The Anglo-Indian Dialect

Below is an interesting short film created from outtakes of The End of the Raaj, a recent documentary about the Anglo-Indian community. This snippet discusses the Anglo-Indian dialect, and the various words and terms associated with this sub-culture. It’s a long clip, but if you have the time, it’s worth watching:

This extended trailer for the complete documentary (by Anglo-Indian-Australian filmmaker Paul Harris) offers a crash course on this unique group. “Anglo-Indian” began as a term referring to English people (and things related to English people) in the sub-continent. Later on, as you might surmise from the above clip, the term became associated with Indian people with substantial amounts of English ancestry.

Obviously, the snippet I’ve posted above does not represent one type of dialect. Many of the interviewees are expats. Those who clearly grew up in India, however, exhibit a fascinating variety of accents. Some older speakers have something like a modified type of British Received Pronunciation, making clear the impression of similarity between Welsh and Indian English: both may pattern after “Standard” Southern British while maintaining striking remnants of non-English languages.

I must admit that when Indian friends have used the term “Anglo-Indian,” it is usually accompanied by not a little mockery. The history of the Anglo-Indian population clearly raises questions about colonialism, class and Indian history which I am extremely ill-equipped to answer. The dialect, however, has much to say about both the past and future of Indian English.

On an unrelated note, a few life developments have kept the posting a bit sparse on this site of late. I’ll have more to say tomorrow!

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About Ben Trawick-Smith

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous Accents and Dialects and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Anglo-Indian Dialect

  1. Mig says:

    Looks good, shall have to watch in full later. Just skimming through it I noticed them mentioning “ta” which is very common in the UK meaning “thanks”.

    • trawicks says:

      I was quite struck by the number of words borrowed from Indian languages. The dialect is a lot less disassociative than I expected.

    • Nick says:

      Yes, a huge number of the expressions are just plain Commonwealth English:
      As Mig notices, “ta” is common in the UK. In Australia it’s universally used by children before they can pronounce “thanks”. Plenty of adults say it colloquially, too. (Although in the video it’s pronounced /tæ/ rather than /tɑː/.)
      My Australian grandmother always used “blessed” in that ironic sense.
      I had always considered “bloody” and “bugger” to be very Australian but I might have to expand that assessment.
      I often heard “His eyes are bigger than his stomach” growing up.
      “Thunderbox” and “spend a penny” are widely understood throughout the Commonwealth, although both a bit outdated.
      “Tart” (short for “sweetheart”) used to be used like that in Australia (see C.J. Dennis) but evolved into a mild insult by my grandparents’ generation.

  2. stormboy says:

    Thanks for the post and video link. My father was Anglo-Indian – he grew up in India and moved to London (UK) when he was 18 (in 1957). In England, he was frequently mistaken for Welsh (only on the phone).

    One distinctive feature of his speech (and of other Anglo-Indians I know) was the use of the second person plural personal pronoun ‘y’all’. As kids we thought it was hilarious because it sounded like cowboy speak to us.

    He also had some unexpected word stress patterns (e.g. ham’burger, stressed on the second syllable) and vowels which differed from my own RP (e.g. the PALM vowel in the second syllable of ‘piano’, compared to my TRAP). And he always maintained the original dental or retroflex stops of Hindi words (e.g. in food names).

    I’d be interested to know if any research has been done on varieties of Anglo-Indian English – e.g. regional differences, differences among different religious communities etc. Any ideas?

    • trawicks says:

      I wish I knew more! That he said “y’all” is quite fascinating. I’ve always thought of that as a Southernism, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the word arose independently in other dialects lacking a second-person plural.

      • Sravana says:

        Yes, I grew up in India, and use “y’all”. It sounds a bit different (to my ears, at least) from the Southern one — a shorter, more rounded vowel and less nasalized.

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  4. Aniruddha Gupta says:

    There’s actually a dictionary of Anglo-Indianisms – it’s called Hobson-Jobson (which is itself an Anglo-Indianism) – http://www.amazon.com/Hobson-Jobson-Glossary-Colloquial-Anglo-Indian-Phrases/dp/0700703217/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1313715120&sr=8-3

    I grew up in Calcutta, formerly the second city of the British Empire, and attended Catholic school, so I’m familiar with all the expressions in this clip. However, Anglo-Indians have been emigrating in large numbers (Australia and Canada seem to be preferred destinations), and you can no longer hear the dialect in my school.

    You’re right in pointing that other Indians often mock Anglo-Indians (they are referred to by the derogatory term “Dings”). This often stems from the fact that Anglo-Indians, because of their links to the church and Britain, got to attend the same schools as wealthier Hindu children. At the same time, there was the impression that they “thought they were better” than other Indians, because they fiercely rejected “Indian culture”. The clip above shows how, for example, how poorly Anglo-Indians speak Indian languages. These combined into a narrative that Anglo-Indians were “too big for their boots”, and was the source of most of the mockery.

    Incidentally, a (fiction) book that extensively uses Anglo-Indian dialects is Amitava Ghosh’s exceptional novel “Sea of Poppies” (http://www.amazon.com/Sea-Poppies-Amitav-Ghosh/dp/B004KAB2YE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1313781342&sr=8-1). It also has characters who speak Bengali-English, Chinese-English, French-English, African-American-English and the fascinating Lascar dialect, which alone could provide matter for many months’ worth of blogposts.

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