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What are common attitudes and concerns over the Indian-English accent (see video) among those who are teaching or learning in ESL? How do these attitudes make the Indian accent compare with others, such as American, Welsh, Scottish, Australian, Caribbean?

My question is related to teaching and learning. Most people seem to prefer an American or British (RP) accent while learning English. I am asking because I want to select an accent for further practice.

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    This question will probably (and perhaps rightly) be closed due to being based on opinion. If you want to speak to people in India and be understood, then Indian English will obviously be effective but (opinion coming) it may not be be prestigious. If you want to speak to people in the U.S. and sound like a native, then Indian English is objectively ineffective, but (opinion coming) it is not considered by most people as socially deficient if the only material difference is accent. So I believe the question can be answered without necessarily expressing an opinion. – Jeff Morrow Jul 5 at 23:30
  • @JeffMorrow I personally would like to know where your scope of the "English" goes. Sure, currently the U.S accent is the dominant, but the English is English, then how far can we encompass the "map" of English as the "standard English"? – user17814 Jul 6 at 1:25
  • There is an interesting question hiding in there. Certainly it is customary in some places to teach General American English, and in others to teach RP/Oxford; but are there places outside the Subcontinent where Indian English is customarily taught? – Anton Sherwood Jul 6 at 3:04
  • @AntonSherwood None probably. Because their main language is mostly Hindu. – user17814 Jul 6 at 3:16
  • @Kentaro Hindi is the first language of about a third of Indians. The lack of a majority language is part of the reason for the continuing importance of English in India. – Anton Sherwood Jul 15 at 5:15
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English Around the World

English teachers generally would not identify any variety of speech as "authentic", because this word has specific moral and social significance outside the scope of learning a language. However, for educational purposes, each teacher or school generally will identify some dialect as a model for the rules and habits to teach students. In places with no significant population that speaks English, students usually learn following either a British or American standard. This choice usually depends on region or country.

A teacher or school will generally choose either a British or American standard, and in particular a Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American (GA) accent, because they are most familiar to English speakers across the world, and so learning one of them makes it easiest for a student to understand others, and to be understood by them.

Rarely does anyone speak completely as British or Americans unless native, and not all native to the United Kingdom or even to England speak RP, or to the United States speak GA. However, how well someone communicates with native speakers of England or the US may provide a useful test for how well that individual may communicate internationally in English, simply because others will likely use a similar standard. In this sense, many would consider the British and American dialects to be neutral standards, which create a balancing effect, on the worldwide use of the language. Some may further consider this influence to elevate British or American English to a position of privilege, but such specific characterization is generally not helpful, and often leads to inaccurate conclusions and harmful behaviors.

English in India

In India and the other countries of South Asia that follow from the influence of British rule, the combined count of individuals who speak English is almost as great as in the United States, and is more than twice as great as the combined count in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Indian English is a distinct standard, which determines how students study English in India and nearby countries.

Outside of South Asia, however, students are unlikely to be instructed in speaking English as do Indians.

Indian Accents Around the World

Those who understand English generally, tend to understand Indian English. Certain features of Indian speech sometimes cause difficulties for non-Indians to understand Indians in English. The degree and effect of these features depends on the individual speaker. Sometimes, but not always, these differences diminish naturally for Indians after having moved overseas.

Many native speakers of English have limited experience listening to Indians, whereas a larger proportion of Indians may have regular exposure to British and American media. Such disparities sometimes cause surprises. An individual accustomed to speaking English among other Indians, as well as to hearing English from both Indian and foreign sources, may feel confused or frustrated during first conversations with non-Indians, because of difficulty being understood.

Someone affected by or concerned with these differences may choose simply to modify habits when speaking English, without trying to mimic speakers born elsewhere.

Acquiring a New Accent

Many factors may affect a choice to acquire some particular accent.

Some may be motivated by the social perception of a prestige accent, one historically favored by some privileged group, and considered to represent elevated social status. Historically, RP and GA are the prestige accents of England and the United States. However, their role in each society is not the same. While up to two-thirds of US-born speakers may use GA, it is unlikely that more than one-tenth of English-born speakers naturally use RP.

