[Reader-list] Fw: Hinglish for global times

Ravikant ravikant at sarai.net
Thu Nov 25 12:55:53 IST 2004

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Headline:  A Hindi-English jumble, spoken by 350 million
Byline:  Scott Baldauf Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 11/23/2004

(GURGAON, INDIA)Turn on any Indian television station these days and you're 
likely to 
hear things like "Hungry kya?" and "What your bahana is?"

Or one of your friends might ask you to "pre-pone" your dinner plans or 
accuse you of "Eve-teasing."

No, you didn't mishear them. These and countless other new words and 
phrases are part of the fastest-growing language in the country: 

The mix of Hindi and English is the language of the street and the 
college campus, and its sound sets many parents' teeth on edge. It's a 
bridge between two cultures that has become an island of its own, a 
distinct hybrid culture for people who aspire to make it rich abroad 
without sacrificing the sassiness of the mother tongue. And it may soon 
claim more native speakers worldwide than English.

Once, Indians would ridicule the jumbled language of their expatriate 
cousins, the so-called ABCDs - or the American-Born Confused Desi. 
(Desi means countryman.) Now that jumble is hip, and turning up in the 
oddest places, from television ads to taxicabs, and even hit movies, 
such as "Bend it Like Beckham" or "Monsoon Wedding."

"Before, advertisements used to be conceived in English and then just 
translated into Hindi almost as an afterthought," says Ashok 
Chakravarty, head of the creative division of Publicis India, an 
advertising firm outside New Delhi. But that method doesn't work for 
the vast majority of Indians who know only a smattering of English. 
"You may be understood, but not vibed with. That's why all the 
multinational corporations now speak Hinglish in their ads."

To get an idea of what the tamasha (ruckus) is all about, listen to a 
typical Hinglish advertisement.

Pepsi, for instance, has given its global "Ask for more" campaign a 
local Hinglish flavor: "Yeh Dil Maange More" (the heart wants more). 
Not to be outdone, Coke has its own Hinglish slogan: "Life ho to aisi" 
(Life should be like this).

Domino's Pizza, which offers Indian curiosities such as the chicken 
tikka pizza, asks its customers "Hungry kya?" (Are you hungry?), and 
McDonald's current campaign spoofs the jumbled construction of Hinglish 
sentences with its campaign, "What your bahana is?" (Bahana means 
excuse, as in, "What's your excuse for eating McDonald's and not 
home-cooked food?")

None of this would have happened 10 years ago, says Sushobhan 
Mukherjee, strategic planning director for Publicis India.

"My grandfather's generation grew up thinking, 'If I can't speak 
English correctly, I won't speak it,' " says Mr. Mukherjee. "Now, power 
has shifted to the young, and they want to be understood rather than be 

Hinglish has a buzz now, adds Sanjay Sipahimalani, executive creative 
director of Publicis India. "Ten years ago, if somebody used Hindi in 
an otherwise perfect English sentence, I don't think that we would have 
hired him. It would be a sign of a lack of education. Now it's a huge 

The turning point that made Hinglish hip, say cultural observers, was 
the introduction of cable television in the mid-1990s. Eagerly 
anticipated music channels like MTV and its competitor, Channel V, 
originally provided only English music, presented by foreign-born 
Indian video jockeys who spoke only in English. Outside metro areas, 
the response was not encouraging.

Then Channel V started a new campaign that included comic spoofs on the 
way Indians speak English. By 1996, Channel V's penetration of the 
Indian market went from under 10 percent to over 60 percent.

"There are two trends going on here," says Vikram Chandra, a TV 
newscaster for NDTV news channel in New Delhi. "One is that 
[businesses] have to Indianize in order to survive in this market.... 
At the same time, most Indians recognize that to succeed and do well, 
English is where it's at." In effect, Indians are trying to have it 
both ways.

English coaching institutes are now burgeoning nationwide. Yet what 
Indians speak at work is not necessarily what they speak at home, with 
their friends, or on the bus.

Indeed, David Crystal, a British linguist at the University of Wales, 
recently projected that at about 350 million, the world's Hinglish 
speakers may soon outnumber native English speakers.

While most of the Indians who come to the West to work in the 
information-technology sector speak English, the sheer numbers of 
Hinglishmen in IT makes it almost inevitable that some Hinglish words 
will get globalized.

The subcontinental tug of Hinglish is already being felt abroad. In 
Britain, the No. 1 favorite meal is an Anglo-Indian invention called 
Chicken Tikka Masala. And last week, Microsoft announced the company's 
decision to launch local versions of Windows and Office software in all 
14 of India's major languages, including Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.

Indians have always had a way with English words. Sexual harassment, 
for instance, is known as "Eve-teasing." Mourners don't give 
condolences, they "condole." And then there's "pre-pone," the logical 
but nonexistent opposite of "post-pone": "I'm busy for dinner. Can we 
pre-pone for lunch instead?"

Different Indian cities have their own Hinglish words. In Bombay, men 
who have a bald spot with a fringe of hair all around are called 
"stadiums," as in "Hey stadium, you're standing on my foot."

For the vast majority of Indians who have never studied English, and 
indeed, who may be barely literate, Hinglish is a foreign language that 
allows them to connect with their immediate world.

"In Bombay, everybody knows the word 'tension,' " says Shaziya Khan, a 
young advertising whiz in Bombay. "My maid one day told me, 'Aajkul 
humko bahut tension hain.'" (Translation: These days, I feel a lot of 
tension.) "She understands, and I understand. It really works."

(c) Copyright 2004 The Christian Science Monitor.  All rights reserved. 

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