SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Hinglish: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Hindi-English Bilingualism in Contemporary India

Hinglish Event Image
Various Speakers

Date: 27 May 2015Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 28 May 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: B104 (Wednesday); L67 (Thursday)

Type of Event: Workshop

Workshop Description & Rationale

British Academy International Partnership
SOAS, University of London and SARAI, CSDS

Following upon a successful workshop at SARAI in August 2014, this workshop project seeks to continue our exploration of the new porousness of Hindi and English in everyday and cultural practices and the relationship between language choice/use and social, cultural and political imaginaries. “Hinglish” (code-mixing and code-switching) actually covers a range of social phenomena and cultural practices. Not only is the view from metropoles like Delhi and Mumbai different from that of small-towns or villages, media experts have suggested a distinction between Hinglish as “language of survival” for upwardly-mobile individuals and groups without English education, Hinglish as “language of fun” for English-educated middle-classes.

In this workshop we plan to focus on work, politics, news and other media, and we especially welcome papers on Hinglish in the UK. Possible themes and case-studies include:

  • newsmedia (TV news channels and programmes, sports commentary and other specialised news-speak)
  • blogs (e.g. by Ravi Ratlam, Ravish, Vinit, Mihir Pandya, Barhas) and websites like Samosapedia
  • social media, mobile phones, Twitter (e.g. language of abbreviations)
  • advertising
  • regional cinema (e.g. Bhojpuri)
  • Hindi cinema
  • videogames
  • programmes with public participation (Aapki adalat, Satyameva Jayate)
  • dating shows (Dare2Date, Raakhi ka Svayamvar)
  • TV serials (KSBKBT, Balika Vadhu)
  • radio (Love Guru, Radio Mirchi, Sunrise Radio)
  • pop songs and music channels
  • magazines (Filmfare, i-next, Aha Zindagi!, Grihshobha, Sakhi, Saheli)
  • language use, rhetoric & strategies of politicians
  • ethnographies of language use & strategies in specific workplaces

You can listen to the recordings of the SARAI Hinglish workshop 18-19 August 2014 at the SARAI website.


Registration for the workshop is free. Coffee and tea etc. will be provided in the breaks, but lunch will not be included (except for speakers).

Please register by 17 May at the latest.

To register, please go the registration form and enter your details.


Professor Francesca Orsini ( workshop organiser

Dr David Lunn ( assistant


Wednesday 27 May 2015

Room B104 (Brunei Gallery)

09.30Welcome Professor Michael Hutt & Professor Francesca Orsini

Panel 1: Linguistics & Multilingualism

Devyani Sharma (Queen Mary, University of London), Form and Function in Mixed Codes

Friederike Luepke (SOAS, University of London), Layers of multilingualism and ideas of language: A view from West Africa


Panel 2: Films & Serials

Rachel Dwyer & Helen Ashton (SOAS, University of London), ‘Don’t deboard the Bollytrain’: Trains, Hinglish and Accented English in Bollywood films

Akshaya Kumar (University of Glasgow), Code-mixing in Bhojpuri Media

13.00Lunch break
Please note, lunch is only provided for speakers; attendees should make their own arrangements

Panel 3: Technology & Language Mixing

Ravikant (SARAI/CSDS), Hinglish for Indic Language Computing (c.2000–14)

Shriram Venkataram (University College London), Tanglish: The language of the Tamil Trolls on Social Media

Nishant Shah (The Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore), Thrice Invisible: Politics of dismissal through vocabulary on the queer Indian web


Panel 4: Political speech on- and off-stage

Francesca Orsini (SOAS, University of London), Hindi political rhetoric: any mixing?

Anastasia Piliavksy (University of Cambridge), Declamation, dialogue and code-switching in north Indian political speech



Thursday 28 May 2015

Room L67, SOAS Main Building


Panel 5: Advertisements

Santosh Desai (CEO, Futurebrands India Ltd.), One Whisky and One Masala Dosa: The Many Meanings of Hinglish in Advertising

Vineet Kumar (Dr. BR Ambedkar College, University of Delhi), Hinglish 'Back to Back': Without the Ad-break

Paromita Vohra (independent film-maker, Mumbai), Falling in and out of Love with Hinglish: Advertising and the Domestication of Hinglish


Panel 6: Religion & New Media

Xenia Zeiler (University of Helsinki), Indian Video Games and Religion: Normative Language Uses of English, Hindi, and Hinglish

Chinmay Sharma (SOAS, University of London), Language and Gods: Mixing Hindi and English in Mahabharata novelisations

13.00Lunch break
Please note, lunch is only provided for speakers; attendees should make their own arrangements
14.00Final roundtable discussion


Paper Abstracts

One Whisky and One Masala Dosa: The Many Meanings of Hinglish in Advertising

Santosh Desai, CEO, Futurebrands India Ltd.

