I live in southern India, and I've noticed that in a Indian English, the word "even" can be used without indicating surprise, as it does elsewhere.

Some examples:

Even you should be able to understand this.

You're not implying that someone is stupid. It simply means "You should be able to understand this too." It may even be a compliment, if you're referring to something complicated.

Even I have a Bachelor's degree.

This is not self-deprecating. Nor does it imply that having a Bachelor's degree is very common. You're simply saying "I have a Bachelor's degree as well."

Even I failed the history test.

You're not saying you're a very good history student, so it's surprising that you failed. Nor are you implying that the test was hard or unfairly graded. You're simply stating "I failed the test too."

Real example from my own life:

-Harry Potter is really popular. My sister has read all the books.

-Yes. Even I have read all the books.

My friend reads a lot of books, and it wasn't surprising that he'd read all the books. He used "even" just like one would use "also" in standard English, though with different syntax

-Lots of people play PlayStation.

-Even I play it a lot.

The second line doesn't (apart from the fact that it seems to be in agreement with the line it's replying to) say anything about the popularity of PlayStation. Again, it's using the word similarly to how standard English would use "as well", "too" or "also."

Please note that I may not understand the usage perfectly, so clarification from people who are very familiar with Indian English would be very welcome.

How widespread is this? Is it common in all of India? What about other countries?

Where did this originate?

Was it a feature of British English which has since fallen into disuse (perhaps due to insulting/boasting connotations) but remained in Indian English?

Or does it have another origin?

This is obviously something which can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings if both parties don't understand the differing connotations. (It did for me during my early months in India.)

  • 1
    Haha, nice. – Dan Bron Jun 19 '16 at 14:27
  • Quick question. How long have you been in S. India? :) – NVZ Jun 19 '16 at 14:34
  • I think it's related to the (more hedged than 'rather') self-correction marker usage ('He's a physician ... a physicist, rather/even.'). I first encountered it when someone was acknowledging the musicians after a performance ('I'd like to thank the vocalist, the guitarists, the clarinetist ... the drummer, even.'), where I took it to be meant to mean 'and certainly not forgetting', but suspected it was closer to 'whoops, I almost forgot ...'. I agree that it's better avoided, as 'even' is overworked already. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '16 at 15:51
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    @Fiksdal Correct. Btw, the origins will probably predate our Independance day. – NVZ Jun 19 '16 at 16:12
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    Since you’re Norwegian, I wonder if you’ve ever mentally connected it with Swedish även ‘also, too’, which is cognate to even (through being borrowed from Low German). Unless I’m misunderstanding your examples, ‘too’ seems like quite a close semantic match to this use of even. (Note: I’m not suggesting the South Indians got it from Swedish—that would be quite an unlikely scenario.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 18 '16 at 12:38

My first reaction was to say that even was being used with the whole clause under its scope, for scalar focus on the truth value of the proposition (paraphraseable as It's even the case that I have a bachelor's degree, etc.).

The question being updated with additional examples, I suspect that even is being to mark term-level, assertive focus, without scalar pragmatics. (paraphraseable as Speaking of people who have bacherlor's degrees, I am one of them, etc.)

See my answer on a related question for discussion about the general meaning of even (as a scalar focus particle). Further reading on scalar focus and contrastive vs. assertive focus.

I'll guess that the origin is Early Modern English even so, which meant "also". Two examples from the King James Bible (1611) and from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part I (1591).

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1Cor 15:22)

What low'ring star now envies thy estate?
That these great lords, and Margaret our Queen,
Do seek subversion of thy harmless life,
That never didst them wrong, nor no man wrong.
And as the butcher takes away the calf,
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strives,
Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house:
Even so, remorsless, have they born him hence.
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Looking the way her harmless young one went,
And can do nought but wail her darling's loss:
Even so my self bewail good Glo'ster's case
With sad unhelpful tears; and with dim'd eyes.

  • I think they use it in the way standard English uses "also". Like "Even I have a car" means "I have a car too", rather than implying that you're poor or that everyone has cars. Is that what you mean? – Revetahw Jun 19 '16 at 15:11
  • @Fiksdal I'm suggesting that Even I have a car implies that car ownership in general is not too common, or Even I failed the test implies that normally one would be expected to pass. Try posting some examples in context and SE community can take a better guess at the exact meaning. – jlovegren Jun 19 '16 at 15:30
  • OK, no, that's not how I understand the usage. I'll add more examples with context. – Revetahw Jun 19 '16 at 15:32
  • I've added more examples and context. There are also some examples in the comments here. – Revetahw Jun 19 '16 at 15:56
  • I've gotten some clarification from @NVZ, who is Indian, in the comments. From what I can tell, there is no contrastive focus. You might want to ask NVZ for clarification. – Revetahw Jun 19 '16 at 16:41

As an Indian, I hear this structure a lot among not so fluent speakers. I probably know what the origins could be. It could be because of direct translations from one's native language. Now for the moment let us focus on "too" instead of "even". Also for the record, I don't happen to know any South Indian language but maybe the structure is similar to Hindi.

Let us assume that the speaker wants to say "I too have a car"."I too have a car" and "I have a car too" despite having similar meanings in English can cause a change in meaning when translated literally.

"I too have a car" in Hindi would lead to "Mere paas bhi car hai." On the other hand "I have a car too" would imply "Mere paas car bhi hai." (bhi is roughly equivalent to too/also/even).

While the former would mean, "I also belong to the group of people having cars" the latter would mean, "Among other things that I have, I also happen to have a car."

Now coming to "even", let's look at the following sentences:

  1. I even have a car. ("too" replaced by "even")
  2. I have a car even. ("too" replaced by "even")
  3. Even I have a car.

Coming across the first sentence one would infer that the speaker is trying to say that among other things that they have, they also have a car which means it is equivalent to "I have a car too" instead of "I too have a car."

The second sentence sounds odd and is perhaps grammatically incorrect. That leaves us with the last sentence with its meaning closest to what the speaker wants to infer.

That being said, people are almost always taught NOT to use that structure in a sentence. I hope this answers your question.

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