Indian English Pronunciations in the Oxford English Dictionary FAQs

Indian English Pronunciations in the Oxford English Dictionary FAQs

What is Indian English, and who speaks it?

English is an official language in India, and 2011 census data suggests that there are around 130 million speakers. There is no single ‘Indian English’ variety. As a second (or third or fourth) language in India, English is spoken in a range of different ways, influenced by regional and social variation and also by one or more of the 200+ native Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages. English is spoken by the most highly educated but also by those with little formal education, and at all points along the continuum between. While some individuals speak English with the same proficiency as with their first language, more are in professions requiring a suitable general proficiency and potentially even more have English skills specific to their domains of employment. For a general discussion of Indian English in the OED, please see this blog post.

Most speakers of Indian English speak it as a second or third language. How do you deal with issues of code-switching and naturalization?

This lexicographical challenge is discussed at length in this blog post.

Why are you adding Indian English pronunciations to the OED?

OED has been expanding its coverage of pronunciations of global varieties of English since 2016 when we first added audio for several World Englishes (discussed in this blog post)  to join our British and American English audio.

Why does the OED include World Englishes?

You can find all the information you need about our World Englishes via this web page.

Whose version of Indian English do your written pronunciation models represent?

All our models are intended to reflect the most common features of the form(s) spoken by educated urban speakers of each variety, rather than demonstrating the full range of variation.

How did you settle on the Indian English pronunciation model?

We base all our models on current phonetic research, and we also consult academics with knowledge of the relevant World English. Because of many factors, Indian English was especially complex, and the process of researching the model took a long time. More detailed discussion of each model and the particular sources can be found here, along with a set of keys which list the symbols used to transcribe each variety.

How do the audio pronunciations work, and can I hear some?

Each Indian English word has been recorded by a speaker of Indian English in our Oxford studio. Offering audio alongside pronunciation transcriptions allows OED users to hear the pronunciations as well as read them. Just click the blue play icon next to the transcription. Some example words which have been made publicly available are yaksha, diya, almirah, vadapallavi, bindaas, amrit .

Do you have Indian language/ lexical experts who help you record these pronunciations?

Yes – we base our pronunciation models on academic work by linguistic scholars of Indian English (there’s a list of published sources here), and we consult specialists who are themselves speakers of Indian English. Our recordings are always made by genuine speakers of the variety in question.

Is popularity a criteria for selecting words for the OED?

When assessing a word for inclusion, OED editors look for evidence of actual usage. A word that shows sufficiently sustained and widespread use is more likely to be added to the dictionary.

Generally, how many Indian English words are considered every year in the process before arriving at the final choice?

There is no specific number as the number of word suggestions that the OED considers from each English-speaking region varies every year.

What is the process of selection?

At Oxford Languages we have several resources at our disposal to track the emergence of new words and senses. We use a corpus, which is a collection of different types of written and spoken speech put together in an electronic database designed specifically for linguistic research. We also have the Oxford Reading Programme, which is our digital collection of sentences or short extracts drawn from a huge variety of writing by volunteer readers. In the case of World English words, for instance, word suggestions come up from the corpus and from the reading of books and magazines written in the variety in question, but we also source possible candidates through the review of existing dictionaries and previous lexical studies of the variety.

Once we have a list of candidates, OED editors go to work carefully researching our electronic and paper research databases to make sure that there are several independent examples of the word being used, for a reasonable amount of time and reasonable frequency in the places you would expect to find them. There is no exact timespan and frequency threshold, as this may vary depending on each word. Some words are relatively young, but they were quickly added to the OED because of the huge social impact they had in such a short space of time; other words are not overwhelmingly frequent, but are included because they are of specific cultural, historical, or linguistic significance.

The OED’s editors consider thousands of word suggestions every year, reviewing each and every one. Words that have not yet accumulated enough evidence for permanent record in the OED remain on the watch list for continued monitoring, while suggestions for words with sufficiently sustained and widespread use are assigned to an editor.

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.