Get Indian English essential facts below. View Videos or join the Indian English discussion. Add Indian English to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Group of English dialects spoken primarily in the Indian subcontinent
Indian English is a class of varieties of the English language spoken in India, and among the Indian diaspora elsewhere in the world. English is used by the Indian government for some communication as a supplement to Hindi, the country's official language enshrined in the Constitution. English is an official language of 7 states and 5 Union Territories and also additional official language of 7 states and 1 Union Territory. English is also the sole official language of the Judiciary of India, unless a state Governor or legislature mandates the use of regional language, or the President has given approval for the use of regional languages in courts. Indian English originated from British English but is used by more people. In his book The English Language (1990) David Crystal observed, "British English is now, numerically speaking, a minority dialect, compared with American, or even Indian, English."
According to the 2001 Census, 12.6% of Indians knew English.[failed verification] An analysis of the 2001 Census of India concluded that approximately 86 million Indians reported English as their second language, and another 39 million reported it as their third language.
According to the 2005 India Human Development Survey, of the 41,554 surveyed, households reported that 72% of men (29,918) did not speak any English, 28% (11,635) spoke at least some English, and 5% (2,077, roughly 17.9% of those who spoke at least some English) spoke fluent English. Among women, the corresponding percentages were 83% (34,489) speaking no English, 17% (7,064) speaking at least some English, and 3% (1,246, roughly 17.6% of those who spoke at least some English) speaking English fluently. According to statistics of District Information System for Education (DISE) of National University of Educational Planning and Administration under Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, enrollment in English-medium schools increased by 50% between 2008-09 and 2013-14. The number of English-medium school students in India increased from over 15 million in 2008-09 to 29 million by 2013-14.
According to the 2011 Census, 129 million (10.6%) Indians spoke English. 259,678 (0.02%) Indians spoke English as their first language. It concluded that approximately 83 million Indians (6.8%) reported English as their second language, and 46 million (3.8%) reported it as their third language, making English the second-most spoken language in India.
India ranks 22 out of 72 countries in the 2016 EF English Proficiency Index published by the EF Education First. The index gives the country a score of 57.30 indicating "moderate proficiency". India ranks 4th out of 19 Asian countries included in the index. Among Asian countries, Singapore (63.52), Malaysia (60.70) and the Philippines (60.33) received higher scores than India.
Journalist Manu Joseph, in a 2011 article in The New York Times, wrote that due to the prominence and usage of the language and the desire for English-language education, "English is the de facto national language of India. It is a bitter truth." In his book, 'In Search of Indian English: History, Politics and Indigenisation', Ranjan Kumar Auddy shows that the history of the rise of Indian nationalism and the history of the emergence of Indian English are deeply inter-related.
English, according to the Indian Constitution, is the language of the Supreme Court and all the High Courts of India. However, in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan there is use of Hindi in courts because of Presidential approval. In 2018, the Punjab and Haryana High Court also await Presidential approval for Hindi use as well.
The first occurrence of the term Indian English dates from 1696, though the term did not become common until the 19th century. In the colonial era the most common terms in use were Anglo-Indian English, or simply Anglo-Indian, both dating from 1860. Other less common terms in use were Indo-Anglian (dating from 1897) and Indo-English (1912). An item of Anglo-Indian English was known as an Anglo-Indianism from 1851.
In the modern era, a range of colloquial portmanteau words for Indian English have been used. The earliest of these is Indlish (recorded from 1962), and others include Indiglish (1974), Indenglish (1979), Indglish (1984), Indish (1984), Inglish (1985) and Indianlish (2007).
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2019)
Indian English generally uses the Indian numbering system. Idiomatic forms derived from Indian literary languages and vernaculars have been absorbed into Indian English. Nevertheless, there remains general homogeneity in phonetics, vocabulary, and phraseology between various dialects of Indian English.
Formal written publications in English in India tend to use lakh/crore for Indian currency and Western numbering for foreign currencies.
