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Hinglish words in English

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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

Hinglish noun [U] /hgl/
a mixture of Hindi and English, spoken widely in India and by British Asians in the UK

'First it was Indian cuisine, then Bollywood, followed by Indian fashion. The Indian invasion has reached Britain's vocabulary too. It is now time for some Hinglish.'
(The Hindustan Times, 9th June 2005)

In June of 2005, the term Hinglish (a blend of Hindi and English) hit the headlines across the world when it was reported that more than 26 neologisms included in a new edition of the Collins English Dictionary were of Hindi origin. Though the term Hinglish has existed for some time, it has recently entered the spotlight amidst observation of the growing influence of the Indian subcontinent on the English lexicon.

Historically, Hinglish in fact refers to a fusion of Hindi and English which has been spoken in northern and central India for many decades. English has long enjoyed a special status in India because of the country's colonial history. It is used by the government, the media, and continues to be the medium of education for many schools across the nation. English is frequently the language of choice among the younger urban population. These factors, coupled with the influences of English through cable television and more latterly the Internet, have fostered a trend of mixing both languages, incorporating English words into Hindi sentences, or Hindi words into English sentences, e.g.:
Time kya hua hai? = What time is it right now?
I have
hazaar things to do. = I have thousands of things to do.

Linguistic expert Professor David Crystal estimates that 350 million Indians speak Hinglish as a second language, more than the number of native English speakers in Britain and the US. Crystal argues that increasing interest around the world in Asian culture, e.g.: Bollywood movies (the Indian popular film industry), and growing Indian expertise in IT, have caused Hinglish to become more widely spoken outside the subcontinent, fostering a mutual influence of English on Hindi and Hindi on English. Hinglish has grown in popularity to such an extent that it now encompasses not just the code-switching phenomena illustrated in the examples above, but the evolution of a whole new vocabulary. A linguistic influence once driven by colonialism is today linked to popular Asian culture, promoting new uses of both Hindi and English.

A number of current Hinglish terms are adaptations of English words which are assigned a specific Hinglish meaning. A common process is the formation of nouns from words of various parts of speech in standard English. Examples currently in vogue include:

would-be noun [C] fiancé or fiancée
opticals noun [plural] spectacles, glasses
time-pass noun [C] an activity that is not very interesting but passes the time
nose screw noun [C] a nose stud as a fashion accessory
airdash noun [U] air travel, travelling by plane

Some examples of this type are based on proper nouns, such as Eve-teasing, which means 'sexual harassment' and stepney, which refers to a spare wheel or tyre for a car, originating from Stepney Street in Llanelli, Wales, where the first spare wheels and tyres were manufactured.

Sometimes Hinglish manipulates English word components creatively in the formation of new coinages. For example, the transitive verb prepone has been coined with the meaning 'to decide to do something at an earlier time', as in, e.g.: Do you think we could prepone lunch? I'm feeling rather hungry. This verb has been invented by analogy with the established English verb postpone 'to decide to do something at a later time', formed by replacing prefix post- ('after') with pre- ('before').

Other uses of English characteristic of Hinglish include the everyday occurrence of language which would be considered formal or old-fashioned in standard English. People are for instance felicitated on their birthdays and condoled in times of sadness, an argument is dismissed by use of expressions such as poppycock!, and introductions are frequently invited by saying What is your good name?

In the UK, the growth of Hinglish expressions has undoubtedly been accelerated by the popularity of hit movies such as Bend it Like Beckham (2002), and East is East (1999), which feature protagonists from the Asian community in Britain. Such films have contributed for instance to popular use of innit? as an invariant tag in informal speech. Strictly speaking, innit is short for 'isn't it', but freely substitutes various tag forms, e.g.: We need to decide what to do now, innit? (='don't we?').

As well as new uses of 'English' words and structures, the term Hinglish also refers to the incorporation of Hindi words into English vocabulary.

The underlying influence of Hindi on the English lexicon has been observed throughout the centuries, as illustrated for instance by the word shampoo, which is derived from the Hindi word cmpo, meaning 'massage'. What has interested lexicographers in recent months, however, is the wholesale recognition and use of a substantial number of Hindi words by native English speakers, suggesting that Hindi has the potential for as much influence on the language as French and Latin. Just as many years ago links with the Indian subcontinent revolutionised the drab English cuisine, the same influences seem set to 'spice up' the English lexicon.

A major catalyst for this process in the UK is the popularity and influence of television programmes such as Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42. The British Asian actress Meera Syal, who plays the grandmother in The Kumars at No. 42, has already been credited with fast-tracking the Hindi word chuddies ('underpants') into everyday use. And it's not just the caricatured British Asians in comedy programmes which throw Hindi words into the spotlight. Every time the Essex-born celebrity chef Jamie Oliver describes one of his culinary creations as pukka! he is speaking Hindi. Here are a selection of popular Hinglish expressions based on Hindi words:

filmi adjective dramatic, characteristic of Bollywood movies. This usage is based on a noun homograph which in an uncountable sense refers to the music of Bollywood movies, and in a countable sense refers to Bollywood film stars.

desi (also deshi) adjective authentic, relating to the idea of national or local as opposed to foreign, e.g.: desi food would refer to rice, curry, chapati, etc. Desi pastimes include watching Bollywood movies, listening to Hindi music, going to the temple/mosque etc.

changa adjective fine, great

badmash adjective naughty. Also used as a noun (plural badmashes) to refer to a hooligan, an aggressive or violent person.

jungli adjective unruly, wild in behaviour

machi chips noun [U] fish and chips

haramzada noun [C] a despicable, obnoxious male. Haramzadi is a female form. Both terms can be used to refer to a man/woman born of unmarried parents.

yaar noun [C] friend, used as a familiar or affectionate form of address

kutta noun [C] dog. Kutti is the word for 'bitch'.

freshie noun [C] a new immigrant to the UK from the Indian subcontinent

gora noun [C] white person

Angrez noun [C] English person

Language experts believe that Hinglish represents a new phase of borrowing for the English language. This is the second wave of words from Indian languages to hit English, a lexical influence which in the twenty-first century derives from a collision of popular cultures rather than a by-product of colonialism.

For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.