Freelance Nomad

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Some Indian English

Indian English is here to stay. Rather than just a load of tired linguistic clichés featured in old Two Ronnies sketches and episodes of Mind Your Language, it’s a pukka variant of English, conforming to developed grammatical rules, and is – I would argue – as valid as any other form of the language.

And it’s interesting to see how it works. I suppose Indian English has branched off from 1940s colonial British English, with constant modern inputs from all over the English-speaking world, particularly the USA.

Back in August I found myself giving a talk on British English to the Pune chapter of the Society of Technical Communicators (India). I talked a little bit about regional accents and dialects, but also used examples of American English and Indian English for comparison.

Indian English (not to be confused with Hinglish, which is something else) has many interesting characteristics. Rather than get into a detailed examination of the linguistic complexities – for which I am wildly unqualified – I’ll list a few words and expressions:

Airdash – to fly somewhere urgently, usually in the midst of a crisis
Batchmate – classmate
Eve-teasing – innocent sounding euphemism for sexual harassment
Funda – concept, belief. “He’s got some weird fundas. Like, he wears only purple on Wednesdays.”
Gift – used as a verb; “She gifted me that book for my birthday.”
Godown – warehouse, storage unit or lockup
Item number – song and dance routine in Indian film totally irrelevant to the plot but featuring scantily clad hottie writhing around a lot
Mild lathi charge – when the police decide to go whack people with their big cane sticks
Mishap – horrific accident. “In an unfortunate mishap 49 persons were killed when the bus in which they were travelling plunged headlong off the edge of a 300-foot cliff.”
Pain – used as a verb; “My leg is paining.”
Pass out – to graduate (universal; not used only in the military sense)
Votebank – politicians attempt to cultivate votebanks who they hope will vote for them en masse. These votebanks are often based on caste or religion; really, this is a cynical and divisive approach that fuels social and communal tension. If you ask me.
Timepass – obviously, passing time, but also an activity in itself. Sometimes even a description: “Dhoom 2? It’s a timepass movie.”
VIP – basically any mate of a politician who can blag favours and get free tickets for cricket matches
VVIP – a politician in office. They get to travel round in escorted convoys (if they’re not busy airdashing) and all traffic is halted to allow them through on their way to some jolly or other. They lose touch with reality and tend to believe that they really are the anointed masters of the people, rather than their elected servants. So there.

“The minister airdashed to the godown, scene of the alleged eve-teasing. Police resorted to a mild lathi charge to disperse a crowd of college batchmates, who had gathered for timepass.”

You get the idea.


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