As in the case for other countries in South Asia, Indian English tends to omit definite and indefinite articles, due to influence from Hindi.
English language public instruction began in India in the 1830s during the rule of the East India Company (India was then, and is today, one of the most linguistically diverse regions of the world). In 1835, English replacedPersian as the official language of the Company. Lord Macaulay played a major role in introducing English and western concepts to education in India. He supported the replacement of Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction in all schools, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, primary, middle, and high-schools were opened in many districts of British India, with most high-schools offering English language instruction in some subjects. In 1857, just before the end of Company rule, universities modeled on the University of London and using English as the medium of instruction were established in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. During the British Raj, lasting from 1858 to 1947, English language penetration increased throughout India. This was driven in part by the gradually increasing hiring of Indians in the civil services. At the time of India's independence in 1947, English was the only functional lingua franca in the country.
After Indian Independence in 1947, Hindi was declared the first official language, and attempts were made to declare Hindi the sole national language of India. Due to protests from Tamil Nadu and other non-Hindi-speaking states, it was decided to temporarily retain English for official purposes until at least 1965. By the end of this period, however, opposition from non-Hindi states was still too strong to have Hindi declared the sole language. With this in mind, the English Language Amendment Bill declared English to be an associate language "until such time as all non-Hindi States had agreed to its being dropped." This has not yet occurred, and it is still widely used. For instance, it is the only reliable means of day-to-day communication between the central government and the non-Hindi states.
The view of the English language among many Indians has gone from associating it with colonialism to associating it with economic progress, and English continues to be an official language of India.
While there is an assumption that English is readily available in India, available studies show that its usage is actually restricted to the elite, because of inadequate education to large parts of the Indian population. The use of outdated teaching methods and the poor grasp of English exhibited by the authors of many guidebooks disadvantage students who rely on these books, giving India only a moderate proficiency in English.
Hinglish and other hybrid languages
The term Hinglish is a portmanteau of the languages English and Hindi. This typically refers to the macaronic hybrid use of Hindi and English. It is often the growing preferred language of the urban and semi-urban educated Indian youth, as well as the Indian diaspora abroad. The Hindi film industry, more popularly known as Bollywood, incorporates considerable amounts of Hinglish as well. Many internet platforms and voice commands on Google also recognise Hinglish.
In general, Indian English has fewer peculiarities in its vowel sounds than the consonants, especially as spoken by native speakers of languages like Hindi, the vowel phoneme system having some similarities with that of English. Among the distinctive features of the vowel-sounds employed by some Indian English speakers:
Modern Indians, especially a minority of English students and teachers along with some people in various professions like telephone customer service agents, often speak with a non-rhotic accent. Examples of this include flower pronounced as /fla?.?/, never as /nev?/, water as /w?:t?/, etc. Some south Indians, however, like native Telugu speakers speak with a rhotic accent, but the /?/ becomes an /a/, and an alveolar tap[?] is used for /r/, resulting in water and never as /w?:tar/ and /nevar/ respectively.
Features characteristic of North American English, such as rhoticity and r-coloured vowels, have been gaining influence on Indian English in recent years as cultural and economic ties increase between India and the United States.
Many North Indians have a sing-song pattern similar to Hiberno-English, which perhaps results from a similar pattern used while speaking Hindi.
Most Indians have the trap-bath split of Received Pronunciation, affecting words such as class, staff and last (/kl?:s/, /st?:f/ and /l?:st/ respectively). Though the trap-bath split is prevalent in Indian English, it varies greatly. Many younger Indians who read and listen to American English do not have this split. The distribution is somewhat similar to Australian English in Regional Indian English varieties, but it has a complete split in Cultivated Indian English and Standard Indian English varieties.
