Pinglish vs. English

English in Pakistan has a flavour all of its own and is a strong contender to compete with Hinglish spoken just south of its border.  Having the third largest English speaking population in the world, Pakistan has a right to stand among the top contesters for recognition for its contribution to the English language

About 49% of Pakistan’s population speaks some form of English, but what do these forms look like?  Here is a small sample of this established version of the English language.

International English:  A few select elites speak English so well that you know that they have probably gone to LCAS, Lahore Grammar, and the American School or maybe even abroad.  These English medium schools are for the well-endowed and the calibre of English used and taught gives these students an international edge over other Pakistanis.

Thinking in Urdu/Punjabi, Speaking in English:  When you do a direct translation from one language to another, often something goes amiss.  What you say and what you think you are saying can be two different things.  Take for example the sentence “I am drinking a cigarette.”  The Urdu word for drinking has been transposed from Urdu to English and thus the incorrect expression.  No, you are not drinking your cigarette, at least I hope not – it could be more dangerous than the smoking!  What you want to say is “I am smoking a cigarette.”

Or how about “Please close the light” – again the word in Urdu for close has been literally translated and used instead of turn off.  What you want to say is “Please turn off the light.”

One of the most common products of this kind of English/Pinglish is the misuse or disuse of articles.  In Urdu and Punjabi articles are not used, but in English they are frequently used.  So it is not uncommon to read a sentence like this; “You must have heard lot of stories about people losing money in stock exchange. Does this mean that stock market is a total losing ground?” rather than as it should be; “You must have heard lots of stories about people losing money in the stock exhange.  Does this mean that the stock market is a total loosing ground?”

Pronouncing Pinglish not English: Here are a few of the more difficult sounds for Pakistanis to pronounce:

  • Because there is only one ‘vow’ sound in the Urdu alphabet, the v and w sounds for Pakistanis is difficult to pronounce.  The word what becomes vhat, the word were becomes vere and the word swerve is almost unpronounceable for Punjabi or Urdu speakers.  It comes out something like swerwe.
  • The diphthong th is another troublesome sound in the English language.  It usually comes out as a dh, so the becomes da or dha.

Using the Progressive for Simple Verbs:  The over use of the progressive is common in Pinglish.  Take these examples:

I am seeing the sky from here. (Pinglish)        I can see the sky from here. (Standard English)

I am having a car. (Pinglish)                           I have a car. (Standard English)

Word Order and Auxiliary Verbs:  I frequently hear these and so I will share some with you.

“What meaning?” is one I frequently hear.  Standard English would render this as “What does it mean?”

Why so many are being killed?  (Pinglish)      Why are so many being killed?  (Standard English)

Code Switching: Code switching is understood only by those that understand both Urdu and English well enough to understand what is being said.  Code switching is when both the local language and English are combined in to one thought, phrase, slogan etc.

If you only understand English, then this commercial slogan will throw you for a loop.  The first time I saw Timepey, I was sitting in the bank.  My first thought was that someone didn’t know how to spell pay and therefore it was a spelling error, but then what was Time Pay?  What did that mean?  Did it mean that the bank would make sure you got your salary on time?

So when in doubt, ask; and lo’ and behold I found out the spelling was indeed correct but the slogan had combined Urdu with English, so it means “On Time”.  Purely in Urdu it would read “Waqt pey” but this inoculation of English into the Urdu language has resulted in “Timepey”, or “On Time”.

Or take the slogan “Khamoshi ka boycott”.  Again this is only understood by a Pakistani.  Native English speakers are disqualified!  This code-switching means “Boycott silence”.

Certainly, Pinglish does have its place in the list of English language variants.  Linguists for some time have been interested in this reconstruction of the English language.  But will it ever gain international prominence in the world marketplace?  Probably not, so, if you want to make it big on the international market place, consider taking up some English language lessons from a centre where international English is spoken, or even try to find one where the English language instructor is a native English speaker.  It will be worth your while.

Acknowledgements to:  Pakistani English:  morphology and syntax by Ahmar Mahboob,  for the use of some of this material.

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