[Reader-list] Fw: Hinglish for global times
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
(GURGAON, INDIA)Turn on any Indian television station these days and you're
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
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
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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