3.1 Variation in IE

Like any other variety of English, native or non-native, IE also has both regional and social variation, even when it is largely used in the urban settings of India. If one travels across the country, he/she will notice fairly distinct varieties of IE spoken in different parts of India. In particular, the South Indian IE speech is markedly different from the North Indian. Similarly, one may talk of Bengali English, Punjabi English etc. However, these differences exist largely at the phonological level, as they would in any native or non-native variety of English. Regional differences in pronunciation and lexicon are often tied to different mother tongues and cultural differences. Even these differences may level out in the case of IE speakers who share a common 'prestigious' English-medium education at the school and college levels. Variation in IE may sometimes be related to differences in Register and Occupations. However the variation is largely at the phonological and lexical levels. Variation at the syntactic level appears minimally and awaits serious enquiry. As Dharma Kumar (1986) says:

"Take education for instance. Indians educated at Oxford speak and write English very differently from the alumni of Banaras and Agra, and Doon School boys from the products of municipal schools (the Doon School boys probably use yaar more frequently). The subdivisions can be made finer: the stamp of Cambridge (Eng.) differs from that of Cambridge (Mass.), and far larger numbers of Indians now study in America."

A greater part of what we report in this chapter is already available in Agnihotri (1999). Parasher (1994) working with a corpus of '188 letters running into 2900 sentences and 49,000 words' arrived at the conclusion that 'there were few violations of the major rules of English syntax and none of these had a high frequency of occurrence. It is in the deviant lexical and stylistic usage of IE that its most characteristic features lie (p. 163).' Some subsequent studies (e.g. Agnihotri et al 1998) have also shown that there is no significant differences even in the normative syntactic behaviour of IE educated users. As it is argued, lexical and stylistic differences are noticed both in native and non-native varieties. Working with 42 informants, Sahgal and Agnihotri (1994) concluded, "it would appear that a common syntactic denominator acts as a bond among the different English-speaking communities in the world" (p.284); the individual groups innovate at the phonological, lexical, collocation and stylistic levels.

3.2 Regional/Dialectal Variation

Regional variations take time to develop. In a multilingual society, people constantly keep enlarging their verbal repertoire, often using different languages in different domains of activity. This ensures a high degree of language maintenance. English was introduced on the Indian scene as a foreign language and over a period of time became a second language, almost an integral part of at least the educated speaker's verbal behaviour. In each linguistic region, English was adapted in terms of pronunciation though in terms of domains of usage one can notice substantial uniformity across the country. The most important phonological patterns were nearly predictable in terms of the Contrastive Analysis with the mother tongues of the speakers of IE. One thus notices a high degree of retroflexion in the South Indian variety of IE, a / T, D / like pronunciation for /t, d / of British RP etc. English came in contact with genetically and culturally unrelated languages and hence different regional varieties of English got developed which can be generally referred to as part of the general Indian English fabric. Pronunciation and vocabulary differences are very obvious among people and they are easily differentiable. People are often aware, even though unconsciously, of the various dialects of English and sometimes even of grammatical differences and can effortlessly recognize speakers of IE from different regions of India. Sometimes the differences between dialects are matter of frequencies with particular feature occurrence rather than completely different ways of saying things.

Some attempts have been made to describe the phonological structure of standard IE (for a survey see Agnihotri 1991). Such a description may be found in Prabhakar Babu (1971), CIEFL (1972), Bansal (1978) Pandey (1980) and among others. Several regional varieties have also been described in some detail e.g. Hindustani English (Bansal 1970), Marathi English (Rubdy 1975; Gokhale 1978), Rajasthani English (Dhamija 1976), Telugu English (Prabhakar Babu 1974), Tamil English (Vijayakrishnan 1978) and others. Most of these studies are apologetic in nature and regret the deviations of IE from RP without realising that phonological variation is an inherent feature of all varieties, native or non-native. Why should IE conform to RP when Yorkshire English or for that matter American, Australian or Canadian English does not. Most scholars including Pandit (1964), Bansal (1976), Kachru (1965, 1976), Krishnamurti (1978), Shackle (1987) and others have tried to explain the IE features in terms of the features that are shared by Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Tibeto-Burman languages and spelling pronunciation without realising that many of them are universal strategies of second language acquisition and may get fossilized in the process of language teaching with the result that the RP features are not even accessible to the learners. On the other hand, many fluent educated users might never use these features.

