How India Changed the English Language

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India’s influence on the English language has been inconspicuous but major. Little did we realize how it happened, but the contribution of India towards the English language cannot be overseen! The words that have become part of everyday English. Loot, nirvana, pyjamas, shampoo and shawl; bungalow, jungle, pundit and thug. What are the roots, and routes, of these Indian words? How and when did they travel and what do their journeys into British vernacular – and then the Oxford English Dictionary – tell us about the relationship between Britain and India?

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Long before the British Raj – before the East India Company acquired its first territory in the Indian subcontinent in 1615 – South Asian words from languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and Tamil had crept onto foreign tongues. One landmark book records the etymology of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases.

“Ginger comes from Malayalam in Kerala, travels through Greek and Latin into Old French and Old English, and then the word and plant become a global commodity. In the 15th Century, it’s introduced into the Caribbean and Africa and it grows, so the word, the plant and the spice spread across the world.” As global trade expanded through European conquests of the East Indies, the flow of Indian words into English gathered momentum. Many came via Portuguese. “The Portuguese conquest of Goa dates back to the 16th Century, and mango, and curry, both come to us via Portuguese – mango began as ‘mangai’ in Malayalam and Tamil, entered Portuguese as ‘manga’ and then English with an ‘o’ ending,” she says.

Linguistic History of the India Subcontinent.
Linguistic History of the India Subcontinent.

Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Malayalam, Portuguese and English words pin-balled around the globe in the 16th and 17th Centuries, revealing how languages evolve over time as culture is made and remade, and people adapt to conditions around them. This is neatly illustrated by three words – shawl, cashmere and patchouli – that travel hand-in-hand from India into 18th-Century English.

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Cashmere is what we associate with wool and its origins are in Kashmir and the wool produced by Kashmir goats. It was closely associated with shawl, a word which originates in Persian, and travels into India via Urdu and Hindi and then enters English. Shawl enters English in the 18th and 19th Century because it becomes a desirable luxury garment for women in high society – if you had a brother working for the East India Company, you would want him to send you a beautifully embroidered shawl. Patchouli is linked to shawls because the perfume was used to deter moths while shawls were being transported and as a result this heady, heavy perfume became popular in Britain.

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Today, words such as wifi, internet, Google, email and selfie have become universal, there aren’t other words for them, so they have infiltrated English and languages all over the world. Social media has also changed the way we talk, the meaning of a word such as ‘like’ has completely shifted, also ‘following’, or ‘lol’ – the new disrupter of the English language is technology. The Indian-English word – Blighty – shows how language is constantly evolving.  It’s usually used by expat Brits referring to Britain and the homeland as in ‘Good ol’ Blighty’ but it comes from the Urdu word for foreigner or European, ‘vilayati’. So it’s been subverted and used as a homage by the British and eventually has become part of the English language.India’s influence on English points towards how language is perpetually in motion, and highlights the importance of former colonies in the making of the modern world. It’s so fascinating to look at words. It opens up these unexpected rhythms and paths of travel, and extraordinary, unlikely connections.

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India’s influence on English points towards how language is perpetually in motion, and highlights the importance of former colonies in the making of the modern world. It’s so fascinating to look at words. It opens up these unexpected rhythms and paths of travel, and extraordinary, unlikely connections.


Source:- BBC Culture

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