Sunday, August 28, 2011

Revisiting Indian English

One popular post that I've had here at 'Many Englishes' was on the topic of prejudice against Indian English. That was back in 2007.

Since then, I've had fewer phone exchanges with Indian customer service representatives than I had a four years ago, and we're not getting so many marketing calls at dinner time from non-native English speakers either. Maybe some American companies have learned that it doesn't help their product to outsource the telemarketing to people who are not fluent in American English. Perhaps these organizations have also become more discriminating in their choice of telemarketers, or accent reduction training programs have been very effective.

Indeed, last year I heard a discussion on NPR (National Public Radio) about just this topic. Instead of looking at Indian English from the outside, however, I'm trying to look at it from the Indian perspective (as much as I can from where I sit in San Diego). About three years ago, an article came out in the Washington Post which stated that "English-speaking is a self-confidence issue in India." What that apparently meant was that Indians themselves felt that it was important to speak English well in their own country. The article comments about a commercial where a young man from a well-to-do family feels embarrassed that his maid is listening to and singing along with a song in English which he himself can't understand.

What does it all mean? For a variety of comments and reflections on English in India, I offer some reportage from various online sources, such as Chilli in India, Global Voices, Mortarboard, and Language in India (1, 2). These latter reports and articles are presented to open up my readers (mostly American) to views on English from Indian English speakers.


Daniel said...

In all the Bollywood films I've seen, the actors switch back and forth from English to Hindi like it's nothing. I have the feeling that speaking English is important for upward mobility in India, and it's a country where upward mobility is something that's on their minds a lot...

Evelyn said...

Thanks for your observation, Daniel. It's been quite a while since I watched a Bollywood film. There's an Indian restaurant that sometimes plays films in the background on a widescreen TV. I'll have to pay more attention to the languages I hear spoken. I would be curious to know what percentage of people speak English as a first language in India.