India’s Hinglish subculture

As a follow up to this post I wrote a while back, I point SM readers to an article in The Christian Science Monitor that looks into the emerging use of a mixture of English and Hindi (Hinglish) in India:

Turn on any Indian television station these days and you’re likely to hear things like “Hungry kya?” and “What your bahana is?”

Or one of your friends might ask you to “pre-pone” your dinner plans or accuse you of “Eve-teasing.”

No, you didn’t mishear them. These and countless other new words and phrases are part of the fastest-growing language in the country: Hinglish.

The mix of Hindi and English is the language of the street and the college campus, and its sound sets many parents’ teeth on edge. It’s a bridge between two cultures that has become an island of its own, a distinct hybrid culture for people who aspire to make it rich abroad without sacrificing the sassiness of the mother tongue. And it may soon claim more native speakers worldwide than English.

Once, Indians would ridicule the jumbled language of their expatriate cousins, the so-called ABCDs – or the American-Born Confused Desi. (Desi means countryman.) Now that jumble is hip, and turning up in the oddest places, from television ads to taxicabs, and even hit movies, such as “Bend it Like Beckham” or “Monsoon Wedding.”

But Hinglish isn’t just a language spoken between the younger generation or amongst the rich elite who want to come across as more “western.” It is now being used extensively in marketing campaigns by large corporations.

Pepsi, for instance, has given its global “Ask for more” campaign a local Hinglish flavor: “Yeh Dil Maange More” (the heart wants more). Not to be outdone, Coke has its own Hinglish slogan: “Life ho to aisi” (Life should be like this).

Domino’s Pizza, which offers Indian curiosities such as the chicken tikka pizza, asks its customers “Hungry kya?” (Are you hungry?), and McDonald’s current campaign spoofs the jumbled construction of Hinglish sentences with its campaign, “What your bahana is?” (Bahana means excuse, as in, “What’s your excuse for eating McDonald’s and not home-cooked food?”)

None of this would have happened 10 years ago, says Sushobhan Mukherjee, strategic planning director for Publicis India.

“My grandfather’s generation grew up thinking, ‘If I can’t speak English correctly, I won’t speak it,’ ” says Mr. Mukherjee. “Now, power has shifted to the young, and they want to be understood rather than be correct.”

This well-researched article speaks volumes about the pervasive influence of western culture and also allows one to understand why the more traditional/conservative segments of the population might look upon all these changes as a threat. It is most interesting to listen to what some think precipitated this new sub-culture.

The turning point that made Hinglish hip, say cultural observers, was the introduction of cable television in the mid-1990s. Eagerly anticipated music channels like MTV and its competitor, Channel V, originally provided only English music, presented by foreign-born Indian video jockeys who spoke only in English. Outside metro areas, the response was not encouraging.

Then Channel V started a new campaign that included comic spoofs on the way Indians speak English. By 1996, Channel V’s penetration of the Indian market

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