Decrypting the Speech of Indian Americans

Rohan Ravishankar

University of Texas at Austin


The primary focus of the field of Sociolinguistics has always been to enlighten individuals on the tendencies and peculiarities that exist within the dialects of their region and around their respective nation. While it is certainly a priority to study the dialects that represent the greatest amount of usage, there is no denying that particular dialects tend to remain understudied. I set out on my current research with the intention of elucidating the peculiarities of two American dialects that have received a very sparse amount of study, Indian English and Indian-American English. While there are no doubt certain features of Indian-English that are popularly known to the general public, there have been no definitive answers to the following questions: whether or not a speaker of Indian-English is influenced by his or her native language, when exactly does an immigrant from South Asia lose these features, are there features to distinguish the speech of individuals from different countries in the Indian subcontinent, and is it possible for an Indian-American born in the United States to possess any of these features?


The main findings of my research will be summarized from two different angles: the phonetic features that were omnipresent among the speakers of Indian or Indian-American English, and the ethnographic ties to the speakers’ heritage. In addition to drawing upon the methodology and findings of previous sociophoneticians like Devyani Sharma and Lauren Hall-Lew, I have based my findings on the data collected from interviews of Indian and Indian-American English speakers. A further facet of my study is that fact that most of the speakers are students at the University of Texas at Austin, specifically Science students. While my initial method for finding speakers was “snowballing”, or interrogating friends of friends, I specifically targeted students in the Engineering school. This allowed me to provide further support to the theories that the speech of “nerds” and “jocks” is influenced by the social groups they identify with. Ultimately, my findings indicated that the speech of Indian-English speakers is indeed influenced by their native language, and that the loss of these features is relative to the time spent in the US. Furthermore, it is possible for an Indian-American speaker born in the US to have his or her speech influenced by features of Indian-English. I will use these findings in my presentation to support other theories related to linguistic variation and language contact.