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Future of English Language in India


No G20 country, apart from India, promotes English at the cost of their own native language. Without India, English becomes a tribal Anglo-Saxon language.

Harish Trivedi Professor of English  University of Delhi

Harish Trivedi Professor of English University of Delhi

Just tell me …

For how long will India exclude non-English speaking from the Indian economy?

What happens to India’s investments in English education, after the death of English language? Spanish and Persian have gone that way before.

Is the stagnation and decline of Jewish and African populations related to their acceptance of foreign languages?

Looking at the issues

A recent debate on English language outlined the various sides to the linguistic choices for India.

Starting with English.

Angrezi Hatao is in effect the same slogan as Garibi Hatao. It will inevitably lead to a more just distribution of resources, opportunities and wealth. And that is precisely why all Angrezi-wallahs are hysterically against such a move.

It is often argued that India has developed and come up in the world so spectacularly because we have English. But then, how did the rest of the G-20 get there?

Fifteen of those top countries have made it by functioning almost entirely in their own mother tongue and national language. For the remaining four — the US, UK, Canada and Australia — there was no choice, for English is again their mother tongue. In a second language, the moral seems to be, one can only remain second rate.

Finally, man does not live by economics alone. Sa’adat Hasan Manto once said, “When I hear a Punjabi speaking English, I know he’s speaking a lie.” (from Yes, the have-nots will feel more equal- by Harish Trivedi, ET Debate-The Economic Times).

The Prof makes sense

So, here was this professor in English who made great sense. There are clearly three things that are important: -

One - English is the language of exclusion. And it deprives 80% of India of opportunities. It is above all, “one more marker of the have-nots.”

Two - It allows the English media and system to control the future of India – at least the debate.

Three – India needs to learn more foreign languages.

The great ‘software success story is actually two countries – US and UK who give between 70%-80% of Indian software business? This is coolie labour! We are missing out on the massive Japanese, French and the Spanish markets because we have not invested in those foreign languages.

And we have missed out on computing in Indian languages, because we have not invested there either.

Uday Prakash Leading Hindi, Writer

Uday Prakash Leading Hindi, Writer

The Hindi ‘un-thinker’

The 2nd part of the debate was from a Hindi professor. (Errata – Mr.Uday Prakash is a Hindi writer and not professor).

English, then, would have logically been perceived as the language of colonial rulers. But now, the situation has entirely changed. Hindi is now the language of sarkar, bazar and sanchar (government, market and media) and it has been monopolised by the dominant caste and religious group.

Official Hindi has become a vehicle of obscurantism, communalism, blind nationalism and, to top it all, casteism. English, in post-colonial India, has become a language of modernity and empowerment.

Poor and low caste people and minorities know that Hindi will make them naukar and English will escort them to the seat of the master. If you ask me to give a slogan now, it would be angrezi laao, desh bachao. (from No. It’s now the language of liberation by Uday Prakash).

Two things.

One - To Mr.Uday Prakash the entire debate was about Hindi vs English. Did someone remind him, that this debate is dead.

India will be multilingual. We have centuries of literature, culture, wisdom, knowledge, learning in Indian languages that we just cannot give up. The people of India, each individual will choose their language. No bureaucrat, politician, ‘intellectual’ will decide that.

Finito. Completo. Terminato. Endlich. Eindig. ändlig.

That discussion is over. What is on the plate and up for discussion is how to support Indian languages get back on their feet, reduce the role of the State and how to create skills in multiple foreign languages. And not subsidize the West.

Two - Of course, we should not expect Uday Prakash to talk about nearly 800 years of violence against Indian education system – which must be reversed. May I point out, Mr.Prakash, that the Oriya student needs help more than the elitist English speaking student.

But Uday Prakash is in cuckoo land (and he is not alone, sadly).

from left to right: T.K. Arun ( Resident Editor, The Economic Times, New Delhi), Bernd Ziesemer (Editor in Chief, Handelsblatt) and John Lloyd (Director of Journalism, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University

from left to right: T.K. Arun ( Resident Editor, The Economic Times, New Delhi), Bernd Ziesemer (Editor in Chief, Handelsblatt) and John Lloyd (Director of Journalism, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University

Great start

The third part of the discussion was the most disappointing. The post starts off with a smart paragraph,

For far too long, English and other Indian languages have been squeezed into the binary slots of an artificial, mutually exclusive choice. This is grossly mistaken. We need English and other Indian languages. And there is no contradiction whatsoever in this proposition—it has the backing of logic, international experience and pedagogy. (from When a billion Indians prosper, so will their diction by TK Arun, ET Bureau).

Data … data … data …

Which is just right. He demolished the argument of “English-is-the-universal-language of progress” – with some simple data.

The world is full of countries that have populations smaller than that of a suburb of Delhi and yet not only hang on to their distinctive languages but also prosper. In Sweden or Finland, with a population of a few million, children learn in their mother tongue. They also learn a couple of foreign languages, mostly English and German. South Korea, with a population smaller than Tamil Nadu’s, teaches its children in Korean, and has seen a spectacular rise in living standards over the last five decades.

Japan is smaller than Uttar Pradesh, in population. The Japanese have built the world’s second largest economy without too many people being fluent in English. Relatively few Chinese speak English, but China is the world’s fastest growing economy. Such examples can be multiplied.

He continues with some smart logic on how

In this land, human sounds have resonated with meaning for the last five millennia. Yet, lots of us are only too eager to dump the resultant cultural richness coded into the Indian languages that survive. Why? Colonial baggage is the short answer.

The only misstep till here was the need for Indians to learn other foreign languages. Where did that go? How did he miss that?

After clinching a sale … shut up!

Then the unpreparedness shows through.

From five millenia (5000 years) he zooms to just 500 years ago, how “Indian languages came into their own with the Bhakti movement.” Did Indians use foreign languages before the Bhakti movement? Was there no literary activity inIndian languages before the Bhakti movement?

He can’t resist giving credit to the West, and continues how Indian languages “got new vigour with exposure to western literary trends and the social churning that accompanied the freedom struggle.” What great compositions happened during the colonial era which cannot be compared to earlier eras? In fact the opposite is true!

And then jumps to how in the last 15 years, Indian languages “had to wait for the economic reforms to get a further shot in the arm— the base of prosperity expanded, and industry’s need to tap into this prosperity channelled advertising to regional newspapers, leading to a surge in Indian language publishing.”

Did nothing happen between the freedom movement and the 1991 liberalization? What great literary achievements have we seen after economic liberalization? In fact after the 1991, economic liberalization, Indians won more English language prizes (Bookers and Man prizes).

Then came the bathos

He concludes with a fantastic leap of unreason, with a maudlin and contradictory statement that “Indian languages require, thus, better teaching of English as a foreign language and social transformation that will allow all Indians, and not just a tiny elite, to globalise.”

Where did that come from?



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  1. May 12, 2009 at 3:32 am

    Sorry….Sir, I’m not ‘Professor’ by any yardstick. In fact, I’m an ‘unemployed’ freelance writer, seeking for a regular job in institutionalized Hindi world, with Gold medals , distinctions and first division degrees till date. I remind you great elites, a proverb in Hindi : ‘lohe kaa swaad lohaar se naheen, ghode se poochho, jisake munh mei lagaam hotee hai.’ (Better ask a horse about the taste of iron than the iron smith, because it’s the horse who has it all the time in his mouth.)

  2. May 12, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Dear Mr.Prakash – Firstly, thanks for responding.

    Two, I sense that you may have been offended. If the tone of this post is personally offensive, then my apologies. It is not personal against Mr.Prakash at all.

    I’m not ‘Professor’ by any yardstick.

    The TOI article did mention that you were a Hindi writer – and did not mention that you were a ‘Professor’ by any yardstick. My mistake.

    you great elites

    I will not take this personally – but very generally, which I am sure is what you mean. You are right, the English speaking are an elite – and that is something which has to be eliminated. This situation and the ‘colonial legacy’ cannot continue.

    a proverb in Hindi : ‘lohe kaa swaad lohaar se naheen, ghode se poochho, jisake munh mei lagaam hotee hai.’ (Better ask a horse about the taste of iron than the iron smith, because it’s the horse who has it all the time in his mouth.)

    What you are implying are a few things: –

    1. That this exclusive elites should be allowed to continue in their position of illegitimate power. Are you suggesting that this system should be allowed to continue – exist and prosper?

    2. Others who are desirous of benefiting from this ‘exclusion’ should learn English – and become a part of this ‘system’.

    3. Those who are gaining from this exclusion should be left undisturbed.

    4. Others who are currently not skillful in English should be allowed to languish – and the effects of this exclusion should neither be addressed or mitigated.

    5. The status quo should be allowed. The Indian State must be allowed to subsidize English language education to the extent of thousands of crores – and Indian languages should die under a watchful and active neglect.

    I, however, must respectfully disagree with this position. English has become a language of power and exclusion. Instead English must become a language of utility – along with other foreign languages.

  3. galeo rhinus
    May 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    प्रकाशजी,

    जब आप लोहा, घोडा और लोहार की बात करते है, तो ऐसा लगता है, कि आप की सोच में, यह व्यवस्था कभी बदल नहीं सकती.

    जब आप कहते है कि, “…Hindi has become a vehicle of obscurantism, communalism, blind nationalism and, to top it all, casteism. English, in post-colonial India, has become a language of modernity and empowerment.” तो आपको लगता नहीं कि इस पद्धती में बदलाव आ सकता है?

    प्रगति के नाम पर तो आप प्रगति के कठोर विरोधक लगते हो…

    लगता ऐसे है कि आपके विचार “modernity and empowerment” के प्रतिपक्ष में है.

  4. Vandersypen
    May 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    అందరకీ నమస్కారం
    (Namsakaram to All/ Greetings to All)

    I am Ph.D student in Engineering in United States and i hail from Andhra Pradesh.

    I am surprised how people project Hindi as a replacement to English.

    I come from Hyderabad and you wont believe that i can’t speak in Hindi and i DON’T WANT TO either!

    I prefer English as a ‘link’ language as it has a much larger scope and IT IS very beneficial!

    There is an ardent attempt by many in India to push Hindi down the throats of Indians under the name of national language,when in fact it is a Pseudo national language.

    I found this Hindi imposition to very repulsive even as a child (with out anyone’s influence) and i subconsciously turned towards English.

    In this regard,English will be adopted by many as a preferred link language and it will continue to enjoy good patronage.

    So i agree that English in the post-colonial India IS a language of modernity and empowerment.

    I am surprised that many in the US think that Hindi is the only language of India!!!!This is because of the central governments relentless propaganda of glorifying Hindi and neglecting all other Indian languages.

    Thus instead of imposing Hindi on non-native Hindi speakers, more emphasis must be given to providing education to students in their own mother tounge.

  5. May 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Vandersypen – Namaskaaram!

    I think you are rehashing the current debate – and you are not even using “your own words.”

    First – The Indian State is NOT imposing Hindi – but actually subsidizing English, with huge amounts of money. Asking me to choose between Hindi and English is a trick choice. The Indian State has no business in dictating choices to me at all.

    Second – The imposition of English language by the Indian State was trickery – related to the first point. By threatening to impose Hindi, they have instead forced us to accept English.

    Third – This was possibly Nehru’s worst mistake – amongst his many mistakes and not to forget his correct calls. We need to end the imposition of any language.

    Four – At the beginning of the comment you are supporting the imposition of English on Indians by Indians – and at the end you are suggesting “emphasis must be given to providing education to students in their own mother tounge.”

    Maybe if you had read the links included in the post, you would have noticed that the author is NOT suggesting the imposition of any languaage. But instead an end to this imposition!

  6. Tapan
    April 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Wonderful

  7. answertoyourquestion
    August 20, 2010 at 11:03 am

    yes. it would be gravely unfair for southies to learn hindi. kyu ki
    zo hindi ab log tv par aur film be bol rahe hai. woh parsi,arabi,turki hindi hai. sanskritised hindi nahin hai. agar sanskrit hotha tho kisi ko koyi problem nahin. it would be better if we make up a new hybrid bharatiy bhaasha.

  8. answertoyourquestion
    August 20, 2010 at 11:16 am

    i have put up a blog to teach telugu through hindi.
    because i dont want us to depend on english to communicate with other bharateey. i have just started writing the blog and it
    is very crude right now. but i wanted to do something quickly.
    i have tried to find tutorials on the net to learn tutorial of other indian languages through indian languages but found zero.
    we are connecting more with english than each other. so i started with small effort this new trend which i hope will lead into a movement that would make a new hybrid indian language to replace english.
    please visait to learn telugu
    learn telugu through hindi.

  9. A fan of your blog
    August 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    The more I read, the more I learn. You have created and collected a very rich tapestry of Indian thought. I am thoroughly enjoying digging deep into your posts on QuickTake as well as 2nd look. Its pure joy.

    On the topic at hand, I agree with your observations and this has continued to bother me over the last several years. India has a clear hierarchy of languages now, which is thus: If you are “elite”, you speak in English. The more you elite you are, the less Indian languages you use. You liberally throw in Indian colloquial yaas at the end of your sentences, which is a bastardized English form of “yaar”. If you are not “elite” and wish to be, meaning your English is not up to the mark, then you speak in Hindi. The poor local language is the only choice for the downtrodden and uneducated.

