Did Indian accent descend from Welsh tutelage?
August 9, 2007 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I heard once that the Indian accent for spoken English is a legacy of Welsh missionaries/teachers in the subcontinent. Granted, the cadences are similar, but on the whole the story sounds a little far fetched to me. Can anyone out there confirm or deny the truth of it, preferably with footnotes? Many thanks.
posted by IndigoJones to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It appears to still be either an unproven theory or a coincidence based on some similarities between Welsh and Hindi: "Welsh and Hindi are both pitch-accent languages, resulting in superficial
intonational similarities in the respective accents of English."
posted by methylsalicylate at 6:43 AM on August 9, 2007

That first article methl links too shows how ludicrous it is. Slow news day: the story is basically "Some chick says welsh and hindi sound similar, provides anecdotal evidence-- linguist confirms some stuff that every educated person knew already."

If you want proof that it's a coincidence, make a list of written names for numbers 1-10 in a random assortment of IE languages. See how many of them seem closely related based on that. It will be many.

I've lived in Wales, I've dated a Hindi speaker. And my linguistics concentration was in Indo-European historical. The similarity is really overblown. The alleged people that woman in the BBC article must have been elderly. When I lived in Wales, old people asked me what part of England I was from. I'd say "the new part" because I speak the New England dialect of American english.

Proving this with annotation is going to be difficult unless you can find a linguist willing to do original research. Because it's ludicrous.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2007

The alleged people that woman in the BBC article spoke to must have been elderly.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:04 AM on August 9, 2007

Some very convincing arguments for this being bullshit. Also how many Welsh missionaries were there? I don't doubt that there were quite a few, but how many would be needed to teach a few million people their accent? How many would be needed to teach a few million people their accent at the expense of the accents of other missionaries from other parts of the UK? If this is true (which of course it's not) then there should be sections of the Indian population with pseudo Scots accents, for example...
posted by ob at 7:21 AM on August 9, 2007

The Indian accent when speaking English is caused by an unusual tongue position in the mouth. This is what I was told by a speech therapist I once saw.

For some reason that I've forgotten, the average Indian tongue wants to touch the roof of the mouth a lot of the time (as in "la la la!"). Perhaps this is to do with how the languages spoken in India are pronounced, and a habit is hard to break.

You can prove this by curling your tongue towards the top of your mouth and not allowing it to move forward toward your teeth at all. Speak a few words and, hey presto, your own instant It Ain't Half Hot, Mum.
posted by deeper red at 7:23 AM on August 9, 2007

What the Mayor said. The Indian accent is based on the native languages of the speakers. Go watch a film in Hindi; it sounds pretty much like Indian-acccented English except you can't understand anything. Welsh missionaries, sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 7:27 AM on August 9, 2007

Hey, I said I thought it sounded far fetched. I just wanted general scuttlebutt as I had never heard it addressed anywhere else. For which thank you Mr methyl and Mr Mayor.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:39 AM on August 9, 2007

The Indian accent when speaking English is caused by an unusual tongue position in the mouth. That would be the 'retroflex' consonants, wouldn't it? The ones sometimes transliterated with a dot under the consonant. Very distinctly 'Indian' sounding, they sound nothing like Welsh to me.
posted by gimonca at 8:57 AM on August 9, 2007

Thanks to Mayor Curley for saying what I wanted to say about the first link - total dosh, that BBC page. And inaccurate, too - Indo-European "the mother of all languages?" I don't think so.

There are four language families and an isolate in India, composed of a huge amount of exceedingly diverse languages. To presuppose that the "Indian accent" is always Hindi-derived is stupid, and to assume that the "Indian accent" isn't inherently as varied as a "European accent" shows total ignorance. I'm no linguist of the languages of the Indian sub-continent at all, but even I can discern differences in the English accent of a speaker of (say) Tamil from one of Gujarati.

The Welsh / Hindi "connection" is nothing at all, beyond a very distant cousin relationship that is as strong as about 400 other "strange" pairings in the IE language family.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:01 PM on August 9, 2007

Us being influenced by the Welsh? Are you kidding?

(I speak English, Hindi, and another Indian language, for what it's worth.)
posted by madman at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2007

It's a little-known fact that "How Green Was My Curry" was insanely popular in the subcontinent after its release.
posted by rob511 at 4:16 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

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