Disclaimer: Before anyone screams RACISM and channels their virtual anger in our direction, we would like to make it known that both authors of this post are indeed from the Indian Subcontinent. This post is not intended to racially profile authors but rather to bring to light the fact that the phenomenon of localization exists in the English Language and is far more diverse than just “UK and US English”. To read our article on localization click here.
India’s English connection
India is largely seen as a non-native-English-speaking nation, but the country has a significantly large population of English speakers owing to its British colonial history. English is taught in almost every school, with many school students communicating among themselves in English and workplaces using English as a common mode of communication to overcome language barriers (the language comes in handy in a nation with nearly 1500 rationalized mother tongues). A 2011 census identified that one in ten Indians claim English to be their first language!
So, while this article can’t be used to generalize a certain dialect to all Indians, it doesn’t hurt to note the common words and phrases that one is most likely to come across while editing material from an Indian author.
The inspiration behind this article
An interesting question asked by Surit Das, an editor par excellence and a fellow member of Indian Copyeditors Forum, recently popped up in the ever-vibrant Facebook group Editor’s Association of Earth.
Off the top of your head, what words and phrases in the social sciences are dead giveaways that the author is Indian? I ask because my English was described as Indian recently (it is), but I am wondering what gives it away.
The comments section was flooded with editors from around the globe pointing out specific words and phrases that they find most common when reading material from Indian writers. Sooner than later, the discussion went beyond the social sciences.
The English language does vary in dialect not only from country to country but even within cities in native-English-speaking nations. While the dialect adapted by nations that do not speak English as their first language may have more striking differences, they are often marked wrong or inappropriate when editing or writing material that needs to be grammatically correct.
While we tried to put these comments together, two major categories emerged: the use of certain phrases in business emails and unusual choices in grammar/vocabulary. (There, of course, are overlaps and we tried to fit such cases as best as we could.) There was another major discussion, on how language evolved across different locations, which perhaps may find a separate post on our blog. But for now, our focus is on the first two categories.
We hope that this collection will help anyone communicating to an international audience.
India has quickly become one of the most preferred countries for the service industry, with call centers of many international companies being set up in India. This necessitated email communication as a secondary medium following voice-based services. In the same way that voice-based jobs involve accent training, jobs that involve extensive email communication involve training on email etiquettes and appropriate language. Despite these efforts, the following ‘Indianized’ language patterns are commonly found.
Perhaps as a reminder of nearly 200 years of colonization, the use of ma’am or madam or sir is still common rather than Mr. / Ms. followed by their names. Another observation made was that Indian colleagues were found to be exceedingly polite. One person noted, “If [the recipient] has failed to meet a deadline, the e-mail starts with ‘gentle reminder’.”
Another reader noted, “Preferring ‘Dear Editor’ in a cover letter, instead of directly addressing the editor as Dr. X or Professor X.” It is a safe guess that the recipient was an author and received this communication from one of the typesetting companies in India. In the past 10 to 15 years, the communication itself has been automated a lot. The project managers (with a plethora of other, fancy names) do not always write the entire email on their own. The process flow is automated and in case the author did not respond within the deadline, reminder emails are automatically sent. Hence the presence of phrases such as these – they are gender-neutral and in no way offensive.
Project managers may be working with clients of different nationalities and it is common for Americanisms and Britishisms to freely mix. They are now part of Indianism!
Another common phrase to be seen in emails is “Please do the needful.” While considered predominantly Indian, this usage is considered archaic by modern English folks. Interestingly, readers noted that this phrase is pithy.
Prepone is another Indian contribution to the English language. Many native speakers may find this a funny word and think that this word does not exist. Some suggested that it is “best to at least add ‘earlier/later’ as appropriate and that switching ‘advance’ to ‘move’ would be helpful to avoid incorrect assumptions.” One suggested that “it [is] easier to be totally specific, e.g. Can we move the meeting on Wednesday 4th to Monday 2nd or Tuesday 3rd? Or can we move Thursday’s dinner to an evening in the week after?”
Some of the observations were related to the use of certain words: Till date used to indicate until today, revert used as reply (suggesting to respond), The same instead of repeat, updation instead of the noun form update.
As noted by someone, “Indians struggle with article usage as most Indian languages don’t have articles. There are just no articles. Entirely unnecessary. Which is why two Indians talking English can understand each other even when neither is using the correct articles (or even when the usage is totally messed up).” I think we tend to ignore articles. That might be the reason why “few” vs “a few” is something that Indian writers might struggle with.
Use of the progressive tense is common: “are you getting what I’m meaning”. Another reader noted that this usage is not restricted to the social sciences. A native English speaker will not use the progressive tense in most of these cases.
Another identity of Indian English is the general use of nominalized verbs, such as saying “for the <something>-isation of” instead of “to <something>”. This is common across the Southeast Asian countries. As an editor, I have tried to change such sentences when an international audience is intended. Eliminating redundancies is one of the essential requirements while editing work from these authors.
Contractions are beautiful. Many writers love them. Here is an interesting post on how a wholesale removal of contractions incurred the wrath of an author. Scientific writing seldom allows contractions, sadly.
The excessive use as well as (mis)placement of modifiers such as “also”, “too”, and “as well” is commonplace among these authors. One editor noted that “even in completely fluent papers, that word [also] will pop up where an Am/Br/Au person would use ‘too’ or ‘as well,’ or it will appear in a spot in the sentence like ‘the study found also that’ ”. As one user commented, “Typically I’ll notice that, think ‘hmmm,’ and then when I do a bit of research, it will turn out that the author’s name or the Track Changes language settings suggest a different national origin than Am/Br/Au.”
Another most common error is writing “softwares” instead of “software” (a nod to our IT prowess). A quick check around an Indian city will show other such wrong plurals: “furnitures” and “equipments”. These latter two words are common as part of company names, where plurals of common nouns are a norm.
While some of the above examples are technically correct, they are found to be outdated. This is often seen as archaic since they most likely were the words passed down from our ancestors from the colonial times. But we think the biggest giveaway of all, as one user astutely pointed out, is when the author uses the direct phrase “I am from India” when talking about themselves 😊 .
Do you have any other words or phrases to add to the list? Feel free to comment below!