    This has been more true in the last 15 years than before. Must have something to do with globalization.

    Needless to say, I do not like this trend. We lose our local languages and cultures because of it.

    Do we really need English as the bond between different states? I do not think so. India existed and flourished before the British came knocking. We did just fine. And we did not always need Hindi for it either. We learnt each others languages to do business. We can do the same now. To think that India is competitive and flourishing because of English is a big folly and shows our subservient colonial mentality. Keep up the good work of educating your readers about who we were and what we can be.

  10. August 28, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Whatever be the arguments for & against English, one cant deny that every nation should have its national language. We missed that opportunity when our pseudo British PM, Nehru instead of making Hindi the National Language divided India (i.e. Bharat, as he used to say) into linguistic states.

  11. raj
    October 24, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    First – The Indian State is NOT imposing Hindi
    I bet you are from the cow belt region. Hindi is imposed in a lot in India. Why should Non-Hindi speakers pay for Hindi Divas? Do you know how much money was spent when India was under famine during shastri rule?.

    Anuraag Sanghi :

    Vandersypen – Namaskaaram!
    I think you are rehashing the current debate – and you are not even using “your own words.”
    First – The Indian State is NOT imposing Hindi – but actually subsidizing English, with huge amounts of money. Asking me to choose between Hindi and English is a trick choice. The Indian State has no business in dictating choices to me at all.
    Second – The imposition of English language by the Indian State was trickery – related to the first point. By threatening to impose Hindi, they have instead forced us to accept English.
    Third – This was possibly Nehru’s worst mistake – amongst his many mistakes and not to forget his correct calls. We need to end the imposition of any language.
    Four – At the beginning of the comment you are supporting the imposition of English on Indians by Indians – and at the end you are suggesting “emphasis must be given to providing education to students in their own mother tounge.”
    Maybe if you had read the links included in the post, you would have noticed that the author is NOT suggesting the imposition of any languaage. But instead an end to this imposition!

  12. Sid
    January 23, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    First, I have no problem with Hindi or Hindi speakers. I can read and speak that language. But when that language is prescribed as a medicine to all the ills of India, then there is a deep trouble. How would a tamil/Kannad/Bong/Oriya/Gujrati/Marathi/Manipuri feel about it? It is these type of language jingoism that fueled more sectarianism.
    Second, I am all for removing English everywhere only if you can provide an alternative path of all India communications and also how our generation would compete globally.

  13. galeo rhinus
    January 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Sid :
    First, I have no problem with Hindi or Hindi speakers. I can read and speak that language. But when that language is prescribed as a medicine to all the ills of India, then there is a deep trouble. How would a tamil/Kannad/Bong/Oriya/Gujrati/Marathi/Manipuri feel about it? It is these type of language jingoism that fueled more sectarianism.
    Second, I am all for removing English everywhere only if you can provide an alternative path of all India communications and also how our generation would compete globally.

    The question here is why does the imposition of English on Indians not bother you as much as the possible imposition of Hindi?

  14. January 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    First, I have no problem with Hindi or Hindi speakers. I can read and speak that language. But when that language is prescribed as a medicine to all the ills of India, then there is a deep trouble.

    I agree.

    I am proposing that the State should get out of the language business. No imposition of English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, et al.

    Second, I am all for removing English everywhere only if you can provide an alternative path of all India communications

    You are assuming that: -

    1. Before English, Indians could not communicate with each other, across India.

    2. 95% of the Indians, who do NOT use English, do not /cannot communicate with each other even today.

    3. People cannot learn multiple languages.

    Bad assumptions – all three of them.

    how our generation would compete globally

    The same way that 15 of the G20 nations, who do not use English compete in this world.

    Secondly, you are implying that before English, Indians were uncompetitive! So, how did India become a major economic power, without English.

    How?

  15. interested
    January 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Hello, this is slightly off the topic…but I was wondering what the situation was with English in India in terms of what are often called “new englishes”. I have heard that some countries are developing their own versions of English, used in informal situations, such as Singapore English for example?

    Does this occur in India too?

    Thanks

  16. January 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    some countries are developing their own versions of English, used in informal situations, such as Singapore English for example?

    Does this occur in India too?

    Higher education continues to use English extensively – much like it was during the British Raj. The Indian State supports English with billions in funding – at the cost of Indian languages.

    This leaves two sets of people struggling with English.

