Speaking Ind-glish Any standard English dictionary will have a number of words that are derived from Hindi and other Indian languages. The Englishspeaking world on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere has become so used to them that nobody thinks of their origin any more.
Bungalow, shampoo, cot, loot, verandah, are all derived from Hindi, but other Indian languages have made impressive contributions: betel, copra, coir and teak are from Malayalam, mongoose, toddy and bandicoot from Telugu, jute from Bengali, and cheroot and mango from Tamil.
As far back as the 1960s the US-based linguistic expert Mohan Lal Sharma observed that the Oxford English Dictionary listed more than 900 words of Indian origin with an equally impressive count in the American Merriam-Webster dictionary. Many Indian words have found their way into English by devious routes, especially those originating in Sanskrit. Candy and sugar, for example, both come from Sanskrit through Persian, Arabic and French; opal, and probably pepper, from Sanskrit through Latin and Greek; and mango from Tamil through Malay and Portuguese.
The earliest British arrivals in India adopted many of the customs of the country, and its words as well. Like the locals they soon wore banian clothes, chewed betel, ate pilau, cabobs and curry, and employed (or even became) pundits or moguls. Other early borrowings reflected the trade they were engaged in, such as the textiles chintz, tussore, and calico (the last from the town of Calicut).
Indeed, the British seem from the beginning to have formed the habit of wholesale borrowing from Indian languages. It wasn’t just an inability to pronounce words of the Indian languages; rather, in the heyday of Anglo-India (in the 19th century), borrowings became so profuse as to constitute almost a separate language, peculiar to the British in India. Indian words were used not only for Indian things or ideas but also for all sorts of concepts for which there already were perfectly good English words.
Newcomers from England were quite lost, and at least one Governor-General complained he couldn’t understand the reports of his own officials! More next week.