India and English


Languages are fascinating – the way they change, the way they merge, the way they’re created, and the way they influence one another. I love seeing how various world history events are evident in the history of a language. Language is a lot like the rings of a tree – you can tell a lot about the environment it was living and growing in based on its history, change, and adaptation.

One unexpected example of this is the influence India had on the English language. English is primarily a Germanic language—meaning its origins are most similar to German. It has also been heavily influenced by Latin and French, mostly due to the different time periods in which people of these regions controlled England and the English-speaking areas. However, it turns out that Britain’s longtime relationship with India through the East India Trading Company also had an impact on the English language. Words such as “pajamas” “loot” “shampoo” and “thug” originated in India and have crept into the English language almost unnoticed.

The earliest Indian influence on English was actually secondary—words such as “ginger” and “pepper” that had been assimilated by the Greeks and Romans on their trade routes with India were brought into English through the influence of Greek and Latin. Most of these words were practical. “Ginger” and “pepper” both were plants that became a global commodity and therefore the word also gained global popularity—not unlike the words “Google” “wifi” and “email” in today’s society.

Later on, as global trade expanded, more words reached the British Isles. Many, such as “mango” came through Portugal and underwent a Portuguese adaptation before being assimilated into English. Others came directly along trade routes with Britain, such as “shawl” and “cashmere,” both of which describe popular high society products that were traded for in India in the 17 and 1800s.

The impact India has had on English shows the ways in which languages are constantly changing and evolving. Language is fluid. It follows its speakers wherever they go. In today’s world especially, connections are everywhere, and more and more languages are impacting one another as opportunities for global collaboration grow.

Read more online on BBC Culture.


This post originally appeared at


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