What is this blog?

"Words and sounds carry histories with them. Not only their own histories, but those of people who have uttered those words."- Me aka Yash.
I pay attention to people speaking. Their choice of words, their choice of pronunciation. And whenever I do hear something which I do not use, I feel obliged to attribute this different choice of words or sounds to history.

This blog is a linguistic record of my world, the sounds I hear and the letters I read, from all the languages I come across.

PS: I am a high school student, and not a linguist, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Indian English, What is Different and Why?

Hello Everyone,

In today's Yash's-Lame-Excuses-For-Not-Publishing, we have:
1. School Work
2. School Exams
3. College Applications
And therefore, we must forgive Yash for not publishing for more than a month. Also, it's his birthday today, so we could probably cut him some slack.

So today's post is going to be about the way Indian English pronunciation differs from most of the other accents of English. What I have put here is just two of these differences and the reason I have chosen these two differences is because I have some theories to explain why Indian English is different in these places. Some of these theories make sense, some of them are not quite scientific, but just products of my imagination. Have a look and let me know what you think. 

*I have decided to include a pronunciation guide for this post because I am not using the standardized IPA to describe sounds since most laymen would not be familiar with it. I have tried to use an intuitive system for transcribing the sounds, with most English letters representing the sounds they usually stand for. For vowels, I have used ":" following the vowel to indicate that the vowel is long. "kh", "ph" and "th" - when used to describe pronunciations- are "k", "p" and "t" pronounced with a puff of air. 

To aspire or not to aspire: Let me tell you a thing about aspirated consonants. They are the ones you pronounce with a puff of air.  Speakers of Indian languages may be familiar with these sounds as the ones in 'phal', 'khaanaa' and 'thaa'. Non-Indian English Speakers may know these sounds which occur when 'p', 't' and 'k' begin a word. For example, in most accents of English other than Indian English, 'pig' is pronounced 'phig' ('ph' does NOT sound like 'f'), 'cat' sounds like 'khat' and 'tea' sounds like 'thee' ('th' does NOT sound like the 'th' in 'thin' or 'this'). And that is where Indian English differs from other Englishes. In most accents of English, voiceless stops (p, t, k) at the start of the word are aspirated. But in Indian English, it's not. And now, for the more interesting part: why?
I think this happens because Indian languages make a distinction between the unaspirated and aspirated ('k' and 'kh' for example) whereas in English, these are considered allophones. This means that these can be considered variations of the same sound, which occur in different places in a word. Thus, I like to imagine that one needs to point out to us Indians where to pronounce the consonant with aspiration and where not and since English fails to do that, we pronounce all of them without aspiration. ('th' in thin, thing etc. is not an aspirated stop in non-Indian accents of English, for those wondering; I will do a post on ‘th’ after some time maybe)

One vowel or two: Most of English long vowels are actually not long vowels but what is called diphthongs i.e. two vowels combined together. So for example, long 'i' is roughly pronounced 'a:i' as it 'bite', 'I' and 'mine'. These vowels used to be genuine, long, monophthongs (one vowel) very long back, but they have evolved into diphthongs in Modern English. Except, all of these except long 'i' and 'u' are realized as monophthongs in Indian English. For example, long 'a' in 'gate' is realized as roughly 'ei' ('geit') in most varieties of English, but we Indians go with a long 'e:' (ge:t). Similarly, long 'o' is 'au' or 'ou' (I have generally seen British people go with 'au' and Americans go with 'ou' but since Britain and America have such a huge diversity of accents within them as well, I don't want to generalize) usually, but for us, it is 'o:'. But why does this happen?
I have a theory for this. It is not an actual proved theory, but something I like to believe in. I think Indians love to monophthong-ize i.e. every time there's a diphthong, we find a way to make it a monophthong. That is what we have done with a lot of our own languages. For example, the most ancient form of Sanskrit had four diphthongs: 'ai', 'a:i', 'au' and 'a:u'. After some time, 'ai' and 'au' came to be pronounced as 'e:' and 'o:', whereas 'a:i' and 'a:u' remained diphthongs but downgraded to 'ai' and 'au'. Thus, from four, we came down to two diphthongs. Later, when Sanskrit evolved into various Prakrits, these two remaining diphthongs also became 'e' and 'o'.
And in some modern Indian languages, such as Hindi, a lot of younger people, in a lot of places pronounce the remaining 'ai' and 'au' are pronounced as 'a' in 'bat' and 'o' in 'cot' respectively. And therefore, my conjecture: Indians monophthong-ize. And which is why we monophthong-ize English diphthongs.