This presentation will explore how the use of Hinglish has changed over the years in advertising in India. It will identify some key patterns of use and will examine these in the context of the evolution of the Industry. It will examine how advertising is responding to the forces that shape it and will attempt to understand the role that Hinglish is playing in this process.

‘Don’t deboard the Bollytrain’: Trains, Hinglish and Accented English in Bollywood films

Rachel Dwyer and Helen Ashton, SOAS, University of London

This paper studies the use of Hinglish and English in Hindi cinema in the last twenty years, from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), focusing on films which are set on trains in India and overseas. The train has been a pervasive symbol of mobility and modernity in Indian culture and film (cf. Aguilar 2011), and has been used as a setting for many film songs. We reconsider the filmic space linguistically, using the methodology proposed by Androutsopoulos (2012) for the study of screened discourse. We examine the range of linguistic repertoires employed in these films, the ways in which characters are able to switch between them, and we focus in on key scenes where linguistic difference is highlighted.

Code-mixing in Bhojpuri Media

Akshaya Kumar, University of Glasgow

The contemporary Bhojpuri media emerged out of the 'cassette culture' of the late 1980s. While performative practices of the region remained one of its main resources, with much wider net of distribution and the possibility of disembodied performance began the practice of mixing 'foreign' melodic patterns and references, via the competitive enterprise of Bhojouri stardom. Later, with the coming of VCDs, the mixing of musical and lyrical variety could also append the mixing of visual motifs largely borrowed from Hindi song and dance routines. Bhojpuri cinema emerged via this history, as a narrative extension of this audiovisual imaginary still taking shape. But at the same time, as it sought exhibition within the existing infrastructure of the Hindi film economy, it also distinguished itself in terms of language. The older enchantment with Urdu of Hindi cinema was making way for Hinglish when Bhojpuri cinema built its enterprise on rural Bhojpuri. In this landscape, Hindi was also the language of the state establishment just as English had been for a long time in Hindi cinema. The binary that emerged within Bhojpuri cinema narratively, though, was around the gendered articulations—the female protagonists' English-speaking urbanity was to be tamed by the Bhojpuri-speaking rural male protagonist. In certain memorable encounters, such as in Sasura Bada Paisawala (2004), the male star rebukes the female protagonist in English so as to remind her of the shared cultural values. In later instances of Bhojpuri music, this confrontational staging made way towards a more playful mixing, even as the binary between provincial Bhojpuri masculinity and urban English femininity was largely retained. This also meant that markers of a 'performative modernity' (mobile, jeans, lipstick etc.) were often singled out as identifications of the feminine element that was simultaneously desired and needed taming. As I will establish in the presentation, then, the relationship between Bhojpuri and English within Bhojpuri media is deeply overdetermined. The bulk of code-mixing in Bhojpuri media, however, remains around the sexual motif. Various metaphors (cooker, meter, simcard, remote, control, heat etc.) enable Bhojpuri lyrics to make a lateral reference to the sexual act. As the mainstay of code-mixing, this tendency is by no means limited to 'English/foreign' objects but often deploys them to good effect (e.g. 'Laden has entered my skirt' or 'I will lift your skirt with a remote'). This paper seeks to explore this vast body of material to investigate some of its key tendencies around code-mixing.

