Indian accents - funny? Why?

Whenever I hear Engligh spoken with a Southern, New York, British, German, Australian, French, Northern Mexican, or almost every other possible accent, I tend to just think “yeah, it’s an accent.”

An Asian Indian accent, on the other hand, registers as jocular, if not downright hilarious, in my mind. Polling friends, many feel the same way; English spoken with … oh, a Danish accent sounds different, but an Indian accent will just inspire laughter.

Even exaggerated accents, for the sake of comedy … well, the Indian version just inspires more laughter.

“You vill get me a Coke … SCHNELL! SCHNELL!” Not really that funny.

“You will veddy much please be bringing me a Coke veddy veddy much please?” Funny.

I know it’s not politically correct. Still, though … why do many English speakers in the United States find Indian accents to be funnier than any other ethnic or regional accent? Is it the very formal, excessively polite, stilted-sounding English used in everyday situations? Is it the high pitch? The sing-songy rhythm? Something else?

Eh…I think the Indian accent has been overplayed for comedy. The German one is funny. “Schnell” is funny.

It’s a subtle form of racism, IMO.

Yes, I know that accusations of racism are often overblown. Ineed, I seldom toss that word around. However, I think that the continued mocking of Indian accents is truly crass and insensitive, and betrays subtle racial insensitivity. (And FTR, I once raised the same objection to a bunch of Filipinos, when I heard them mocking American accents. I also feel the same way when Chinese accents are ridiculed.)

Before anyone overreacts – YES, I do understand why people woudl find them comical. I’ll confess to thinking that way myself. Still, I think it’s a reaction which is best restrained, especially since it can be very hurtful to people who speak with such accents.

If a prime-time comedian were caught mocking Chinese accents, I think there’d be a tremendous uproar regarding the inappropriateness of such. I think we should view Indian accents the same way.

Why don’t German or Danish accents inspire the same kind of laughter? Perhaps it’s because they’re European – and thus, more familiar to Western ears. They may even seem more “civilized,” by virtue of being European. I don’t know, but that sounds like the most plausible explanation to me.

I don’t think it’s anti-Indian racism, so much as general human xenophobia - which can be innocuous or harmful depending on the context.

We do tend to mock unfamilar accents, of whatever kind. I see white folks like Canadians getting a serve (aboot, eh?), and we make fun of New Zealanders (fush and chups), and the Irish (to be sure, to be sure) and, well, pretty much everyone except ourselves. For varying definitions of ourselves.

Indian accents specifically sound funny to me because of the up and down sing song quality, combined with the fondness for long words. Similar to the Welsh, look you boyo.

I think it boils down to the spirit in which the mockery is done. If you recognise that we all sound funny to each other, and you can take it as well as dishing it out, then fair enough. If you’re the centre of the universe and everyone else is laughable, well, no, that’s just arrogant and not funny. If you think no-one should ever be allowed to make fun of anyone else, ever, in any context, then get a life and a sense of humour and report back when you’ve got that sorted.

I don’t think they’re “funny” as is haha, isn’t that hilarious, to me they just sound charming and innocent. Though I know that these are as much human beings as the next guy, they just sound as if they have all the patience and kindness of Job.

A indian accent always makes me smile and feel warm fuzzies. It’s just such a sweet melodic sounding one!

I think there’s a big difference between the Irish and Canadian mannerisms of which you speak, and the mocking of Indian accents. It’s one thing to recognize individual mannerisms or turns of phrases, and to find them amusing. It’s another thing to say that an accent is fundamentally worth poking fun at. Additionally, when that person is not a native English speaker, we’re more likely to poke fun at the person, rather than just the choice of words.

I don’t think many Canadians would be offended at deriving amusement from “Aboot, eh?” It’s just a turn of phrase, after all, and one that’s not too far removed from “standard” English. In contrast, the Indian accent is one that permeates their entire use of the English language, and thus, cannot be so casually removed from their speech. Poking fun at it strikes me as fundamentally more deep-rooted than poking fun at differences in regional dialects.