I know this is not a very long post but the reason for that is because this is all I have to write about this topic, and since I am really fascinated by this topic, I could not fail to write a post about it. Hope you liked it. 



  1. Re your post - interesting observations. It's wonderful to find a young person interested in linguistics. I hope you will continue to pursue your interest, formally or informally, in this field.

    Why do we choose the unaspirated allophone as the default in Indian English (IE) rather than the aspirated ones? As you rightly point out, the aspirated ones (at least [pʰ] and [kʰ]) exist phonemically in many Indian languages. On the other hand, we have many more aspirated consonants than English does, both voiceless and voiced (bilabial, dental, alveolar, velar - our alphabet is arranged thus!), so in terms of frequency of occurrence there doesn’t seem much in favour of our choice of de-aspiration.

    In Tamil, where aspirated stops do not exist phonemically, the de-aspiration seems logical. But what do people from the North East do when they speak English? Do they aspirate word-initial stops? Many NE Indian languages have aspirated initial stops — in some they are phonemically distinct from their unaspirated counterparts (like in Hindi), in others they are in complementary distribution (like in English), and yet others in free variation. It would be interesting to observe how they treat the English aspirated stops, particularly speakers of those languages where the aspiration is in complementary distribution with the unaspirated stops, just as it is in English.

    W.r.t. the tendency to monophthongize English diphthongs…you are right that we do that. Speakers of any language will, when pronouncing a foreign or unfamiliar sound, have a tendency to find the closest possible approximate in his/her language since that is more comfortable to enunciate. So, just as we monophthongize English diphthongs, native English speakers also have a tendency to diphthongize our vowels! Have you heard the Aussie cricketers speak Hindi on TV ads?

    Also, English is a stress-timed language...stress within words is distinctive -IMport (noun) vs imPORT (verb). English also has sentence-level stress. Many Indian languages (Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi for example) are syllable-timed languages, where each syllable receives more or less the same amount of stress. Many English diphthongs (like eɪ and aɪ) occur in syllables receiving primary stress. Perhaps the lack of syllabic stress is partially responsible for monophthongization. Also, diphthongs like eɪ and aɪ, because they occur in syllables of primary stress, tend to also lengthen the syllable, resulting in a English's asynchronous rhythm....Since our languages are syllable-timed, and therefore more synchronous, we avoid diphthongs that lengthen syllables and disturb the rhythm of our speech. I'm also thinking aloud here!

    A few other interesting (and often amusing) differences between IE and English:

    1. Vowel Length - e’.g. short’ and ‘shot’ are the same (shortened). Listen to the cricket commentary of Gavaskar and other Indian commentators in the next India game! Other vowels also suffer the same fate, depending on what your Indian L1 is….Gujjus > He bit/beat me…(lengthened in both)
    2. Word formation rules - pastime vs time pass, full house vs house full
    3. Omission of a/an/the……I am taking bath…..or overcompensation…I sent the attachment in THE email.
    4. Incorrect use of also, even, only - We are like that only; Even she is not coming to school; She is not coming to school also.
    5. Subject-Verb inversion in non-interrogative phrases - I don’t know why are you asking me so many questions.

    I look forwarding to reading more from you!

  2. Hey Sisyphys String,

    Thank you for reading my blog and commenting on a post. I haven't been very active because of school work and everything, but I will soon be writing a new post.
    Your comment is very interesting because it brought to light some things I did not know or think about. Namely, the role of stress in determining if the language has monophthongs or diphthongs. Also, it would indeed be interesting to explore North East Indian languages for their aspirated/unaspirated consonants.

    One more thing I would like to add is that the incorrect use of also, even and only- at least for Hindi speakers- could stem from the fact that the words "hi" and "bhi" have multiple use in Hindi, and English doesn't have any words to express these meanings. For example, "hi" adds a sort of stress to the word it follows and at least for me, when I am speaking in English in informal contexts, not adding "only" doesn't add that stress and makes the sentence feel incomplete.
    Just a possible explanation.



    just sayin