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Review of  Indian and British English

Reviewer: Joybrato Mukherjee
Book Title: Indian and British English
Book Author: Paroo Nihalani Ray K. Tongue Priya Hosali Jonathan Crowther
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.49

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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 14:18:21 +0100
From: J. Mukherjee
Subject: Indian and British English: A Handbook of Usage and Pronunciation

AUTHORS: Nihalani, Paroo; Tongue, R. K.; Hosali, Priya; Crowther, Jonathan
TITLE: Indian and British English
SUBTITLE: A Handbook of Usage and Pronunciation
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Joybrato Mukherjee, Department of English, University of Giessen.


The book under review is the second edition of Nihalani et al.'s (1979)
dictionary of - and pronunciation guide to - Indian English. At the time,
the first edition represented one of the very first dictionaries of
English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) varieties and has exerted an enormous
influence on ESL lexicography ever since. The fact that the long-awaited
second edition differs only marginally (with regard to a couple of
dictionary entries) from the first leads to a mixed picture: on the one
hand, I see the same great merits in Nihalani et al. (2004) as in Nihalani
et al. (1979), but on the other hand, it is obvious that the book under
review fails in various regards to take into account major developments in
research into Indian English over the last 25 years.


The book contains two major parts: part I is a lexicon of usage and part
II is a pronunciation guide.

In the introduction to part I, the authors offer some general remarks on
the role of the English language in India and sketch out their descriptive
and language-pedagogical aim, which is "to provide teachers and learners
of English in India with information about the way in which certain forms
and patterns of English used in India differ from the contemporary version
of the native speaker model to which Indian English is closest, namely
British Standard English" (p. 4). The Indian English forms and patterns
that are contrasted with British English (BrE) are grouped into five major
categories: grammar (G), lexis (L), idiom (I), style (S), and
social/cultural (C). Within lexis, Nihalani et al. allow for a more fine-
grained categorisation into five subtypes: collocational differences (Lc),
meaning-related differences (Lm), differences with regard to register
(Lr), loan-words taken over from Indian languages including mixed
compounds (L1), and neologisms, i.e. entirely new English words coined by
Indian users (Ln). On nearly 200 pages, a selection of about 1,000 Indian
English items is covered. Each entry includes the item at hand, its
categorisation by one of the aforementioned labels, a brief comment on the
peculiarity involved in the use of the item in Indian English (usually
including a contrastive analysis of British English and Indian English
usage), and in most cases an example. For instance, the Indian English
verb "to by-heart" is given the following entry:

"by-heart 'The teacher asked us to by-heart the poem by tomorrow morning.'
The verb 'to by-heart' does not exist in BS (British Standard English),
speakers of which would say 'to learn by heart'. (Ln)" (p. 39)

The list of entries, which is nearly identical with the list included in
Nihalani et al. (1979), continues to be a very useful collection because
it includes many lexical, grammatical, idiomatic and stylistic features
which no doubt mark some of the major differences between Indian English
and British English usage.

The general usefulness of the dictionary included in part I
notwithstanding, there are, however, two notable systematic
inconsistencies concerning the selection of items and the description of
the selected items. Firstly, the authors admit that the selection of the
items is entirely intuition-based and not the result of an analysis of
large amounts of authentic Indian English data, let alone a frequency-
based analysis of Indian English corpora: "This Lexicon contains those
items which have impressed the compilers as worthy of commentary" (p. 5).
Thus, it remains unclear to what extent each of the items is truly typical
of Indian English. For example, the authors claim that with regard to the
variation between the British English phrasal verb "to cope with" and the
Indian English variant "to cope up with" many Indian English speakers use
the latter form (p. 55). However, the Indian English variant occurs in
only 17% of all cases in the 1-million-word Kolhapur corpus of Indian
English, while in 83% of all cases the British English form is also used
by Indian English users (cf. Mukherjee 2002). This distribution is in
stark contrast to, say, the use of the terms "lakh" ("one hundred
thousand" in British English) and "crore" ("ten million" in British
English), which are quite clearly the preferred choices in Indian English
and not just secondary variants of British English forms. Secondly, the
authors insist on using the label "Indian Variant(s) of English" (IVE)
instead of "Indian English" in the dictionary. While the latter notion
captures the uniformity of the English language as it is used in India,
the former label, which is preferred by Nihalani et al., puts the internal
variation within Indian English into focus. However, contrary to what one
would have expected, the authors do not take into account regional and
social variation in the Indian English lexicon and grammar in the
dictionary entries. For example, in the entry for "information", the
impression is given that this noun is generally accepted as a count noun
in Indian English. The only three instances of the plural
form "informations" that one finds in the 1-million-word Indian component
of the International Corpus of English (ICE-India), however, seem to
indicate that the plural form tends to be avoided in the Indian English
acrolect and is used only in mesolectal and basilectal variants.

