The Indian influence on English Language


New Delhi: The cultural invasion on India and other countries in the subcontinent might never cease and we will keep on trying to speak in proper English language and keep ignoring our respective mother tongues. But it is a fact that even before the British set their foot in India, their language had influences from our culture.  The perpetual influence of India’s culture on the English language indicates the importance of our cultural heritage and the role it played in enriching the foreign language.

It is a common phenomenon that we use words without paying heed to its origin. Words like nirvana, shampoo, cashmere, ginger, bungalow are very commonly used in the English language but very rarely one realizes that these words originated from Indian culture.

Undeniably, before the East India Company landed in the subcontinent, India was a power-house in various field including trade and commerce. As the then trade expanded in European nations, Indian words made their way into the vocabulary of the English Language.

It was only in 1615 that East India Company acquired a territory in the Indian subcontinent. But Indo-Greek trade and business ties between India and Portugal had already facilitated the usage of Indian words in foreign languages.

Words mainly from Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and Tamil made their way into the English Language.

Ginger, pepper and indigo first entered Greek and Latin vocabulary and then crept into English.

The root of the word ‘ginger’ can be traced from Malayalam. It was the Greek who imported ‘ginger’ and later it travelled across the world. In the 15th century, people in the Caribbean and Africa began growing ‘ginger’ giving it a global recognition. It is even tough to think now that ‘ginger’ is an Indian word.

Mango’ which is commonly known as ‘aam’ also has its origin in India. Malayalam and Tamil languages had the word ‘mangai’ which entered into the Portuguese culture as ‘manga’. Later, the British added the word in their language and called it ‘mango’.

The word ‘cashmere’ also has its root in India. The word evolved from the wools produced from the sheep and goats of the Kashmir region.

The smartphone generation would be surprised to know that the word ‘shampoo’ has its origin in India.  The original word was ‘champo’ which originally meant a body massage given after pouring warm water over the body.

A small boat is called ‘dingy’ and it too has its origin in India.  ‘Dingy’ is a small boat mainly used by Indian fishermen.

‘Juggernaut’ has evolved from the word ‘Jagannath’ which means the chariot of the Indian God and its procession.

There are a plethora of words in the English language which clearly testifies the richness of the Indian culture. It was the British who gauged the opportunity to use Indian words to spread their influence in the Indian subcontinent. Incorporating Indian words in the English vocabulary facilitated the British to communicate better with the local people.

However, a lot has changed now. Earlier, the influence was from East to West but now it has changed its direction completely.  It is the West that is dictating the terms now.

The attack on Indian language is so stringent that most Bengalis have forgotten that ‘ashbabpotro’ means furniture.

(With inputs from various sources)

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