6 February 2012
Spotlight BRIC, Part 2: India of the social media age

In this series of articles, we will look at the group of countries known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), which have been on the global radar as some of the world’s largest and fastest growing markets, focusing on particular social and cultural trends in each of these countries.

Today, we will look at the widespread use of local English dialects as well as social media in India and what this means for the future of the country’s social media landscape.

The English language is much more deeply-rooted and has a much longer history in India than in China. It is part of the legacy of the colonial period, when India was under British administration. However, Indians have made the language their own through the use of local dialects.

Unlike in China, where English is regarded as a foreign language and the amalgamation of Chinese and English known as ‘Chinglish’ is looked down on and even banned from use in the media, Indians feel a sense of ownership and even pride towards localised versions of the language, which feature idiosyncratic phrases such as “I’ll come today itself” and “I go there thrice a week” as well as combinations of local and English words. Moreover, English has enjoyed rising popularity in India due to the economic opportunities it opens up and the social status it confers to those who are able to speak it.

Meanwhile, social media use is also on the rise. There is an estimated 35 million Facebook users in India, and the country is ranked 4th in Asia for the number of users on Twitter. Although the numbers pale in comparison to those in China, there is good potential for growth in India’s social media landscape as the country has an estimated 121 million internet users. And as mobile phones are the primary driver of Internet usage in India, this number will continue to increase with the widespread adoption of smartphones.

Both the potential reach of social media and the popularity of ‘Indlish’ in India are demonstrated by the popular reception of hit song “Why This Kolaveri Di”, which went viral on YouTube at the end of 2011. The song, sung in a combination of the Tamil language and English, has racked up nearly 40 million views on YouTube by the end of January 2012, becoming a top trend on Twitter in India as well. The song is peppered with ‘Tamglish’ catchphrases including its distinctive title (meaning “why this murderous rage” in Standard English), which has been incorporated into local slang as a phrase used to poke fun at another person’s irritation in the manner of to the English catchphrase “You mad?”

For those keen to take advantage of social media as a marketing tool in India, “Why This Kolaveri Di” also tells a forward-looking tale of the country’s nascent social media landscape. The advantages of social media marketing in India may not be as clear as in China, and the variety of languages spoken in the country, with more than 20 languages with over a million speakers, adds a layer of complexity to the matter. However, as the literacy rate climbs and as more Indians jump on the social media bandwagon, we can expect to see more and more web content in ‘Indlish’, which offers a convenient means for Indians throughout the subcontinent to communicate with each other as they interact online.

By Moses Lemuel