It's well-established policy that English is required on Stack Exchange sites (language-specific sites aside). That policy led to the question of whether English means UK English or US English. The community decided that neither one was more correct than the other, and that it's not worth editing to change either one to the other.

The differences between US and UK versions of English are mostly confined to minor spelling differences. What happens when non-US/UK English — in practice, this generally means Indian subcontinent English — is thrown into the mix? We end up making lists of common idiomatic and grammatical errors, apparently. Until now, I have considered idioms like the ones on that list to be wrong, and have edited numerous posts to convert them to US English. Is that the right thing to do?

The heart of this question comes down to whether and when non-UK/US versions of English can be considered full dialects, equal in correctness to US and UK English for Stack Exchange purposes, as opposed to pidgins that need to be fixed. I'm hoping to not only get my specific question answered, but also to generate some discussion on how we know when a version of English is "English-y enough" or "correct enough" to be used on Stack Exchange sites.

N.B. As far as I know — and please tell me if I'm wrong — the rules of English grammar are the same in every variant of the language. That means nobody should hesitate to fix errors in grammar because of worries about dialectal differences.

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    Could you post an example of a post using Indian English? – Grace Note Oct 11 '11 at 15:35
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    I always correct grammar errors I find (unless I've feeling particularly lazy) to the best of my ability under the assumption that the rules are the same as you mention. I will, however, not change spelling due to dialect differences and will categorically reject suggested edits consisting of only those spelling changes. – squillman Oct 11 '11 at 15:39
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    They tend to get edited into UK/US English, but see the search links that Bill the Lizard provided here. – Pops Oct 11 '11 at 15:39
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    Is English the official language for any country in the Indian Subcontinent? If the answer is no, then there is no such thing as Indian English, it's just that some people who live in the area don't know how to speak or write proper English. – Marcelo Oct 11 '11 at 22:04
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    @Marcelo: English is one of the two nation-wide official languages in India (the other one is Hindi, and there are a bunch of locally official languages, too). The existence of an "Indian English" is independent of the officiality of this language, though. – Paŭlo Ebermann Oct 12 '11 at 11:13
  • @PaŭloEbermann Thanks for the information, you learn something new every day. – Marcelo Oct 12 '11 at 14:18

As someone from the Indian subcontinent (though not from India itself), I believe "Indian English" is not really a dialect in itself. For most of us in the subcontinent, English is a second language and very different from the language (or languages) that we use. So it is not surprising that what we write often has mistakes and weird idioms (usually because we are trying to translate something literally from our native tongue - ending up with something that sounds strange in English). It is just the various quirks of our native languages showing through.

IMHO, expressions like "do the needful" or using "doubt" in place of "question" are simply mistakes, and I think it is completely appropriate to correct them. Just my $0.02.

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    I'm actually surprised to see many of these associated specifically with "Indian English" as I know other non-native English speakers on the site use "doubt" that way, and use constructs like "do the needful" / "since two months" / "please sugggest me" etc. – agf Oct 11 '11 at 17:40
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    @agf: True. Shows why they are just mistakes, not a specific dialect. – MAK Oct 11 '11 at 17:43
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    @agf: indeed. "since two months" is, if I am not mistaken, common among German speakers (from seit zwei Monaten). As in Ich habe meinen Vater seit zwei Monaten nicht mehr gesehen. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Oct 11 '11 at 23:47
  • @agf: It's mostly associated with the Indian subcontinent partly because of the "surface area". For a variety of reasons, Indian engineers interact more heavily and in much greater numbers with the English speaking world than other groups that would have similar quirks (I've seen some of them in engineers from Taiwan, for example). Europeans tend to have a rather different set of quirks that are often less jarring to a native English ear. – Nicholas Knight Oct 11 '11 at 23:54
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    @PeterMortensen Also French -- "depuis deux mois". – agf Oct 11 '11 at 23:57

I tend to think things like "doubt" (for "question"), "Lakh" (for 100,000) and "Do the needful" - things that look wrong to the untrained average anglo eye - can be edited. Not because they're not perfectly fine in themselves, but because they tend to create a lot of confusion and discussion among the rest of the audience.

This should by no means be enforced aggressively or rudely, though. Just quietly edit, and maybe add a friendly comment that American / British English is the predominant form used on these sites and it should be preferred for clarity.