Some may learn a certain accent to avoid being the target of bigotry, or to relieve anxiety about feeling foreign. Either is a worthy reason, but none is essentially linguistic, and may relate to a problem that is better resolved by other means.

For most, being understood is the essential concern. Flexibility with respect to specific habits, not complete transformation, may have the most practical benefit. Some may seek to acquire a specific accent, however, and doing so is a deeply personal choice, according to taste, objectives, and principles.

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  • Accent is one thing, speech (grammatical speech) is another. You can have an "Indian accent" and still speak good English, even if you use certain preferences Indians prefer. – Lambie Jul 20 at 22:48
  • Indian accents around the world? There is more than one? – Lambie Jul 20 at 22:50
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    @Lambie Yeah I would say there is absolutely more than one. If I can think of one nation on this planet that is the farthest thing from a monolith, it's got to be India. – Eddie Kal Jul 23 at 16:46
  • @EddieKal Indian Accents Around the World, What is meant is: Having an Indian Accent Outside India. – Lambie Jul 23 at 16:54
  • @EddieKal: Yes, and there is more than one accent in England, and Southeast England, and London. Even RP and GA have many, in some sense, uncountable, varieties. Accents present on a continuum. One may as well gripe over whether the Aegean Sea is part of, or separate from, the Mediterranean Sea. – epl Jul 23 at 19:28
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OK I am going to try to answer this.

Historically, the same language spoken in disparate places at one time has evolved and become different and mutually unintelligible languages over time. Example: Latin evolved into many different languages and dialects; few who live in Lisbon can understand those who live in Bucharest although the languages spoken in both cites are both descended from Vulgar Latin. Nor does being a native born Frisian make one fluent in Gujarati even though both share a distant linguistic ancestor almost certainly spoken in the Southern Eurasian steppes. In the age of the internet, pop music, and movies, how and at what rate languages will evolve in the future may change from historical norms. I doubt, however, that English will be spoken anywhere in a thousand years exactly as it is today in Tulsa, Sheffield, or Melbourne.

Which variant of a language is considered "best" is not a linguistic question at all. It depends on criteria that are social and economic. If you want to be employed at a high salary in the U.S. in 2020, it is professionally advantageous on average to avoid what the Brits used to call "babu English" and to have an accent that is readily intelligible to Americans. Similarly, if you want to be employed at a high salary in the U.S. in 2020, speaking in working-class Sheffield or Glaswegian will likely be quite disadvantageous because 99% of the population of the U.S. will not even realize that you are speaking a language related to English. If, however, you would rather be dead than live in the U.S., utter ignorance of American idioms and accent is probably of immaterial importance unless you feel a compulsion to learn what the latest Marvel heroes movie is about.

In other words, how you speak English derives whatever importance it may or may not have to you from whatever are your social and economic goals and context. If you expect to live in Delhi, cultivating an American accent is probably a waste of effort. If you are hoping to prosper in Green Bay, Wisconsin, getting a bit of American flavor into your English may provide some helpful social lubricant from time to time.

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    That entire first paragraph has zero to do with the question, in fact. – Lambie Jul 16 at 0:11
  • I concur with the earlier opinion expressing a discrepancy of the content of the question, compared to the thematic emphasis of this answer. Whereas the question narrowly addresses the activities of ESL teachers and whatever justification they might give, this answer unnecessarily, even if not inaccurately, laments at the futility of ascribing to any dialect a superior social status. – epl Jul 17 at 5:49
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    I strongly disagree. The question asks what is "recognized and authentic." That is not a question of linguistics at all, but a social and economic question. I have tried to explain, in a fair amount of detail, that language has and always has had variants. Which variant is "recognized" is really a question of "recognized by whom." Which variant is "authentic" is really a question of "authentic among what group at what time and on what occasions." A teacher who does not stress the social dimensions of this question ill serves students. – Jeff Morrow Jul 17 at 14:20
  • That language varies, as do individuals in their background and preferences, is completely beside the point. It has never been questioned, and needs no elaboration. It is also irrelevant whether someone considers the question one of linguistics versus society. If some group teaches Indian English, and another does not, then the answer should explain this difference, not lament over the fact or cause of the variation. – epl Jul 17 at 17:52
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    @Lambie I am not going to argue with you, but this question has been edited to say something totally different from what was originally asked about a "recognized and authentic" English accent. I am tired of having epi try to infer my psychological state of mind for saying that there can be no such thing. Had you responded earlier by suggesting that my comment would have been clearer had I said "accent" rather than "variety," I might have agreed although I am not sure that the original question was intended to be limited to only the different accent of Indian English. It may have been broader. – Jeff Morrow Jul 20 at 23:50
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"Indian English" isn't just an accent, it is a widely recognised and spoken variety, or dialect of English.

