Posted tagged ‘John Keay’

Translation 40. Hindi-English-Hinglish, an Indian ménage à trois

23 January 2013

One of the aspects which makes travel to ‘Incredible’ India different is the ease with which foreign tourists and businessmen can make themselves understood (in English) in airports, shops, hotels and (usually) taxis. There is no language angst as in many other countries. This is because most urban Indians speak English as a first language and many others as a second one – as well as a regional language (or two). Indians are very used to learning more than one language. In the case of English, it can be useful in getting them a better job, thus improving the wages or salary that they receive.

The long relationship between Indian languages and English has been a major factor in the modern history of the India and its States. Now, with English as the major world lingua franca, it is proving to be beneficial to Indias’s increasing development and prosperity. It is also a comforting advantage over India’s fellow colossus, China, which in so many other ways is ahead of India. The Chinese are making massive investments in education but it will take them a long time to reach the fluency at present enjoyed by so many (numerically) in India.


The dominant position of English in India over the past two centuries is fairly well known and is easy to document. By the 1830s, Britain was ruling over vast areas of the Indian subcontinent with relatively few British soldiers and administrators. A deliberate act by Lord (Thomas Babington) Macaulay brought about the extraordinary dominance of English over the lives of Indians and was to change the destinies of all those Indians who studied the language to work for or under the British Administration. It is also responsible for the ongoing prominence of the English language in the independent Republic of India.

In the admirably succinct Wikipedia account:
“[Lord Macauley] introduced English education in India through his famous minute of February 1835. He called an educational system that would create a class of anglicised Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians. Macaulay succeeded in implementing ideas previously put forward by Lord William Bentinck, the governor general since 1829. Bentinck favored the replacement of Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. He was inspired by utilitarian ideas and called for “useful learning.” Macaulay convinced the Governor-General to adopt English as the medium of instruction in higher education, from the sixth year of schooling onwards, rather than Sanskrit or Persian then used in the institutions supported by the East India Company. By doing so, Macaulay wanted to “educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother tongue” and thus, by incorporating English, he sought to “enrich” the Indian languages so “that they could become vehicles for European scientific, historical, and literary expression”. Macaulay’s preference for the English language was based on his view of the local languages as “poor and rude” and on his belief that the body of writing available in Sanskrit and Arabic was no match for the scholarship available in English. He stated in his “Minute on Indian Education” (1835): “all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.”
(Wikipedia, 23 January 2013)
(Note. Interested readers should see the absorbingly detailed account given by Pavan K. Varma in Becoming Indian, Chapters 2 – ‘The Imperishable Empire’ – and 3 – ‘Macaulay’s Legacy’, pp. 26-87.)

If we now fast forward to the end of the British Raj, as a result of Macaulay’s educational Minute, the position of English in the administration of India and in the running of daily urban life was so well entrenched that it was the national lingua franca, in partnership with regional languages (especially in the south), while in the north it was the partner (or perhaps big brother?) to Hindi.

1947 on-

In the Republic of India, the Hindi-English question has been present since the Independence ceremony.
1. In the Constituent Assembly on 14 August 1947,
“Few of the people in the hall could talk to each other in their native tongue; their only common tongue was the English of the colonizers, whose rule was about to end” (Collins and Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight, p. 287).
2. Jawaharlal (Pandit) Nehru’s famous eloquent Independence “Tryst’ speech was delivered in English.
3. Hindi and English were decreed to be the two main languages, with a limit of 15 years set for English.
4. Sixty five years later, Hindi and English are still the dominant official languages of India, with the advantage still favouring English (and English-speaking Indians.)

1950 The new Constitution was written in English.

“The 1950 Constitution had eventually fudged the issue: Hindi was to be the sole official language, but not for fifteen years (during which English might still be used. […] The hope was that in the fifteen-year interim tempers would cool and Hindi would win more friends …” (John Keay, India. A History, p. 528). As a result northern supporters of Hindi redoubled their efforts to coin more Sanskritised neologisms to cover modern and technical terms with the result that “the Hindi news on All India Radio became […] barely comprehensible” (p. 529). Meanwhile in the north there were protests against English and in the south, mainly in Tamil Nadu, the demonstrations were far more violently against Hindi, with many deaths and several self-immolations (Keay, 529).

From one of his interviews, Patrick French offers this extra detail, gleaned from a Tamilian professor:
“those protests were so intense, with people immolating themselves against the perceived northern domination, that the plan was abandoned and English continued as a parallel language. The powerful Dravidian political parties of the South came out of this movement.” (India, pp. 371-2).