Hinglish 'Back to Back': Without the Ad-break

Vineet Kumar, Dr. BR Ambedkar College, University of Delhi

Advertisements are like oxygen for commercial radio channels, but their such periodic and almost ubiquitous announcements as 'back to back chaar gaane', 'aadhe ghante lagatar bina kisi ad-break ke', and 'main hun khurafati Nitin, kahin jaiyega mat meri jan, yeh hai Red FM, char gaane chipak ke' attempt to give the listeners a sense of advertisement-free, uninterrupted programming utopia. It is however obvious that commercial advertising has moved beyond its classically identifiable formats into surrogate formats, thus blurring the boundaries of earstwhile neat categories of the 'presenter', 'sponsor', 'commodity', 'consumption' and 'content'. Just as the government advertisements 'issued in the public interest', political campaigns for the parties, civic informations and those in individual interests have become indinstinguishable from one another in their current avatar. 'Hinglish' is very much a part of the general and deliberate creative 'confusion' in the radio ad world. Inspired by a certain urban sociology that seeks to speak to the 'elite class' clientele in a 'natural', spontaneous lingo, it is also unecumbered by the received emphasis on linguistic purity. Characteristically, instances of code-mixing and switching go beyond English and Hindi and very mcuh into Punjabi, Bhojpuri and even pseudo-Sanskrit (eg. 'promotionam') domains. The paper will explore all these varieties to understand the origin, usage, deployment and process of mixing in the radio advertising registers in Delhi.

Layers of multilingualism and ideas of language: A view from West Africa

Friederike Lüpke, SOAS, University of London

Many multilingual settings world-wide are characterised by different layers of multilingualism. Precolonial settings in small-scale multilingual societies (in aboriginal Australia and indigenous settings in the Americas, in Melanesia and large parts of Africa) have been altered through an added polyglossic dimension operating at the level of the nation state and beyond. In the little known small-scale multilingual setting across the globe, social practices such as linguistic exogamy, child fostering and other exchange mechanism as well as ritual language use create diverse societies in which languages are conceptualised very differently from settings where languages are associated with particular domains and ranked in hierarchical fashion. In this talk, I take the West African setting I am most familiar with to illustrate these two layers of multilingualism and what the different conceptions and social functions of language entail for what it means to be a “language”, including how languages are construed as different and similar and how their interaction is ideologically framed.

Hindi political rhetoric: any mixing?

Francesca Orsini, SOAS, University of London

Linguistic and rhetorical skills are crucial to politics, and the ability to speak Hindi has been a must for politicians in north India ever since the rise of electoral politics in the 1920s, though Hindi-only proficiency arguably becomes a handicap at the national level. Compared to other domains, politics and newsmedia are two domains where the importance of Hindi and of regional roots has grown in the post-liberalization period, and it is an English accent, rather than a Hindi one, that is perceived as a hindrance.

So while at a basic level of terminology and informal speech Hinglish code-switching and language mixing have become a mainstay of political discourse in north India (“Let me tell you,” MPs said about women’s reservation in Parliament, “iska koi easy solution nahin hai!”), what happens in more formal contexts of political communication such as speeches and media interviews? How do accent, register, fluency, and rhetorical skills come into play, and what signals do they send out to potential voters?

Drawing upon Bernard Bates’s wonderful study of Tamil political oratory (Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic, 2009) and mindful of his conceptualisation of ideology and aesthetics, this paper will analyse examples of Hindi political oratory by successful leaders such as Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, and Akhilesh Yadav: is there one Hindi oratorical style or several? What choices of register and types of mixing and switching can we see? How do politicians negotiate between the competing ideologies of Hindi as the proper and thwarted national language and English as the language of mobility and success?

Declamation, dialogue and code-switching in north Indian political speech

Anastasia Piliavsky, University of Cambridge

Indian political oratory is poorly understood, not only by academics, but also often by politicians’ intended audiences whose members frequently do not comprehend things said on stage. Off stage, it is an altogether different matter. The way politicians speak ‘off stage’ to their constituents in private involves the use of different vocabulary, tone, grammar and different ways of code-switching. Drawing on an archive of political speeches and off-stage conversations recorded during the 2013 state elections in Rajasthan, I compare code-switching practices in declamatory and dialogic registers of political speech. I attempt to understand what causes differences and what the discrepancies may tell us about how politicians communicate with electors in northern India, and the role public speech plays in this. What are political speeches for? What are they meant for and how are they perceived, appraised and understood? How do they differ from more intimate, dialogic communicative modes? And how do the differences in switching between languages, into English as well as into local dialects, illuminate all this?

