regional dialects

Regional differences and dialects in Indian English

Every state (and virtually every Union Territory) in India has its own dialect of English, which is a product of many of the rules of pronunciation of the local language being applied to what is generally termed Indian English. Note that rural India hasn't as many English speakers as urban India, and that there is too extensive a difference between the way people from these two greatly varying worlds would speak to record each and every village's personal spin on the state dialect. This article, therefore, addresses the regional dialects of Indian English in the context of only urban India.

For all the following dialects/differences in Indian English, the following are deemed continuously common unless specified otherwise:

  • Absence of diphthong in the short o ([oʊ]), as in "know." The Indian short o ([ɔ]) is rather like the Scottish equivalent, only not as stretched.
  • Hard (retroflex) ts and ds;
  • Nonexistence of the fricative "th" sound in "the" ([ð]) (as in British/American English and Arabic); dental 'd' instead [d̪];
  • Nonexistence of the fricative "th" sound in "thing" ([θ]) (as in British/American English and Arabic); regional variants instead;
  • Presence of "y" sound in "news", so that it sounds like the British /ɲuːz/ rather than the American /nuz/;
  • Nonexistence of Western dark L ([ɫ]); three of the four southern states use the retroflex L ([ɭ]) in their English in a slightly similar manner (see below);
  • Unaspirated [p], [t], and [k] and [k]-sound consonants.

General Indian English

General Indian English, though not specifically termed so, is the dialect of Indian English most common in the Indian media. It refers to both the accent and the formality of the dialect as displayed by mostly all senior (Indian English) journalists in the country. It is akin to Received Pronunciation in Britain, more so in the context of it being fairly synonymous with the BBC in past times. General Indian English is even further similar to RP in that it has been noticed that most of the alumni of the Indian equivalent of British public schools, such as The Doon School, are seen possessing this accent. Throughout the country, it is generally associated as being a product of upper-middle-class education. It is characterised by the following features:

  • Non-rhoticity, as with "standard" British English. Which means that "cars" is pronounced /kaːz/ and "parking", /ˈpaː.kiŋ/, though not with as long an a as the British broad A ([ɑː]). Moreover, unlike RP, there is neither the linking r ([◌-ɹ]) nor the intrusive R ([◌ɹ]). "India and China" is not pronounced /ˈɪn.di.ɜ͜ɹand-ˈʧɑɪ.nə/) as it would in RP; the linguistic hiatus is always present. This may in part be because rs in this are generally the Sanskrit r, which is similar to the Spanish r ([ɾ]), only not rolled ([*r]).
  • The /t/s and /d/s that are commonly retroflex consonants in all other dialects of Indian English are much softer (alveolar); not to the extreme extent of them turning dental, however.
  • Syllable-timing is never employed. Stress and intonation are used as "normally" as it is with British English.
  • French words such as cliché or bouquet are generally pronounced as if they were native English words, i.e., with English phonology rules; but the upper-class English expects them to be pronounced with a French phonology and French stress.
  • The sound in the word "thing" ([θ]) is the Hindi "th" ([t̪ʰ]): a dental t ([t̪]) followed by a moderately-prominent aspiration h ([ʰ]), one that has the potential to sound like spitting with the teeth.
  • /v/ is mostly pronounced with the Sanskrit equivalent of the consonant - as a result, (generally) 'vine' and 'wine' are homonyms, 'verb' is pronounced ([ʋ̫ɜb]); however, words like "work" are always pronounced properly. Many highly-educated speakers of Indian English make no distinction between w and v.

Punjabi/Delhi English

Delhi English primarily refers to the sort of English spoken by college students in Delhi. Delhi, though a cosmopolitan city, has considerable Punjabi influences on it, and this is reflected heavily in the way students speak. Punjabi English itself is more than considerably influenced by the Punjabi language. These apply to both the Union Capital Territory of Delhi and the states of Punjab, Harayana and Himachal Pradesh equally:

