What are the rules governing English word-substitution into South Asian news broadcasts?
December 13, 2010 12:44 PM   Subscribe

What are the rules governing English word-substitution into South Asian news broadcasts (ex: this S. Tendulkar interview)? Why is it done, when is it done, and what does it connote?

I'm from the U.S. and have never been anywhere in the former British Commonwealth — much less to Southern Asia itself — so please forgive my ignorance, and please assume I'm starting from a position of almost zero familiarity with Asian languages or cultures.

I notice this all the time and I've always been puzzled by it. I'd see this daily when I would watch Indian newscasts when I was in the Middle East. I see it now mainly when looking for cricket highlights. I have no idea how un/common it is outside of news broadcasts.

Although I'm sure they must follow a definite pattern, these substitutions seem entirely random to my untrained viewing. In the Tendulkar interview example, I could see him using the English "match" as a linguistic borrowing... but he also subs "not necessarily", "I think", "excitement", "satisfaction", "equally important", etc., and I'm quite sure that there must be completely adequate constructions for these concepts in the language he's using.

I know that India has hundreds of official languages, and my suspicions are that it might be at least partially one of the following:
  • Using English as a lingua franca anticipating that the end-viewers may speak a different language, and might understand key pieces of dialogue in English whereas they might not otherwise.
  • The speaker is speaking in a language that is not his primary language, and subs in English for when he is unsure of a word in the language he's currently using.
  • Some social benefit or status is conferred by the use of/knowledge of English in some situations or for some terms.
  • These are just my best puzzled guesses. I'm sure the answer is much more nuanced.

    When is this used? Where is it used? Why is this used? What does this mean when it's used? (Here's one more example, I can find many more if they are needed. Thanks much.)
    posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
    The linguistic name for this behavior is code-switching and it's extremely common in societies where bilingualism is common. A little googling turned up this lengthy but readable paper examining Hindi-English code-switching on television, which has a lot of good background information. Excerpt from the paper:

    The vast majority of the language in drama serials occurred in Hindi but
    switches to English were common. Examples from the data of the most
    frequent switch points and functions included, for example,
    (a) openings and closings of conversations in English i.e. greetings
    and ‘goodbyes’
    (b) the use of English for certain speech acts such as apologies,
    expressing gratitude, etc.
    (c) an increased use of English in particular settings, e.g. offices, law
    courts, university office. This latter category is akin to the
    ‘situational CS’ as identified by Blom and Gumperz (1972).

    Actual linguists or South Asians will certainly have more insight than me, but that paper looks like a good start.
    posted by theodolite at 1:00 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

    This is something that I'm very interested in hearing the answers to, too. I've seen examples where your first point (to ensure understanding) seems to be the case, and one Bollywood film I saw seemed to always have key pieces of dialogue in both English and Hindi, ensuring that a wider audience understood. I'm sure others can say whether this is routine or not.

    I would suggest that the user doesn't have as much conscious control as you might think. I've seen, on day-to-day basis, people using English words and expressions to people that I would not expect to understand them.

    At first I suspected them of showing off (education/travel/status), but I feel now that they were expressing themselves in a way that was actually natural to them. They might well have had part or all of their education in English, and so the English phrases are the ones that occur first. One way of seeing this is as being lazy; you use the word/phrase that comes first rather than the one that the listener will understand.

    In Bangladesh, I asked a friend of mine, who didn't speak English brilliantly, how he felt about artists/musicians/Important People speaking English on interviews-etc on TV. He said he was happy that (for example) musicians did this; it meant they could communicate Bangladeshi culture to the wider world. He valued that more than understanding perfectly what they were saying.

    A couple of linguistic points. Bengali (and Hindi, I believe) has the structure of creating verbs from nouns with a Noun + "Do[/make]" construction. So you can say something like "make late", and you can say "make" in Bengali and "late" in English.

    Secondly, the words might not mean what you think they mean. In Bangladesh, people the English words "tension" and "gossip" are very heavily loaded, and have much broader meanings than they do in English. (Of your examples, "excitement" might be like this.)

    My favourite example of this, was me happily sitting in Delhi, as people had a conversation in Hindi. I wasn't understanding a word, but then someone cranked out "congenial atmosphere" and carried on in Hindi. I thought this was a magnificent use of the English language.
    posted by squishles at 1:03 PM on December 13, 2010

    Best answer: This is not really a news-broadcast issue, although it occurs in news broadcasts a lot. The way Tendulkar is speaking in this interview is the way that many young, educated Hindi-speaking people speak. They are fluent in Hindi and either fluent in Indian English or at least know quite a bit of it, and are speaking to an audience with the same abilities, so they feel comfortable floating in between the two quite a bit. It's called Hinglish. Hinglish can have varying mixtures of English and Hindi, but it generally looks a lot like that Tendulkar interview: mostly Hindi syntax, with English vocab borrowed in. The vocab that tends to be borrowed the most is a mixture of words that are really familiar because they're used a lot in ads and songs and whatnot, or words that are useful because there's not as succinct a way of expressing them in Hindi. It's hard to find a good one-to-one translation for the English word "excitement" for example.

