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Review of  Indian English

Reviewer: Somdev Kar
Book Title: Indian English
Book Author: Sailaja Pingali
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 21.2755

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AUTHOR: Pingali, Sailaja
TITLE: Indian English
SERIES TITLE: Dialects of English
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2009

Somdev Kar, Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar, India


This book treats linguistic and socio-cultural aspects of English as it is used
in India. It is an important contribution to the Edinburgh University Press
series 'Dialects of English', which documents varieties of English worldwide. In
India's multilingual setting, English plays a significant role in communication,
literature, business and elsewhere. Though English first came to India with the
Britons, in the last four hundred years it has become an indispensable part of
Indian society. This volume contextualizes research on Indian English by using a
good selection of sample texts, from conversational to literary. The book is
organized into seven interesting, well-illustrated chapters, discussing
phonetics, phonology, morphosyntax, lexis, discourse and other issues related to
English used in India. It also contains a survey of previous research and an
annotated bibliography on Indian English.


The first chapter introduces the topic, outlines the status of English in this
pluralistic nation, and provides a comparison to British and American varieties.
The chapter starts with the description of Indian geography and demographics,
and India's cultural setting with its many languages and strong regional
differences. English, as an official language of the Union of India, bridges the
diverse nation and also plays vital roles in government, business and education
beyond communication in general. But scholars are always divided on whether it
is 'Indian English' or 'English in India'. The debate goes on, but 'Indian
English' is taken in this work.

Chapter 2, ''Phonetics and Phonology'', describes the accent, intonation, rhythm,
suprasegmental features of Indian English. Some specific vowels and consonants
are discussed in this chapter, along with rhotic usage. Particularly those
common features of Indian English are contrasted phonetically with Received
Pronunciation. The influence of native languages on the English is also illustrated.

Chapter 3 discusses morphosyntax, including verbs, articles, prepositions,
idioms and inflectional forms. One of the most striking features of Indian
English is the tag question ''isn't it''. This is treated here along with other
question formation processes such as wh-questions and yes-no questions. Some
typical morphosyntactic operations in different varieties of Indian English
include reduplication ('little-little', 'small-small'), reduced phrases
('three-four books' instead of 'three or four books') are richly illustrated. A
small section on code switching is presented, setting up a larger discussion in
a later chapter. This chapter also raises the question of the basis of English
used in India, where one can find both American and British English inflectional
forms in use.

In chapter 4, the author contrasts the lexis of Indian, American and British
English and of their tendency to borrow words from each other -- mainly to
Indian English from the latter two. An interesting section is given on
compounding (''black money'', ''outstation cheque''), affixation (''Naxalite'',
''filmi''), abbreviation (''NRI'' for Non-Resident Indian, ''BSNL'' for Bharat Sanchar
Nigam Limited), hybrid constructions (''lathi charge'', ''iftaar party''),
redundancy (''tissue paper'', ''return back'') and so on. Discourse features such as
linkers, address forms and politeness strategies by Indians using English are
discussed with examples from literature and other sources. Some typical styles
used in Indian English in both written and spoken form are also listed here
(e.g. ''Respected sir'', ''Yours most obediently''). They are not generally used by
native speakers of either British or American English. The chapter includes a
more detailed discussion on code switching with Indian languages like Hindi,
Urdu, Telugu and Bengali with good examples.

Chapter 5 offers a diachronic survey of English language in the Indian
subcontinent, beginning with the dominance of the Portuguese before the British
period (1498-1600) and the shift of importance to English in the pre-Macaulay
period (1600-1835). The major penetration of the English language in Indian
society, begun during the pre-Macaulay period, reached its peak during the
period from 1835 to 1947, when India achieved independence from Britain. But,
even in the post-independence period (1947-), English has continued to gain
strength as a language in India. The chapter also covers some English-based
pidgins, such as Babu English and Butler English.

Chapter 6 reviews some important works on 'English in India and Indian English'
as the author puts it. It gives a compact yet informative set of publications in
this domain, grouped into six sections: phonetics, phonology, morphosyntax,
discourse, history, corpus. This list of works reviewed is not exhaustive, but
gives the reader an idea of research in the area. It also indicates the relative
proportion of attention to different subareas of Indian English, e.g. more works
on phonology and a lesser number on syntax.

