Why is Indian Idol bilingual?

I was surfing through my cable channels today, and noticed I have an Indian channel (Zee TV), and also that it was showing Indian Idol. Looked just like American Idol. Was actually really interesting to watch, even though I couldn’t understand a lot of it.

But what I thought was weird was how the host kept switching between English and Hindi. For instance, they come back from the commercial, and she says “Hi everyone! Welcome back to Indian Idol…” in very lightly-accented English, and then straight into Hindi. And then throwing random English words in. I could probably understand 20% or so.

What’s up with that? I know they’re both official languages, but normally that doesn’t mean you use both at the same time. Or does it, in India? Are they trying to add just enough English so that non-Hindi-speakers can still follow?

Nitpick here, but English isn’t an official language of India. It’s an official co-language of some Indian states.
I’ll give you 3 guesses as to why English didn’t make it into the Indian constitution as an official language, even though, “The Constitution of India recognises 22 languages, spoken in different parts the country, namely Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Meitei, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.” [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India

Basically what it boils down to is this; each region of India has its own language, and they need not be mutually intelligible. Prior to the British Raj this wasn’t a problem, but post colonisation, once people needed to talk to people from other states in India, English really became the common language that this was done in for two reasons; firstly was the entire “vestiges of Empire” thing, and secondly the fact that whilst Hindi is seen as the Indian language due to the popularity of the Hindi film industry, aka Bollywood, it really is a provincial language spoken as a native tongue only in one specific part of India (the area around Bombay). Someone born in Kutch or Gujerat or Punjab or Maharashtra need not have Hindi as a native tongue, and to talk to people from other regions, English will be the mutually intelligible language rather than Hindi.

Hindi is very popular due to Bollywood, and due to the fact that the judges on Indian Idol are mainly Bollywood mainstream music directors, composers and singers, Hindi is mainly used, but the common intelligibility of English means that its very natural for people to unconsciously slip into English as well.

Re the OP’s question about not using both languages at the same time, its actually quite natural for someone who’s multilingual to switch between languages mid-sentence with another speaker of the same languages; I do it myself when talking to my parents and also when talking to my boss.
Incidentally, Bonzer wondered the exact same thing when my parents forced him to watch it last weekend. He does also point out that someone who doesn’t speak Hindi at all (like him), has no hope in hell of knowing what’s going on.

That’s nothing. A long time ago, there was a Filipino channel on the cable system I subscribed to. The code-switching was intense; every few words a speaker would switch back and forth between English and Tagalog. “Badda bing bang weather forcast for Metro Manila ting tong showers and a chance of thunderbada bing bang dong bdingding high 32 low bangping …”

My wife was born in Chicago to parents who came to this country from China. When she talks to her parents, it’s just like that — switching between Cantonese and English several times in every sentence. At least on her side. Her parents usually talk straight Cantonese.


On what basis do you suggest that Hindi “is a provincial language spoken as a native tongue only in one specific part of India (the area around Bombay)”? My experience with Indians is that Hindi is spoken as a native tongue by people from many parts of India, and that’s what’s said by Wikipedia, which says that “Hindi is the predominant language in the Indian states and union territories of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.” It also says that Marathi is the predominant language in Mumbai.

And you said that “Hindi is very popular due to Bollywood,” but that doesn’t make any sense, since Hindi is the official language of the government. I don’t see how Bollywood could have influenced the writing of the constitution to that extent.

The problem is that both what Angua and Dewey Finn are correct, if slightly exaggerated. This is what happened to a lot of former European colonies after becoming independent since World War II. A number of different languages were spoken in the country. (In India, if my memory serves, there are twenty languages spoken by more than a million people.) There was a choice between declaring the indigenous language with the most speakers to be the national language or letting the language of the European colonial power continue to be the national language.

Neither choice works perfectly. The citizens of the country want to cast off any remaining memories of the colonial power. They would like to have a native language be the national language. However, there is often great resentment by the speakers of the smaller languages towards the speakers of the largest native language. Furthermore, in learning the largest native language, the speakers of the smaller languages often feel like they are wasting their time. There are relatively few academic books in the native language, so learning a language with a large academic tradition would be better for education. Besides, the speakers of the smaller languages want to be able to establish business relations with other parts of the world, so speaking the old colonial language is often more useful. This is why English continues to be used and taught in India, even though some Indians would like to have all Indians speak Hindi as at least a second language.

I saw an Indian movie a few years ago where the director of the film spoke afterwards. Although the film was entirely in one Indian language, the actors were frequently using English words and even sentences. The director was asked about this and he said that this was what educated Indians do. They frequently use English words and sentences, even when they’re talking to people who speak their own language.

