Indian English is the group of English dialects, or regional language varieties, spoken primarily on the Indian subcontinent. According to the 2001 Census of India, almost all Indians who speak English are first language speakers. According to the 2005 India Human Development Survey, the surveyed households reported that 72 per cent of men did not speak any English, 28 per cent spoke some English, and five per cent spoke fluent English. Among women, the corresponding percentages were 83, 17, and 3.
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 1837, English replaced Persian 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 modelled on the University of London and using English as the medium of instruction were established in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. During subsequent Crown Rule in India, or 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. Consequently, although the Constitution of India (1951) declared Hindi the official language of the new republic, it retained English as the associate official language.
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 variants of the Indian English dialect. English is the official language of Nagaland the only state in India to have so.
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 never occurred, as English is now reckoned as all but indispensable. For instance, it is the only reliable means of day-to-day communication between the central government and the non-Hindi states.
The spread of the English language in India has led it to become adapted to suit the local dialects. Due to the large diversity in Indian languages and cultures, there can be instances where the same English word can mean different things to different people in different parts of India.
Indian accents vary greatly. Some Indians speak English with an accent very close to a Standard British (Received Pronunciation) accent (though not the same); others lean toward a more 'vernacular', native-tinted, accent for their English speech.
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:
- Many Indian English speakers do not make a clear distinction between /ɒ/ and /ɔː/. (See cot–caught merger.)
- Unlike British speakers, but like some Americans, some Indian speakers, especially in the South, often do not pronounce the rounded /ɒ/ or /ɔː/, and substitute /a/ instead. This makes not sound as [nat]. The phoneme /ɔː/, if used, is only semi-rounded at the lips.. Similarly in South India coffee will be pronounced kaafi, copy will be kaapi etc.
- Words such as class, staff and last would be pronounced with a back /a/ as in Southern British dialects but unlike Northern British dialects and standard American English, i.e., [klɑːs], [stɑːf], and [lɑːst] rather than American [klæːs], [stæːf], and [læːst].
- Most Indians have the trap–bath split of Received Pronunciation.
Among the most distinctive features of consonants in Indian English are:
- Standard Hindi and most other vernaculars (except Punjabi, Marathi & Bengali) do not differentiate between /v/ (voiced labiodental fricative) and /w/ (voiced labiovelar approximant). Instead, many Indians use a frictionless labio-dental approximant [ʋ] for words with either sound, possibly in free variation with [v] and/or [w] depending upon region. Thus, wet and vet are often homophones.
Related to the previous characteristic, many Indians prefer to pronounce words such as
as [flaː(r)], as opposed to [flaʊə(r)], and as [aː(r)], as opposed to [aʊə(r)]. This trait is present in dialects of British, South African, and Pakistani English, amongst others, albeit not in all American dialects
- The voiceless plosives /p/, /t/, /k/ are always unaspirated in Indian English, whereas in RP, General American and most other English accents they are aspirated in word-initial or stressed syllables. Thus "pin" is pronounced [pɪn] in Indian English but [pʰɪn] 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 afficate /tʃ/.
The alveolar stops English /d/, /t/ are often retroflex [ɖ], [ʈ], 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. However, languages such as Tamil have true retroflex plosives, 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 [ʃ] (
/stɒp/ → /ʃʈap/). 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.
- Many speakers of Indian English do not use the voiced postalveolar fricative (/ʒ/). Some Indians use /z/ or /dʒ/ instead, e.g. treasure /ˈtrɛzəːr/, and in the south Indian variants, with /ʃ/ as in <"sh'"ore>, e.g. treasure /ˈtrɛʃər/.
- All major native languages of India (except Bengali) lack the dental fricatives (/θ/ and /ð/; spelled with th). Usually, the aspirated voiceless dental plosive [t̪ʰ] is substituted for /θ/ in the north (it would be unaspirated in the south) and the unaspirated voiced dental plosive [d̪], or possibly the aspirated version [d̪ʱ], is substituted for /ð/. For example, "thin" would be realised as [t̪ʰɪn] instead of /θɪn/ for North Indian speakers, whereas it would be pronounced unaspirated in the south.
- South Indians tend to curl the tongue (retroflex accentuation) more for /l/ and /n/.