The Irish, Canadians and New Zealanders typically lay claim to English as their “native” language. As such, we regard their oddities as being mere regional differences – amusing, but ultimately harmless. In contrast, I daresay that people derive amusement from Chinese, Hispanic and Indian accents because (rightfully or not) they sound like less educated, less “correct.”

I mentioned European accents earlier. If we hear a European accent, we might find it amusing, but we also tend to think of it as exotic. In contrast, Asian and African accents tend to sound just wrong, and I think that much of our amusement is derived from their supposed wrongness.

JThunder, if that’s how you’ve encountered it, I can’t argue with your experience, though I am sorry for it.

I really am talking about accents, not just mannerisms, though they do go together. I only put phrases there because writing accents is hard. Believe me, New Zillunders git their eccunts served, as do Seth Efffricans. And if you think any accent can be

then I suggest you try casually removing your own! Go on, try speaking Australian for a day like a normal person, instead of talking funny like a bloody yank :slight_smile:

It just doesn’t ring true for me, where I live, that any one gets it for being ignorant or wrong rather than just characteristic - I’ve been at the pub where everyone is making fun of everyone else, Indians included. And we certainly would talk about outrrrrrageous Ffhrench accents and Der CHERmans in the same way if there were any there. I quite agree that no accent is fundamentally more funny than any other - but would stress also that none is any less funny, either.

BTW, you certainly can’t say that Indians in general are less educated. If anything, they sound more educated than the rest of us since they use more formal language in every day speech. And English is an official language in India, so many of them do speak English as a first language with regional dialect variation, rather than as a foreign accent.

…not a native English speaker…
…Indian accents…sound like less educated, less “correct.”

Uh, I daresay you’ll find most or all of the English-speaking Indians under discussion are native speakers of English, and arguably use a more “educated and correct” English than the average American or British Joe on the street. Mayhaps your misconceptions of Indians show in overzealously shielding them from what those stalwart Europeans are tough enough to bear?

Oi! Only one side of the Tasman talks funny. And it isn’t the side that says “feeeeesh and cheeeeeeeeeeeps” and “Straliiiia”

I’ve never ever heard anyone talk like that, except maybe for Peter Sellers in The Party. Seriously, do the Indians all of you encounter actually talk like that?!

I can’t say I’m well travelled within India, but I’ve never heard English being spoken in the way you describe it. Not even from those who’ve know only rudimentary English…

I may be exaggerating a little bit, but … the majority of Indian immigrants I’ve met speak in what sounds like a very formal, excessively polite manner, compared to American or British English speakers. Assimilated immigrants and first generation Indian-Americans tend to speak American English; there may or may not be an accent, but the vocabulary doesn’t sound as stilted and formal.

I’ve also noticed that some Indians make requests in the imperative. Back in grad school, when I was working in one of the university’s computer labs, if an American/Canadian English or ESL speaker needed help, they would ask like:

“How can I print the pi symbol in Microsoft Word?”

… while speakers of Indian English might say:

“You will be showing me how to print the pi symbol in Microsoft Word please.”

A request for help is made with what sounds like a command, at least to my American/Canadian English ears.

JThunder chill out. you are being too sensitive about the whole issue. I have studied in India, and i came across reall gems… a guy interrupted our class in college, and while going out apologized ‘sorry for the introduction (interruption)’. i have come across even more such gems during my stay in India, so i wouldnt say that making fun of the way Indians speak is in any way ‘racist’. just the way people speak the language in India is a little different…no brevity, use of bombastic words, and many time, just the wrong words…but i doubt if people speak like peter sellers, like elmwood says.

I agree with JThunder

There is a difference between making fun of accents that are regional variations amongst native speakers of the same language and making fun of accents spoken by people who have adopted the language.

And, this is probably exhibited by most humans. Indians speaking Hindi make fun of other Indians who aren’t native speakers of Hindi. I think tribalism is the cause.

Of course, I also think much of the fun is not malicious.

