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This is a region-specific question--Indian English

I have noticed when working with colleagues from India that they use the word 'doubts' where the typical American would use the word 'questions' or 'concerns'. This is most prevalent at the end of a meeting or discussion where an Indian colleague will ask "Do you have any doubts?"

I have noticed the same word being used in the same way on several StackExchange forums (I assume from Indian users) and I'm curious how this word came to be used this way in India. I don't think I've ever heard this in British English (should that be the Queen's English?), so I doubt it started directly during the colonization period.

How, then, did it come about?


Edit-clarification for some very good point already provided in answers below:

In current American English, 'doubt' could be considered to be a synonym of 'question', but the difference is that 'doubt' implies lack of belief rather than lack of knowledge.

For instance, a math teacher may explain that any number raised to the 0 power is 1. For the uninitiated it may seem counter-intuitive because raising to a power implies multiplication and any number multiplied by 0 is 0, not 1. In this case an American student might say "I have doubts", meaning "I don't believe you", rather than "I don't understand you."

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    Related: Can "doubt" sometimes mean "question"? Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 6:10
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    I believe Indians directly translated from their mother tongue into english (which is very common). In many of the Indian languages, if one has questions, the words for both "question"(prashn/saval) and "doubt"(sandeh) are used interchangeably. Also, interestingly, the prepositions used with "sandeh" would specify distinctively if there's lack of trust, or lack of knowledge.
    – insanity
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 12:38

4 Answers 4

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The use of doubts to mean questions is, AFAIK, Indian and also Spanish and Portuguese. See here for an explanation.

As I said elsewhere, saying "tengo una duda" (I've got a doubt) when putting your hand up is a common way to make a question in class for kids in Spain. It makes me wonder why English views interaction in terms of answering questions whereas Spanish (and Portuguese) sees it in terms of clarifying doubts. :-)

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    So it's as Indian as vindaloo, then. This makes a lot of sense -- the Portuguese had a pretty gold foothold in India (in Goa, in particular, which was a Portuguese territory until 1961).
    – bye
    Commented Feb 23, 2011 at 23:11
  • @Stan Rogers: That might be the connection, yes.
    – CesarGon
    Commented Feb 23, 2011 at 23:13
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    Yes -- it sounds like this is more cross-linguistic influence than a use of "doubt" native to English. Commented Feb 23, 2011 at 23:36
  • @Neil Coffey: Very possibly.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 1:43
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    To explain my previous comment: vindaloo, often called "the king of curries", originated as vindalho -- a Portuguese stew with a wine-based sauce.
    – bye
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 6:24
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I saw this answered once, but I can't remember where.

This comes from a term in the school system in India. They use the term doubts when students have questions about something that the teacher has just explained to the class. From this many students get the misconception that doubts can be used like that in other situations, and that it is a synonym to questions.

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The reason doubt is used in the reported phrases, when you would expect concerns can be explained from the origin of the word doubt.

Doubt has origin from Old French doter (doubt, be doubtful; be afraid), which derives from Latin dubitare (to doubt, question, hesitate, waver in opinion). The NOAD reports the origin is the same; the only difference is that for the NOAD the Old French words are douter (verb) and doute (noun).

Other languages use the equivalent of doubt to mean question. In Italian, somebody who talked in a meeting, or during a class can say avete dubbi? at the end of his talk to ask if somebody have questions.
In these languages, the question equivalent to do you have doubts? is used to mean do you doubt you understood what I said? as an invite to ask questions.

Another explanation of using doubt instead of concerns or questions is that the word used in the native language of the speaker is a false friend of doubt.

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    To my knowledge people in India did not learn English by first learning French, Italian, or Latin, and I don't think that British colonizers used doubt in that way, at that time.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 1:38
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    @oosterwal: I was not suggesting that.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 1:54
  • kiamlaluno: The implication is in your answer to a question of how it came to be that Indian English came to have this usage. So, can you edit your answer to complete the connection from Latin/French/Italian etc., to Indian English? Without such a verifiable connection, this isn't really an answer to the question asked.
    – bignose
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 0:50
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In the Indian schools, 'questions' and 'doubts' are perceived this way. You ask a question if you know its answer. Hence teacher asks 'question'. You ask a doubt if you do not know the answer. Hence students ask 'doubt'.

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  • Interesting insight to this phenomenon. However, I still find it awkward when someone says they have a doubt but it's merely a question they do not know the answer to.
    – JYelton
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 19:58

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