Hinglish for Indic Language Computing (c.2000–14)

Ravikant, Sarai/CSDS

The paper deals with the inevitable if at times troubled presence of Hinglish in the Hindi lexicon designed for localising computer interfaces for north Indian users. Historically, technology, often imported rather than locally invented, and therefore bearing on its body English or other European “mother toungues” has presented issues of local translation at least since the days of the lexicographer and folklorist S.W. Fallon of mid-19th-century colonial India. In his Hindustani–English dictionary of 1879, he argued for a mixing of codes and registers in the interest of lucidity and accessibility. He emphasised the process of natural invention, adaptation and deployment, somewhat akin to the evolution of a motor mechanics' “imperfect” lexicon for the parts and tools they have to use on an everyday basis. As is well-known, the colonial-romantic lexical tradition which continued to have space for a say of the community during the nationalist struggle, was turned on its head with the onset of the rule of language experts at India's moment of arrival. The result was a wooden, Sanskritised translation of scientific and technical terms compiled into several thick CSTT volumes under Dr. Raghuveer. These volumes have been gathering dust in the government offices and libraries and have hardly ever been revised or updated. So the “English”-speaking computers, when they came to India on a large scale at the turn of the century, posed a challenge to users and translators alike. The paper will look at the pragmatic and commonsensical rendering strategies adopted by the Indic community of free software users, their successes and failures. It will also explore the role of English in general and Hinglish in particular in the formation of the communities that designed the multi-lingual Indic desktops and are still engaged with their latest, corporate-driven, “app” avatars.

Thrice Invisible: Politics of dismissal through vocabulary on the queer Indian web

Nishant Shah, The Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore

There is a specific kind of visibility of the queer male Indian body, with the emergence of the social web. From gay dating sites and discussion forums and support groups to user generated videos and selfies that document the queer face and body, there have been spaces that have opened up for the queer body to find expression, desire, and longing. This new visibility has been celebrated as symptomatic of opening up of traditional taboo as well as legal sanctions on queer identities and politics in India. In this paper, I argue, that while the visibility is to be treasured, we also need to look at how structurally and digitally, the world of user generated queer videos produces new forms of invisibility which allow for an abundance but not acceptance, for quantity but not visibility of the queer male body in its performance or representation. Specifically looking at ‘kand’ videos on user generated content sharing websites like Youtube, I show how strategic dismissal of the video’s homoerotic value as well as processes of containment the visibility of these queer videos does not lend itself either to political mobilisation or to acceptance and integration of queer lives, bodies, and longing, in the larger landscape of the country.

Language and Gods: Mixing Hindi and English in Mahabharata novelisations

Chinmay Sharma, SOAS, University of London

Ashok Banker did something unexpected and unprecedented starting in 2003. He wrote a bestselling English novel which adapted a mythological tale. He would be followed shortly by Samit Basu’s Gameworld Trilogy and mythological adaptations into English and specifically science fiction-fantasy would maintain a steady but niche presence in the market, till Amish Tripathi’s Meluha trilogy became another ‘sleeper hit’. Authors like Anil Menon, Krishna Udayasankar, Samhita Arni, Anand Neelakanthan, Devdutt Pattanaik, and Amrutha Patil have since written exciting books in which they re-construct and/or collate mythology in different forms, each of them actively experimenting with language, form, and source story. Following A.K. Ramanujan’s dictum that when epic stories travel, they do so across languages and not necessarily from Sanskrit, I argue that while each text has to be viewed independently, they also have to be situated with a field of cultural production of Mahabharata retellings and Indian writing in English. These texts will be situated by what Gerard Gennette calls the architextuality of these texts—their intertextuality, paratexts, commentary on the texts, and the formal characteristics of the text—focussing on the linguistic registers of the text. The relationship between the Sanskrit and English Mahabharatas is almost always tenuous. Questions of authenticity are probably the most conspicuously elided in the English Mahabharatas. My paper argues that these authors deploy Hindi words intentionally to foreground the ‘untranslateability’ of concepts, thereby situating their narrative in a space that is recognisably Indian and a time that is either far in the past or in a parallel universe, in order to ‘nativize’ tropes of fantasy and science fiction literature. Unlike writers like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, the use of Hindi words is meant to be mimetic and signify hidden pockets of meaning, rather than ironic.