You might also notice the code-switching between Pilipino and Tagalog in some of the TV morning news/chat shows.

Probably it’s a pigin or creole, and uses a grammatical structure and some basics from one language with an infusion of words from the other. I have several professional training tapes in my discipline that are in Hindlish.

This is what Mira Nair says on the DVD commentary for Monsoon Wedding, which I just watched last week.

As for your first point, I was simplifying somewhat, but the point I was trying to make still stands; whilst Hindi is popular, and was adopted as the language of the constitution, it was not until recently, the language of India, and to take it as a given that someone born in one part of India (apart from the places that Hindi s native to) would be fluent in Hindi was an utterly crazy idea (and even moreso amongst ex-patriates).

As for your ascertation that Hindi is the official language of government, I agree with you on that point, but as for the reasons why this should be, I do feel that Bollywood played a part; by the late 1940s, the rise of Bollywood had been so great, that more people across India did know Hindi, moreso than they would say for example Bengali. Whilst I’m not arguing that Bollywood was the only reason for the popularity of and the use of Hindi as a national language, it certainly helped and reinforced the notion.

I’ve watched quite a bit of Zee TV myself, and find that I understand about a tenth of it. When the English subtitles are on, I understand about half. (yuk yuk)

I watch it at my SO’s (Indian-born) parents’ house. Discussing a show once, I asked about the language, and was surprised when my SO’s dad told me that they weren’t speaking Hindi at all, but Hindustani. He said that, in fact, Hindustani is what is generally spoken in all Hindi shows and movies. It’s a mix between Urdu and Hindi.

Now he is fiercely proud of his Urdu-speaking region of India, so he might be biased, and I would have no idea because I don’t speak a word of Hindi, Hindustani, or Urdu.


I think some bias definitely comes into play here. In my opinion, without appealing to the different writing systems, Hindi vs. Urdu is a distinction without a difference, and Hindustani is just an umbrella which encompasses both. One might make an argument that Hindi uses Sankrit-based words and Urdu uses Persian-based words, but any speaker of colloquial Hindi will use words originating from either, and tell you they’re speaking Hindi.

Here’s a chart showing how the Hindustani sub-branch fits within the Indo-European language family and how the languages that belong to it fit underneath it:


As you can see, Hindi and Urdu fall within this sub-branch, as do two lesser known languages, Kabutra and Sansi. In fact, it’s usually said that Hindi and Urdu aren’t separate languages at all, just two highly divergent dialects of a single language call Hindustani. Presumably Kabutra and Sansi are also dialects of Hindustani too. Hindi is written in one alphabet and Urdu is written in another, but other than that there isn’t that much difference between them.

I agree with most of the points, but Hindustani & Hindi is certainly spoken heavily around the Punjab-Haryana area.

Oops, I hadn’t realised that. I thought that Punjabi would have been just as predominant? Mind you, that said, nowadays, Hindi is also spoken very heavily around my grandparents’ hometowns too…

Although the broad outlines of your post are more or less correct, the details miss the mark. Hindi is not the native language of Bombay, as other posters have stated.

It has little to do with Bollywood itself. Most Indians speak multiple languages and the tendency is to speak all of them at once (more or less).

I believe it was not until the 1970s or 1980s that the influence of Bollywood became so strong that Hindustani became popular throughout India. In the 1940s, the idea that Hindi would be the national language was very controversial, and sparked violent rebellion.

As others have noted, it’s not a mix. Urdu and Hindi are standardized dialects of Hindustani. So if you are speaking Urdu or Hindi, then you are speaking Hindustani, but if you are speaking some other (non-standardized) dialect of Hindustani, you are not necessarily speaking Urdu or Hindi.

There is a dialect continuum in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, stretching from the Northwest Frontier Province (Pakistan) to Bihar (India). It’s often not easy to delineate exactly where one “language” (say Panjabi or Hindustani) starts and where another begins.

Specifically, with regard to Panjabi and Hindustani, there seems to be a tendency for Sikh Panjabis to call their language “Panjabi” and for Hindu Panjabis to call their language “Hindi,” though they might be speaking the exact same dialect.

So, it’s not always easy to tell exactly what’s going on with language in that area.

A filipino girl in my office speaks tagalog to customers sometimes and often there is a mix of that and english. I asked her about that one time and she said there are a lot of words that don’t translate well into tagalog so so she uses english for them. That may be part of why the people on that channel do it as well.

I know. I do it myself. And since I moved to France, even French gets a look in. Imagine trying an English/Urdu/French mix… :wink:

And thanks for clarifying the details; I was posting from memory and rather hazy. And of course I should have realised the Mahrati in Bombay thing. :smack: