The Model for English in India - the Informants' Views

Annika Hohenthal, Department of English, University of Turku, Finland

At the end of the survey, there were additional questions dealing with the preferred model for Indian English. The informants had to state the model of English they aim for, and which, in their opinion, would best be suited for India.

Earlier on in the study Saghal stated that educated Indian English variety close to the native standard would be favoured as a model for Indian English by the general consensus (Saghal 1991: 303). In this study it turned out, however, that in fact the majority of the informants (70%) felt that RP (Received Pronunciation: BBC English; Standard English in Britain) would serve as the best model for Indian English, 10 % thought General American English would be better, and 17% preferred the Indian variety of English.

The reason to the result may be that most of the informants do not seem to acknowledge their own, Indian, variety of English, but automatically assume that the model has to come from outside; people somehow feel compelled to refer to an outside variety. Crystal thus seemed to be right in pointing out that when, on one hand, the English-speaking communities do acknowledge a language should reflect their own experiences, on the other hand many are of the view that there should be one, universally intelligible, more or less standardized medium (Crystal 1988: 261-262). In the following, a sample of answers will be presented.

The informants gave reasons for the preference of RP as follows:

"The English in India has a British background...Standard English in India has strong influence on Indian English and I think that is best for India."

"Why not follow the standards set by, say, Oxford, to have uniformity? We are still taught colonial English at school and a good lot of us still prefer J.R.R. Tolkien to Jeffrey Archer

But, also some people supported the Indian variety:

"I would think that the Indian kind of English with a generous use of Indian slangs thrown in is the one that is mostly used and I don"t see any problem in continuing it....formal written English has also been Indianized to a large extent and I would prefer it that way."

"For a general Indian, I think Indian variety of English is best suited since it is understood properly by a huge number".

"Indian English - cause locals more comfortavle with it. Also leads to better creativity and self-expression..."

Supporters of General American English argued that:

"I guess till a decade ago, people wanted to follow British English. But you know, after this software boom, and the opportunities in the USA for Indian professionals, this changed the situation and now the younger generation aims at General American English...I think American English suits us well."

In support of uniformity (and an international standard) in English around the world some of the informants argued:

"I think RP would be a reference which everyone can follow. Otherwise different states and regions in India would develop different usages, which may not be desirable....the basic language structure shouldn't be changed irreversibly."

"All of us cannot speak with the same accent but I think there should be uniformity as far as spelling of words is concerned...we should definitely give importance to spelling, grammar and the likes which I think forms the basis of a language. I think British English should be the role model."

..."though there may be local versions of English there should be a definite and fixed form of English to be followed for formal and inter-nation exchanges wherever possible."

Some people claimed they had both RP and the Indianized variety as the model, depending on the situation:

"I'd consider RP as my model in all official, business transactions, but everywhere else the Indian variety goes...most people stick to RP for official work and the Indian variety for informal conversation."

"One should adopt the King's English which can be well understood throughout the world. At the same time Indian English works extremely well within the country."

In the support of variation in a language:

..."it is natural that language develops. But it would be nice if there was a body to standardize it the world over (so that we don't have some people speaking one version and the others some other version). Again, pride, cultural influences and some other things make it impossible to force one version on others. My personal opinion is that, as long as you can get your message across effectively, it does not matter what version you use (I presume languages were developed for the soul purpose of communication and expression".

"there is so much of variation that it's quite difficult to make a generalized statement which can qualify as fair"

"Non-native Englishes are NOT deviant...They add richness to the original language, help it to grow, and are VERY NATURAL - this is NOT my mother tongue. My mother tongue WILL dominate."

"Well...if anybody has any problem with coping up with so many accents of English...they probably don"t approve of their ancestors who sailed thousands of miles across the globe spreading the language in the first place!

"I don't think RP has any relevance anymore as far as the growth and acceptance of the language is concerned. The richness and fun that diversity brings along is tremendous!"

"I like the little different English versions which could be more close to the culture than one standard. But I don't like them to be too different which makes life tough for new comer".

..."in this dynamic world, a language gets richer by absorbing different words from different languages to describe a phenomenon more convincingly...there should not be a snobbish restriction on the variation of English."

The idea of correctness of a variety over others was also expressed:

"I can understand English customed to India quite well but I think that it would be preferable for us to use the correct phonetics and grammar, which I think the awareness of is growing".

"BBC English is easy and... taught in schools in India... I personally feel a language should be taught in purest form... it is better to follow single English."

"...the English which the new generation speaks has American slangs and they want to follow the Western culture. This was not the case during our fathers' college days (say 60's) wherein they learnt the RP correctly and had a better English."

Some people also expressed in their view that Indian English is somehow deviant:

"With the increased exposure to the international media I'm sure some accent corrections will take place..."

"I would prefer the Indian variety...Though the English in the BBC would be of a more standard and orthodox type still I think it would be difficult to get the accent. Indians have been good in vocabulary and grammar (as good as the British sometimes), the only difference being that all good writers might not be so good in spoken English and even if they are good they may not follow the accent exactly."

One explained the nature of English in India:

"Here we express only ideas in English, not emotions. Our English here is more for ideas and official communication than for expressing our feeling."

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