NEW DELHI: US tech giants have turned to Hinglish – a blend of Hindi and English – to power the virtual assistants and smart speakers they are launching in India.

Amazon, which is due to ship its Echo speakers in the country this week, has reconfigured the Alexa virtual assistant to ensure a suitably local feel for users.

“We wanted our devices to talk, walk and feel Indian,” Parag Gupta, head of product management for Amazon Devices in India, told Bloomberg. “Alexa is not a visiting American, she has a very Indian personality.”

That includes using Hinglish with an Indian accent, understanding that a reference to Independence Day means August 15th and being able to add jeera, haldi and atta to a shopping list.

The accent has been an “incredibly hard skill to develop”, Gupta added.

Alphabet, meanwhile, has introduced a Hinglish-speaking Google Assistant to power Allo, its instant messaging app.

And Apple has been hiring native Hindi/Indian English speakers to craft “culturally appropriate dialog for India” for its Siri assistant; the latest operating system already allows Siri users to set its keyboard to Hinglish.

“Global companies realize that India has several populations, each the size of entire countries in Europe, that can’t be cracked open with American English,” noted Ravi Gururaj, a Bangalore-based entrepreneur and co-founder of Harvard Angels India. “They have to adapt with Hinglish.”

Microsoft was last month reported to be studying Bollywood scripts to help understand how Indians mix languages – not just Hindi and English, but also Telegu and English, and Bengali and English –in various social contexts in order to create more relevant chatbots and to enhance its own Cortana assistant.

Ultimately, the aim of all this activity is simple. “We don’t want local customers to have to change their behaviour to use our devices,” Gupta said. “We want to learn and get better over time.”

Sourced from Economic Times; additional content by WARC staff