For the past year, I have been working at TIS as its first American employee based in India. It has been a thrilling experience; living in India has not always been easy, but it’s always been interesting. I’ve learned so much at TIS that it’s hard to know where to start, so I thought I’d start with my first day.
On my first day, still jet-lagged and overwhelmed, I was pleased to find that I at least had no problem understanding people’s accents…until lunchtime. At lunch, my new friends took me into the cafeteria, where their work accents, good for conference calls and in-laws, gave way to a fast talking, and, to my ears, nearly incomprehensible banter. It turns out this is a common phenomenon; people unconsciously talk and write one way for business and another way in their personal lives. But at that point I could hardly keep track. People kept weaving in and out of Hindi and using English words in ways I just couldn’t understand.
Indian English is a great language; brash and breezy. It varies enormously from one person to the next, depending on their education and where their parents are from. Some people switch v and w, others pronounce both like Americans pronounce w. Some people pronounce th like Americans do, others just stress the t a little more (give it a little spit at the end…you can do it.) Less educated people speak a functional, pidgin English that lets them communicate across India’s innumerable local languages. Indian English incorporates innumerable Hindi words, such as “wallah,” which basically means a guy. A rickshaw driver is therefore a rickshaw-wallah, a vegetable seller is a subzi-wallah, a newspaper delivery guy is a paper-wallah, and so forth.