Kannada, English and Indian English
India is a linguistically diverse country – about 22 different languages in 1,500 dialects are spoken in its 28 states that are demarcated primarily on a linguistic basis.
Contrary to what most Westerners believe, there is one language called ‘Indian’. Hindi, which is the most widely spoken language in the North, is the national language of India. However, it is the English language that remains the primary bridge between the Hindi and non-Hindi speakers of the country. The official language of Karnataka is Kannada, a Dravidian language spoken by about 40 million people predominantly in the state of Karnataka.
If you are fluent in English you can easily make do in Bangalore. It is not unusual to hear conversations that drift through multiple languages – English and Kannada, English and Tamil, English and Hindi.
Most shop signboards, traffic signals and signage around the city are in English. English-speaking nannies, household help and assistants are easy to find. This can be comforting for English-speaking expatriates.
In Bangalore, you will often encounter ‘Indian English’, a distinct variety of spoken English language where common words are used in entirely different contexts. It is common for people of Bangalore to add an ‘a’ or ‘ou’ to most English words, so ‘signal’ becomes ‘signal-a’, ‘next’ becomes ‘next-a’, and ‘right’ becomes ‘right-a’. The lack of Western inflexion compounds the difficulty in understanding Indian English.
Most Indian speakers of English tend to bring certain grammatical peculiarities into their English like overuse of the present participle (“I am doing”), overuse of ‘only’ (“like this only”), and under-use of the definite article (‘the’).
A few common examples of Indian English you will come across in Bangalore:
- To clarify a thought, people will state it and then ask ‘No?’. eg: ‘Today is Monday. No?’.
- To present a thought, they will add ‘only’. eg: ‘Today is Monday only’.
- It is also common to prefix sentences with ‘actually’, ‘basically’ or ‘generally’. For example, “My name is Thomas. I am from Bangalore. I go there every weekend.” which translates to “Actually my name is Thomas. Basically, I am from Bangalore only. Generally, I go there every weekend.”
- ‘Eve teasing’ means ‘Sexual harassment’
- ‘Boss’ is a friendly way to refer to any person. “Boss, get aside, and let me go.” or “Boss, please take my order.”
- ‘Aunty’ & ‘Uncle’ does not necessarily refer to one’s family members but is a friendly way to refer to one’s elders. If you’re on good terms with your landlady, for example, you could say, “Hello aunty.” You may find children use this to refer to you also.
More illustrative sentences:
- “Where are you put up?” and “Where do you stay?” mean “Where do you live?”
- “I got a firing from him.” which means “I got yelled at by him.”
- “What is [your] good name?” means “What is your full name?”
- “Tell me” is used when answering the phone, meaning “How can I help you?”
Since so many languages exist in India, gestures form a large part of communication. The Indian head wobble is the most notorious example of this, which can mean ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’ and ‘hi’, among other things, though it is always a friendly response.
Expats might like to purchase and read ‘Indian English: Language & Culture‘ a Lonely Planet guide to understand the quirks of English as spoken in India.
Learning the Local Language
Indians are warm and love foreigners who make an effort to learn their language. Kannada is a difficult language to learn with several sounds that can be difficult for foreigners to pronounce. Basic courses tend to last one to three months.
There are various options to learn Kannada, as well as Hindi and Sanskrit. Ask around or check the classifieds in locals papers to find someone to come to your home and help you and your family learn the local language.
Kannada Prasara Parishat offers a “classroom” learning environment at various locations that constantly change. Check in the latest issue of Time Out Magazine to find the next commencing course.
You can also look up the following websites for online lessons:
- Basic sentences in Kannada: http://www.languageshome.com/English-Kannada.htm
- Learning guides: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/plc/kannada/lesson1.html
Improving your English
There are numerous English language schools in Bangalore if you would like to improve your English. A couple of good options include: