Indian English Hinglish - Where Singh is King
An amusing mix of English and Hindi has emerged as a popular means of communication in everyday life in the Indian subcontinent and the large Indian diaspora.
By Faizal KhanEarly last decade, a popular television ad in India showed a group of children in a remote village learning their history lessons on a mobile phone perched on a lump of stones from a teacher sitting in a faraway city. At the end of the ad, a Bollywood star comes on the screen and utters the words, “What an Idea, Sir Ji!”
The quizzical ad campaign that mixed English and Hindi to promote Idea, then a new telecom company, caught the fancy of the people through important topics like education for all, environmentalism, and even breaking the language barrier. All the campaign’s differently themed ads ended by mixing the English honorific “Sir” with Ji, a Hindi word for showing respect.
When it comes to raising awareness about preserving the planet or not leaving a child behind or selling a product or making a movie, nothing gets more eyeballs in India than a splatter of Hinglish. Even if it is a bad idea to mix words with similar meanings from different languages. Hinglish (Oxford English Dictionary defines Hinglish (noun) as a “language that is a mixture of English and Hindi, especially a type of English that includes many Hindi words”), known for its linguistic and cultural diversity, can be spotted in many aspects of daily life in India.
The origin of HinglishFrom Bollywood movies to television ads to mainstream theatre productions, India has embraced Hinglish as an integral part of communication. Some of the highest-grossing Indian films made in the 21st century have titles like Jab We Met, a 2007 romantic comedy that replaces “when” with a Hindi word of the same meaning, Kucch Luv Jaisaa, a 2011 Bollywood flick that means “Something Like Love,” and Always Kabhi Kabhi, another 2011 movie title that translates to “Always Sometimes.”
“Indian languages are very rich in code-switching and code-mixing, where you start speaking one language and, all of a sudden, move to another or mix words from two languages while speaking,” says Salivendra Jayaraju, Professor of English at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. “Code-switching and code-mixing are licenced across the world. In communication, we have to look at functionality instead of purity,” adds Professor Jayaraju, who teaches phonetics and spoken English.
Linguists trace the origin of Hinglish back to the early 17th century when East India Company came to India to begin the era of the Raj. “Languages do not exist in watertight compartments. They are organic things and when placed alongside each other they always interact,” writes Harish Trivedi, who teaches English at University of Delhi, in the foreword to Chutnefying English: The Phenomenon of Hinglish, edited by Rita Kothari and Rupert Snell. “In fact, languages feed on each other cannibalistically. If they did not, they would die,” adds Professor Trivedi.
In popular cultureOver the centuries, as more Indians learned the language of the coloniser, the use of English words by native speakers spread to nearly all the major languages spoken in the country. Thanks to mass media like Bollywood with its reach extending from Kerala to Kashmir, Hinglish became a pan-Indian phenomenon, not just restricted to northern India where Hindi is a major language.
These days, the massive growth of Hinglish in urban centres across India makes it difficult to understand clearly if someone is mixing English words while speaking Hindi or it is the other way around. Take, for example, this blurb from Vibha Batra’s 2019 novel, Bathinda to Bangkok: “Mahi’s back in the pavilion, but, ji, her dreams got mixed with mud. Hopes got crushum-crushed. Heart became pieces-pieces. As if life isn’t tatti enough, one after another new-new siyapas are starting.” That is heartbreak in Hinglish.
Bollywood star Salman Khan sings the whole of the English alphabet in a popular Hindi song in the 1999 blockbuster film Hum Saath Saath Hain (We Are Together). Hinglish’s global spread is promoted by the large Indian diaspora. American rapper Snoop Dogg even made a brief appearance in the title song of the 2008 Bollywood comedy Singh is Kinng, which was released on 1,700 screens in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates.
Unabashed accessibility and freedom endear Hinglish to a wider population without the risk of falling into a stereotype. Indian teenagers often tell each other who their “sabse best friend” is, fostering a new mode of expression. It doesn’t matter to them that “sabse best” is a redundant usage of superlatives. A similarly superfluous title of a 2002 movie in English, Hindi, and Tamil, Mitr – My Friend, though the fact that mitr means friend in Hindi didn’t stop its commercial and critical success.
The future is brightA typical line in an Indian movie today goes like this: “Zindagi ka doosra naam problem hai.” It literally means, “Life’s second name is problem.” Hinglish dialogues like the above have influenced the Microsoft Research Labs in Bengaluru, India’s software capital, to analyse screenplays of Indian films to find out how Hindi and English are mixed in movies. In India, Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, now speaks English, Hindi, and Hinglish. A reflection of the urban reality in India where people move seamlessly from one language to the other has also forced Siri and Google Assistant to come on board. “If you write arrey yaar (loosely translated as ‘hey mate’), your iPhone will recognise it and won’t auto correct,” says Javed Anwer, technology editor at India Today Group.
At the turn of 21st century, English dictionaries raced to enter scores of Hindi words, a move that underlined the growing global influence of Hinglish. Angrez (an English person) is now part of the English lexicon along with masala (spice). Stand-up comedians today swear by Hinglish, a simple, special language that has democratised communication. There are signs everywhere, in art, cinema, theatre, and literature, that a closer interaction of languages and cultures is the future. Maybe even in business. Idea, the Indian telecom company that energised TV ads with a mix of Hindi and English, followed its own formula two years ago, merging with Vodafone to become Vodafone Idea.
The influence of Indian languages on English has produced some interesting results. Here are a few examples of Indian English shaped by Hindi.
1. Where are you putting up?
The Indian way of asking about your place of residence.
2. I belong to Delhi.
Instead of saying, “I live in Delhi.”
3. Myself, Hemant.
Hemant introducing himself.
4. What is your good name?
Asking a person’s name politely.
5. It’s like that only.
Something like, “It is what it is.”
6. This is my real brother.
Not cousin brother, but real brother.
7. We are shifting.
For changing place of residence.
8. She is foreign-returned.
For a person who has just come back from abroad.
9. Do one thing.
This expression is also a direct translation from Hindi: “Ek kaam kijiye hamara ...” It means something like: do one thing. This expression is used in advice or requests.
10. He is first-class first.
Parents praising their son’s academic distinction.
11. Out of station
Taken to mean out of town.
12. Cent per cent done. Ok Boss.
Hinglish takes it to mean one hundred percent. So, when you say “Cent per cent done” in your e-mail to your superior, for some reason it means you’ve completed your work.
13. He passed out of college in 1997.
It does not mean to lose consciousness, perhaps by fainting. Instead, it means graduating from an educational institution.
14. Do the needful.
Archaic language at its best, this is one of the most common Hinglish phrases to end an official e-mail.
These are widely known Indian English/Hinglish phrases in everyday use. There is actually no single source to credit them as it is common knowledge.