English words borrowed from India. By English with Stephen

Word Stories: India in English

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at English words that originated in India.

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Welcome to English with Stephen. My name’s Stephen Greene and in today’s episode, we are going to take a trip to one of the biggest countries in the world, with the second biggest population. A country that has over 700 languages with 22 official ones. It is a country that has a rich cultural and religious history that has given the world its amazing food, cinema, literature, and some of the greatest cricket players.  And, it’s a country that has provided a lot of words both to English and other languages.

That’s right, we are going to take a trip to India.

After this short musical break.

Today, before we start, I’d like to tell you about another podcast called My Ielts Classroom. It is a wonderful podcast for anyone thinking about taking the Ielts exam. It has got loads of useful tips and suggestions, and to be honest, even if you are not taking the Ielts exam, you will learn a lot from it. This week, they are starting their annual 31-day motivation challenge. This means they recommend a lesson for learners to complete so that by the end of the month you will have improved dramatically. You can find the podcast by searching for My Ielts Classroom on your podcast app and I’ll also provide a link on my site at EnglishwithStephen.com

Now, let’s go to India.

As I mentioned at the start, there are over 700 languages in India. I am no expert on Indian languages, but what I would like to say is that today I am going to focus on words that seem to come originally from the Hindi language.

Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India, and indeed the 4th most common language in the world. Hindi comes from Sanskrit, a much older language that was kind of like Latin in Europe because it was used as a lingua franca even after people stopped speaking it as a first language. Sanskrit itself was an Indo-European language, so it shares its original roots with most modern European languages.

It is also worth pointing out that there a lot of words in English that come from Hindi. This means that we will not be able to cover all of the words English has borrowed, but I hope to give a flavour of the kinds of words that are now used. Hopefully, in a later episode, I’ll look at some words borrowed from other Indian languages.

The first word I’d like to take a look at today is “avatar”. You might know this word from the famous film, or as an image you use to represent yourself on the internet. However, “avatar” originally meant something like “descended from heaven”. In the Hindu tradition, an avatar was the human form that a god would take if they wanted to visit earth. That is an oversimplification of things, but hopefully, you get the idea.

Our second word today describes a type of home or house. When I was a kid, I lived in a traditional English house with two floors. The bedrooms were upstairs and the kitchen and living room were downstairs. However, what I really wanted, was a bungalow. A bungalow is different because it only has one floor. This style of house was popular among the British community that lived in India when it was part of the British empire. The word “bungalow” literally means “in the Bengali style”. Bengal is a state in India that is most famous for its tigers, but apparently, its houses are also influential.

Around your bungalow, you might want to have a veranda. A veranda is a sort of half and half space that is neither inside nor outside. There is a cover to protect you from rain and the sun, but it is open on the sides so you can enjoy the garden and any breeze there might be. A veranda is often confused with a balcony, but they are different in one important aspect. A veranda is on the ground, but a balcony will be higher up, for example, a flat or an apartment will have a balcony, not a veranda, whereas a bungalow will have a veranda. The word “veranda” is a very well-travelled one. It is actually a Portuguese word that was taken by Portuguese traders to India. When the English arrived in India, they borrowed the word and brought it all the way back to England.

Of course, India is also famous for its food. I do love a curry, and although the word “curry” comes from India, it does not come from the Hindi language. A word that does come from Hindi is “chutney”. I love chutney! Especially mango chutney. A chutney is a type of condiment, similar to jam, I suppose, which can be either sweet or savoury, but is usually spicey. Apparently, the original word was a verb and it meant “to lick” which is perfect because if you give me a plate of mango chutney, I will lick it clean.

Spirituality is a defining part of what India represents to people in other countries. I don’t know about you, but when I think of India I often think about people going on pilgrimage to India to find themselves. So it should be no surprise that we have a number of words in English that come from this spiritual side of India. One such word is “mantra”, which is a phrase, or a chant people use to help them when they are meditating.

Another word associated with religion, and one of my favourite bands ever, is “nirvana”, which is being in a transcendental state, often after chanting your mantra. A “guru” which originally meant a teacher, mentor, or priest and still has roughly the same meaning today in English, might help you to reach your nirvana.

During colonial times, the British often had negative views of Indian people. Indians were assumed to be stupid, uneducated people who were dangerous and would steal from you if they could. This is a bit ironic as the British were doing a lot of stealing themselves and were also probably extremely dangerous. However, this means that we have a couple of words that talk about criminals in English that come from India.

The first one is “thug”, which meant a “thief” or a “hitman”. It still has this idea today in English, although for me it is also accompanied by the idea of someone being big and strong, and probably not very well-educated. In the USA, the word can also have racist connotations as it is sometimes used to describe young black men. And the word has been embraced by some parts of the rap scene in the USA, most notably with the hip-hop group Thug Life that included the famous 2Pac.

Another word that is associated with crime is “loot” which meant “to steal” or “a robbery”. Today, the word describes the things that are stolen, especially money or valuables. It can also be used as a verb for when lots of people try to steal something at the same time. For example, “many shops were looted during the riots.” If you play a game like Fortnite, you might know the word “loot box” which are kind of like treasure chests you can find in a game that will give you weapons, cures or other valuable stuff in the game.

When I was younger, I was part of the scouts. The scouts are based on a book by Rudyard Kipling called “Jungle Book”. The stories are all taken from India and the word “jungle” itself is an Indian word. It meant any uncultivated land or land that was not used for farming or any other purpose. This could be a forest, which is how it is used in English today, but it could even be a desert.

Something that I associate with the desert is dust. And the Hindi word for dust, or dust-coloured, is “khaki” which is commonly used in English today for a pale yellow-green colour. It is also used to describe military clothes that are designed to be camouflage in dusty, desert-like conditions.

And after getting all that dust in your hair, you will need a good shower and plenty of shampoo to clean yourself. Shampoo was originally another Hindi word that meant “to rub”, which is the action you use with your hands to put shampoo into your hair.

And finally today, if you are feeling tired after all these Hindi and English words, it is time to sleep. I don’t know what you wear in bed, but I like to wear my pyjamas. The word “pyjamas” is our last Hindi word and originally meant a type of loose clothing for the legs. When the first Europeans saw this common type of trousers or pants, they associated them with nightclothes, and so the word stuck not just in English, but in many languages around the world.

So that is about all from me for today. I hope you have enjoyed the flavour of words that have come from India into English. Don’t forget to go to My Ielts Podcast for this month’s motivation challenge and learn everything you need to pass the Ielts exam.

So long. I hope to talk to you again next week!

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