The following are some variations in Indian English resulting from not distinguishing a few vowels:
Pronunciation of as
Pronunciation of and as
Pronunciation of and as
The following are the characteristics of dialect of Indian English most similar to RP:
The voiceless plosives/p/, /t/, /k/ are always unaspirated in Indian English, (aspirated in cultivated form) whereas in RP, General American and most other English accents they are aspirated in word-initial or stressed syllables. Thus "pin" is pronounced [p?n] in Indian English but [pn] in most other dialects. In native Indian languages (except in Dravidian languages such as Tamil), the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated plosives is phonemic, and the English stops are equated with the unaspirated rather than the aspirated phonemes of the local languages. The same is true of the voiceless postalveolar affricate /t?/.
The alveolar stops English /d/, /t/ are often retroflex[?], [?], especially in the South of India. In Indian languages there are two entirely distinct sets of coronal plosives: one dental and the other retroflex. Native speakers of Indian languages prefer to pronounce the English alveolar plosives sound as more retroflex than dental, and the use of retroflex consonants is a common feature of Indian English. In the Devanagari script of Hindi, all alveolar plosives of English are transcribed as their retroflex counterparts. One good reason for this is that unlike most other native Indian languages, Hindi does not have true retroflex plosives (Tiwari,  2001). The so-called retroflexes in Hindi are actually articulated as apical post-alveolar plosives, sometimes even with a tendency to come down to the alveolar region. So a Hindi speaker normally cannot distinguish the difference between their own apical post-alveolar plosives and English's alveolar plosives. Languages such as Tamil have true retroflex plosives, however, wherein the articulation is done with the tongue curved upwards and backwards at the roof of the mouth. This also causes (in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) the /s/ preceding alveolar /t/ to allophonically change to [?] (⟨stop⟩ /st?p/ -> /ap/). Mostly in south India, some speakers allophonically further change the voiced retroflex plosives to voiced retroflex flap[?], and the nasal /n/ to a nasalised retroflex flap.
Most major native languages of India lack the dental fricatives and (spelled with th), although [ð] occurs variably in languages like Gujarati and Tamil. Usually, the aspiratedvoiceless dental plosive[t] is substituted for /?/ in the north (it would be unaspirated in the south) and the unaspirated voiced dental plosive[d?], or possibly the aspirated version [d], is substituted for /ð/. For example, "thin" would be realised as [tn] instead of /n/ for North Indian speakers, whereas it would be pronounced unaspirated in the south.
The following are the variations in Indian English:
Pronunciations vary between rhotic and non-rhotic; with pronunciations leaning towards native phonology being generally rhotic, and others being non-rhotic.
In recent years, rhoticity has been increasing. Generally, American English is seen as having a large influence on the English language in India recently.
Many Indians with rhotic accents prefer to pronounce words with [a] as [a:(r)], such as ⟨flower⟩ as [fla:(r)] and ⟨our⟩ as [a:(r)], as opposed to [fla?.?] and [a?.?] in more non-rhotic varieties. Speakers with rhotic accents, especially some south Indians, may also pronounce word-final /?r/ as /ar/, resulting in water and never as /w?:tar/ and /nevar/ respectively.
South Indians tend to curl the tongue (retroflex accentuation) more for /l/ and /n/.
Sometimes, Indian speakers interchange /s/ and /z/, especially when plurals are being formed, unlike speakers of other varieties of English, who use [s] for the pluralisation of words ending in a voiceless consonant, [z] for words ending in a voiced consonant or vowel, and [?z] for words ending in a sibilant.
In case of the postalveolar affricates /t?//d?/, native languages like Hindi have corresponding affricates articulated from the palatal region, rather than postalveolar, and they have more of a stop component than fricative; this is reflected in their English.
Whilst retaining /?/ in the final position, many Indian speakers add the [?] sound after it when it occurs in the middle of a word. Hence /'ri?i?/ -> /'rii?/ (ringing).
Syllabic/l/, /m/ and /n/ are usually replaced by the VC clusters [?l], [?m] and [?n] (as in button/'b?n/), or if a high vowel precedes, by [il] (as in little/'liil/). Syllable nuclei in words with the spelling er/re (a schwa in RP and an r-coloured schwa in GA) are also replaced by VC clusters. e.g., metre, /'mi:t?r/ -> /'mi:r/.
