It’s English… and it’s very, very broken.

After India gained Independence in 1947, a heated public debate ensued about how to tie the newborn nation together with an official language. Hindi was the proposed candidate, but it was controversial for a number of reasons. For instance, the lower castes were concerned that the caste-based prejudices built into the Hindi language would seal their class-fates forever. They felt that English was a more “democratic” language, which might level the social playing field some. However, having just expelled the British, the notion of adopting their language as India’s official tongue was anathema to many.

A compromise was required: India would postpone the decision for 15 years, after which time the whole kerfuffle might be forgotten. I know, it sounds brilliant on paper, but after 15 years, the controversy reignited, and an absolute decision was made: India would have (absolutely) two official languages: Hindi AND English.

India’s current state lines were drawn in 1956 based on major regional linguistic boundaries. There are now 28 states and 7 territories, so there is an equivalent number of major regional languages; and there are myriad other local tongues within each. To these hundreds of languages, the British had already added their own brand of military beaurocratic English. The resulting street-level linguistic fustercluck™ is a combination of innumerable mispronunciations of innumerable regional transliterations of imperial office-English from a bygone age.

What this means in practical terms is that people here speak a bit of Hindi, a bit of English, the language of their state, and likely a language from their “native place,” or birth village. Therefore, we depend upon English to do the heavy lifting, seeing as how our Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, and so on, are not too good. The fundamental mistake we make, almost every day, is to assume that what we think of as English is the same as what others think of as English ;)

We have by now decided that communication is likely much easier in France, Germany, Spain, Japan, or anywhere where it is understood from the start that we speak a wholly different language. In India, we assume a common language and proceed to have an “English” conversation with a tailor, policeman, grocer, driver, for 5, 10, 15 minutes before it becomes clear that absolutely no communication is occurring. Multiply this by every phone call or casual transaction each day, and… woof.

Speaking English words is not the same as speaking English…

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