Most scholars agree that regional varieties of IE are characterised by simplification of consonant clusters, retroflexion, lack of aspiration of voiceless stops in stressed initial positions, lack of the interdental fricatives and palatal affricates and an absence of distinction between /v/ and /w/ in addition to not having many diphthongs and some vowels. Krishnamurti (1978) in fact suggests spelling reform to teach Indians accurate British pronunciation. There is a tendency to overlook two issues. All language acquisition is characterised by certain universal features such as simplification of consonant clusters and spelling pronunciation and that given adequate exposure such features tend to disappear over a period of time. There are also certain strategies that mark the acquisition of second languages across the world including overgeneralization, a wholesale syncretism of categories, local interpretation of certain lexical items, ignorance of rule restrictions etc. As Selinker (1972) has argued, there may be a latent psychological structure that monitors all second language learning. Most of all, at least linguists should be sensitive to the fact that linguistic variability is human and that there may be a multiplicity of standards in the world. Pandey (1981, 1981a) showed that IE word-accent had developed its own system. He noticed that there is no correlation between the accentual patterns of words and their category membership and that stress in IE is assigned not on the basis of its syntactic constituency as in RP but on the basis of its phonetic constituency. "It appears", he said, "that in second language varieties, phonological phenomena are learnt by leaving out the various conditioning factors which go along with them in native dialects. The reason for this seems to be facility in learning the phenomena." (Pandey 1981: 15). Karande (1994) have shown that there is no significant difference in the acoustic effect of IE and RP even though when there is a difference in the duration of short and long vowels.

3.3 Social Variation

Social variables like education, exposure to urban environment, social mobility, change in government policies may often cut across the generally recognized stratification in terms of religion, caste and mother tongues. The work of sociolinguists like Labov (1966) and Trudgill (1974) showed that social status could be an important variable in determining which variant of a given variable one would use. In Labov's study for example, the use of post-vocalic 'r' increased consistently with the increase in social status, i.e. higher the socio-economic status, higher the use of the post-vocalic 'r'. It was shown in Labov's (1966) New York study that in words like 'car, guard, park' etc., the r-full pronunciation, as distinguished from the British r-less RP, was gaining in prestige. Another area of sociolinguistic enquiry has focused on the sociology of language examining different aspects of ethnography of communication, bilingualism, the changing patterns of language use and processes of language maintenance and language shift (see e.g. Fishman 1968; Gumperz and Hymes 1972). Though considerable amount of work has been done on the sociolinguistic aspects of IE, really careful empirical studies on the social and spatial variability of IE and the changing patterns of language use in the context of IE bilingualism are conspicuous by their absence. A lot of emphasis has been put on studying non-native varieties in their own right rather than as pathological deviations from the British or American standard (Kachru 1982, 1983, 1986 and 2005). Kachru (2005) provides an insightful perspective for the study of forms and functions of the new Asian varieties as they get increasingly nativised. Verma (1994) raises questions such as: What are the topics and situations that necessitate the use of IE? How has IE been shaped by the specific functions it is made to perform? He also insists that we would need to develop our own models of IE research and teaching. Yamuna Kachru (1994) argues that instead of confining our attention to ' data produced by foreign learners of English or immigrants who have yet to become fluent speakers', a serious effort 'should be made to utilize the wealth of data provided by the varieties of English around the world to understand what really is involved in acquiring a second language' (p. 300). She suggests that the discourse strategies that IE learners may use are not evidence of fossilization but expressions of specific meanings they need to articulate. Sahgal (1991) shows how the patterns of language use are changing among the educated elite children of Delhi and standard IE is increasingly becoming a part of their peer group interaction and in some case even of home. In addition to being a language of administration, higher education and judiciary, English is also becoming associated with intimacy and spontaneity in some cases. Patnaik and Geetha (1994) reinforce the same point at the semantico-pragmatic level.

3.3.1 Caste

Not much work has been done on the caste and sub-caste variation in the case of English. In fact, till recently, English has largely remained the prerogative of the rich and upper caste. It is only in recent years that several states introduced English as a subject in the primary class. Almost 50% of the Indian states introduced English in Class one in government schools by 2005. In smaller social networks, people in rural areas tend to participate generally within one's own community and caste. The tendency is to use the mother tongue rather than the second language. Moreover prestige in their enclosed networks is often dependent on one' s 'caste' or social standing within the community. English if used at all in such contexts would contain many mother tongue features and the use of more 'correct' forms, if attempted at all with some effort, might be considered as 'showing off' or 'acting different'.