  • Rhoticity/Non-Rhoticity that depends on the person speaking. As a rule, most young people will say their [r]s in words like "car", but not heavily, and so the Indian [r] at the end of the word is only a soft and extremely fleeting trill more than anything ([ɻ]). The older generation has a tendency to roll or emphasise their [r]s ([r]).
  • Excessive use of long [a]s. "Exam" for instance, is generally pronounced (/ɛɡ.ˈzɑːm/); (/ʤə.ˈpɑːn/) for "Japan"; and so on.
  • Replacing [ɛ] in words like "bet" with a short [ɐ], so that "bet" itself would sound like "bat".
  • Extremely hard (retroflex) /t/, and /d/.
  • Syllable-timing so that the language sounds rather musical. This is furthered by the use of an epenthetic [ə] as a suffix for certain words at certain points in dialogue as a kind of a filler, as well as in between large consonantal clusters. "Goodnight-[ə] and-[ə] goodluck-[ə]" and "(This house is) back-[ə]-split" are two such examples. This is not so as common with young people as it is with their parents and grandparents, and is fast fading, although there are a lot of performers and actors who use this for comedic effect.
  • The "th" sound in the word "thing" is, again, the Punjabi "th" ([t̪ʰ]): a dental t followed by aspiration.
  • Doubling certain sounds in the middle of a sentence. Though a joke, the words "manny-corr" (/ˈmæɔɻ/) and "paeddi-corr" (/ˈpæd.di.kɔɻ/) for "manicure" and "pedicure" in a Channel V spoof of a Punjabi metrosexual passing on his words of wisdom is a fairly accurate example of this.
  • Use of the word yaar to mean "mate" from British and Australian English, mostly at the end and beginning of the sentence. This is fairly common in all Hindi/Punjabi-speaker-dominated regions of North and Central India, but in Punjab and Delhi, 'yaar' is almost always suffixed with the [ə] filler so that "Yaaruh" (/ˈjaː.ɾə/) is a common filler itself. It must be noted though, that when it comes to the use of 'yaar' among girls, the 'r' is generally omitted so that they sound like they're using the German ja. Examples: "I'm so tired of him, yaah." "I'm fed up of school, yaah." "I think you should dump him, yaah. He's such a loser."

U.P./Bihari - "hindi" English

The stereotype for a person who comes from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is sadly not a very flattering one. In fact, the very word "bhaiyya" which means "brother" in Hindi, is sometimes used as a derogatory term - stemming from the fact that U.P.-ites and Biharis use the word instead of "yaar" but with more respect and flexibility than just "mate."

There is no established pattern of English of people that reside/originate from these states, as the reality is that in being the most populous, poor, and unemployment-ridden states of the country, in addition to being India's linguistic version of the Bible Belt, English hasn't much a place in their lives. However, the following are certain characteristics of the English spoken by certain noted U.P.-ite/Bihari leaders such as Laloo Prasad Yadav:

  • Heavy rhoticity with trilled r.
  • Nonexistence of conventional British/American /v/ or /w/; instead, a [ʍ͈] sound (much heavier and breathier than, for instance, the [ʍ] in South U.S. accent) is used. "I am WHery (very)..." is an example.
  • Short [ɔ] replaced with long [a] ([aː]). "Block" therefore becomes /blaːk/. Rather like American English, but rarely identified as so, for General American English generally leans towards /blɑk/ pronunciation rather than a plain /blak/.
  • Absence of [z]. [ʤ] is used instead. The s in "treasure" is also a [ʤ].
  • Absence of plain [ʃ] a lot of the time, replaced by [s]. Especially in words ending in -tion. /ˌa.pəˈɻe.sən/ for "operation"; /kə.ˌla.bəˈɻe.sən/ for "collaboration."
  • Syllable-timing.

Assamese/Bengali English

While Assamese English is influenced by the Assamese language, it has the following common points with Bengali English:

  • Slight rhoticity. Neither obvious nor conspicuous. When rhotic, trilled r ([r]) is used; however, there is a slight tendency to use the American/British r ([ɹ]) in certain cases with young people.
  • Tendency to change [ɝ] sound to short [ø̜]. "Energy" thus becomes (slightly) /ˈɛ.nø̜.ʤi/. Alternatively, the [ɝ] sound could be changed to an [e] sound. Thus making "energy" /ˈɛ.ne.ʤi/.
  • As with Hindi, many words that begin with an [s] are pronounced as starting with [ʃ], and vice versa. "Sunday" can become /ˈʃan.dei/ in this way.
  • Contrary to popular belief, [z] and [ʤ] are distinct in Bengali English. Treasure does not become /ˈtɾɛ.sɔɾ/ or /ˈtɾɛ.ʃɔɾ/. The shift is distinct largely with the lower classes and Bangladeshis, who speak a distinct Urdu-influenced dialect of Bengali themselves.
  • The "th" sound in the word "thing" ([θ]) is, the Bengali "th" ([t̪ʰ]).
  • A distinct syllable-timing that leads to both conventional-stress errors and a unique sing-song strain.