Indian English uses clear [l] in all instances like Irish English whereas other varieties use clear [l] in syllable-initial positions and dark l (velarised-L) in coda and syllabic positions.
The following are the variations in Indian English that are often discouraged:[by whom?]
Most Indian languages (except Hindustani varieties and Assamese) lack the voiced alveolar fricative/z/. A significant portion of Indians thus, even though their native languages do have its nearest equivalent: the unvoiced /s/, often use the voiced palatal affricate (or postalveolar) /d?/, just as with a Korean accent. This makes words such as ⟨zero⟩ and ⟨rosy⟩ sound as ['d?i:ro] and ['ro:d?i:] (the latter, especially in the North). This replacement is equally true for Persian and Arabic loanwords into Hindi. The probable reason is the confusion created by the use of the Devanagari grapheme ⟨?⟩ (for /d?/) with a dot beneath it to represent /z/ (as ⟨⟩). This is common among people without formal English education. In Telugu, /z/ and /d?/ are allophones, so words such as rosy/'rzi/ become /'ro:d?i/ and words such as fridge/fd?/ become /friz/.
In Assamese, /t?/ and /?/ are pronounced as /s/; and /d?/ and /?/ are pronounced as /z/. Retroflex and dental consonants are not present and only alveolar consonants are used unlike other Indian languages. Similar to Bengali, /v/ is pronounced as /b?/ and /?/ in Assamese. For example; change is pronounced as [snz], vote is pronounced as [bt] and English is pronounced as [i?lis].
Again, in Assamese and Bhojpuri, all instances of /?/ are spoken like [s], a phenomenon that is also apparent in their English. Exactly the opposite is seen for many Bengalis.
Inability to pronounce certain (especially word-initial) consonant clusters by people of rural backgrounds, as with some Spanish-speakers. This is usually dealt with by epenthesis. e.g., ⟨school⟩ /is'ku:l/.
Many Indians with lower exposure to English also may pronounce /f/ as an aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive[p?]. Again note that in Hindi Devanagari the loaned /f/ from Persian and Arabic is written by putting a dot beneath the grapheme for native [p?] ⟨?⟩: ⟨⟩. This substitution is rarer than that for [z], and in fact in many Hindi /f/ is used by native speakers instead of /p?/, or the two are used interchangeably.
Many speakers of Indian English do not use the voiced postalveolar fricative (/?/). Some Indians use /z/ or /d?/ instead, e.g. ⟨treasure⟩ /'tr?z?:r/, and in the south Indian variants, with /?/ as in ⟨shore⟩, e.g. ⟨treasure⟩ /'trr/.
A number of distinctive features of Indian English are due to "the vagaries of English spelling". Most Indian languages, unlike English, have a nearly phonetic spelling, so the spelling of a word is a highly reliable guide to its modern pronunciation. Indians' tendency to pronounce English phonetically as well can cause divergence from Western English. This phenomenon is known as spelling pronunciation.
In words where the digraph ⟨gh⟩ represents a voiced velar plosive (/?/) in other accents, some Indian English speakers supply a murmured version , for example ⟨ghost⟩ [o:st]. No other accent of English admits this voiced aspiration.
Similarly, the digraph ⟨wh⟩ may be aspirated as  or [w?], resulting in realisations such as ⟨which⟩ [t?], found in no other English accent. This is somewhat similar to the traditional distinction between ⟨wh⟩ and ⟨w⟩ present in English, however, wherein the former is /?/, whilst the latter is /w/.
In unstressed syllables, which speakers of American English would realise as a schwa, speakers of Indian English would use the spelling vowel, making ⟨sanity⟩ sound as ['sæniti] instead of ['sæn?ti]. This trait is also present in other South Asian dialects (Pakistani and Sri Lankan English).
