Contemporary Indian English

Contemporary Indian English: Variation and change. By Andreas Sedlatschek. (Varieties of English around the world G38.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. xix, 363. ISBN 9789027248985. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Susanne Wagner, Chemnitz University of Technology

This book, which has grown out of Andreas Sedlatschek’s Ph.D dissertation, offers a comprehensive corpus-based description of Contemporary Indian English (IndE). Results range from the refutation of traditional characterizations of the variety’s idiosyncrasies (e.g. IndE underuses articles because Hindi does not have articles) to the careful statement of tendencies (e.g. particle verbs show only quantitative differences, p. 160). S discusses features from a wide range of fields, from vocabulary via lexicosyntax to morphosyntax and sentence-level phenomena, covering all major areas except phonology.

After a brief introduction and a discussion of methodology and framework (Chs. 1 and 2), the bulk of the book (over 250 pages) focuses on individual features discussed in earlier work as typical characteristics of IndE. Each construction is described, analyzed in the primary corpus (a small-scale ‘early’ ICE India compiled in 2000, comprising 180,000 words) and an online corpus (domain searches across a number of Indian newspaper websites), put into perspective internationally with the help of a Google Advanced Search (by country domain), and evaluated critically in light of the corpus findings.

Ch. 3, ‘Vocabulary’ (51–148), discusses a range of phenomena, from loan words to the alleged Americanization of IndE in terms of vocabulary preferences (generally not true) and the more ‘conservative’ nature of the IndE lexicon (also too general). Ch. 4, ‘Lexicosyntax’ (149–96), focuses on particle verbs, traditionally known as an area of variation in second language Englishes. Additional case studies are provided on general complementation patterns (e.g. want that) and divergent transitivity patterns (e.g. to protest something). Ch. 5 ‘Morphosyntax’ (197–310), features both quantitative and qualitative analyses of well-known variables: articles, countable non-count nouns, concord with collective nouns, the past perfect, verb forms with since and other past adverbials, and the use of the mandative subjunctive in the VP domain.

The book shows some of the challenges in contemporary corpus-based research. For example, there was a long time lag of nine years between some of the corpus queries and publication, and ICE India was not yet available when much of the study was undertaken. Moreover, there are methodological problems with some of the web-based research. Thus, the domain .us is not representative of American English (even .gov has more sites), and the domain .in likewise has less prestige in India than .com and is probably not representative; the occasional contradictory results are not surprising (e.g. 165, 167). Similarly, the details of individual searches and search patterns are not always spelled out: for example, searches for verb patterns were mostly (but not always) run for the progressive form, although it is generally less frequent than other verbs forms; while the reason for this is obvious, it is not explicitly stated.

These shortcomings notwithstanding, S provides a very good overview of the investigated phenomena. His main result is identical for practically all areas: earlier statements tend to be too general; at the most, there are tendencies to over- or under-represent certain words and structures.