The Representation of Indian English in the Television Show "The Big Bang Theory"

Term Paper, 2016

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1 Transcription

2 Introduction

3 Phonological features of Indian English
3.1 The consonants of IndE
3.2 The Monophthongs and Diphthongs of IndE
3.3 Specific phonological and morphophonological features of IndE
3.4 Prosodic features of IndE
3.5 Other aspects of connected speech

4 Analysis of IndE in The Big Bang Theory
4.1 Consonants
4.2 Vowels and Diphthongs
4.3 Specific phonological and morphophonological features
4.4 Prosodic features

5 Conclusion


1 Transcription


Text 2

tʃᴐn ˈmeidʒə həz ə ˈdriːm hɪ ˈwɒnts tə əˈtʃiːv ˈzɪərəʊ ɪnˈfleɪʃᵊn bɑɪ ðə ˈnekst ɪˈlekʃᵊn / ˈᴂnd hɪ bɪˈliːvz ðət ˈstɜːlɪŋ cən ðən ˈtɔpᵊl ðə ˈdiː mɑːk əz ˈjʊərəps strəŋgəst ˈkʌrənsi

2 Introduction

The American sitcom The Big Bang Theory has been one of the most popular television shows over the last couple of years. The show is set in Pasadena, California, and it portrays the lives of four scientists, who struggle with the challenges of everyday life, and their good-looking neighbor Penny. One of them is the Indian astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali played by the native Indian actor Kunal Nayyar. Typical for him is his authentically sounding Indian English, short IndE. Spoken by 125 million people as a second language, according to the 2001 Census of India figures, IndE represents a fairly new variety of English. Even though, it is only the native language of 200 thousand, it is widely used in India (Census of India figures, 2001). Intranational communication via books, newspapers, reports, television shows is held in this language. Furthermore, IndE is the main medium of science and technology (Gargesh, 2008). This variety is also present in the media of the United States or Great Britain, e.g., in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. However, there are few studies concerning the representation of IndE in the Western media.

This paper will discuss the phonetic, phonological and morphophonological features of Indian English and compare them to the speech of the actor Kunal Nayyar in episode four of season three of The Big Bang Theory, called “The Pirate Solution”. I will focus on the standard variety, as defining all the regional variations would exceed the purpose of this paper. Firstly, I will describe the realization of the consonants, monophthongs and diphthongs by IndE speakers examined in contrast to Native English, abbreviated NE. Secondly, morphophonological and prosodic differences will be discussed. The following chapter analyzes the similarities and the dissimilarities between the specified characteristics and the language produced by Nayyar. Finally, I conclude that Nayyar shares many features of standard Indian English, though, he often violates rules. So, his speech becomes similar to NE. Nevertheless, it is still an accurate example of standard IndE.

3 Phonological features of Indian English

When talking about English in India, it is important to consider the regional differences caused by the plenty various native languages. India can be divided in four distinct language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burnam (Gargesh, 2008). Another factor which contributes to the dissimilarities in IndE is the speaker’s level of education. The higher the education, the less regional markers are found. These facts lead to the existence of multiple varieties of English (Sailaja, 2009). This paper will define the standard accent which lacks the influence of regional differences but is still typically Indian because of some shared features. As well, I will talk about some widespread regional variations. However, the descriptions shouldn’t be seen as fixed rather as tendencies as a result of the great individual variation among speakers.

3.1 The consonants of IndE

Consonants are described using three criteria: (1) the place of articulation: the exact place in the oral cavities where the airstream is obstructed; (2) the manner of articulation: how the airstream is modified; (3) voicing: whether the vocal cords are contracted, in order to produce a voiced sound, or not, to produce a voiceless sound (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010).

3.1.1 Stops

Stop sounds, also called plosives, /p, b, t, d, k, g/ are produced by completely blocking the airstream and finally releasing the air on a sudden through the mouth (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). Only parts of the stops are differently realized in IndE. Firstly, /t/ and /d/ are often retroflexed as in certificate [sərʈifike:ʈ] and London [lənɖən] (Gargesh, 2008). Sailaja (2009) claims in her book that /ɖ/ is used more frequently than /ʈ/ as well as that the usage is also influenced by the situation. According to her, speakers tend to use the retroflex sound in less formal conversation and the alveolar pronunciation in formal ones. Secondly, in Native English voiceless stops /p, t, k/ are aspirated in stressed syllable-initial position like in pin, kind or tan. IndE speakers would produce these sounds without aspiration (Gargesh, 2008). Compared to NE, aspiration in IndE is not completely predictable. In most cases, it is triggered by the orthography and not the position of the plosive. Therefore, ghost or abhor, even though these words start with a voiced plosive which is normally not aspirated, would be realized with a [gʰ] or [bʰ] as initial sounds (Sailaja, 2009).

