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It seems that speakers of Indian English often add prepositions to create phrasal verbs in situations where the verb would have been sufficient on its own.

Some examples I have noticed:

  1. to “pass out” of college (source (#2))
  2. to “discuss about” a topic (source)
  3. to be “stuck up” on a problem / in traffic (source)
  4. to “reply back” to a message (source (#5))
  5. to be “called as” a name (source (#8))
  6. to “emphasize on” an item (source (#13))
  7. to “order for” a pizza / sandwich (source (#28))

So, what is the origin of this phenomenon?


Edit: I crossed out the first example because it is not really a case where the verb would have been sufficient on its own. To “pass college” is not idiomatic. Moreover, it was pointed out in the comments that “pass out” of college sounds right to a UK native speaker.

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  • English does make heavy (and increasing) use of prepositions, but I seriously doubt many if any of your examples represent any kind of "hangover" from actual native Anglophones back in the days of the Raj / British Empire. They're just erroneously added elements that gain/retain traction because they sound "credible" (and there are relatively few native speakers around to "correct" convincing-but-mistaken variants). Aug 25 '20 at 15:17
  • @FumbleFingers Indeed they are erroneous elements, but why is there a tendency to add redundant prepositions, instead of, say, omitting prepositions which are actually needed?
    – hb20007
    Aug 25 '20 at 16:40
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    Like I said, English makes heavy use of prepositions - almost certainly more so than Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, etc. So native speakers of those languages will naturally tend to think When in doubt, add more prepositions, because from their perspective, having more prepositions makes it sound more "authentic" even when they're mistaken! Aug 25 '20 at 16:51
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    Another point. As I understand things, there are an awful lot of non-native Anglophones in India using English as a "lingua franca" (among other reasons, very likely including the fact that English has status / cachet, so may be overused inappropriately). Any given learner probably knows many people who speak English better than he does, so he'll naturally end up learning from them more than from actual native Anglophones. An environment where "non-idiomatic" forms might well go uncorrected for so long they eventually because "established" for lack of proper guidance. Aug 25 '20 at 17:22
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    There's only one of those that looks right to me as a UK native speaker and that is "pass out" of college. I'm not sure what "pass college" would mean unless it meant to skip college (a bit like "passing a question" in a quiz). In particular recruits to the military and police "pass out" of their training establishments and have a "passing out parade" when they do. All the others just sound odd.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 25 '20 at 20:36
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I was able to find some relevant studies, so I will answer my own question.

Types of Prepositional Errors

In the literature, it has been established that there are three types of prepositional errors that English Language Learners (ELLs) make: substitution, omission an addition .[1] The one addressed in this question is addition.

Many studies that have analyzed the types of prepositional errors committed by ELLs have shown that substitution is, in general, the most common out of the three.[2][3][4][5]

Addition

In the question, it was pointed out that speakers of Indian English have a tendency to commit addition-type errors. I looked at the relevant studies in order to try to determine (i) if this is actually true, and, (ii) if it is true, why does it happen?

(i) Do Indian English speakers make more addition errors?

There is evidence which suggests so. A study involving students in Tirunelveli, a city in India, showed that 63% of the errors committed by the participants were addition errors.[6] While this study only examined addition and omission errors, 63% still seems like a high number.

(ii) Why do Indian English speakers make more addition errors?

The Tirunelveli study provides some clues. The authors mention that, in some cases, the extra preposition is due to “literal translation from L1 to L2”. The study does not mention the first language of the participants. I assume it is Tamil, which is the official language of Tirunelveli.

The study provides a second clue:

Addition errors usually occur in the later stages of L2 acquisition, when the learner has already acquired some target language rules.

Due to English being used as a lingua franca in India, a point can be made that Indian ELLs, in general, are more advanced when compared to other ELLs. This implies that Indians might be more likely to erroneously add prepositions, while beginners would be more likely to omit prepositions.

There is yet another factor that could be at play, which was suggested by FumbleFingers in the comments. India’s massive size and its status as a former British colony create an environment where non-idiomatic forms might go uncorrected. A learner who hears both the correct and incorrect form might assume that the form with the extra preposition is the correct one, since, to my understanding, English uses more prepositions (especially in phrasal verbs) when compared to other languages such as Hindi.

Conclusion

The best explanation I could find, based on the evidence, is that Indians are, in general, more advanced when compared to other ELLs. This means that they are more likely to make addition as opposed to omission errors, since beginners would be less familiar with the concept of phrasal verbs and would be more likely to omit propositions. Due to the use of English as a lingua franca in India, the addition errors likely became widespread and eventually became commonplace in Indian English.

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