The word "of" is usually pronounced with a /f/ instead of a /v/ as in most other accents.
Use of [d] instead of [t] for the "-ed" ending of the past tense after voiceless consonants, for example "developed" may be ['dl?pd] instead of RP /d?'v?l?pt/.
Use of [s] instead of [z] for the ⟨-s⟩ ending of the plural after voiced consonants, for example ⟨dogs⟩ may be [da?s] instead of [dz].
Pronunciation of ⟨house⟩ as [ha?z] in both the noun and the verb, instead of [ha?s] as a noun and [ha?z] as a verb.
Silent letters may be pronounced. For example, 'salmon' is usually pronounced with a distinct /l/.
English is a stress-timed language. Both syllable stress and word stress (where only certain words in a sentence or phrase are stressed) are important features of Received Pronunciation. Indian native languages are actually syllable-timed languages, like French. Indian-English speakers usually speak with a syllabic rhythm. Further, in some Indian languages, stress is associated with a low pitch, whereas in most English dialects, stressed syllables are generally pronounced with a higher pitch. Thus, when some Indian speakers speak, they appear to put the stress accents at the wrong syllables, or accentuate all the syllables of a long English word. Certain Indian accents possess a "sing-song" quality, a feature seen in a few English dialects of Britain, such as Scouse and Welsh English.
The Indian numbering system is preferred for digit grouping. When written in words, or when spoken, numbers less than 100,000/100 000 are expressed just as they are in Standard English. Numbers including and beyond 100,000/100 000 are expressed in a subset of the Indian numbering system. Thus, the following scale is used:
freeship (noun): A studentship or scholarship.
e.g. "Two permanent freeships, each tenable for one year and one of which is for the second and the other for the third year class." (Med. Reporter (Calcutta) 57/1, 1 Feb 1893)
e.g. "Private institutions can only develop if they are allowed to charge reasonable fees, while also providing need based freeships and scholarships for a certain percentage of students." (Economic Times (India) (Nexis), 12 Oct 2006)
e.g. "Please revert with the required documentation."
chain-snatching (verb): To repeatedly pickpocket and escape.
e.g. "Please close the train windows to prevent chain-snatching."
prepone (verb): To bring (something) forward to an earlier date or time.
e.g. "The meeting has been preponed due to a change in the schedule."
The most famous dictionary of Indian English is Yule and Brunell's Hobson-Jobson, originally published in 1886 with an expanded edition edited by William Crooke in 1903, widely available in reprint since the 1960s.
Numerous other dictionaries ostensibly covering Indian English, though for the most part being merely collections of administratively-useful words from local languages, include (chronologically): RousseauA Dictionary of Words used in the East Indies (1804), WilkinsGlossary to the Fifth Report (1813), StocquelerThe Oriental Interpreter and Treasury of East Indian Knowledge (1844), ElliotA Supplement to the Glossary of Indian Terms: A-J (1845), BrownThe Zillah Dictionary in the Roman Character (1852), CarnegyKutcherry Technicalities (1853) and its second edition Kachahri Technicalities (1877), WilsonGlossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms (1855), GilesA Glossary of Reference, on Subjects connected with the Far East (1878), WhitworthAnglo-Indian Dictionary (1885), TempleA Glossary of Indian Terms relating to Religion, Customs, Government, Land (1897), and CrookeThings India: Being Discursive Notes on Various Subjects connected with India (1906).
The first dictionary of Indian English to be published after independence was Hawkins Common Indian Words in English (1984). Other efforts include (chronologically): Lewis Sahibs, Nabobs and Boxwallahs (1991), Muthiah Words in Indian English (1991), Sengupta's Indian English supplement to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (1996) and HankinHanklyn-Janklin (2003). Nihalani et al. Indian and British English: A Handbook of Usage and Pronunciation (2004) delineates how Indian English differs from British English for a large number of specific lexical items. The Macmillan publishing company also produced a range of synchronic general dictionaries for the Indian market, such as the Macmillan Comprehensive Dictionary (2006).