3.1.2 Nasals

The nasals /m, n, ɳ/ are articulated with a lowered velum which causes the airstream to fully or partially pass through the nose (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). The velar nasal /ɳ/ occurs before retroflex stops, e.g., aunty [a:ɳʈi:] or band [bᴂɳɖ] (Pandey, 2015). As well it is produced in combination with the voiced velar consonant /g/ as in sing and rung – [sɪɳg], [rᴧɳg]. /m/ and /n/ solely occur in syllable-initial position (Gargesh, 2008).

3.1.3 Fricatives

The fricatives /s, z, ʃ, ʒ, θ, ð, f, v, h/ are articulated with a continuous airstream which creates friction by passing through a narrow opening (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). The inter-dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ are often substituted with the Indian dental plosives /t̪, t̪h, d̪/. In order to articulate these consonants the tongue touches the back of the teeth before the air is suddenly released. As they exist in most Indian languages, those sounds are familiar to Indian speakers and easier to produce than the inter-dental fricatives (Sailaja, 2009). According to Sailaja (2009), /θ/ is sometimes articulated, whereas /ð/ is almost non-existent. Gargesh (2008) describes the substitution of these sounds differently than Sailaja. He claims that the voiceless fricative is replaced by [t̯ʰ] and the voiced by [d̯]- in words like thin [t̪ʰɪn] and then [d̯en]. Furthermore, Gargesh (2008) describes the distinct substitution of / θ/ with /t/ in South India. In conclusion, these consonants are fairly challenging to produce for native Indian speakers and as a result they are generally replaced with various sounds. /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ also vary in articulation. Despite some regional variations, the voiceless /ʃ/ is generally equivalent to the fricative in NE. In contradiction, the voiced fricative /ʒ/ usually surfaces differently. Possible substitutions are /j/, /z/ or /dʒ/ as in [plaɪjər], [ple:zər] or [ple:dʒər] for pleasure (Gargesh, 2008). In Standard IndE, the labio-dental phoneme /f/ is realized the same way as in NE, except for speakers with a Gujarati or Marathi language background. They are likely to replace /f/ with [pʰ] – as in fish [pʰɪʃ] (Sailaja, 2009). The same phenomenon occurs with /v/ which is uttered as [bʰ] in Bengal or Orissa (Gargesh, 2008). Additionally, there is a tendency amongst non-standard varieties for /v/ and /w/ to merge into one sound – the labio-dental approximant /ʋ/ (Pandey, 2015). In this case words like vest and west are indistinguishable as they are both pronounced [ʋest]. As a result, these words become homophones – they sound the same despite of different meanings. In North India /h/ is generally articulated. Nonetheless, it tends to be dropped and substituted with a low tone in words like house [àus] or heat [ì:t] by some Punjabi speakers. Contrarily, the glottal fricative /h/ is sometimes realized as /j/ or /w/ in South India as in [jɪll] for hill and [laɪvliwud] for livelihood (Gargesh, 2008). The phonemes /s/ and /z/ in IndE equal the alveolar fricatives of NE in articulation (Pandey, 2015).

3.1.4 Liquids

A liquid is produced with a partial closure of the mouth (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). In IndE the alveolar liquid /l/ is always realized as the clear variant. Therefore the dark variant [l̴], which is uttered by raising the tongue towards the velum, is non-existent even in pre-consonantal and word-final position (Sailaja, 2009). In this case milk is heard as [mɪlk] and full as [fʊl]. Different theories about the articulation of /r/ are mentioned by Gargesh and Sailaja. The latter one (2009) claims IndE to be a non-rhotic variety like RP, Received Pronunciation. This means /r/ surfaces in pre-vocalic position, as an intrusive- r or as linking- r in environments like the car is - [ka:r ɪz]. In contrast to RP, the intrusive- r is absent in this variety and would be consider a strange idea by IndE speakers. On the other hand, Gargesh (2008) states that /r/ is generally articulated as a trill in consonant clusters, as well as in post-vocalic position, e.g., car as [ka:r] and cart as [ka:rʈ]. This contribution stands in contrast to IndE being a non-rhotic variety of English.

3.1.5 Affricates

An affricate is a combination of a plosive and a fricative (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). The realization of /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ does not vary compared to RP (Pandey, 2015).