And, I have never heard anyone come close to saying:
“You will veddy much please be bringing me a Coke veddy veddy much please?”

Exaggeration that’s got out of hand, IMHO.

Sounds more like Apu from Simpsons.

Have to second what Gouda says.Being from India I still have to come across someone who speaks like that.

The sing song accent is more charecteristic in South Indians.People from Bombay are not likely to have it.Since many of the Indians working in the US are South Indians you may have felt that everyone speaks like that.

It makes me wonder how funny YOUR accent would sound to them if you were to learn Indian. I mean, if Indian is the funniest accent to hear in English, is English necessarily the funniest accent to hear in Indian? Makes you think, doesn’t it?

ummm learn Indian BellaDellaItalia?
Anyhoo, yep, I will admit that a good strong stereotypical Indian accent never fails to bring a smile to my lips. It is a beautiful way of speaking, and almost all the people I have heard speaking with this english have had such a stunning command of the language and have tended to use it in a much more poetic manner (by accident or design) than I usually hear it. Whoever it was that said that amusement expressed at an Indian accent was due to the speakers poor command of the language was imho way off base, I haven’t met any people from the region who didn’t speak fluently.

I get the same buzz from a Catalan accent, and while my experience has always been with people who did not have a fluent command of the language, my amusement was in no way condescending towards their language skills. It just sounds so damned cool, the slight lisp, the speech patterns of one language being applied to another, the enthusiasm of communication, it gives me a kick.

Norwegians also crack me up. I watch the weather here simply to laugh at the way the presenter speaks. It sounds funny, in a good way. It makes me laugh and gives me good vibes about Norwegians.

I think the reason so many people find specifically an Indian accent entertaining is that it is so marked. Somone asked earlier why people don’t laugh at a german accent (generally rather than specifically). To be honest, I don’t think that the majority of person (disclaimer, yes I know you all know the diff, I am talking majority) would be able to distinguish between a Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian accent, despite them all sounding radically different. Ooh, Finnish, that is another one that makes me laugh. I get my Finnish mates to say stuff, just so I can laugh at it :slight_smile: Then they get me to try and say Finnish stuff so they can laugh at me mangling it. Finnish just sounds so damned cool, like mumin-trolls! Nothing like a big deep Finnish accent to make you feel good :slight_smile:

Obviously, laughing at somones accent can be an expression of distain and racism. It can however also be a celebration of diversity and of the beauty of somones interpretation of language. Assuming the worst and laying a blanket ban on all expressions of amusement at the differences between us will leave me and others poorer. Sterile interactions with those who are not like us rob us of wonderful experiences between cultures.

This was my first thought when I saw the title of the thread. I talk to a lot of Americans in my job, and it’s never under good circumstances, as they’ve already had to go through a customer care rep to get to me. I’ve been called by name, I’ve been called “buddy”, “pal”, “Mister”, “Friend” (as Pratchett has noted that is not a good sign), and a bunch of things that I won’t repeat outside of the pit. Only two groups default to “Sir” during an argument over whether they have to pay for that $596.34 call to a Carribean sex line: military personnel and Indian immigrants, particularly Sikhs.

I would like to keep track and see which group uses it more often. The soldiers can inject far more contempt into the word, but when it comes to sheer poetic ire the Indians have it all to themselves.

for me, it’s not so much how it’s spoken but the exaggerated visualisation that comes with it. when i hear someone speak tamil i imagine them rolling their head sideways like an elephant. hope i’m not racist ^^’

I dunno about “funny,” but I’ve always thought that Indian accents sounded pretty.

I can understand why some people may find Indian accents funny. Sometimes when they speak they speak rather quickly so one may need trained ears to catch what they’re saying. Even I (being three-quarters Indian) find it difficult to understand some people’s English whenever I goto India. But that’s because I’m not used to their style of speaking.

But I’ll third gouda and maleinblack in that I’ve never heard any Indian speak like what the OP put up. That seems very exaggerated.