The Indian ‘No?’

One of the traits of Indians who speak the English language is using ‘no’ at the end of sentences which are questions. I do it from time to time. It is frequent for Yes/No questions where you say the entire sentence first as an assertion and at the end you put a ‘no?’ to tell the listener you’re actually asking if the statement you just made was true. For example, if you’d like to ask your friend Bob if he likes Green color, you’d say Do you like green color? I, on the other hand, would have to fight an (tiny) instinct and not say You like green color, no?

Not trying to imply we’re the only ones who do it, or that it is a super bad thing. And since it comes naturally to both the speaker and the listener, we understand each other just as well, and that is what matters in the end. But I was just wondering how do so many people make the same basic mistake.

While learning German, I notice that sometimes I try to literally translate sentences, words for words, when I’m not able to think fast enough. For example, Can you please help me? becomes Kannst du bitte helfen mir?, which is incorrect. Rule is, if there are two verbs in a sentence, the second verb is thrown at the very end. So the right way to say that is Kannst du mir bitte helfen?. But if you don’t practice, literal translation (from your native language) is what comes naturally.

I think this is what happens when we try to ask a Yes/No question as Indians. At least for me, my native languages are Hindi and Marathi. In both, an assertion for You like Mangoes would translate* to Tumhe aam pasand hai or Tula ambe avadtat. Now, Do you like Mangoes? just adds a ‘Na’ sound to the Hindi and Marathi version; Tumhe aam pasand hai na? and Tula ambe avadtat na? which, if you then reverse literal translate back to English, becomes You like Mangoes, no? (*using Hinglish and Marathlish here so that everyone can try pronouncing it).

Of course, you can say it differently in Hindi which would be similar to literal English translation, Kya tumhe aam pasand hai?, but it depends on how good your Hindi is, and the exact sentence. I honestly have no idea which one’s more correct.

So, to be honest, I’m waiting for a friend who got a little late, and decided to write this piece sitting in a park under a tree. It is kind of random, and I think I’ll find counter examples to this if I think a bit more on it. But yes, that’s it for this spontaneous article. Thank you for reading.