ of IE – a natural outcome of acculturation

VI. A common core as a world standard?

VII. Conclusion

VIII. List of references

I. Introduction

Apparently, the ancient legacy of the building of Babel is finally overcome: the English language has reached a spread all over the world unprecedented in history. People coming from such diverse backgrounds as Europe, America or Africa are now linked by one language: English. When following statistical numbers that estimate the total number of English speakers to exceed 1bn, it is not surprising that English is now agreed to be the lingua franca (cf. McArthur 2001: 1). On the surface, this achievement might be regarded as the fulfilment of a long aspired goal: the dream of universal intelligibility. Yet it brings with it certain conflicts and complications: English, now having reached cultures totally different from those that belong to the up to now accepted standards of English, was thus challenged to become an appropriate means for speakers to communicate within contexts the English language never was used in before. As a result, speakers from countries such as India, Kenya or Nigeria have moulded the English language and have adapted it to their own individual context - a development that might be a hindrance to the vision of English as a ‘link language’ worldwide. Unfortunately, it is not long ago that many of these New Englishes were considered to be provincial, backward and incorrect (cf. Görlach 1995: 11). Such judgemental views of the issue neither pay attention to the concept of interference the speakers’ first language has on English in these countries nor to the deviations motivated by acculturation. In the course of this paper the concepts of interference and acculturation as well as the issue of a universal understandable English are to be investigated in terms of one particular variety: Indian English. The study is structured as follows: Firstly, light will be shed on the different backgrounds an English speaker might come from. In order to introduce into the variety of Indian English as a next step, it will give an overview of how English gained roots in India. In addition to that, some of the most productive processes of adapting the English language to India will be illustrated. Finally, a discussion of some of the most important ideas of an ‘International English’ intends to touch on the problem of worldwide intelligibility in connection with the many Englishes. For reasons such as the colonial past of India comparisons of Indian English to any standard variety of English will be reduced to the British standard.

Moreover, the analysis will always be concerned with the standard Indian English speaker, that is, with the English language used by educated Indian speakers.

II. ENL, ESL and EFL varieties of English- a terminology

Having hinted at the huge spread of English all over the world, it is necessary to make a distinction between the different ways in which the English language is acquired: Is it learned when the speaker is only a child or at some subsequent period? Does it serve for communication within one’s own country or international purposes? Most commonly a three-way distinction is made between English as a native language (ENL), English as a second languages (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) (cf. Quirk et al. 1985: 4). In the following these three categories are briefly explained.[1][2][3]

2.1 ENL

In terms of ENL regions, English is the native language for at least the larger part of the population, used for all standard and informal functions. Countries in which English is the inhabitants’ mother tongue are Britain, Ireland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand; in Canada and South Africa only certain sections of the population speak English as their native language (cf. Görlach 1995: 21)

2.2 ESL

As the term indicates, English is not spoken as a mother tongue in these countries. The country usually inherited the language from a (former) colonial administration. Regardless of any acquired independence of the country, English has retained important functions as it cuts across regional boundaries and serves for intranational uses in education, administration and media in e.g. Nigeria, Kenya and India (Görlach 1995: 22). Quirk proposes five types of functions English serves for when it is spoken as a second language:

(1) instrumental, for formal education
(2) regulative, for government, administration and the law courts
(3) communicative, for communication between individuals speaking different native languages
(4) occupational, intra- and internationally for commerce, science and technology
(5) creative, for writings such as fiction or political works

Most interestingly, the number of ESL speakers is estimated to be over 300 million people, a figure that may soon exceed the number of native speakers, or may have done so already (cf. Quirk et al. 1985: 5).

2.3 EFL

When English is spoken as a foreign language, two characteristics apply for most of these countries: for one thing, English fulfils only international functions and the speakers almost exclusively acquire it at school. Furthermore, an indigenous national language serves to perform all other standard functions (cf. Görlach 1995: 23).

In this context it is essential to draw the attention to the fact that this description should not be taken absolute: classifications often do not portray reality and are inclined to bear misleading assumptions: According to Görlach, many national speech communities are not exclusively EFL or ESL varieties, they often include speakers of more than one of the categories. What is more, the current status of a speech community, e.g. ESL, may well be moving to an EFL type due to the attempt to promote a national language to replace English. Similarly, English can take over functions held by the native languages, e.g. at conferences or in books and journals.

Further, the status of English does not give any indication of the number of English speakers in the respective country nor the quality of their English. As a result, the individual competence of an EFL speaker might be higher than the one of an ESL speaker (cf. Görlach 1995: 13).

The preceding categorization of the different types of English speakers serves as a foundation for the discussion of one particular group of ESL speakers: the Indian English variety.

III. Development of the non-native variety ‛Indian English‛

Kachru subdivides the process of the introduction of English in India into three phases, the first of which dates back to the Christian missionaries to proselytise the Indian subcontinent. This phase was followed by a general claim for English among prominent Indians like Raha Rammohun Roy (1722-1833). To that time scholars tried to persuade members of the East India Company to impart instructions in English, claiming that it was better for young Indians to be exposed to the scientific knowledge of the West. English was regarded as a means to modernise and raise India’s status in terms of science and technology. The following quotation by Raja Rammohun, a fervent advocate of that latter assumption, is a case in point as he considers India to be inferior to Europe in terms of the scientific knowledge: he argues that one should use available funds for

employing European gentlemen of talent and education to instruct the natives of India in mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other useful sciences, which the natives of Europe have carried to a degree of perfection that has raised them above the inhabitants of other parts of the world (Kachru 1976b: 68).

Utterly opposed to this view, defining the aims of the so-called Anglicist group was the Oriental fraction who rejected the Introduction of English in India.

The third phase, marked by a great controversy between those opposing views began after 1795, when the authority of the East India Company was stabilized. On March 7 in 1835, however, the Anglicist fraction finally won the battle. A resolution was passed that was based on a proposal by T.B. Macaulay, whose aim was to implement an English language policy. As soon as the resolution was passed, it entailed the diffusion of English all over the Indian subcontinent. According to Kachru, “the English language gained deeper roots in an alien linguistic, cultural, administrative and educational setting” (Kachru 1976b: 69). In 1857 the first three universities were established, with two more by the end of the 19th century. Whereas by 1928 English was accepted as the language of the elite, the administration and the pan-Indian press, nowadays even Indian literature is gaining popularity and status both in India itself and in other nations (cf. Kachru 1976b: 67ff).

In today’s India, English is the state language of two states in eastern India as well as the main medium of instruction in most institutions of learning at the postgraduate level. What is more, it is taught as a second language at all stages of education all over India. Regarding the Indian press, the huge number of newspapers that are published in English all over India – in 1978 the number of English newspapers exceeded 2,900, representing the second largest number with an increasing tendency – additionally proves the establishment of the English language in India (cf. Kachru 1976b: 72).


[1] English as a native language

[2] English as a second language

[3] English as a foreign language

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Indian English as an ESL-variety: common core and interference
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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Stefanie Bock (Author), 2003, Indian English as an ESL-variety: common core and interference, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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