3.3.2 Sex

Sex has often turned out to be a significant social variable in several sociolinguistic studies. In the rapidly changing Indian society, the pressure operating upon men and women are often very complex and different. Women tend to be low achievers of English than men in rural areas. This is due to less social mobility. But in the urban society, women are generally as mobile as men and here it is often fashionable for them to speak in English. So elite women have better control on English than the males. Several studies in India such as Agnihotri and Khanna, 1997; Sahgal, 1983 and others have shown that girls perform better than boys and often show a higher frequency of prestige variants than men. Labov (1966) and Trudgill (1972,1974) suggest that social insecurity and societal expectations could be some of the reasons for it. Thus, the sensitivity of women to prestige norms makes them prime candidate to initiate linguistic change.

3.3.3 Education

In India, which is a multilingual and multicultural federal polity, education has remained largely the responsibility of the states and the Centre. The constitution of India provides full freedom for the states to choose a language in a region as "official" language(s) (Article 345). It also allows linguistic minority groups to receive education in their mother tongue and set up institutions of their choice for this purpose (Article 30). Hence, we find wide variations in different states as far as the medium, content, duration and nomenclature of stages are concerned. In the case of English as well, both as medium of instruction and as a subject, we find considerable variation in the Indian school system. Most children from non-elite families go to regional language medium schools where English is taught as a subject from Class 5 onwards. It is only recently that these government schools have been asked to introduce English from Class 1 itself. Most of the earlier studies (e.g. Agnihotri et al 1988; Khanna, 1995 among others) show that schooling invariably has a significant and positive correlation with proficiency in English language. It was found that children who had been to better schools i.e. schools which had the basic infrastructure, teachers, a good teacher-pupil ration of about 1 to 35, early exposure to English not only as a subject but also as a medium of instruction etc., did much better than those who had not gone to such schools.

3.3.4 Generation

There is synchronic change in linguistics behavior of different stages in a speaker's life span, i.e. the speech of older generation constitutes the older patterns and those of the younger generation, the new patterns. It is due to various socio-psychological pressures which operate on generations and which get reflected in their speech. The older people are free of social constraints because of their age and can therefore use forms they are used to more freely than the young. The younger people are aware that they may rise socially if they can manipulate their speech. In the case of English in India, one can see two distinct trends multiplying across generations. One which is reflected in the behaviour of the elite children who manage to go to posh public schools (a variety that may be described as close to the standard IE or even in some cases the standard British or American) and another far more common that is close to the various regional standards of IE with more and more people learning English.

3.4 Variability and Pedagogy

As Masica (1970) argues, the second language teacher is confronted with a dilemma: On the one hand, he has a half-emergent, understandardized norm and a highly codified native standard. On the other, the latter is being increasingly supported by grammars, dictionaries, reference material and purists. The situation in multilingual societies such as India of course becomes far more complicated. In such situations, it becomes absolutely essential that teachers receive some solid linguistic training and begin to regard linguistic variability as a normal human characteristic. In this context we feel that the concept of ' a language', 'a speech community', ' a single language classroom' etc need to be revised drastically. One needs to come to grips with complex and fluid communities where the classroom is by default multilingual in a very concrete sense. Rather than pushing this reality under the rug, one need to come to terms with it and think of multilingual pedagogical strategies. Today it is entirely possible to use the multilingual classroom as a resource rather than as an obstacle. The variability in the use of English and the presence of English in the classroom can be used to the advantage of teaching English in schools. There is no possibility of doing anything worse than what is already happening in schools today.

3.5 Diglossic Situation

i) Spoken Variety

Diglossia in a typical Fergusonian sense can only subsume a linguistic situation in which the same language has two varieties, one High and the other Low, the former being used in domains in which the latter is never used and nobody learns the High variety as a native language. In this sense there is no diglossia in IE because the High and Low functions, if they exist at all, may often be fulfilled by different languages. If it is an informal situation, English may not be used at all and the domains of Home, Peer-group interaction and Neighbourhood may actually belong to regional languages of India and English may be used only in the formal domains. Those who use IE in the informal domains may often use Hinglish; it has simpler syntax and has a smaller range of vocabulary. It neutralizes distinctions between embedded and non-embedded interrogatives. In Standard English interrogative transformation is obligatory for non-embedded question e.g.:

'I asked Hari where does he work'. 'I asked Hari where he works.'

It is closer to British English than American English owing to colonial influence. The range of variation is more due to the influence on pronunciation of regional accents. In the spoken variety slang use is minimal as the language is foreign and still lacks the flavor of belongingness. Indian speakers of English would typically use a retroflexed and an r-pronouncing variety. But among the elite section of society retroflexion and r-pronunciation may sometimes be stigmatized.

ii) Common Standard Variety

It is the variety normally used in writing, especially in publishing. It has general affinity with the written variety of Standard English all over the world. It is the variety associated with the education system, mass media, administration, science and technology and judiciary. It is devoid of slang and avoids colloquial expressions.

iii) Written Variety

It has great range of variation encompassing newspapers, journals, fiction, official correspondence and informal letters. Since it is purposive, styles vary according to the purpose to be served. In general, written English is constituted in sentences, broken down to clause and phrases.

