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Indians Learn to Speak in Two Languages at Once


Now you may be familiar with Spanglish, that American blend of Spanish and English. Here's another language that you may hear more often as India becomes a more important power. That giant nation has two official languages: Hindi and English. And many Indians have combined these two to make something called Hinglish.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from New Delhi.

PHILIP REEVES: If you want to hear Hinglish in India, just turn on the radio.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language). Good afternoon. (Speaking foreign language) Monday through Friday.

REEVES: The airwaves of New Delhi are these days flooded with this unusual sound, a fusion of two languages spoken at bewildering speed. Aisha Kidway(ph) specializes in linguistics.

Ms. AISHA KIDWAY (Linguist Specialist): What Hinglish means is actually being able to speak with a lot of borrowing from English to Hindi, and vice-versa.

Unidentified Woman: What are you waiting for? (Speaking foreign language). Hey, it's your favorite song.

Ms. KIDWAY: It only really happens in Bollywood people. And it's sort of a natural thing for us to do, to switch between two languages.

Unidentified Woman: Determination (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).

REEVES: And if you want to read Hinglish, just pick up a newspaper, The Hindu, say, or the Times of India. It's not hard to find the language of another earlier age. References to rashly driven cars getting into mishaps, that's deadly crashes, or gangsters being nabbed in the wee small hours, or of Eve teasing, otherwise known as sexual harassment. Some words are Indian inventions.

Ms. KIDWAY: The word postpone. We have a variant to call prepone. And so postpone means to delay, pre-pone is to bring it forward. It's not in any American or English dictionary.

REEVES: What about speaking?

Ms. KIDWAY: The heavier the syllable, that's the one that (unintelligible) is said.

Unidentified Man #2: I missed the middle part, but I can tell from the way that you're enjoying yourselves it must have been a very humorous anecdote.

Ms. KIDWAY: There's this sort of ping-pong like paddle, which we believe we don't speak. So when people sell out, imitates Indians, we get very angry. But actually we do speak like that.

REEVES: And if you want to write?

Unidentified Man #3: The book is called “High School English Grammar and Composition” by Wren and Martin.

REEVES: That's not the Cognac, but Wren and Martin, the authors of a British Empire-era textbook, which, though updated, is still used in many Indian Schools to teach kids how to write. Some of its arcane vocabulary has gone out of existence elsewhere, but lives on in India. Among the multitude of young Indians on whom the book was inflicted was the Adi Popuri(ph).

Mr. ADI POPURI (Student): Even when I did my major in English literature I would refer to it constantly.

REEVES: Check out the grammatical exercises, read here, at NPR's request, by another Wren and Martin student, Retu Kadri(ph).

Ms. RETU KADRI (Student): Chapter 9, Section 74, demonstrative adjective. That boy is industrious. These mangoes are sour. Those rascals must be punished. Beyond the fourth one belong to (unintelligible). Chapter 54, Section 1B, in real composition, people often use exclamations. Example: My word! Good heavens! You don't say so! Bother! Confound it!

REEVES: Confound it, bother. Do today's Hinglish speakers really say that? The answer, says Adi Popuri, is no.

Mr. POPURI: I think don't talk crap is what I usually use.

REEVES: Oh, dear. My word!

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.