Most Indian languages (except Urdu variety) 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) /dʒ/, just as with a Korean accent. This makes words such as
and sound as [ˈdʒiːro] and [ˈroːdʒiː] (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 < ज > (for /dʒ/) with a dot beneath it to represent the loaned /z/ (as < ज़ >). This is common among people without formal English education.
- Many Indians with lower exposure to English also may pronounce /f/ as aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive [pʰ]. Again note that in Hindi (devanagari) the loaned /f/ from Persian and Arabic is written by putting a dot beneath the grapheme for native [pʰ] < फ >: < फ़ >. This substitution is rarer than that for [z], and in fact in many Hindi /f/ is used by native speakers instead of /pʰ/, or the two are used interchangeably.
- Inability to pronounce certain (especially word-initial) consonant clusters by people of rural backgrounds. This is usually dealt with by epenthesis. e.g., school /isˈkuːl/, similar to Spanish.
- 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 [ɨz] for words ending in a sibilant.
- Again, in dialects like Bhojpuri, all instances of /ʃ/ are spoken like [s], a phenomenon which is also apparent in their English. Exactly the opposite is seen for many Bengalis.
- In case of the postalveolar affricates /tʃ/ /dʒ/, 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 /ŋ/ in the final position, many Indian speakers add the [ɡ] sound after it when it occurs in the middle off a word. Hence /ˈriŋiŋ/ → /ˈriŋɡiŋ/ (ringing).
- Syllabic /l/, /m/ and /n/ are usually replaced by the VC clusters [əl], [əm] and [ən] (as in button /ˈbuʈʈən/), or if a high vowel precedes, by [il] (as in little /ˈliʈʈil/). Syllable nuclei in words with the spelling er/re (a schwa in RP and an r-coloured schwa in GA) are also replaced VC clusters. e.g., metre, /ˈmiːtər/ → /ˈmiːʈər/.
- 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.
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. For example, "jewellery" is pronounced /dʒʋeləriː/ and "jewel" as /dʒʋel/ where Western Anglophones might omit the final e, pronouncing them as /dʒʋelriː/ and /dʒʋl/.
In words where the digraph
represents a voiced velar plosive (/ɡ/) in other accents, some Indian English speakers supply a murmured version [ɡʱ], for example [ɡʱoːst]. No other accent of English admits this voiced aspiration.
Similarly, the digraph
may be aspirated as [ʋʱ] or [wʱ], resulting in realisations such as [ʋʱɪtʃ], found in no other English accent (except in certain parts of Scotland).
In unstressed syllables, which speakers of American English would realise as a schwa, speakers of Indian English would use the spelling vowel, making
sound as [ˈsæniti] instead of [ˈsænəti]. This trait is also present in other South Asian dialects (i.e. Pakistani and Sri Lankan English), and in RP, etc.
Final is almost always pronounced as schwa /ə/ in other dialects (exceptions include words such as
); but in Indian English the ending is pronounced as the long open central unrounded vowel /aː/ (as in ) instead of /ə/. So, is pronounced as /ˈɪnɖɪaː/ instead of /ˈɪndɪə/, and as /ˈsoːfaː/ instead of /ˈsoʊfə/.
- 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 [ˈdɛʋləpd] instead of RP /dɪˈvɛləpt/.
Use of [s] instead of [z] for the "-s" ending of the plural after voiced consonants, for example
may be [daɡs] instead of [dɒɡz].
as [hauz] in both the noun and the verb, instead of [haus] as noun and [hauz] as verb.
is pronounced as [tz] or [tdʒ] instead of [ts] (voicing may be assimilated in the stop too), making sound like [ˈsʋɪtzərlænd] instead of [ˈswɪtsəɹlənd].
In RP, /r/ occurs only before a vowel. But some speakers of Indian English, primarily in the South, use /r/ in almost all positions in words using the letter 'r', similar to most American and some Irish dialects. The allophone used is a mild trill or a tap. Indian speakers do not typically use the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ for
, which is common for American English speakers.
All consonants are distinctly doubled (lengthened) in most varieties of Indian English wherever the spelling suggests so. e.g.,
In certain words, especially Latinate words ending in ile, is pronounced [ɪ] in America and [aɪ] in Britain. Indian English, like most other Commonwealth dialects, will invariably use the British pronunciation. Thus,
would be pronounced as [ˈtɛnsaɪl] like the British, rather than [ˈtɛnsɪl] like the American; , on the other hand, use i, as [ˈænti] like in Britain, rather than [ˈæntaɪ] like in America. Similar effects of British colonisation are 're', 'ise', and 'our' spellings in words like 'metre', 'realise', and 'endeavour', respectively, which Americans would spell as 'meter', realize' and 'endeavor'.