Maria Misra offers another perennially important factor in the debate:
“Critics argued that the reform would grant an unfair advantage in the intense competition for government jobs to the 35% of the nation for whom Hindi was their first language. In 1959, Nehru began to retreat, promising that Hindi would not be imposed and that English would stay as an ‘associate’ language”.
(Maria Misra, Vishnu’s Crowded Temple, p. 289).

Finally, in 1967, a bill was passed which, “while confirming the status of Hindi as India’s official language, gave the non-Hindi states a veto over the phasing out of English, thus effectively guaranteeing its place as “an associate official language” indefinitely (Keay, 529). States were allowed to conduct official business in their preferred regional language (Tamil, Telugu, etc.)

As a result of such language complications, India’s national parliament has some organisational similarities with the European Union; provision for interpreting services is quite generous. In the mid-1990s, the Indian Prime Minister Deve Gowda, who apparently did not speak Hindi or English well, must have been especially grateful for this service.

Among the provisions are the following, taken from

Constitutional Provision and use of different languages in Lok Sabha

“Under article 120 of the Constitution, the business of both the Houses of Parliament is transacted in Hindi or English. In order to enable the Members to communicate directly across the language barrier, a two-channel system of simultaneous interpretation from Hindi to English and vice-versa was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 7 September, 1964. Subsequently, to facilitate Members who could not express themselves adequately in Hindi or English, it was decided to extend the facility of simultaneous interpretation in some of the languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. In November 1969, this facility was extended to some more languages of the Eighth Schedule. At present, the facility of simultaneous interpretation is available in the following languages namely: Assamese, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Manipuri, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Efforts are being made to provide simultaneous interpretation facility in the remaining languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Direction by Speaker regarding use of languages other than Hindi/English
A member who wishes to speak in a language other than Hindi or English is required [under Direction 115 B(1)* by the Speaker] to give at least half-an-hour notice to the officer at the Table to enable the Interpreter concerned to take his seat in the Interpreters’ booth before the member speaks.

Interpretation of the Proceedings of Parliamentary Committees etc.
Arrangement for simultaneous interpretation exists in all the Committee rooms in Parliament House, Parliament House Annexe and Parliament Library Building where meetings of Parliamentary Committees, Departmentally Related Standing Committees, Consultative Committees attached with various ministries etc. are held.”

Many generations of Indian children from the upper and middle classes have had an ‘English Medium’ education, where the tuition takes place in English. For many of these children, Hindi (or another regional language like Tamil or Kannada) is a second language. Also, Higher education and much political, professional and technical training and activity are mainly conducted in English.

Mark Tully, the much-admired India-watcher and “interpreter”, with a lifetime’s collection of valuable observations on Indian life and history, offers this comment on the mixed benefits of English in one of his earlier books on India (No Full Stops in India, 1991):
“The upper echelons of Indian society regard English as one of the greatest gifts of the British. They have made it the language of the exclusive club they belong to, and parents who see half a chance of getting their children admitted to the club will make any sacrifice to provide an English-medium education for them. The élite are not concerned that English has impoverished Indian languages and stood in the way of the growth of an indigenous national language. They insist that English must be preserved as the common language of multilingual India, even though less than 3 per cent of the population have even a basic understanding of it” (pp. 7-8).

In more recent times, some members of the Other Backward Classes have begun to take advantage of an English education. Indeed, Patrick French presents this vignette about a Dalit writer and activist, Chandra Bhan Prasad, who set up a primary school in 2010 and also built a temple dedicated to a new deity, ‘Dalit Goddess English’. His supposition was that Dalits, being socially and educationally excluded, should learn English so as to advance” (India, A Portrait, p. 278).

Since the spread of English throughout India, words from English have been adopted by speakers of Hindi, Tamil and other Indian languages. These borrowed words and phrases are called loanwords or loan translations (calques), In the case of Hindi, there have been many such loanwords and calques, adapted more or less to the phonetics of Hindi, and referring to daily life and to technical terms. This borrowing process goes on all the time between all languages in contact. Think of the massive influx of French or Norman words into English after 1066, or the number of Arabic words in modern Spanish which date back to the centuries-long Muslim rule.

Whereas everyday Hindi contains a very very large number of English loan words, adapted to the phonetics of Hindi, and referring to daily life and to technical terms, their rapid, inexorable, increase, almost on a daily basis, is the cause for the recent cries of alarm from some observers (for example, Professor Rupert Snell, quoted below). Many of these loanwords, and a large number of English acronyms, also based on English phonetics (bee.jay.pee, see.bee.aaee, for example), are understood by Indians in many cities.