  • Agreed. Especially in the context of the last 2 sentences. – squillman Oct 11 '11 at 15:44
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    Personally, I find this much less problematic than people who have broken shift keys and use txtspk. – user102937 Oct 11 '11 at 15:52
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    @Robert amen to that brother – squillman Oct 11 '11 at 15:52
  • Robert yeah, absolutely. This is not a huge deal either way – Pekka Oct 11 '11 at 15:53
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    @Robert Harvey: ikr – BoltClock's a Unicorn Oct 11 '11 at 15:58
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    @Robert I find that most posts that I would correct wording on are also posts with poor formatting and my edits start as "let's make this readable and create sentences" and morph into "let's change idioms while I'm at it". – Adam Lear Oct 11 '11 at 22:07

As the (British) asker of the linked question, I am of course going to have some intrinsic bias when I say that "Indian English" isn't equal in stature to American or British English.

I think the main reason for not 'tolerating' Indian English idioms is that the differences between them and their British/American equivalents are large enough to have a completely different meaning.

One such example I used in my original question was "please suggest me", a phrase common to Indian English, it seems.

To a 'native' English speaker, this sounds rather awkward and literally means "I am the person you should suggest", rather than the intended meaning of "please suggest [a solution] to me".

Even when the meaning isn't changed, the constructs can be different enough to confuse or stall the flow of the sentence, such as "this is happening since two months" - it doesn't scan well when read, but the meaning isn't totally lost.

Meanwhile, the differences between American and Britsh English are largely confined to spelling variations and minor differences in how we name things. For example, lift/elevator; pants/trousers and pavement/sidewalk.

Brits do sometimes complain that American English has somewhat corrupted the "Queen's English" and I'll admit not all examples translate well: fanny, fag and pissed would be either 'butt', 'gay' and 'angry' (America) or 'vagina', 'cigarette' and 'drunk' (UK). But these tend to be well-known cases and rarely cause genuine consternation when used (and are unlikely to feature often on Stack Overflow!).

Let us not forget that even those who allegedly speak 'good' American or British English can be just as unintelligible when they get complacent and abuse the language by littering their posts WITH ranDom Casing, OMG txt spk LOL, "could of" instead of "could have", "it don't work :-(" and all sorts of other ugly things.

So let's all just make sure that language is used as an efficient tool for communication and if you see something that muddies the meaning or retards your reading, then get editing!

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    Your post contains numerous errors - there are many differences between UK and US sentence structure. ("We don't got that" is one US example that you would not find in UK, but there are many many others.) What is readable to very many readers might not be so clear to one other reader. I think that would call for very careful editing. Fixing spelling and capitalisation is one thing; you are correcting errors, but forcing your own particular style preference is quite another. – DanBeale Oct 11 '11 at 17:36
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    @Dan I'm not a linguist, but I'm fairly sure "we don't got that" is not a valid sentence in standard American English. And I don't think that Widor's point is to force his style upon others; actually quite the contrary if I read it right. – Pekka Oct 11 '11 at 17:39
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    @Pekka - 69million Google hits for "we don't got that" suggests that it's pretty common for a not valid sentence. – DanBeale Oct 11 '11 at 17:50
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    @Dan 69 million Google hits doen't make it valid. It's a colloquialism and perfectly fine as such, but you wouldn't get away with using it in school or at Uni. – Pekka Oct 11 '11 at 17:52
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    @DanBeale - frequency <> correctness – JNK Oct 11 '11 at 17:54
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    @DanBeale If you used "We don't got that" in a job interview for a programming position you wouldn't get the job. For this site, I think that is an adequate definition of "invalid". It also wouldn't be considered valid American English by any American who cares about what is and is not valid American English. – agf Oct 11 '11 at 18:04
  • @DanBeale If we're being pedantic, it's an invalid sentence, not a not valid sentence... – Widor Oct 11 '11 at 18:08
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    @Widor - I'm not being pedantic. I'm being descriptivist. :-) People will use "Could care less" or "we don't got that here" - so what? No-one is stopping you from editing those phrases if that's how you want to spend your time. (BTW: Weirdly, "could care less" is more common than "couldn't care" in US speech.) – DanBeale Oct 11 '11 at 18:46
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    @DanBeale Re: "Could care less", be sure to check out the YouTube link in my answer! – Widor Oct 11 '11 at 18:47
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    @DanBeale: Unless said ironically, "we don't got that" is something I only expect from a small child or an improbably stereotypical hillbilly -- something I've never encountered living in a variety of settings up and down the west coast of the US. – Nicholas Knight Oct 12 '11 at 0:10
  • @NicholasKnight - (techcrunch.com/2010/09/29/barry-diller-net-neutrality) "Telcos, et cetera, want to do, of course, what they've a lways done which is be on the...be there with a toll bridge taking tolls and controlling it. We don't got that now." Anecdote != evidence, but I heard it twice during one holiday in California. (Gilroy and Truckee.) – DanBeale Oct 12 '11 at 2:05
  • u defin8ly 4got "plZ"... Anyway, as a non-native speaker of English (and I somehow prefer UK spelling) I have serious troubles understanding "wrong" English in most cases (though in rare cases I can imagine the German source for a google translation and try to fix that then) so I'm rather grateful if a native speaker "englishfies" questions – Tobias Kienzler Oct 13 '11 at 8:08
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    @JNK and Pekka are completely and utterly wrong. Anything that's widely used by native speakers is by definition correct grammar. Take your prescriptivism elsewhere. We don't want it. – TRiG Sep 1 '12 at 15:47
  • @TRiG That's an incredibly misguided view. I'm also wondering why you are replying to comments from almost a year ago. – JNK Sep 2 '12 at 0:43
  • @JNK. (a) Try asking on Linguistics SE. You'll see I hold the majority view. (b) Why on Earth not? The question hasn't been closed. And nor is there any reason why it should be. – TRiG Sep 2 '12 at 1:12

