Saturday, 2 July 2011

The joys of Hinglish

Any country worth its salt with a resident English-speaking expat population has it: that oh-so-amusing amalgam of [native language] with English that is the subject of endless hilarity on expat blogs [*ahem*]. In Korea it was Konglish, which is not dissimilar to the better-known Chinglish. Konglish is generally featured on the signs of trying-to-be-hip bars and restaurants and, particularly, at tourist attractions where it can range from the confusing to the surreal to the just painfully cute:

With thanks and apologies to

Hinglish is different though. Thanks to the devil-may-care attitude of my ancestors towards pesky issues like national sovereignty, Indians have a longstanding relationship with English and many (by no means all) speak it perfectly well. But that longstanding relationship has led to some distinctly observable pheomena about the way the language is used here. For instance:

1. Indian English, even among those who speak it fluently, is like no other English you will ever come across. It's an extraordinary mixture of Raj-era terminology that has long since died out in England, creative formation of verbs and adjectives, and at times a complete disregard for basic grammar that nevertheless seems to be perfectly understood (except quite often by me).

2. English and Hindi have mixed slightly in terms of words entering one from the other, but the main mixing of them is in whole chunks of conversation. Educated Indians slip in and out of the two languages (I say two - of course elsewhere in the country it's often not Hindi) with alarming ease. They have a habit, I think, of forgetting that they do so, which has led to a couple of rather difficult moments such as this one at the lunch table at work the other day (I may have paraphrased this a little):

Colleague A: [lots of Hindi] marketing executive [more Hindi] no idea how the hell [Hindi] bloody useless!

Colleague B: You just have to tell him [Hindi] sub-optimal [really extensive Hindi] completely with his trousers down! Hahahaha!

Cue both colleagues looking at me expectantly, seeming to think that because the last five words of the conversation were in English I'd be totally up to speed with whatever the hell they were talking about.

3. Indians are allergic to the word "the". I'm learning not to let it get to me.

Basically, whereas Konglish is basically an endearing set of mistakes, Hinglish has evolved to be a lot more than that. It's actually incredibly creative, it has its own rules (some shared with English, some not) and, for the educated at least, it gives access to a wider range of expression than any single language can provide. All in all I find it quite impressive. Now I just have to learn Hindi so I can try to keep up.


Sonya said...

Ah, the joys of code-switching. I expect you to produce a thesis on your observations by the end of the year xxx

Glenn said...

My favourite part of Indian English is how the progressive tense is used where we wouldn't and also the creative vocabulary you alluded to. Wonderful blog Chris, I have been reading all of them and can't wait for the next instalment of living vicariously!!!

Chris said...

Oh yes, the progressive tense - missed that! One of the (very) few things India has in common with Germany...glad you are enjoying my efforts!

Ranoo Singh Yadav said...

I came across your blog and read few articles on Delhi. Living in France from past one year I really miss delhi, and your blog reminds me of everything I love and miss about India.

Chris said...

Hi Ranoo! I was wondering why my blog was suddenly so popular in France! I hope you enjoy it. I am enjoying Delhi, it's a fascinating city even if sometimes things are done a bit differently to what I am used to!