India and English

As an American traveling abroad I am often ashamed that I only know how to speak English. In India this wasn’t a significant problem because we stayed at tourist hotels and had guides and other friends that spoke multiple languages. While English is one of the “common” languages of India and many, many people spoke it like everything else your results would vary especially when it came to taxis or drivers who only knew rudimentary terms and probably were just nodding and not comprehending when I talked to them. In any area remotely tied to tourism the signs were in English as well as in the local languages. The only signs that were rarely translated were the various political campaign posters appealing for voters.

At the beautiful Amber Fort I saw this sign that had been dutifully translated into English but was perhaps the most boring historical marker I’ve ever seen.

I understood what they were trying to say at the Taj Mahal but the words aren’t “quite” right.

Sometimes you see a sign and it cracks you up. This was a big fireworks brand and everyone was shooting off fireworks for Dawali. For days afterwards you’d hear “booms” during the day as people probably stumbled upon rockets that didn’t go off and they re-lit them.

Some signs need no translation. I didn’t go inside but I know they don’t serve beef.

This billboard wasn’t really translated but you can clearly see the sign. This is often what happens to a Western traveler that eats the food – you can see the guy throwing up and someone else sweating it out on the toilet. This is called “Delhi Belly” at least while you are near Delhi can’t speak for the rest of the country.

Cross posted at LITGM

5 thoughts on “India and English”

  1. Gotta love the freedom of non-first world countries, that fireworks store sells firecrackers ;) Do you know what the situation is with regard to medicines and prescriptions?

  2. What struck me in India was the quaint english used by English language press such as the Hindustan Times. You would see references to miscreants and delinquents. This matched the wonderful Victorian architecture of Bombay.

  3. As a software guy I’ve worked with a lot of Indians (and every other nationality). The educated classes speak English not just because of the British [duh] but also because they needed to pick something, anything, to conduct national affairs. With a billion people scattered over a huge amount of land they have many many local languages.

    I asked one engineer what percentage of the time he spoke English outside of work and he said 90%. His wife was from a different part of the country [they met in college] and English was the language they had most in common. Heck, their kids speak English because that is what both Mom & Dad know.

    It doesn’t hurt that government publishes in English, and so do major TV news and imported Hollywood.

    [English is super dominant in tech circles. Regional conferences like EuroPython are 100% English. per-country conferences like PyItalia are usually split with English-only tracks (to bring in foreign speakers) and local language tracks (to showcase locals)]

  4. The sun still hasn’t set on the British Empire. Its influence is still felt around the world.

  5. IGotBupkis – very true. When I went to Kenya in 1983 its remnants were all around – from the old but still functioning library in Nairobi to the Lake Navaisha Hotel – you could see the Empire…everywhere.

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