    You'll find similar mixes of Hindi and English in all sorts of "Hindi" media-- Bollywood movies and songs, advertisements, newspapers and magazines. It's got a certain coolness to it, as the language of the new multicultural Indian elite, who are comfortable with both Western and Indian things, and who speak the language of the English but aren't subservient to it.
    posted by bookish at 1:04 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

    This is just how many middle class and upper middle class Indians talk. Many Indians, especially those from the upper social strata are bilingual or trilingual. One of those languages is almost certainly English, and Indians freely pepper their sentences with words from other languages. It's not uncommon to see three different languages mixed up in the same sentence. Believe it or not, this is usually perfectly understandable to the listener. Thus when speaking in a news broadcast, rather than English words being specifically used for a certain purpose, Tendulkar is just talking the way he normally would. You are correct, all these words have corresponding words or phrase in Indian languages -- it's just chance which words are borrowed and which are not. If he were to say the same thing again, it's quite possible that he would borrow different words from English. As to your three possibilities:
    1) is definitely not correct. It's not that people would be more likely to understand these words in English because it's a lingua franca, it's just that there is an assumption that people will understand some amount of English and people are quite casual about mixing languages.
    2) is possible but unlikely. I can't see those videos as I'm at work to see what language they are in. If they are in Hindi, that's definitely not the case. Should clarify that I have done this before when speaking in an Indian language I'm not familiar with but I'm not sure if that's the case here.
    3) Nah. It's not something quite so conscious as that.
    Basically, people sub in English words because they can. Often the Indian words for certain concepts could be unfamiliar or not often used -- e.g. people are highly likely to say tv or television instead of the Hindi term Doordarshan. Often the only people using highly proper Hindi or Tamil are newscasters themselves, which is why you're probably noticing the contrast during the interviews.
    posted by peacheater at 1:07 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

    In re bookish, peacheater's and my own comments, we agree that people doing this are usually not trying to be snobbish. But linguistic difference is one of the forms that harsh social inequalities manifest themselves in South Asia.

    There are plenty of occasions when I feel that using English vocabulary is just one among other ways of the privileged being dickish about this inequality. (Altho in my first reply, I cite my friend who is not a part of the middle/upper classes in Bangladesh not agreeing with me. The issue annoys me more than it annoys people I've met in those parts of the world.)
    posted by squishles at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2010

    Oh yeah, there's no question that linguistic differences are one of the forms in which social inequalities manifest themselves in South India. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are not of the middle/upper classes who do the same thing with a fair chunk of English words. I think it's an unconscious thing that's going to be pretty hard to police. Also, quite often even if people don't have a good grasp of English vocabulary, they want you to use more English words when talking to them -- because knowing more English is important to getting ahead.
    posted by peacheater at 2:11 PM on December 13, 2010

    Best answer: Using Minglish or Hinglish or whatever you want to call it is not something that we (that's us South Asians) necessarily do consciously. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we rarely are conscious of it. Code switching is equally likely to happen when we are speaking the indigenous language or English.

    In many cases, users are not even aware that they have adopted the use of the word from the other language. e.g. people in Pakistan rarely say "batti" they say "light." This is true even of people who could not string together a single sentence in English and would tell you that they know no English. People who wouldn't be able to say, for example, "My name is X." In those cases, I would argue that it isn't even code-switching anymore, it's simply that the word has become assimilated.

    In some cases, like "satisfaction" or "excitement" the word in English is much more commonly used than the equivalent in Urdu or Hindi. In fact, in the context of cricket, I'm having difficulty coming up with what the right Urdu word would be for each of those, so if I were talking about it, I would probably use those words too.

    There have been efforts by people to police the use of crossover words in print, but over the past five or ten years, it has become the cool rebellious kid thing to do, so advertisers have taken to coming up with marketing slogans that quite consciously use one English word in an otherwise Urdu phrase, or one Urdu term in an otherwise English phrase.

    Broadcasting channels (TV and radio) have sometimes made a point of not allowing themselves to use English. One example that comes to mind is on Republic Day in Pakistan, the RJs on a radio station that plays Pakistani, American, and British pop music decided that they were going to stick to pure Urdu. It was quite funny, because it's extremely difficult to do when you're used to combining the languages. In their case, the language they speak really isn't Urdu or English, it's a combination.

    While knowledge of English does provide status, the kind of code-switching that Tendulkar does is not about displaying status. However, code-switching is sometimes used as a technique for "making an impression." The funny thing is, it's really easy to spot when someone is not really comfortable with the language and is deliberately inserting words from the other language, vs. that's just the way the words are flowing in their head. Tendulkar is an example of the latter, not the former.

    For myself, I find it easier to stick to pure English than to pure Urdu because I have spent a lot of time conversing with people who know English but not Urdu, whereas the vast majority of people who I know that speak Urdu also know at least some English. This is true even though I am perfectly fluent in Urdu. If you've studied in English medium schools, your active vocabulary in English becomes much larger than your active vocabulary in the indigenous language. That said, when I first went to college in the US I struggled to speak English without any smattering of Urdu in it. The words for "I mean," for example, trip off my tongue much more naturally in Urdu.

    So, I don't think the reasons you are suspecting really apply to the vast majority of Hindi/Urdu speakers who comfortably intersperse English words, although they may to the subset who use Minglish consciously.
    posted by bardophile at 3:06 AM on December 14, 2010

    « Older How does a caterer set pricing?   |   Alphabetised WordPress Posts Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.