Chapter 7 provides sample texts in Indian English, spoken and written, with
brief comments. The samples are divided into seven main categories, namely,
literature, official documents and other letters, newspaper articles and
reports, letters to the editor, advertisements, lectures and miscellaneous, as
well as a couple of transcriptions from audio recordings by two Indian women.
These documents constitute an excellent overview of English as used in India.


This book presents a well-written description of English used in India. 'Indian
English' is undoubtedly a must-have textbook for newcomers to this area of
study. It is also accessible to people outside of linguistics due to its clear
and basic approach to the topic and limited use of technical vocabulary. On the
other hand, a limited use of IPA symbols makes it less useful to the advanced
researchers in this area.

As noted above, the author favours the term 'Indian English', though it is a
controversial name which many scholars are not ready to accept (see Dasgupta,
1993; Krishnaswamy & Burde, 1998). It is evident that the English used in India
is different from British or American English in terms of phonetics, phonology,
lexicon, etc. The author also advocates a 'standard Indian English' based on
British English. But one should keep in mind that English is a second language
for almost all Indians and so any standard variety is particularly unnatural. In
my own view, it would be better to take British or American English as standard.

In the phonetics and phonology sections, the author correctly illustrates the
influence of first languages on the English of L2 speakers, a widespread
tendency across India. The more 'accurate' pronunciation of English depends on
various factors in the home environment, medium of education in the Indian
context. Here, 'accurate' means standard British English (RP). And people with
higher education tend to speak English with less influence of their first
language. In the non-standard, rhotic pronunciation of /r/ is mainly influenced
by first language. The author gives an example of rhotic accent in 'dearth'
/dart/ with an unaspirated dental /t/. (It is not clear from this example
whether Indian English allows word-final deaspiration as seen in this case.)

If we widen the scope of sounds in Indian English beyond 'native' English words,
we find many 'Indian' words in the lexicon of Indian English with limited
phonetic and phonological integration. In this connection, the author makes an
interesting observation on age-specific preference for British and American
English among Indians. Traditionally British English is taught in India (not
'standard Indian English'), but the preference for American English is growing
considerably. The tendency of redundancy is illustrated with perfect examples.
This could also be compared to the feature called 'double negation' in African
American and many other varieties of English. In address forms, the use of
'didi' (elder sister) in English is not exactly taken from Hindi. The same word
is also used in Oriya and Bengali. Hence, the source of this term could chosen
more carefully. Additionally, 'dada' (elder brother) is used, often as the short
form '-da', by Bengali speakers in English conversations. In Telugu, '-garu' is
commonly used for both men and women to give respect, as '-ji' in the Hindi-Urdu
speaking areas.

One might expect a discussion on ''non-initial existential there'' with comparison
to the ''adverbial there'' and ''post-verbal adverbial there'' (see Rogers, 2003;
Trudgill & Hannah, 2002). This feature of Indian English is not present in other
varieties of English, and Lange (2009) regards it as a pan-Indian.

The historical development of the linguistic scenario of India is a
well-structured and informative chapter. The last chapter consists of a very
useful collection of texts in Indian English. Though the book is not meant for
advanced research in the field, IPA transcriptions of the audio recordings would
have been helpful even for early researchers in linguistics.

This monograph is suitable for students, researchers and general readers with an
interest in English as used in India. It will also be helpful to identify the
the differences between major varieties of English spoken in the USA, UK and in
India. It is an extremely useful book.


Dasgupta, P. (1993). The otherness of English: India's auntie tongue syndrome.
New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Krishnaswamy, N. & Burde, A. S. (1998). The politics of Indians' English:
Linguistic colonialism and the expanding English empire. Delhi: Oxford
University Press.

Lange, C. (2009). Non-initial existential there in Indian English. Paper
presented at the 9th All-India Conference of Linguists (AICL-9), University of
Hyderabad, Hyderabad.

Rogers, C. (2003). Register variation in Indian English. Unpublished PhD
dissertation, Northern Arizona University.

Trudgill, P. & Hannah, J. (2002). International English: A guide to varieties of
standard English. London: Arnold.

Somdev Kar is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Ropar (India) and earned a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Tƒbingen, Germany. His teaching responsibilities are English Syntax, Clinical Linguistics and English Morphology. His research interests include Optimality Theoretic analysis of syllable structure and Distributed Morphology. He is author of the forthcoming 'Syllable Structure of Bangla: An Optimality-Theoretic Approach' (Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 074862595X
ISBN-13: 9780748625956
Pages: 184
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