English is a stress-timed language, and 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 Latin and 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 are of a "sing-song" nature, a feature seen in a few English dialects in Britain, such as Scouse and Welsh English.
Morphology and syntax
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:
|In digits (International system)||In digits (Indian system)||In words (long and short scales)||In words (Indian system)|
|100,000||1,00,000||one hundred thousand||one lakh|
|1,000,000||10,00,000||one million||ten lakh|
|10,000,000||1,00,00,000||ten million||one crore|
A few examples of Indian English usage
Indian English, naturally, has words of Indian vernaculars that have made their way into the English language, such as jungle, tank, bungalow, verandah. It has political, sociological, and administrative terms of modern India: dharna, hartal, eve-teasing, vote bank, swaraj, swadeshi, scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, NRI; it has words of Anglo-India such as tiffin, hill station, gymkhana; and it has slang. Some examples unique to, or chiefly used in, standard written Indian English include
academic (noun): (also Canadian and US English) In pl. Academic pursuits in contrast to technical or practical work.
- Example: 1991 Hindu (Madras) 6 Dec. 27/2 For 14 years he immersed himself in academics and was a fine achiever.
accomplish (verb, transitive), chiefly Indian English: To equip.
- Example: 1992 H. L. Chopra in V. Grover Political Thinkers of Modern India XVII. lxiii. 488 His insatiable thirst for knowledge accomplished him with all modern standards of scholarship.
airdash (verb intransitive) Indian English, to make a quick journey by air, especially in response to an emergency.
- Example: 1973 Hindustan Times Weekly 25 Mar. 1 Governor B. K. Nehru, who airdashed to Shillong yesterday, flew back to Imphal 
English-knowing (adjective) originally and chiefly Indian English (of a person or group of people) that uses or speaks English.
- Example: 1941 J. Nehru Toward Freedom vii. 40 The official and Service atmosphere... set the tone for almost all Indian middle-class life, especially the English-knowing intelligentsia.
freeship, Indian English. A studentship or scholarship which offers full payment of a student's fees. 3rd edition, March 2008,
- Example: 1893 Med. Reporter (Calcutta) 1 Feb. 57/1 Two permanent freeships, each tenable for one year and one of which is for the second and the other for the third year class.
- Example: 2006 Econ. Times (India) (Nexis) 12 Oct., 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.
matrimonial (noun) B. 3b. Chiefly Indian English. Advertisements in a newspaper for the purpose of finding a marriageable partner.
- Example: 1999 Statesman (Calcutta) 10 Feb. (Midweek section) 4/3 When I have a job I'll have to begin a whole new search for my better half... Back to the newspaper matrimonials on Sundays.
press person n. (chiefly Indian English, frequently as one word) a newspaper journalist, a reporter, a member of the press
- Example: 2001 Hindu (Nexis) 20 June, The Prime Minister greeted the presspersons with a ‘namaskar’ and a broad smile.
redressal (noun) now chiefly Indian English. = redress (noun)
- Example: 1998 Statesman (India) (Nexis) 2 Apr., There is an urgent need for setting up an independent authority for redressal of telecom consumer complaints.
- Example: 2002 Sunday Times of India 15 Sept. 8/4 Where does he go for the redressal of his genuine grievances?
upgradation (noun) Indian English, the enhancement or upgrading of status, value or level of something
- Example: 1986 Business India 8 Sept. 153/1 (advt.) Our Company lays great stress on technical training and knowledge upgradation.
- Indian English literature
- Regional accents of English
- Regional differences and dialects in Indian English
- Indian numbering system
- Languages with official status in India
- Sedlatschek 2009, p. 1: Today many regional varieties of English, or Englishes exist around the globe and are slowly but steadily gaining recognition. Indian English (IndE) is one of the oldest.
- Census of India's Indian Census, Issue 25, 2003, pp 8–10, (Feature: Languages of West Bengal in Census and Surveys, Bilingualism and Trilingualism).