3.1.6 Semivowels

Even though the semivowels /w/ and /j/ are not consonants from the phonetic point of view, as they are produced with a fairly free airstream, they cannot form the nucleus of a syllable, a characteristic of vowels. As a result, the semivowels are treated like consonants and thus, described in this chapter (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). As already mentioned, /w/ is often substituted with the labio-dental approximant /ʋ/. Another variation is the tendency to aspirate, not pre-aspirate as in some English dialects, the semivowel in wh - words like why [whaɪ] or where [wheyer] (Gargesh, 2008). In Dravidian languages, /j/ and /w/ can be inserted in front of a word without changing its meaning. Some speakers transfer this rule to English and so only becomes /wonlɪ/ and yes /es/ (Sailaja, 2009).

3.2 The Monophthongs and Diphthongs of IndE

As well as consonants, vowels are described using three criteria: (1) the height of the tongue: how high the tongue is raised in the oral cavities; (2) the part of the tongue: which part of the tongue is raised; (3) the position of the lips: are the lips pursed or are they in normal position (Becker, 2010).

3.2.1 Short vowels

In standard IndE the short vowels are articulated the same way as in RP, except for two. The mid central vowels /ə/ and /ᴧ/ are sometimes neutralized or used as free variants. According to this rule, words like butter surface either with /ᴧ/ or /ə/. A second dissimilarity is the substitution of /ɒ/ with /a/ in South Indian speech. The short vowels of IndE are thus /ɪ, ɛ, æ, ɒ, ʊ, ʌ, ə/ occurring in the following examples: /ɪ/ in sit, sin, hit; /ɛ/ in red, better; /ᴂ/ in fat, cat, cattle; /ɒ/ in hot; /ʊ/ in push, put; /ᴧ/ in butter; /ə/ in above, allow (Sailaja, 2009).

3.2.2 Long vowels

RP has only five long vowels, whereas IndE uses seven: /i:, e:, a:, ɒ:, o:, u:, ɜ:/. The two added vowels are /e:/ and /o:/ which show instead of the diphthongs /eɪ/ and /əʊ/. In this case play, may, face are pronounced with /e:/ and goat, clothes with /o:/. Diphthongs, also called gliding vowels, are vowels that are created by the movement of the articulators from one vowel position to another (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010).As a result, they consist of two phones. The long vowel /o:/ occurs as a substitution for RP /ᴐ:/, too (Pandey, 2015). The mid-low back rounded vowel /ᴐ:/ can surface as /ɒ:/ as well, in words like bought, daughter – /bɒ:t/, /dɒ:tə/. However, it might be articulated correctly by well trained speakers (Sailaja, 2009). Pandey (2015) claims that /a:/ replaces schwa in word-final position, e.g., India /ɪnɖɪa:/. The long vowels /i:/, /ɜ:/ and /u:/ are heard in the same context as in RP, but for one exception. In rhotic varieties of IndE, /ɜ:/ changes into /a/ or /ə/, hence the words bird and curd are articulated as /bard, kard/ or /bərd, kərd/ (Sailaja, 2009).

3.2.3 Diphthongs

The diphthongs /ɪə, ʊə, eə, aʊ/ surface in IndE like in RP, e.g., /ɪə/ in here, bere; /ʊə/ in tour, /aʊ/ in cow, mouth and /eə/ as a substitute for /ɛə/ in hair and there. In non-standard varieties of IndE, these diphthongs tend to be converted into the long monophthongs /i:, e:, u:/ in lexical items like serious /si:riəs/, area /e:rɪa:/ and tour /ʈu:r/ (Pandey, 2015). One more characteristic is the use of /aɪ/ instead of /ɒɪ/ by speakers who generally do not articulate /ɒ/ (Sailaja, 2009). Accordingly, night can either be articulated /naɪʈ/ or /nɒɪʈ/.

Thus the phones of Indian English are:

The consonants: /p, b, t, ʈ, d, ɖ, t̪, t̪h, d̪, k, g, f, v, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ, m, n, ɳ, l, r, ʋ, j, w/

