Hindustani contact

Birmingham is a major centre for language contact. From the raj to 2020, nearly a quarter of Birmingham’s population were born outside the UK and up to 40% of school pupils in 2013 had their origins in the Indian sub-continent. The total Asian British (including Chinese) population was just under 7% in 2011.
Urdu is a long-established high language of India and became the official language of Pakistan, though only 4% spoke it! Mirpur in Pakistan is the origin of 60% to 70% of British Pakistanis; Pothwari/ Pahari/ Mirpuri. Punjabis are the next most numerous group, coming from either India or Pakistan. Hindi, Urdu and some dialects are mutually intelligible so the term “Hindustani” is still used for the lingua franca.
To oversimplify, the maternal language of children of Asian families in Birmingham is Hindustani.

Punjabi phonology has 28 consonants in total, according to language gulper, compared to English 24.
The additions are retroflex and aspirated stops, two nasals.
The noticeable shortages are the fricative /th/ and the approximant /w/; one sound for /v/ and /w/
The “Indian” accent is very familiar: curling the tongue against the palate, exhale through the nose.
Substitutions: rhoticity; retroflex tapped R; V-W merger; TH-stopping; unaspirated; unaspirated .

Punjabi grammar has two genders, sing + pl, five noun cases, similar pronouns to English, no articles, postpositions and SOV word order. Verbs have a root followed by suffixes for aspect, person, gender, person and tense/mood. They are derived from PIE via Sanskrit, so look closer to Latin than to English. These do not map at all well onto English. Punjabi speakers will struggle to find English forms for aspect that correspond to their nd/i suffixes, and use the English present tense. The English continuous is more familiar to their markers of tense and aspect – the verb “to be” plus a participle. So a South Asian may say “I coming here because wanting learn English”. This is a “zero past tense marker” according to Robinson, who adds these other syntax substitutions of a Punjabi speaker: inconsistent singular/ plural marker in verbs; wh-words do not change to interrogative word order; zero article.


English has many loanwords from “Indian”, but probably no phonology or morphology. Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, the languages of North India, are closely related to most of those in Europe. William Jones, who was Welsh and became a judge in Bengal, suggested they have a common ancestor. You can hear the similarity of Latin and Sanskrit in the first word below. Sanskrit is the middle ancestor of the Indian ones. The remote ancestor of most of the north Indian and Persian languages is Proto Indo-European. Telugu and Tamil words below are Dravidian and not PIE. You can see that we have very frequently used loanwords from India from the days of empire:

maharajah ‘great king’, Latin major and regis
avatar – Sanskrit for ‘incarnation’, traditionally used for ‘Vishnu’ on earth; now web identity
guru – Sanskrit for ‘teacher’, it dates back to the times of the Vedanta. The connotation in English, though, is more as an ‘expert’ on a subject.
pundit – Hindi for ‘learned one’. In Kashmir, ‘pundit’ is an exalted title for a person who has achieved great heights in a field involving the intellect or fine arts. It also means ‘priest’.
zen –derived from the Chinese ‘chan’ for meditation, in turn from ‘dhyana’
mantra – Sanskrit for ‘incantation’ or ‘chant’ for rectifying spiritual issues. Now a panacea for a particular problem from a statement or slogan recited repeatedly.
juggernaut – The English connotation is ‘a huge, overwhelming and unstoppable force’. Derived from the name of God Vishnu – Jagannath temple in Puri
khaki – ‘khak’ in Hindi means ‘ash’ or ‘soil’, but British army camouflage after 1848
shampoo –18th century Hindi word -‘champo’ which meant massage into the head/hair.
loot –Hindi for ill-gotten gains
thug – From the Hindi word ‘thug’, organised robbers and assassins in India, strangled passers-by on forest routes with their legs, also with yellow scarves with a coin to strangle
mugger – Hindi for ‘crocodile’; an ambush predator; hence ‘steal by sudden attack’
dacoit – From the Hindi word dakait ‘an armed robber’
pukka – ‘first rate’ or ‘excellent’, Hindi ‘pakka’ which means ‘ripe’, ‘cooked’ or ‘done’, hence ready for consumption.
jute – from the Bengali word ‘jatho’ which means matted or interwoven fabric or hair.
bungalow –Hindi ‘Bangla’, a house in ‘Bengali’ style
bandanna – Hindi ‘bandhan’ which means ‘tie’.
punch – five, i.e. five ingredients (spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar and spice)
pajamas – From the Hindi word ‘paijama’ meaning ‘Leg garment’.
bandicoot – From the Telugu word ‘pandi-kokku’, meaning ‘pig rat’.

The Indian food words are well-known because the food is so popular, though “Indian” food is actually mostly Pakistani recipes prepared by Bengalis! Lalita Ahmed explains many of them in her book “Indian Cooking”. Some that are common nouns in Hindustani include:

chutney – From the Tamil (non-PIE) word ‘chatni’, a mix of condiments and spices.
jalfrezi Bengali ‘hot’ (stir) ‘fry
dopiaza ‘twice cooked’
garam masala ‘hot’ ‘ ‘spice’
rogan josh ‘oil’ + ‘hot’ in Persian, ghee + stew
gosht meat, from Persian
tandoor a clay pot
murgh chicken
curry this may be borrowed from Dravidian kari, but a similar word existed in England for horse grooming
pilaf this may also have been borrowed from Dravidian in classical times, though we now tend to spell it the Greek way.
sherbet a fizzy sweet, a drink; Persian verb “to drink”