In part II, the authors' aim is two-fold: firstly, they intend to take
stock of the characteristic features of the pronunciation by educated
speakers of Indian English, i.e. "Educated Indian English" (EIE)
pronunciation, which deviates in various regards from British Received
Pronunciation (BRP). Secondly, they set out to develop a model of "Indian
Recommended Pronunciation" (IRP), which could be used as a target model in
the English classroom in India. To this end, in the introduction to the
dictionary of pronunciation the authors compare the vowel systems and the
consonant systems of BRP and EIE and discuss major differences at the
level of word stress, sentence stress, intonation and rhythm. For example,
it is pointed out that BRP diphthongs, as for example in "coat" and "day",
are monophthongized in EIE, and that very often Indian speakers transfer
the syllable-timed rhythm from their L1 to English. At the level of the
IRP model, the authors try to strike a balance between "attainability in
the actual teaching situation" in India and "intelligibility at the
national and international level" (p. 228). Thus, for example, while the
aforementioned monophthongization of diphthongs is included in the IRP
model, the typically Indian syllable-timed rhythm is not incorporated in
the IRP model because "a native speaker finds it difficult to understand"
(p. 219). Rather, the authors emphasise their view that "it is of utmost
importance that Indian learners should learn how to move smoothly from one
stressed syllable to another by using weak vowels in unstressed syllables"
(p. 221), i.e. to approximate towards a stress-timed rhythm. The actual
dictionary of pronunciation includes some 2,000 words, taken from West
(1953), which are all transcribed according to the IRP model.

Part II of the book under review is an excellent example of how local
pronunciation norms may be developed for ESL varieties of English.
Nihalani et al. provide a convincing answer to the question as to how to
reconcile linguistic realism (in the sense of avoiding features that
Indian learners will find difficult to learn) with global intelligibility
(in the sense of avoiding features that would render the speech of Indian
users of English unintelligible to native speakers of English). It is more
than unfortunate that in India itself the IRP model has not attracted more
attention over the last 25 years in terms of active implementation in
curricula and teaching materials.


It has already been pointed out that the second edition of the handbook is
nearly identical with the first edition, published in 1979. As far as the
second part, i.e. the pronunciation guide, is concerned, it seems to me
the that decision to stick to the original text is largely justified,
given the lasting appropriateness of the description of Indian English
pronunciation and the persisting innovative quality of the IRP model. One
is left to wonder, however, why the authors have refrained from updating
text passages which may nowadays strike the reader as odd; note, for
example, that the exact wording of the following sentence has been taken
over from the first edition: "For one thing, until about fifteen or twenty
years ago, there was very little systematic and conscious teaching of
pronunciation at all in this country" (p. 202). I do think that 25 years
later the sentence should at least have been changed to "about forty or
forty-five years ago", if only for the reason of logic.

While the lack of updating and revision of the present book is not a
problem for part II (strange as the wording may be at times), the opposite
is true for part I. The blurb of the second edition states that
it "includes additional information on collocation"; and indeed, some
entries dealing with collocations in Indian English are new, e.g. the
entries for "copious", "keen" and "unearth". But apart from the very few
new entries, virtually no changes have been implemented. This applies both
to the introductory text and the dictionary entries (including examples).
Apart from the fact that the dictionary thus largely reflects a 25-year-
old selection of items, it is obvious that major developments in
linguistic research into Indian English and in lexicography have not been
taken into account by the authors. In particular, no reference is made to
major corpora of Indian English, especially the Kolhapur Corpus, the ICE-
India Corpus and large newspaper archives, the analysis of which would
have helped to put the description of Indian English on an empirical
footing and to include frequency information in the dictionary. Also,
because of the lack of updating and the failure to base the description on
authentic (corpus) material, it seems to me that many new items that have
entered Indian English (e.g. "two-/three-wheeler", "inquilab") or that
have become frequent in English in India and beyond
(e.g. "bhangra", "pundit") have been left out.

Given that the second edition is to a very large extent a reprint of the
first edition, Görlach's (1998: 186) rather sobering assessment of the
lexicographical state of the art with regard to Indian English still
stands: "(...) as far as India is concerned, the reluctant reception of
the innovative user's dictionary by Nihalani et al. (1979) and the absence
of a second edition or major follow-up studies does not indicate that much
progress is to be expected as far as the lexicography of IndE is
concerned. At least there is no dearth of promising projects for assiduous
lexicographers of the 21st century" (Görlach 1998: 186). The present
second edition is a solid and useful reference work (just as the first
edition) and will no doubt remain the standard dictionary of Indian
English (and rightly so), but I cannot help feeling that in part I of the
handbook the authors have fallen short of what could have been expected in
light of the progress in linguistics and lexicography over the last 25
years. While the pronunciation guide in part II gives a very timely
reminder that the extremely useful and still highly innovative IRP model
has not yet been systematically implemented in English language teaching
in India, the actual quantum leap in Indian English lexicography has yet
to be taken.


Görlach, Manfred (1998). Even more Englishes: Studies 1996-1997.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

International Corpus of English - ICE-India (2002). Kolhapur and Berlin:
Shivaji University and Freie Universitaet.

Kolhapur Corpus of Indian English (1986). Kolhapur: Shivaji University.

Mukherjee, Joybrato (2002): "Norms for the Indian English classroom: A
corpus-linguistic perspective", Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics 28
(2), 63-82.

Nihalani, Paroo, R. K. Tongue and Priya Hosali (1979): Indian and British
English: A Handbook of Usage and Pronunciation. Delhi: Oxford University

West, Michael (1953): A General Service List of English Words. London:


Joybrato Mukherjee is Professor of English Linguistics at the University
of Giessen, Germany. His research interests include applied linguistics,
corpus linguistics, intonation, stylistics, syntax and varieties of
English (esp. Indian English). His book publications include "Form and
Function of Parasyntactic Presentation Structures" (Rodopi,
2001), "Korpuslinguistik und Englischunterricht" ('Corpus linguistics and
English language teaching'; (Peter Lang, 2002) and "English Ditransitive
Verbs" (Rodopi, 2005).

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0195666569
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 272
Prices: U.S. $ 35.00