The most recent and comprehensive dictionary is Carls A Dictionary of Indian English, with a Supplement on Word-formation Patterns (2017).
Wells, J C (1982). Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. ISBN0-521-28541-0.
Crystal, David (1990). The English Language. London & New York: Penguin. p. 10.
Whitworth, George Clifford (1885). An Anglo-Indian dictionary: a glossary of Indian terms used in English, and of such English or other non-Indian terms as have obtained special meanings in India. K. Paul, Trench.
^For the distinction between "English Speakers," and "English Users," please see: TESOL-India (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), India is World's Second Largest English-Speaking CountryArchived 4 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Their article explains the difference between the 350 million number mentioned in a previous version of this popflock.com resource article and the current number:
Wikipedia's India estimate of 350 million includes two categories - 'English Speakers' and 'English Users'. The distinction between the Speakers and Users is that Users only know how to read English words while Speakers know how to read English, understand spoken English as well as form their own sentences to converse in English. The distinction becomes clear when you consider China's numbers. China has over 200 million that can read English words but, as anyone can see on the streets of China, only a few million are English speakers.
^J. Ovington, 1696A Voyage to Suratt, in the Year, 1689, p. 326.
^ abJames Lambert, 2012 "Beyond Hobson-Jobson: Towards a new lexicography for Indian English", English World-Wide 33(3): 294.
^Lambert, James. 2018. A multitude of 'lishes': The nomenclature of hybridity. English World-wide, 39(1): 26. doi: 10.1075/eww.38.3.04lam
^Mukesh Ranjan Verma and Krishna Autar Agrawal: Reflections on Indian English literature (2002), page 163: "Some of the words in American English have spelling pronunciation and also pronunciation spelling. These are also characteristic features of Indian English as well. The novels of Mulk Raj Anand, in particular, are full of examples of ..."
^Pingali Sailaja: Indian English (2009), page 116: "So what was Cauvery is now Kaveri. Some residual spellings left by the British do exist such as the use of ee for /i:/ as in Mukherjee. Also, some place names such as Cuddapah and Punjab"
^Edward Carney: Survey of English Spelling (2012), page 56: "Not all distributional differences, however, have important consequences for spelling. For instance, the ... Naturally enough, Indian English is heavily influenced by the native language of the area in which it is spoken."
^Indian English Literature (2002), page 300: "The use of Indian words with English spellings: e.g. 'Mundus,' 'raksha'; 'Ed Cherukka,' 'Chacko Saar Vannu'"
^Ball & Muller 2014: The comments on retroflex consonants also apply to southern Indian languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam. and Kannada. Speakers of these languages tend to use their own retroflex consonants in place of English alveolar It, d, n/. Although these languages do have nonretroflex stops, these are dental, and it seems that English alveolar stops are perceived as closer to the retroflex stops than to the dental ones.
^Ball & Muller 2014, p. 289b: This use of retroflex consonants is very characteristic of Indian English, and the retroflex resonance is very pervasive ...
^Sailaja 2007, p. 252: 1.4 Indian (Telugu) English: All the adults who participated in this study spoke a Telugu variety of Indian English. Telugu pronunciation of English is heavily influenced by the spelling. Two identical letters in a word are articulated as geminates. The articulation is also mostly rhotic ... In place of the alveolar stops, retroflex sounds are used. Some speakers would also use a retroflex nasal in place of the alveolar nasal, and a retroflex lateral in place of the alveolar lateral.
^Varshney, R.L., "An Introductory Textbook of Linguistics and Phonetics", 15th Ed. (2005), Student Store, Bareilly.
^Bellos, Alex (5 April 2010). Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics. A&C Black. p. 114. ISBN9781408811146. Indian English has different words for high numbers than British or America English.[...]Note that above a thousand, Indians introduce a comma after every two digits,[...]