Examples of simple loans:

bas, bus; tren, train; kort, court; steshan, station; saspains, suspense; iNjekshan, injection; graauNd, ground; saaikal, cycle; gaiNgrep, gang rape; haaidrojan, hydrogen; saintimetar, centimetre; kaarburetar, carburettor; aaiskreem, ice cream;
ekyoopankchar, acupuncture; spaainal kord, spinal cord. (For many more examples, see the Reference list, under Steel.)


aaee.aaee.tee., IIT (Indian Institute of Technology)
aaee.e.ess, IAS (Indian Administrative Service)
aar.bee.aaee., RBI (Reserve Bank of India)
aar.tee.aaee., RTI (Right to Information), BJP (Bharaateeya Janata Party – or, in Hindi phonetics)
dee.aaee.jee., DIG (Deputy Inspector General)
ef.dee.aaee., FDI (Foreign Direct Investment)
em.e., MA.(Master of Arts)
en.dee.tee.vee. (Indeeyaa), NDTV (India) – New Delhi TV
en.aar.aaee., NRI (Non-Resident Indian), NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme)
o.bee.see., OBC (Other Backward Classes)
pee.el.e., PLA (People’s Liberation Army – China)
pee o ke , PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir)
see.aaee.aaee., CII (Confederation of Indian Industry)
see.bee.aaee., CBI (Criminal Bureau of Investigation_
tee.dee.pee., TDP (Telugu Desham Party – Andra Pradesh)
tee.o.aaee., TOI (Times of India)
tee.tee., TT (train ticket inspector)
too.jee., 2G (The ongoing 2G ‘Spectrum’ scandal)

As well as Hindi, we now have ‘Hinglish’, one of a global variety of hybrid combinations of English with a dominant local language., used by bilingual, or partially bilingual speakers. But as we shall see, Hinglish in the form it has evolved over the last 15-20 years is a very complex linguistic phenomenon, on which many scholars are working. The major source of recent discussions on the Hinglish-Hindi-English trio is the 2008 Conference Proceeding, Chutnefying English, edited by Rita Kothari and Rupsert Snell. (Also worth searching for on the Web are Hinglish, Code-switching and Code-mixing.)

When first heard (on a Bollywood film, for example), Hinglish appears to contain far more complex elements of code-switching than, say, the more parochial ‘Spanglish’ of California, Florida, or Australia . (See under Steel in the Reference list.)
It is also probably more complex than ‘Chinglish’, but the special brand of Chinglish of Hong Kong, which is based on a very long and close association between Chinese and English may be closer. (See Wikipedia under Chinglish or ‘Code-switching in Hong Kong’.)

Hinglish can be freely observed in many Bollywood movies and on the streets of Indian cities. It is especially favoured by younger generations of Indians and goes far beyond loan translations. Here are some simple examples (taken from the Gurcharan Das article quoted later):

“Main aaj busy hoon. Kal bill doonga definitely. [I’m busy today. I’ll do the bill tomorrow, defintely.]
“ Voh mujhe avoid kartee hai!” [You’re avoiding me!]
“Careful, yaar. Voh dangerous hai!” [Careful, mate. You’re dangerous.]

Anand Giridharadas, a young American visitor, born of NRI parents, describes his first encounters with (upper class) Indian Hinglish:
It consists of
“stirring Hindi words into English sentences, conjugating Hindi verbs with English suffixes, and appropriating the pidgin English of the less-educated classes. He offers these examples:
“He was just line maro-ing.” [‘chatting up’ the girls]
“Chal, time pass karte hain.”
“Shall we pacca meet at seven?”
“Come jaldi se. Nahin to, the booze will finish.” [early; Otherwise …]
(From India Calling. An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, 2011.)

Here is another one from an Internet comment:
“Main baahar nikalnee vaalee thee, tab ren stated pooring. Main bheeg gayee and I went clothes chainj karne ke liye.” (“indi45”. One of the comments on Anjoo Mohan’s article in The Guardian on 27 January 2010: ‘English or Hinglish – does it matter what Indian students are learning?’)

(For other examples see Chutnefying English, Tomas Borowiak, and L. Thillai Salvi, in the Reference list.)

After seeing these brief samples, it is not difficult to understand that Indians are currently divided over the ‘Hinglish question’, especially for its implications for the future of Hindi (rather than for that of Indian English, which continues to thrive). The following paragraphs give an idea of the principal points of view.

In the 2008 conference, Hinglish was strongly supported as a natural phenomenon among bilinguals. Of special interest are the papers given by Professor Harish Trivedi and the renowned linguist, Tej. K. Bhatia.