Form and function in mixed codes

Devyani Sharma, Queen Mary, University of London

In the study of code-switching, it is common to start with the content of a switch in order to interpret its effect. Under this approach, the languages a speaker chooses can function as ‘we’-codes or ‘they’-codes to convey identity affiliations, e.g. “assi angrezi sikhi e te [we learned English so] why can’t they learn?” (Romaine 1995), “we should respect her for being a layak [competent] Indian bahu [daughter-in-law]”, or “whose ghar ki kahaani [household story] is this, anyway?” (Bhatt 2008). However, code-switching rarely conforms to such a neat pairing of content and function. In this talk, I will use a range of Hinglish examples to show that words themselves are not necessarily the bearers of social meaning. The data come from different centuries, continents, and registers: British India, contemporary India, the Indian diaspora in Britain; conversations, fiction, advertising. What they all have in common is the central role of linguistic and extra-linguistic contextual cues (Gumperz 1982) in ascribing specific social meanings to denotational forms that are otherwise relatively underspecified in terms of connotation. Contrary to a simple unifying or hybrid identity function, Hinglish is shown to assert and contest a range of very specific class and ethnic identities (Bakhtin 1981, Bourdieu 1977, Rampton 1995).

Tanglish: The language of the Tamil Trolls on Social Media

Shriram Venkatraman, University College London

The use of Tanglish (mixture of Tamil and English) in everyday conversations is pretty common in Tamil Nadu. Tanglish is the use of anglicised Tamil, where Tamil words are made to sound like English and are also used along with English in conversations (oral and written). When it comes to social media communication in Tamil Nadu, Tanglish assumes three different forms 1) Code changing (where Tamil words are written in an English script), 2) Sentences written in Tamil with interjections of certain words in English and finally 3) sentences in English with interjections of certain words in Tamil.

The Tanglish communication on social media can appear as general textual messages right from conveying everyday wishes to commenting on social media posts and sometimes to outright trolling.  They also appear on Memes other than in posts/comments. This paper arising out of a 15-month ethnography of a field site named Panchagrami next to the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, South India will look at Tanglish when used in trolls. This paper will explore Tanglish trolling through both memes and comments on Facebook and comments on Youtube with examples of specific cases arising out of Panchagrami.

Falling in and out of Love with Hinglish: Advertising and the Domestication of Hinglish

Paromita Vohra, Independent film-maker, Mumbai

Hinglish has existed in Indian popular worlds and daily life far before it was called that. It existed in slang, in popular Urdu poetry, in Hindi film song lyric and later dialogue and in film magazines as for instanc Stardust’s famous Neeta’s Natter.  It was current and popular but not centre-stage, not perhaps a brand idea of cool.

From the early 1990s it has increasingly moved from these lively edges more and more into the centre, and also acquired an identity of cool and mobility. But via its journey in advertising – especially advertising within the world of television, Hinglish’s qualities of joyful, promiscuous miscegenation have also transformed into some new fixities and generated some new ideas of Hinglishness, Englishness and HIndiness.

My presentation will look at this narrative of the shifting meaning, value and typification of Hinglish and make some suggestions about what stories of successful citizenship it consolidates and disrupts along the way.

Indian Video Games and Religion: Normative Language Uses of English, Hindi, and Hinglish

Xenia Zeiler, University of Helsinki

Digital media are an inherent part of popular culture in contemporary India. One of the increasingly important digital media genres—especially for a broad urban middle-class audience—is video gaming. It rapidly evolves and by today has to be counted among the media genres which define the new media configurations in Indian contexts. Video games influence cultural and social transformations in India, in general, and also contribute to reshape and (de)construct details of religious ideas and beliefs. As such, this popular media genre serves as one of many platforms to negotiate religious identity and authority in contemporary India and representations of Hindu symbols, ideas and beliefs.

While Indian gamers predominantly play global mainstream games (very seldom dubbed in Hindi), also India produced games (some with options to play in Hindi) hit the market. This presentation seeks to explore backgrounds and details of language preferences (‘Indian English’/Hindi/Hinglish) in religious/mythology themed Indian games and in the marketing strategies surrounding them. Which language is chosen above another in which specific contexts, and why? How are aspects of language (for instance accent) used as marker for certain themes and audiences, and in which way are these choices normative? How can the language applications in and around Indian video games be related to the global gaming market?

To answer these questions, Indian games from various gaming genres will be analyzed, such the first entirely India-developed game based on Hindu mythology in detail, “Hanuman: Boy Warrior” (SONY 2009 for PlayStation 2), and a number of simple computer arcade games, such as “Ramayana Online” or “Chhota Bheem and the Throne of Bali—DTH Game”. To contrast these with language markers for Indian religious content as portrayed globally, “Road to India” was chosen. Additionally and in order to contextualize the normative language use when it comes to Indian video games and religion, newsmedia reports on especially “Hanuman: Boy Warrior” are included in the discussion.

Organiser: Professor Francesca Orsini

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Sponsor: British Academy