Yes, of course Indian English has the same stature as British English or US English. It's a rich linguistic resource with at least 350 million speakers, which puts it way ahead of pretty much every other English dialect bar US English, with which it's about even.

It's the primary English variant for what is probably Stack Exchange's largest potential geographic market to expand into.

Grammar is fairly constant between different dialects of English, but not completely so. Here's a quick guide to some of the grammatical differences between British and American English, for example.

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    I think the key difference is that for the vast majority of the ~350 million speakers of American English, it's our first language. – Bill the Lizard Oct 11 '11 at 23:54
  • @BilltheLizard - pop or soda? :-) – DanBeale Oct 12 '11 at 2:17
  • @DanBeale Coke. – Pops Dec 21 '11 at 15:44

When meaning is un-clear the question, or answer, should be edited. This might involve adding a note to say that Lakh == 100,000. The dialect of English (or first language) of the poster is irrelevant.

Remember that language, especially English, is fluid and changing. A busy international website like Stack Exchange is going to see a lot of variety in English usage. Some of this will be incorrect, and will need to be fixed. Some of it will be correct to the person writing and others from their area, but ugly to your eyes. It is just rude to "fix" such writing. And once you start down the route of fixing stylistic grammar and punctuation differences where do you stop? Would you force use of the Oxford comma?

Finally, there are very many more important things to be fixed on the SE sites. There are dead URLs; there are evil URL shorteners; there are duplicates; etc etc.

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    language, especially English, is fluid and changing -- Down that road lies a slippery slope. By that reckoning, txtspk is rl english, bcuz everyone uses it lolz. – user102937 Oct 11 '11 at 22:38
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    @RobertHarvey - but the slippery slope is a long way down the road. Here everyone is clear that txtspk is not good, and that it should be edited away, as should clear errors. What's not so sure is whether a term with which I am not familiar, but which is used by millions of people, is "not real English" and should be edited away. – DanBeale Oct 11 '11 at 22:46
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    txtspk is not used by millions of people? Popular != good. – user102937 Oct 12 '11 at 1:36
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    @RobertHarvey - good != "what I'm familiar with and nothing else". Good != "only the constructions I like, and not valid alternatives with which I am uncomfortable". Things like "I have a doubt on MongoDB" should be edited not because "I have a doubt on" is wrong, but because even when 'corrected' to "I have a question about MongoDB" it is still a lousy title. – DanBeale Oct 12 '11 at 2:17
  • Sounds like you agree with me. The reason doesn't really matter to me, so long as the problem is solved. – user102937 Oct 12 '11 at 2:19
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    Funny how the most linguisitcally accurate answer given has been downvoted. Have a +1 from me. – TRiG Oct 13 '11 at 13:26

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