Wikipedia states that Indian English is "the regional variant of the English language spoken in the Republic of India, and among the Indian diaspora elsewhere in the world". This article lists Indian English alongside other varieties of English, which include British English, American English, Australian English and others. Numerically speaking, Indian English is more widely spoken than British English, so it most certainly is "recognised".

The difference between an accent and a dialect is that an accent is simply how one pronounces words, whereas a dialect includes not just pronunciations, but also one's general vocabulary and grammar. It is generally easier to adapt to a new dialect than lose one's accent. For example, I'm a British English speaker, but I've watched enough Hollywood movies to know that Americans call the front of a car (what I'd normally call the "bonnet") a "hood", and the rear (the "boot") is called a "trunk". While in America, I'd quickly and easily switch to using those, and other terms, in order to be understood. If I stayed there long enough, using such terms would probably become natural to me. To Americans, I'd be speaking their language but with a British accent.

Likewise, Indian English speakers living in the USA or the UK will no doubt quickly adapt to any new vocabulary, but may still speak with an accent. Rightly or wrongly, they would likely be described as "speaking with an Indian accent".

I can't really say why some people, as you say, "prefer" to hear British or American accents - that is a matter or opinion. I can only assume that through media like television and film, many non-English speakers are most familiar with these accents and therefore find them easier to understand. Personally, I have no problem understanding English when spoken with an Indian accent and have no "preference". I love hearing the rich variety of accents.

I should like to add that I am aware the term "Indian" is often used to describe anything that originates from the entire Indian subcontinent, or South Asia, not just the Republic of India. Likely, when people refer to an "Indian accent", they refer to a broad range of different accents from that area of the world. Similarly, there are many different regional accents within both the UK and the USA.

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  • The question does not conflate an accent with a dialect broadly, only it makes the former its particular subject. – epl Jul 18 at 1:20
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    @epl I didn't suggest they had confused the two. They asked specifically if Indian English is a recognised accent. My point is that, if it is a recognised dialect, it must logically be a recognised accent, because a dialect incorporates both pronunciation and vocabulary. – Astralbee Jul 19 at 16:03
  • If the difference is understood, why commit half the text to explaining it? Isn't it irrelevant to the information being sought? – epl Jul 19 at 17:56
  • @epl I don't think it is irrelevant at all. Frame challenges make up quite a lot of the correct answers on Stack Exchange, because often, especially on this site, the OP doesn't have enough knowledge of the subject to ask the right question. It's simple logic that if Indian English is a dialect along with American English and Australian English, then an Indian accent sits right alongside American accents and Australian accents. With respect to the OP, they cannot have fully understood the concept of accents and dialects to ask this. – Astralbee Jul 20 at 8:01
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    This is only decent answer. It shows a linguist's knowledge of the reality which nobody else has. And I will repeat here again: having an accent and speaking a variety of English are not necessarily the same thing. Everyone forgets the very charming Caribbean English accents. Just listen to Derek Walcott: youtube.com/watch?v=GOlbD_Gawis A true Caribbean English accent and also very educated. He won the Noble Prize. – Lambie Jul 20 at 22:57
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No, Indian accents of English are stigmatized in the Chinese-speaking world. People there have trouble distinguishing between the syllable-initial unaspirated /t/ and /d/, phonetic sounds which are common in Indian English.

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