— ian banks (@AtollUK) February 27, 2018
In 2018 the British Council is celebrating 70 years of working together with it’s partners in India. A wide programme of activities is planned to mark this anniversary, with an overarching aim of highlighting the positive cultural influences and exchanges between India and the UK during this period, and in future. The 70 Words from India project aims to highlight how the English language has evolved and advanced, with the inclusion of words of Indian origin.
70 Words From India’s aim of course, is to highlight how the English language has evolved and advanced with the inclusion of words of Indian origin. But, the use of English of course, is no longer just the preserve of the British and other major English-speaking countries, who use it as their lingua franca. In the September 2017 update to the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, 70 new Indian words were added to an already existing 900 entries, “identified as distinctive to Indian English“. These were drawn equally from: Telugu, Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and Gujarati. This is not a new phenomenon either. First compiled by Colonel Henry Yule and A.C Burnell, is the iconic dictionary Hobson-Jobson, which is the original lexicon from 1872, and remains a go-to source for colloquial, Anglo-Indian words and phrases.
There is an ancient linguistic debt to India that English speakers, (and other cultures for that matter), have forgotten. This is owed to a common ancestry, going back thousands of years, to the original Proto-Indo-European language. However, it is the much more recent assimilation of language that has been exported to English, over the last few hundred years, that today still captures people’s imagination. There seems something far more poetic, within these often melodic words. Perhaps, this is due to the difference between English use, as a so-called ‘stress-timed’ language, as opposed to the more rhythmic, ‘syllable-timed’ ones.
Words of Indian origin, like: bazaar, curry, polo and yoga, are obvious ones to guess. But how many know of the true heritage of other evocative words, that sound so quintessentially British; Words like: balaclava, blighty, bungalow, chintz, cummerbund, gymkhana, hullabaloo and pyjamas? In modern times, familiar sounding, yet old-fashioned words are still re-appropriated: Whether it is British chef, Jamie Oliver, saying his food tastes “Pukka”; or Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, saying everything is feeling “Tickety-Boo”. The words are reassuringly familiar, and continue to delight and trip off the tongue, but many of us have rather lost sight of their original cultural heritage, today.
Language and linguistics specialists concede, that in English today, there is no longer any standard, Queen’s, or otherwise. The BBC long-ago relaxed attitudes to policing this, and now rightly celebrate regional dialect and diverse cultural accent. The rapid expansion of the new global workforce and travellers, as well as export of emerging business, technology and media, to and from countries like India, continues to influence a cultural shift. Notwithstanding the need to communicate, in our increased global business and media, is also an increasing requirement for people to be trained in a common language. English remains in pole position for this, a fact reinforced in India, with it having the world’s second-largest English-speaking population of over 125 million speakers, from 12% of its population. With less than half that, the population of Britain’s influence on its own mother tongue is now pro-rata and will evolve organically and eclectically. With near 300 million English speakers in the United States as well, then there inevitably will be an increased adaptation of English language use, in terms of shared linguistic, and socio-cultural contexts. Indeed, with a reported 300-plus different languages now being spoken in British schools alone, this hybridisation of our common shared languages will continue exponentially, and should rightly, be celebrated.