The Rise of Hinglish, Tanglish and Other Hybrid Languages

With everyday conversations of millennials becoming a mix of vernacular languages and English, startups in sectors such as agritech, online dating, media and entertainment are cashing in on it

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From 'Decoupled' and 'Modern Love: Mumbai' to 'Little Things' and 'Made in Heaven', many OTT Indian originals are today being written in Hinglish (a combination of Hindi and English). This addition of mixed or hybrid languages such as Hinglish, Tanglish, is primarily to attract millennials, Gen Z and GenY in India who prefer to use such languages in everyday conversations. The sectors that have tapped into this opportunity include media and entertainment, agritech, dating, among a few others. Recently, Google's digital payment app, Google Pay also introduced Hinglish into its app.

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Why Hybrid?

Mixing English language with vernacular languages is popular across cinema, advertising, text message lingo and part of everyday colloquialisms. "While outside of the United States, India has the largest population of English speakers, Hinglish has become an accepted form of communication, largely credited to the growth of millennials-led social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp. Interestingly, while Indian languages continue to have dominance in the hinterlands of the country, Hinglish has carved its way out among millennial-friendly platforms across Tier I and Tier II markets, which has a direct impact on market immersion strategies of organizations across the board," said Viral Jani, EVP and country head, India, Times Bridge.

Moreover, when global startups across categories are looking to scale in India, they target the early adopter segment and localize their offerings to suit local culture and sensibilities. That could be the reason Google Pay added Hinglish along with offering services in nine languages such as Hindi, English, Kannada, and Tamil, among others in India. "Companies are shifting their focus on hybrid languages, including Hinglish, to drive product adoption. Content and creativity-based companies in domains including social media, marketing, OTT, and others are likely to take off quickly on this trend, closely followed by mainstream organizations, to offer more relatable content for Indian audiences," added Jani.

Even for homegrown startups, offering localized solutions has become key to reaching a wider audience. With the pandemic enabling digitization, these startups are today experimenting with unique features to tap into the new opportunities in Bharat. "The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation with digital platforms enabling inclusive access for health support, education and even entertainment content. Moreover, digitization showed the path to bring economic inclusivity and resilience in sectors such as agriculture, logistics and MSME manufacturing. As Indian startups work towards building digitally-powered solutions for Bharat, service delivery in Bharat or Indic languages will be a natural way forward to drive mass adoption and usage," said Shruti Srivastava, principal, Avaana Capital.

Is Hybrid the Way Forward?

This feature will primarily benefit apps that are casual-oriented where user engagement is based on storytelling, entertainment & language-based humor content. However, companies going the mixed language or even the vernacular way may face challenges in creating a uniform user experience.

"I would think the key aspects of user experience are the biggest challenge. For instance, Tier I English users tend to rely on search but the wider audience prefers to browse and check things out through a more visual interface like video. It can be hard to have significantly different user interfaces as even the number of SKUs served up may be very different, for example in search versus browse behavior and the algorithms would be different," said Deepak Gupta, founding partner, WEH Ventures.

Brijesh Damodaran, co-founder and chief investment officer, Auxano Capital agrees. "There is little to no consistency in keyboards offering vernacular language for the users using different operating systems. The core value proposition of the vernacular or mixed language feature is good to have, but does not add to the millennials' modern needs of expecting better UX/UI. For example, if in Instagram one can get the feature of a photo being uplifted like how it gets in AR/VR then it becomes attractive for millennial users," he said. He also feels that even for rural populations the mixed language feature does not add convenience as the convenience feature has to be less complex and have easy to navigate app interface.

However, many also state that mixed language may be the way forward for the newer generation in cities. It may also become more common in platforms catering to small towns because of the reverse migration that we have been seeing after the pandemic-induced lockdowns and also because of the emergence of work-from-home options from anywhere in the country. Further, as more and more people add this new feature, we may also see startups offering a refined user experience.