It's Hinglish and it's here on a street near you

1st December 2006 at 00:00
How to get pukka with one of the world's fastest-growing languages. Susan Young reports

Ever been out for a glassy and machi-chips after work? Know anyone who is a bit of a bevakoof and wears his chuddies on his head for a laugh? Guess what? You've been Hinglished.*

Still baffled? Hinglish is what you get when a Punjabi, Urdu or Hindi word just says it so much better than an English one. The Victorians borrowed scores of words from Indian languages with the result that thug, bungalow, pyjamas, cut and doolally have been an accepted part of the English language for generations. But now a whole new vocabulary is developing in playgrounds, workplaces and families around the country, courtesy of British-born Asians.

And at the forefront of this new linguistic revolution is the unlikely figure of Baljinder Mahal, a Derby primary school teacher, who is the author of a new dictionary: The Queen's Hinglish.

"It's a labour of love. I'm just happy to be part of it, although there were times when I was pulling my hair out," says Baljinder, 29, who fell into the esoteric world of lexicography by mistake as a result of the novel she wrote at 21 and saw in print four years later, The Pocket Guide To Being An Indian Girl.

Last year, Collins, the publisher, was in need of someone to help out with its Hinglish definitions and found Baljinder through her novel. When Collins realised there was a demand for a purely Hinglish dictionary, she then became the obvious choice to write it.

The new words are finding their way into English for several different reasons, says Baljinder, the most important is that they simply describe something for which we have no specific word. "Then there are words from the popular media to describe Bollywood."

Much of the linguistic fusion is happening in the playground. "I find very exciting children's manipulation of language. They mix two words up in the bat of an eyelid. It's incorrect to mix it up but who says it's incorrect?"

Examples include using Punjabi words, for instance, with English endings.

"English is a mongrel language anyway," she says. But interestingly, the playground fusion usually doesn't find its way into the classroom and never into written work - pupils are aware of the difference between Standard English and dialect.

But the Hinglish story is more complicated than the odd word finding its way into mainstream British TV, such as talk of chuddies - underpants - on BBC's spoof chat show, The Kumars At Number 42. There are two different forms of Hinglish, the South Asian and the British version.

The dictionary explains: "More people are speaking English in South Asia than in Britain and North America combined. India alone accounts for more than 350 million English speakers. This means Hinglish, the popular name for this blend of English, Indian English and South Asian languages, could soon become the most widely-spoken form of English on Earth. The purists might object but they have lost the battle. Hinglish, once seen as the lingo of the uneducated masses, is now trendy, the language of movers and shakers.

If you want to join in, the dictionary is full of useful sentences studded with Hinglish to help you on your way. And if you want to know what the translation of the opening paragraph of this story is. Here it is:

* Ever been out for an alcoholic drink and fish and chips after work? Know anyone who is a bit of a fool and wears his underpants on his head for a laugh?

The Queen's Hinglish: How To Speak Pukka, by Baljinder K Mahal, Collins Pounds 5.99


bevakoof a fool

chi-chi yuck

chuddies underpants

ganja bald

glassy a glass of alcoholic drink

machi-chips fish chips

mar-gaye you've done something which will get you into trouble

pukka properly done

shaadi a wedding

sharaabi drunkard

HINGLISH: Noun, informal.

a (in Britain) the use of certain words from a South Asian language, especially Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi in a predominantly English-spoken sentence

b (in India) the use of English words in a predominantly Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi-spoken sentence

* Guess where these words came from?

Pyjamas, bungalow, verandah, shampoo, doolally, gymkhana, thug, cot

India, more than a century ago.

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