Words from Indian languages

by Liz Walter
From the time the East India Company was set up by Queen Elizabeth I, England (and then Britain) has had a very close relationship with India. Although Hindi became the official language after the end of the British Raj, English is still widely used for communication between speakers of the nation’s more than 1,500 languages.

Of course, the process has not all been one way, and many words have passed from Indian languages into English, some of them so common that most people would have no idea of their origin. Shampoo, for instance, comes from a Hindi word meaning ‘to press’, and dungarees (trousers with an part that covers the chest and straps that go over the shoulders) take their name from the Hindi word for the thick cotton cloth from which they were often made. Bungalow (a house with only one level) comes from the Hindi for ‘in the Bengal style’.

Not surprisingly, many food words have passed from Indian languages into English. From Hindi we have ghee (a type of butter), samosas (triangular pastries filled with meat or vegetables), pakora (vegetables or seafood in batter), tandoori (meat cooked with yoghurt) and chutney (a type of savoury jam). Hindi also gives us kedgeree, though while the Indian dish is usually made with rice and lentils, the British version has eggs and pieces of smoked fish. Tamil gives us the words curry, mango and mulligatawny (a type of curry soup).

From Sanskrit, we have several religious concepts, for instance yoga, guru (teacher), karma (the force produced by someone’s actions in this life that influences their next life), and nirvana (a state of happiness).

Several of these words have developed more general or figurative meanings. We now use mantra (a word or sound that is repeated to help with meditation) to talk about a strong belief that someone expresses over and over again. Similarly, juggernaut, the Hindi title of Lord Vishnu, is used generally to describe something that destroys anything in its path, and specifically in British English for an extremely large lorry. Many computer game fans would be surprised to know that the avatar they create to represent themselves on-screen, comes from a Sanskrit word for the human form of a Hindu god.

Perhaps the word that has changed most of all, if not in meaning, then in what it represents, is swastika, which came from the Sanskrit for ‘welfare‘, and was regarded as a good luck symbol.

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  1. Pingback: Words from Indian languages | Tuyentranslate

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