- FAMILY-WISE GROUPING OF THE 122 SCHEDULED AND NON-SCHEDULED LANGUAGES – 2001 Census of India
- Tropf, Herbert S. 2005. India and its Languages. Siemens AG, Munich
For the distinction between "English Speakers," and "English Users," please see: TESOL-India (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages)], India: World's Second Largest English-Speaking Country. Their article explains the difference between the 350 million number mentioned in a previous version of this WorldHeritage article and the current number:
“ "WorldHeritage'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." ”
- An analysis of the 2001 Census of India, published in 2010, concluded that approximately 86 million Indians reported English as their second language, and another 39 million reported it as their third language. No data was available whether these individuals were English speakers or users.
- "HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA". OUP. 2005.
- Lalmalsawma, David (7 September 2013), India speaks 780 languages, 220 lost in last 50 years – survey, Reuters
- John MacKenzie, "A family empire," BBC History Magazine (Jan 2013)
- 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'"
- Wells, p. 627
- Wells, pp. 627-628
- Wells, p. 62
- 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.
- Wells, p. 629
- Wells, p. 630
- Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 1995), page 360
- Varshney, R.L., "An Introductory Textbook of Linguistics and Phonetics", 15th Ed. (2005), Student Store, Bareilly.
- "Investors lose Rs 4.4 lakh crore in four days | Business Standard". Bsl.co.in. 2010-11-27. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
- "Corporate chiefs getting crores in salaries: 100 and counting! - The Smart Investor". Smartinvestor.in. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
- academic (noun), 6, Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, December 2011
- accomplish (verb, transitive, 3a', Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, December 2011
- airdash (in air, Compounds, C2) (verb, transitive, Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, December 2008
- English-knowing (adj). Compound, C2, Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, December 2008
- freeship, 4., Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, March 2008
- matrimonial (noun) B. 3b., Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, March 2001
- press (noun), Compound, Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, March 2007
- redressal (noun), Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, September 2009
- upgradation (noun), Oxford English Dictionary, 1993
- Balasubramanian, Chandrika (2009), Register Variation in Indian English, John Benjamins Publishing,
- Ball, Martin J.; Muller, Nicole (2014), Phonetics for Communication Disorders, Routledge, pp. 289–,
- Baumgardner, Robert Jackson (editor) (1996), South Asian English: Structure, Use, and Users, University of Illinois Press,
- Braj B. Kachru (1983). The Indianisation of English: the English language in India. Oxford University Press.
- Gargesh, Ravinder (17 February 2009), "South Asian Englishes", in Braj Kachru et al, The Handbook of World Englishes, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 90–,
- Hickey, Raymond (2004), "South Asian English", Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects, Cambridge University Press, pp. 536–,
- Lange, Claudia (2012), The Syntax of Spoken Indian English, John Benjamins Publishing,
- Mehrotra, Raja Ram (1998), Indian English: Texts and Interpretation, John Benjamins Publishing,
- Sailaja, Pingali (2007), "Writing Systems and Phonological Awareness", in Bayer, Josef (ed); Bhattacharya, Tanmoy (ed); Babu, M. T. Hany (ed), Linguistic Theory and South Asian Languages: Essays in honour of K. A. Jayaseelan, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 249–267,
- Sailaja, Pingali (2009), Indian English, Series: Dialects of English, Edinburgh University Press,
- Schilk, Marco (2011), Structural Nativization in Indian English Lexicogrammar, John Benjamins Publishing,
- Sedlatschek, Andreas (2009), Contemporary Indian English: Variation and Change, Series: Varieties of English Around the World, John Benjamins Publishing,
- Wells, J C (1982). Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press.
- 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.
- English in India at the Wayback Machine (archived May 31, 2013)
- English Language Proficiency Test (E-SAT) conducted by English Language Teachers Association, Andhra Pradesh (ELTA) for classes 4 to 10
- 'Hover & Hear' pronunciations in a Standard Indian English accent, and compare side by side with other English accents from around the World.
- "Linguistic and Social Characteristics of Indian English" by Jason Baldridge: A rather thorough analysis of Indian language published by the "Language In India" magazine.
- On the future of Indian English, by Gurcharan Das.
- An exploration into linguistic majority-minority relations in India, by B. Mallikarjun.
- 108 varieties of Indian English, Dharma Kumar, India Seminar, 2001 (Volume 500).
- What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere?, Pushpendra Mohta 2012.