Gujarati English

Gujarati English is very likely the kind of Indian English experienced by most Americans, what with the Gujarati community being so prominently present in motel and supermarket chains all over the continental United States. It is almost completely influenced by the Gujarati language, itself a language heavily influenced by many now-defunct dialects and grammar shifts. Gujarati English features:

  • Distinct, heavy, and trilled rhoticity.
  • Hard and "hollow" ts and ds.
  • The "th" sound in "thing" varies from person to person, but is largely between a dental t ([t̪]) and a heavy Hindi/Punjabi like "th" ([t̪ʰ]).
  • Converting short [ɪ] to long ([iː]).
  • Pronouncing [ʃ] as plain [s] - eg.: /sip/ for /ʃɪp/ ("ship").
  • Interchanging short [æ] with [eː]. This has led to some rather comical ends: "Please have some of my snakes (snacks), I just made them this morning" and "There are snacks in the forest"; also: "He raped his ruler on the table" (instead of rapped.)
  • Heavy use of Gujarati loanwords. A combination of general syllable- and Gujarati pitch/stress-timing that makes it sound the way it does.

Maharashtrian English

Maharashtrian English exhibits the following:

  • Rolled [r].
  • Very hard and retroflex 's and 's.
  • Short [e] becomes longer in length ([eː]) so that bet would sound like bait.
  • Absence of [v] or [w] - both are replaced by an extremely breathy [ʍʰ], as opposed to a light and wispy [ʍ]
  • A quick and flat variation on syllable-timing; musical in the local language.

Kannadiga English

Differences in Kannadiga English:

  • Non-rhoticity, but unlike North India, the linking r (but not the intrusive r) is existent. So while "It is possible for-us to go" is normal ([ɹ]), "Pauler-Abdul" is not ([ɝ]).
  • Trilled [r], and are rolled when following hard /t/ and /d/.
  • The "th" sound ([θ]), as it is in the rest of South India, is a plain dental [t̪], so that the sentence thus becomes "I tink so."
  • There is a slight difference between /v/ and /w/.
  • /p/, /t/, and /k/ are sometimes aspirated, but slightly heavier than in British/American accents.
  • Slight syllable-timing as opposed to General Indian Accent's stress-timing.
  • Adding of the '-u' (as in 'goo') sound to English words, making them more like kannada. Eg. Telephonu, busU, hotelU. many kannada words end with '-u', like bagilu (door), helu (tell).

Telugu English

Telugu, or Andhraite English resembles Kannadiga English entirely, but with only two differences:

  • Consonants in Telugu English are never aspirated at any time.
  • The retroflex lateral [ɭ] is used in English words where Telugu grammar would deem it necessary.

Tamil English

Tamil English is distinct in its own right, but for the sake of convenience, one could say it possessed all the features of Kannadiga English with these exceptions and quirks:

  • Use of the retroflex lateral [ɭ] in most words that end with an /l/ /aˈvei.lə.bɪɭ/);
  • Extensive syllable-timing;
  • Rolled [r];
  • Internal hypercorrection of dental [t̪] used for 'th' sound (instead of [θ]) to dental [d̪]) in the middle/end of sentences. "Apathy" thus becomes "apady."

Malayalee English

Malayalee English can be safely said to possess all those qualities of Tamil English along with these features:

  • Entensive use of the retroflex lateral [ɭ], not limited to usage in Tamil;
  • Replacing a number of instances of short /ʌ/ with short /e/ so that "Shut up" can easily be said "Shet up"
  • Nonexistence of [v]; instead, a double-w type sound ([wβ͍]) is employed - "lovely" is therefore /ˈlawβ͍.li/.

See also

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