The Birth of ‘Hinglish’

Somewhere in the world – a language dies every two weeks. Half of the world’s languages may not be spoken in the next century. This is an extremely serious concern. Hindi is the second-most widely spoken language in the world, trailing behind Mandarin Chinese. It is the dominant language of India, which is also the world’s second largest nation in terms of its population.

Despite Hindi not being a universally spoken language in India, the majority of its population has knowledge of this language. Native speakers of Hindi dialects account for 41 per cent of the Indian population (2001 Indian census).

English has enjoyed a special status in India because of the country’s colonial history and still continues to be a widely spoken language in India. With the growth of international trade and formation of the United Nations Organization, the world, increasingly felt the need for one language to converse in. English took over this role, and many newly-independent nations were also forced to adopt the language.

As the scenario in the country changed, we deviated from Hindi. The deviation may be accredited to globalization, Internet and various other factors. This holds true not only for tier II cities but also for metropolises where the use of English has become a class-defining factor. Whether or not a reader agrees, it cannot be denied that there is a greater affinity toward English rather than Hindi.

Hindi is being popularized by the global phenomenon that is Bollywood, the internet and the Hindi press. The Hindi press is more popular than the top notch English newspapers amongst the masses – so claims a recent survey.

The Hindi blog-sphere is at the moment, a vibrant space. Bloggers comment on a range of things and it has become a space for innovation and discussion. The other interesting aspect of Hindi is that new form of the language (Hinglish) is creating waves in the country. A British expert recently said that Hinglish – a mixture of Hindi and English, widely spoken in India – may soon become the most common form of the Queen’s language.

This is more commonly seen in urban and semi-urban centres of India, but is slowly spreading its root into rural and remote areas via television and word of mouth, slowly achieving vernacular status. Many speakers do not realize that they are incorporating English words into Hindi sentences or Hindi words into English sentences or simple Indian English. This form of Hindi has created compatibility between a Hindi speaker and English/Hindi speaker. For example, in Mumbai, one is very much aware of the word ‘tension’. My hostel watchman one day told me, “Aajkul humko bahut tension hai” (Nowadays, I feel a lot of tension). He understands, and I understand. It really works that way.

As Hinglish is gaining popularity, people belonging to states where different dialects are used, are creating their own unique brand of Hinglish. One day, my friend (a Patna local) was talking to me over the phone. He called me after his first ‘date’ and I asked him about the occasion. He said in a very calm way, “it was good, but hum nervousiya gaye they” (It was good but I became a bit nervous). There are numerous such statements, which will make you laugh when you think of them. Like, there were dialogues in Hindi movie, Gangajal: “Aapka mind to nahi kharab ho gaya hai!” and “Aapka game over ho jaayega aaj.” I ask my father, “Dad, time kya hua hai?” My sister in law will always warn her son, “Beta, slowly-slowly jana.”

Bollywood has always embraced Hinglish and nowadays we see a greater number of songs in Hindi + English. There was a time, when Kishore Kumar and Nutan played Tom and Jerry against “C-a-t, cat mane billi, R-a-t, rat maane chooha”, in Dilli Ka Thug. Today, we have so many ad jingles that use Hinglish – for example, Domino’s ‘Hungry Kya?’ or Sprite’s, ‘Clear hai’.

In England, 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 to the popular use of ‘innit?’ for (isn’t it?)

Emails, chats, Orkut scraps and other alternatives adopted by Indians to communicate on the Internet are dominated by the Hindi-English hybrid. So, a language that has survived the test of centuries by marrying with different dialects and masters, is bouncing back (yet again) in India – this time in a new alliance with its (former) greatest threat, English.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Hinglish, a rich linguistic curry that mixes English with a dash of Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi.

Rishabh Srivastava