3.5 Argot

3.5.1 Slang

Slang is the special, restricted speech of subgroups or subcultures in society and is a highly informal, unconventional vocabulary of more general use. Slang is a necessary and inevitable cultural product of a plural, complex, dynamic and highly independent modern urban society of India and the world. Slang marks the speech of young men and women and is often shared across the world, given in particular contemporary technology. Yet, every group in every neighbourhood develops its own slang if it uses any amount of English in its informal peer group interaction. More often than not, this slang will come from mixed one Indian language-English code. For example, most Indian college going senior students will use faccaa for a fresh graduate student. The only way one can explain this is, baccaa is the Hindi word for 'child' and this new word has been created by retaining the 'f' of 'fresher' and the Hindi word for child to it. It is not easy to say whether this word is used for a fresher anywhere else in the world. Other similar expressions include, fully faaltuu -'completely useless', hungry kyaa- ' Are you hungry?' etc.

3.6 Register / stylistic / Code

3.6.1 Judiciary

The English used by the Indian judiciary is replete with terms of Latin origin. The Supreme Court and High Courts use English as the sole medium of communication. The subordinate courts, district courts onward use the official language of the state concerned, which is often a regional language. The attempts are to facilitate translation of legal matters (since all major law books are available in English only) into vernacular. But the purpose of the judiciary to preserve clarity and precision in expression and prevent ambiguity and dilution of meaning can be served only by direct import of Latin terms per se, into the vernacular, Example of Latin terms commonly used in legal language are areprima facie 'on the face of it', summum bonum 'supreme benefit'.

3.6.2 Medical

Medical terminology is primarily a nomenclature of labeling and description. By medical language, the layperson usually means the technical terms of medicine. In Indian hospitals different languages are used for speaking with patients and speaking with colleagues, the local language when speaking to patients and the official hospital lingua franca (usually English) for communications with medical staff and for medical records. Medical terminology represents shared expert knowledge and is not appropriate for communicating with patients. Thus doctors speaking to patients are likely to say e.g. Thighbone rather than Femur, Heart attack rather than Cardiac arrest etc.

3.6.3 Educational

The principal goal of school is to develop knowledge and thoughtful, rational responsible human beings who will appreciate the values of equity, justice and freedom. As language is the medium through which children learn all their academic subjects, the nature of language in the classroom is the important aspect. So class-teaching style must be simple construction of sentences, clarity of expression, comprehensive communication, dilution of substances by elaboration and break up to easily digestible capsule.

3.6.4 Religions

Religious writings proceed within the definite parameter of the good, the bad and the ugly. They are selectively critical in the sense that they criticize (rather, condemn) what is held as bad & taboo, but do not venture to question the goodness of what they presume as good. Seen in this light they are narrower in scope than scientific writings. The conception of the higher beings or Supreme Being is kept vague and inexplicable. Repetition is another consistency found in religious literature. It is often used as rhetorical device to preserve metrical continuum in hymns and chants. It is also used as an instrument of emphasis to familiarize the faithful with the basic tenets.

3.6.5 Literary and Scientific

Literary language has acquired a less inclusive, more specialized sense and has come to be associated with imaginative or fictional writing in the main genres of prose, poetry, and drama. In literary texts we see display of different degrees of literariness according to range of 'tests' such as density of polysemic effects, the displaced character of the interaction between author and reader, the extent of independence of the text from other media, such as picture diagram. In any case, in the case of internationally recognized literary writing, it would be extremely difficult to separate the Indian from the rest unless it were not for the specific cultural references etc. In scientific style English acts as a lingua franca in science. In international communication, it has always played an important role for India.


It is not surprising that IE has social and regional variation at the phonological, stylistic and lexical levels since it is mainly a second language in a multilingual and multi-cultural country. There is no doubt that IE is an important component of the verbal repertoire of the Indian elite. Yet it will be very difficult for IE to pose a serious threat to various Indian languages. IE has certainly emerged as a distinct variety phonologically like many other native and non-native varieties of English. Like any other variety it tends to capture cultural nuances that are unique to it. However, it is difficult to find any significant difference at the syntactic level between IE and any other variety of English.


Copyright CIIL-India Mysore