The short vowels: /ɪ, ɛ, æ, ɒ, ʊ, ʌ, ə/

The long vowels: /i:, e:, a:, ɒ:, o:, u:, ɜ:/

The diphthongs: /ɪə, ʊə, eə, aʊ, aɪ, ɒɪ, /

3.3 Specific phonological and morphophonological features of IndE

As already acknowledged, the orthography has a high impact on the utterance in IndE. Furthermore, the pronunciation in IndE is closer to the spelling than in other varieties of English. Thus, consonants are heard which are usually silent letters in NE. Most IndE speakers utter /b/ in words like dumb or comb and also in plumber or plumbing. The same phenomenon affects the articulation of double consonants in disyllabic words. However, this distinct feature solely takes place if the consonants are surrounded by short vowels on either side. In this context they are realized as geminates – the same consonant forms the coda of the preceding and the onset of the following syllable. Hence, the words butter, summer, killing and happy surface as /bᴧʈʈə/, /sᴧmmə/, /kɪllɪɳg/ and /hᴂppi/. The double articulation occurs in prefixes, too – illegal /ll/, immature /mm/ or irresponsible /rr/ (Sailaja, 2009). Gargesh (2008) suggests that the last consonant of a consonant cluster is often dropped for simplification, e.g., act becomes [ɛk] and fruits [fru:ʈ]. He also portrays one more characteristic amongst consonant clusters – a combination of multiple consonants (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). Standing in word-initial position, clusters of the type #sp-; #st-, #sk- and #sl- are simplified by adding the short vowel /ɪ/ before them: speech as [ɪspi:tʃ] and school as [ɪsku:l]. A regional variation is the insertion of schwa between the consonants of the cluster. So, speech is realized as [səpi:tʃ] and school as [səku:l]. It should also be noted that syllabic consonants are non-existent in IndE. As a result, /ə/ is inserted in metal [meʈəl] or button [bᴧʈʈən] (Sailaja, 2009). In opposition to the adding of schwa, is the /ə/-dropping in relatively light positions, e.g., dispensary [dɪsˈpɛnsri:]; allegory [əˈlɛgri:] (Gargesh, 2008). A morphophonological variation is heard in the production of the plural and past allomorphs. Allomorphs are the different phonetic realizations of the same morpheme – the smallest meaning-bearing unit (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). Native English uses [t] after voiceless consonants, [d] after voiced consonants and [ɪd] after /t, d/ to indicate past tense. IndE tends to produce only [d] and [ɛd] as past tense allomorphs. Similarly, the plural suffix is invariably articulated as [ɛs] after sibilants and as [s] in the remaining environments (Sailaja, 2009). This is very different to other varieties of English because full vowels generally do not occur in suffixes.

3.4 Prosodic features of IndE

When describing IndE, its prosody, namely, stress, rhythm and intonation, should always be mentioned as it is an absolutely unique feature. According to Bansal (1976), the distinct and wrong placement of stress in words is the main reason for the misunderstanding of IndE speakers outside South Asia. Gargesh (2008) claims that the intonation of IndE creates many problems concerning international communication as it is distinct to the one of RP and more similar to the accentuation of Indian languages. Hence, a closer look at the prosodic features is taken in the following part.

3.4.1 Word stress

Word accentuation in IndE is strongly influenced by the speaker’s native language background which causes great regional diversity. Though, some pan-Indian features are shown by all of them. The best way to explain word stress is classifying the syllables by their weight. A light syllable consists of a vowel and is optionally preceded by a consonant – (C)V. A short vowel followed by a consonant or a consonant before a long vowel from a heavy syllable – (C)V: /VC. An extra heavy syllable takes the form – (C)V:C / (C)VCC (Gargesh, 2008). The rules for primary accent in IndE given by Gargesh (2008) are:

(a) Monosyllabic words are always stressed.
(b) Bisyllabic words have stress on the first syllable if the following syllable is not extra heavy. Otherwise the last syllable caries the stress.
(c) In trisyllabic words, the first syllable is stressed unless the second one is heavy. If that is the case, the second syllable has the primary accent.

Rule (a) causes relatively heavy stress on weak syllables such as in articles, function words, auxiliary verb forms or pronouns. In this manner fewer weak forms are present in IndE. The second rule leads to the following placements of stress: ˈtaboo, imˈpact, reˈcord and ˈmistake. The last one explains the word accentuation of: tenˈdency, ˈdiminish, caˈtegory and ˈterrific (Gargesh, 2008). Sailaja (2009) confirms that alphabetisms and compounds generally have stress on the first syllable, e.g., ˈTV, ˈBBC, ˈloud speaker, ˈbad-tempered. Alphabetisms are words that consist only of the first letters of the words that form their meaning and the letters are spoken individually. Compounds are created by combining two or more morphs (Bieswanger & Becker, 2010). Another feature is described by Pandey (2016) who is stating the absence of the distinction of grammatical categories by stress. So words like export or rebel are always articulated the same without regarding the syntactic category.


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The Representation of Indian English in the Television Show "The Big Bang Theory"
University of Würzburg
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Indian English, Big Bang Theory
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Julia Holleber (Author), 2016, The Representation of Indian English in the Television Show "The Big Bang Theory", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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