Another keen supporter of Hinglish is Gurcharan Das, the energetic ex-businessman, and author of the bestseller India Unbound. Das began his article, ‘Inglish as She’s Spoke’ (Outlook India (2 May 2005) with customary vigour:

“In a world growing smaller and in an India growing bigger, English is the currency of the future. Even insecure vernacular chauvinists can’t deny us our due.” He went on to speak glowingly of ‘Inglish’ (i.e. Hinglish) as being “increasingly pan-India’s street language.” He portrays Hinglish as a possible future national “aspirational” language for all Indians: “perhaps we may have found a language common to the masses and classes acceptable to the South and North.”

During the 2008 ‘Chutnefying English’ conference, Das moderated and participated in a controversial Panel Discussion, ‘Is Hinglish the language of India’s Future?’ The following contribution by Das expands on the point already made above:
“The spread of Hinglish is a democratizing process. It is a way for the rich and the poor to communicate in the same language for the first time. I wonder why and how Hinglish came up in the 1990s? Is it the reforms that brought it about? Is it a part of the mental liberation of the young in the 1990s?”

A celebration of both Hindi and Hinglish is offered by the prominent diplomat and writer, Pavan K. Varma, whose recent three sociological studies on contemporary India and Indians are de rigueur for students of India, as well as Indians (and NRIs), who have already converted them into bestsellers.

Varma, who concentrates on observations and analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary Indian society, suggests that the prominence and domination of English in India stunted Hindi’s growth in the past:

“We have a linguistic pool so large and diverse that despite attempts to colonize the language, it survived. However, over the past three or four decades, this rich linguistic heritage has been disproportionately overshadowed by a pan-Indian preponderance of English.” (Times of India (30 January 2012).

However, things have now changed:
“An assertive popular culture is beginning to acquire critical mass in India. The growing popularity of Hindi is a case in point. The attempt to introduce it by fiat failed; but the growing number of people who speak and read Hindi today would surprise its opponents” (Being Indian, p. 144).
“The popularity of Hindi has nothing to do with a new-found affection for the national language nor is it a deliberate dilution of linguistic chauvinisms. It has happened gradually, on its own and in response to market forces […].” “Many Indians are not fluent in Hindi, but a great many more understand something of it now. Hindi films are popular in Tamil Nadu.”

“A new lingo dubbed Hinglish, an irreverent masala of English and Hindi words, has sprouted spontaneously in the cities. The young speak it; with the success of Pepsi’s slogan – Yeh dil maange more (This heart wants more) – the advertising industry has also come to love it; successful films have adopted it; television resounds to it, even conservative English dailies have not been able to resist its appeal. Hinglish, like Indipop, thumbs its nose at the purists. It represents a confident new comfort zone, in which people arte more concerned with communication than with ideological loyalties” (p. 145).
(See also Varma, Becoming Indian. The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity, Chapter 3, ‘Macauley’s Legacy’, pp. 64-87, for a lengthier treatment of the Hindi versus English story.)

In the same conference Proceedings, the prominent Hindi lexicologist, teacher, and scholar, Professor Rupert Snell expresses deep concern for the present and future of Hindi in ‘Hindi: Its threatened ecology and natural genius’.
“… I see a far more insidious process at work: thanks to the influence of English on Hindi, that would-be national language is year by year sacrificing its own heritage of articulacy, and becoming a stranger in its own land.” He also sees the “elegance of Hindi being eroded by making its own innate lexicon seem exotic, esoteric and eccentric even within its own geographic territory” (p. 23).

His sad conclusion is:
“We are encouraged within the pages of this book and elsewhere, to celebrate the new, zippy Hinglish as a fun thing that echoes the buzz of youth culture and all that. But the point I want to make is a more sombre one: the unattractiveness, for whatever reason, of the over-formal register of Hindi promoted in official circles has turned a long-term trickle of English words into a monsoon flood; the result is a dilution of the genius of Hindi, and irreversible damage to its ecological balance. Hindi aspires to be a national language but is in danger of becoming little more than a notional one as people turn to English or Hinglish in droves” (p. 36).
(Kothari, Rita and Snell, Rupert, eds. Chutnefying English. The Phenomenon of Hinglish, pp. 22-36).
(In 1990, Snell had published a ground-breaking study, ‘The Hidden Hand’, in which
he foreshadowed his present position. See Reference list.)

English is still the lingua franca of India and its de facto national language.

Although Hindi is officially supported and promoted by the Department of Official Language (DOL), financed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, an article by Rashmi Sadana in April 2012 suggested that progress by DOL is impeded by bureaucracy.

