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Situated in the heart of South Asia lies the Indian subcontinent, which has a myriad of culturally rich and diverse civilizations over the millennia. Needless to say, each civilization has left its own mark, culminating in the form of the vast amalgamation of cultures nestled deep within the subcontinent even to this day.
The intermingling of each of the unique languages and cultures has to lead to each language being heavily influenced by its peers. This is, however, not to take credit away from the fact that there are still 22 separate, highly popular languages still spoken within the Indian subcontinent, each of which has donated a significant amount of words to the English language.
Are there Indian Words in English?
Over the span of nearly 3 centuries, numerous words have been assimilated from the multitude of Indian languages into English. Many commonplace English words everyday staples so to speak – are in fact adaptations of words having originated in one of many Indian languages and customs.
Unique Indian English Words
- Punch (Fruit Punch)
The History of Indian Languages
The North Indian languages evolved from Old Indo-Aryan such as Sanskrit. Naturally, the development of each language was influenced by socio-political contact with foreign invaders, who brought with them new languages. These languages were heavily influenced by those of the invaders – Persian and Arabic.
Unlike their Northern counterparts, the South Indian languages had a history independent of Sanskrit. The origins of the South Indian languages, as well as their development and the period of their differentiation, are relatively unclear. The most popular of these are Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.
From the Mid-East of India rose Bengali, yet another widely spoken language. The local language of the East of the subcontinent eventually evolved into varying regional dialects, which in turn went on to form three separate groups of languages: the Bihari, the Oriya, and the Bengali-Assamese languages.
The Effects of Colonization on the Indian Subcontinent
It was at the beginning of the 17th century that the British first ventured to India. From trading partners in the form of the East India Company, the British influence in the region eventually grew to the extent that the British gained control of the entire subcontinent.
Through colonization, Indian culture came face-to-face with the foreign language and customs of her rulers. It was inevitable that the interaction of these two vastly diverse languages would not lead to the adaptation of words and customs of one language into the other.
Naturally, the assimilation of different words could take place with either the same pronunciation as the donor language or with a slight distortion depending on the pronunciation limitations of the recipient language.
Indian Words Adopted into the English Language
Some of the most interesting Indian words adopted into the English language are:
Avatar: It is derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘Incarnation’. Traditionally, it has been used to describe the re-incarnations of the Hindu God ‘Vishnu’ on Earth. However, it is also used as a term to describe one who has taken a new form.
Guru: This word is derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘Teacher’, and it can be traced back to the times of the Vedanta.
Pundit: In India, ‘Pundit’ is a highly respected title for one who has reached great heights in fields involving arts or philosophy.
Mantra: It is the English adaptation of the Sanskrit word for ‘incantation’ or ‘chant’. In India, mantras are revered as having significant spiritual powers, capable of acting as a remedy for many spiritual issues.
Juggernaut: The word Juggernaut is derived from the name of God Vishnu – Jagannath.
The official definition of ‘juggernaut’ in the English language is “a huge and unstoppable force”.
Dating back to the annual festival held at the Jagannath temple in Puri, Eastern India, a huge chariot seating the deity-Jagannath- is dragged with ropes by devotees. In the past, devotees would sometimes get crushed under the moving chariot, but as per tradition, the chariot could not and would not be stopped and it was thus that the word juggernaut came about.
Khaki: Widely known for being utilized in camouflage wearables, it was first used as a color in 1848 and the word Khaki itself is derived from the Hindu word ‘Khak’, which means ‘Ash, or ‘Soil’.
Shampoo: Even the word shampoo is a derivation from the 18th century Hindi word -‘Champoo’ which means to massage into the head or the hair.
Thug: Originating from the Hindi word ‘Thug’, comes the English word, ‘thug’. In earlier times, notoriously secretive and skilled robbers were collectively called thugs. They would strangle passers-by on forest routes with their legs by hanging down from trees.
Mugger: Mugger is derived from the Hindi word for ‘Crocodile’, “Muggermach”. The crocodile is a known master ambush hence the definition present for Mugger in English.
Chutney: Often used as a condiment in culinary dishes, the word Chutney comes from the Tamil word ‘Chatni’. A mix of condiments and spices used as a sauce that accompanies specific, or even multiple dishes, chutney’s are now used to enhance the palette word wide.
Jute: In English, Jute is used to describe a long, soft, and shiny fiber that can be spun into strong threads. It hails From the Bengali word ‘Jatho’ which means matted or interwoven fabric.
Bungalow – The classic English word Bungalow originates From the Hindi word ‘Bangla’. Houses in India and Bengal were constructed in the ‘Bengali’ style and were known widely known as ‘Banglas’.
Bandanna: From the Hindi word ‘Bandhan’, which means to Tie, comes the English word Bandanna, which is a piece of cloth tied to the head.
Punch (Fruit Punch): Tracing back to the Hindi word ‘Paanch’, which means ‘Five’ the meaning of the ancestor of Punch (English) comes from the fact that the drink’s original five ingredients were spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar, and spice.
Pajamas: Originating from the Hindi word ‘Paijama’- which essentially means ‘Leg garment‘-comes the word Pajamas, which are commonly used to describe soft garments covering the legs.
Many more words like Loot, Zen, Catamaran, Loot, and Thugs- each one can be traced back to its Indian origins. Even words as commonplace as cash can be traced back to their Tamil origins.
To conclude, one can simply not place enough emphasis on the role of the vast multitudes of Indian languages in the development of the English language, and as such the Indian languages and customs have played a crucial-yet necessary role to propel English to the heights it has achieved today.
Not only that, the English language continues to adopt words from different languages even today. Take a look at the newly added Korean words in English!