Glossary: Indian English and Hinglish

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Indian English is English with a smattering of Hindustani - and other Indian languages - as the need of the speaker demands.

Hinglish is Hindustani (itself a hybrid of Hindi and Urdu) with a smattering of English.

That's my preferred distinction, and it's the one the Oxford Dictionary folks used to prefer.

It dismays me no end to hear the two used interchangeably, so here is an additional guide.

Indian English is India's English - the Maharani's English if you will. An exotic, richly spiced vibrant variant of the mother form, Indian English is recognized by the Oxford Dictionary. Populated as it is with an aromatic vocabulary of Indian words and quaint, rare and uniquely subcontinental English usage, it is to English what Masala Chai is to tea.

Hinglish on the other hand, being predominantly Hindustani, would be perfectly sensible if written in Devanagari script though it never is. Its quirkiest idiosyncrasy - its defining characteristic - is that it is at heart, an Indian language written fully in Roman script.

Indian English for its part, is mostly English in vocabulary and grammar albeit in a form not always recognizable to Her Majesty.
Imagine this: it's 1936, and a visiting Home Office envoy extends his pinkie, sips his Earl Grey and complains in a tone of mild horror, "My dear boy, it came here as the Queen's English but it's gone dreadfully native, hasn't it?"
Well, the reality is that it has gone wonderfully native; polyglottal India has made Indian English a truly Indian form of self-expression.
Yet, it would be nigh impossible to write Indian English in anything but Roman script.
Indian English is one of the many reasons English can claim more than half a billion speakers.

Here's a line in Indian English.
Hello sir! How is your health keeping? Auntyji is also being okay?


Here's the same line in Hinglish:
Namasteji. Aap teek hain? Aur auntyji?

For a fascinating linguistic journey through this young, extremely dynamic variant of English, click on the links below and hold on to your topees. (And at some point I promise, I will write a post on Indian words that English borrowed - hold on to your pyjamas for that one).

Click here to enjoy the BBC's take on Indian English.

Or here to read a rather thorough linguistic analysis in Wikipedia.

Or enjoy perusing the entertaining Dictionary of Indian English here.

Image via desicreative, by typographer Nabina Ghosh.

Article: Creative Commons License 2008 Gavin Barrett

Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.


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3 comments :

double barrett said...

Hey just read the piece...very nice. Just felt though (speaking as someone who has been writing or trying to write hinglish for a while) Hinglish has now become a bhelpuri of both English and Hindi.
"Namasteji. Sab fit hain? Aur Auntyji, ok?

Yeh toh hui na fresh-fresh kahani?

PS Check out the Virgin IPL ads done for digital. The last bit of work I handled at Bates before I left. 110 commercials were shot.

gavin barrett said...

Very true - Hinglish has gone on to be increasing catholic in its borrowings.

Interestingly, while Hinglish is predominantly Indian, Indian English is pan-South Asian. My Tamil friends from Jaffna aren't able to follow Hinglish they way they can follow the cadences and idioms of Indian English.

gavin barrett said...

Very true - Hinglish has gone on to be increasing catholic in its borrowings.

Interestingly, while Hinglish is predominantly Indian, Indian English is pan-South Asian. My Tamil friends from Jaffna aren't able to follow Hinglish they way they can follow the cadences and idioms of Indian English.

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