Hindi will continue to absorb foreign words and Hinglish will continue to grow and to be discussed and studied.


From the point of view of translation needs as well as for language teaching and learning, especially teaching or learning Hindi as a second language, more effort needs to be made to record the most common English loanwords (and phrases) which have been adopted into the Hindi language so that they can be listed in monolingual and bilingual Hindi (-English/ German,Chinese, etc,) dictionaries, because English/German./Chinese students need to know them!

Over the past two years of listening to and reading the Indian media and Internet sources, I have collected roughly 2000 English loanwords in Hindi, most of which are much more necessary to foreign learners than the linguistic gymnastics involved in ‘performing’ in Hinglish, which is more suited to bilinguals. Given the size of the loanword phenomenon, my glossary should be taken as a (large) sample only.

The collection will be available shortly, to be sent by email, as a pdf document, to those students who wish to consult it for their personal use. (@


Collins, Larry and Lapierre, Dominique, Freedom at Midnight.
Das, Gurcharan:
India Unbound. The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age, New York, Anchor Books, 2002.
‘Inglish as She’s Spoke’, Outlook India, 2 May 2005.
Giridharadas, Anand, India Calling. An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, USA, Times Books, 2011.)
Keay, John, India. A History. Revised and enlarged edition, NY Grove Press, 2010.

Kothari, Rita. Translating India. The Cultural Politics of English. New Delhi: Foundation Books (Cambridge University Press India), Rev. ed. 2011.
(An excellent study of the publishing of translations of Indian works in India and the recent burgeoning and increased academic interest in Translation Indian Universities. It includes a survey of the perennial English and Hindi questions in Chapter 3, ‘The Two Worlds Theory’, pp. 26-35.)

Kothari, Rita and Snell, Rupert, eds. Chutnefying English. The Phenomenon of Hinglish, New Delhi, Penguin, 2011.
(The results of reporting the 2009 conference.
The collection of papers and discussions offers a plethora of views on Hinglish, its nature and recent impact. It also draws attention to the influence of the media, including Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV, etc. This, along with the Internet and text messaging, all points to major urban usage of hybridised Hinglish by young people, who are in a majority in India.

The sociolinguistic paper by Professor G.J.V Prasad (‘Tamil, Hindi, English: The New Ménage à Trois’, pp. 141-160) is full of valuable insights into the complex state of multiple language use in contemporary India, with special reference to the author’s personal multilingual experiences and the nature of Indian Englishes, which vary according to linguistic areas, as illustrated with reference to Indian English literature.

In response to his conference brief, and as a Tamilian, Prasad’s major focus here is, correctly, on the ‘anglicization of Tamil’. The anglicisation of the Hindi language and its potential consequences may turn out to have been the elephant in the room at that gathering.)

Misra, Maria, Vishnu’s Crowded Temple, p. 289. London, Penguin, 2008.
Sadana, Rashmi, ‘How we live multilingually and what this says about our language and literature’,
Snell, Rupert, ‘The Hidden Hand: English Lexis, Syntax and Idiom as Determinants of Modern Hindi Usage’, South Asia Research, 1990, 10, 53-68.
(An important study, worth reprinting, in which Snell presents a cornucopia of detailed evidence on the massive influence of English on Hindi, leading to his Trojan horse analogy. The rapid growth of Hinglish over the last 15-20 years was to reinforce his thesis.)
Steel, Brian:
‘El Espanglish de Australia’,
‘Hindi Vocabulary for Lucky English-speaking Learners,
Tully, (Sir) Mark:
No Full Stops in India, London, Penguin, 1991.
India. The Road Ahead, London, Random House, 2011.
(esp. pp. 176-199: ‘The English Raj’)
Varma, Pavan K.:
The Great Indian Middle Class, Revised ed., New Delhi, Penguin, 2007 [1998]
Being Indian, London, Arrow Books, 2006 [2004].
Becoming Indian. The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity, New Delhi, Allen Lane, 2010
(Chapters 2 – ‘The Imperishable Empire’ – and 3 – ‘Macaulay’s Legacy’, pp. 26-87.)

Note: For more examples of information on loans, Hinglish, code-switching and code-mixing, see:
Baldauf, Scott, ‘A Hindi-English Jumble, spoken by 350 million’, The Christian Science Monitor, 23 November 2004.
Borowiak, Tomasz, ‘Mixed Conjunct Verbs And Other Manifestations of Hindi Englishization’,

Click to access Borowiak_INVELING15.pdf

Selvi, L. Thillai, ‘Code-Mixing in Hindi: A Study’,

Click to access hindi%20oct-dec-11.pdf