English has become a world language spoken in countries ranging from Canada to India to Australia. An ongoing battle concerns the status of local versions of English in particular countries. Must they stay as close as possible to standard British or American, or can they assert language independence as well as political independence? Is it as right for an Indian to speak Indian English as it is for an English person to speak British English?

Here are some words from particular local Englishes. Some are borrowed from local languages; others may be English words but have rather different meanings from American English. It’s only the pedant that finds this a problem. All of them work perfectly well for their own speakers in their own area.

Indian English words

batchmate           classmate
by-two coffee      one portion of coffee divided between two customers
co-brother            wife’s sister’s husband
eve-teasing            teasing young women
finger chips           chips
hotel                     restaurant only (i.e. no guest rooms, sometimes found in England)
keybunch              bunch of keys
meeting notice       notice of a meeting
policewallah          policeman (and many other kinds of wallah)
stepney                 spare wheel


Singapore English words

chope          to reserve
Do you take hot food?        Do you like hot food?
kuku house           asylum
makan                 food
more better          better
to open a light      to turn on (a light)
uncle                  middle-aged man


West African English words

been-to            a person who has been to England

carpet              linoleum
hot drink          alcoholic drink
outside child (Liberia)          a child born out of wedlock
to bluff (Sierra Leone)          to be elegantly dressed
to have long legs (Ghana)      to have influence


In these countries English is an official language, and we can speak of a local standard English, even if the inhabitants themselves often prefer not to acknowledge it. Sometimes these local Englishes are labelled with a term ending in -lish. So Singapore English is referred to as Singlish and has its own quirks, such as ending sentences with lah: You like her, lah?

However, the -lish ending also refers to deviations from standard English as well as locally acceptable varieties. Japlish, for example, consists of odd uses of English in Japan, such as:
Coffee. Relax and have a nice coffeebreak. So you can meet the something wonderful happen.

Before the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese authorities were worried that Chinglish notices, such as Collecting money toilet, would confuse foreign visitors to Beijing. In the United States people talk about Spanglish, the variety used by Spanish-speaking immigrants; in Korea about Konglish. In this case the varieties of English called -lish are not acceptable local variants but full of accidental mistakes.

A third type of -lish refers to a problem for e-mail users whose languages do not use a Roman script. In an ideal world, all computers would be set up to handle all scripts without favouring any of them. But often you cannot guarantee that the person you are writing to can read your message in the Greek script, Arabic and so on. So, quite spontaneously, people have invented ways of converting other scripts into Roman. Greeks send their emails in something called Greeklish – Greek spelled in Roman letters – by looking for Roman letters or numbers that resemble Greek. Users of Arabic, Russian, and Chinese scripts have also spontaneously invented ways of using Roman script in this informal way.Cinema posters in Egypt are written in both normal Arabic and “Latinized” Arabic. Since the language used in English texting contains many of these devices, it could be called Englishlish.

So Singlish, Spanglish, and Greeklish are very different types of -lish. Each of these varieties of English is disapproved of by various groups. The British may disapprove of Indian English as they think British English is the only valid form. The Singapore government frowns on Singlish because it is not standard English. Some Greeks scorn Greeklish because they say it is destroying the Greek language. Russians call their Romanized script Volapuk – taken from the name of an artificial language like Esperanto because of its weird appearance.

How wonderfully odd !





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