Whilst several studies have attempted to gauge the impact of the English language upon non-Western languages and cultures, very little attention has been dedicated to the opposite. In 1986, Harry Kahane declared English to be ‘the great laboratory of today’s sociolinguist’ (Bhatt 527) and yet this paper will seek to determine the extent to which the languages of India have impacted upon ‘English’.
Earlier this year, Rajnath Singh, leader of The Bharatiya Janata Party, bemoaned the cost of the English Language upon Indian culture (“India Today”), as whilst the Indian constitution does not detail a national language but almost all advertising billboards are in a foreign language.
English is the de facto national language of India. It is a bitter truth’ (Joseph). In addition to the fact that the language is used widely across the world, English has probably been adopted by so many Indians because of the large number of native languages, there are at least fifteen recognised by the constitution and these are spoken in more than 1600 dialects (“Indian Languages”). Whilst Sanskrit is the classical language of India, it is now little used and Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Erdu are now amongst the most widely spoken native tongues.
Certainly many of these languages have had words adopted into English, due largely to the British colonial occupation of India. Terms such as calico, chintz and gingham had already by then ‘effected a lodgement in English warehouses and shops, and were lying in wait for entrance into English literature’ (Campion). In addition, words such as shampoo, pyjamas and bangle have derived from Indian words of similar sound, the most blatant Anglicization of all perhaps being the adoption of ‘anaconda’ from the Tamil phrase of aanai kondan, meaning elephant killer (Engish Words of Indian Origin). Studies have even discovered that ‘Sanskrit and English words retain identical, or even close, meanings after this long lapse of time’ (Wayman 253).
Whilst it is probably much easier to gauge the impact of English upon Indian languages, because of the many tongues of India, English has been effected in a variety of subtle, yet different ways. The poet, Daljit Nagra believes that the words traded between the two cultures have allowed for a’ passionate memoir of colonial India’ (Campion) and indeed ‘The Impact of Indian Languages on Rudyard Kipling’s Prose Style’ is the title of a doctoral thesis undertaken at the University of London which would likely prove to be interesting further reading. However, Hugh Stevenson believes, that as English pushes out the traditional Indian languages in the manner so lamented by Singh, so the influence of Indian tongues in the English language begins to recede (This Puzzling Isle).
- Bhatt, Rakesh M. “World Englishes.” Annual Review of Anthropology 2001: 527-550. Print.
Wayman, Alex. “Notes on the Sanskrit Term Jñāna” Journal of the American Oriental Society Oct. – Nov. 1995: 253-268. Print.
- “BJP president Rajnath Singh says English has cost Indian culture dear” indiatoday. 2013. Web. September. 2013
- Campion, Mukti Jain. “Hobson-Jobson: The words English owes to India ” bbc. 2012. Web. September. 2013
- “Indian Languages” Oracle. n.d. Web. September. 2013
- Joseph, Manu. “India Faces a Linguistic Truth: English Spoken Here” nytimes. 2011. Web. September. 2013
- Stephenson, H. “This Puzzling Isle” theguardian. 2005, Web. September. 2013
- “20 English Words You Probably Didn’t Know Were of Indian Origin” Delicate. 2012. Web. September. 2013