    One set are those English-speaking people who need to use Indian language words in English language sentences.

    The 2nd-set are Indian language speakers who end up using some popular English words in Indian language sentences.

    These efforts at overcoming stilted language development and skills is called Hinglish – using the Latin alphabets.

    PS: Actually, it is pretty similar to how English language borrowed tens-of-thousands of words from Indian languages – starting from mulligtawny in cities to the jungle.

  17. interested
    January 31, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Thank you for your response.

    I am currently writing a paper on the future of English, so any extra info on attitudes and situations is a real bonus.

    I think the scale of the English language is unreal, but like all global/lingua franca/international languages history shows they wax and wane and English won’t always be dominant.

    I suppose in out life times it will, but it will change again.

  18. A fan of your blog
    February 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Anuraag,

    There have been no new postings on your blogs for a while. I am looking forward to new postings, as always.

  19. December 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm

  20. Balakrshnan Ramakrishnan
    March 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Dear Mr.Anuraag,
    Nice post on the scenario of English education. It really will feel good to

    learn all the things in one’s own mother tongue.

    One question though: Will Sanskrit be an apt replacement for English?

    Many of the Indian languages have common structures as Sanskrit and similar words too.

    Apart from the fact that for some “sickulars” who may say imposing Sankrit will mean

    imposition of Hinduism, what are your thoughts about Sanskrit as a “link” language?

    I personally feel that the problem with Hindi is that its another version of Urdu which may be

    more local in the Northern part of India, but when it comes India as a whole, Sanskrit may

    strike a chord.

  21. March 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm
    I think your questions should be answered when we come to the bridge.

    Language is contextual. Based on economic and social realities of the time, people will make the necessary choices.

    Remember, we had powerless and penniless Brahmins who had great moral influence on the society.

    We had kings that ruled over the most prosperous region on Earth – and did not build a single palace till the start of Islamic kings.

    The world’s premier trading community did not hoard all the gold with them. And every labourer owned the land that he worked on.

    With Bharattantra, consensus comes more easily – and in time.

  22. Pinaki
    November 12, 2012 at 12:07 am


    I think your questions should be answered when we come to the bridge.
    Language is contextual. Based on economic and social realities of the time, people will make the necessary choices.
    ” –Anuraag Sanghi

    I think we’re right on the bridge and people is making their own choices.
    If we impose Hindi/Bengali/Tamil to our technological development then tell IITs/IIMs/IGNOU and all other nationalized universities to start educating science/engineering/management in all the Indian Languages not only in Hindi or English.
    Then tell your all G20 countries to create a C/C++ compiler that would tell a for loop as:
    “LIYE” in “Devanagari Akshar”, tell the manufacturers of these countries to make some scientific instruments that would read/write data in “Devanagari”,
    tell India Government to translate all the books and contents written in other foreign languages
    into all the Indian Languages.
    Basic concept is “emphasis must be given to providing education to students in their own mother tongue.” I also agree.
    If India govt. can’t afford all the things which I mentioned above then government is deliberately depriving a large non-Hindi speaking Indian race by celebrating “Hindi Divas” at the cost of public money in which non-Hindi speakers money is also involved. They are alluring people to learn Hindi by eradicating their own mother tongue which is an injustice.

  23. teena
    April 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I hail from a small village in the north of India.I taught English to a class of students in their first year of graduation.What disappointed me was that most of the students were terrible in English.To them,the basics were not clear.They couldn’t read from their texts.God knows how they managed to mugg up their answers.At that time,i prayed to God that the government must take out English from all the govt schools and colleges.The plight of these poor children failing was much more than the sawaal of our bread and butter.However the question is related to the educational inadequacies of our system n i think the space is not proper for these debates.
    2:A few young boys and girls around my house come up to me and ask me to teach them a little English so that they may create an impression on others.It is actually annoying to notice a colonial language like English to get so much attention and importance.Even if i wouldn’t possess a little knowledge of English that i do i would have felt the same because I have experienced the harsh ground realities of these small villages and towns.
    3:What captures my attention and interests me even more is to notice that women who do not even possess ‘samanya akshar gyan’ of Hindi speak many English words within the course of a sentence.This shows how deep the language has penetrated and has become one with the social and linguistic fabric of India Here ,the ambivalence arises”Is English still an alien tongue, a colonial language?”.The choice of doing away with English doesn’t even stand a chance!
    4:At my work place,people would interrupt me and say ‘mam plz stick to one language’.You speak Hindi Cum English cum Vernacular.My first language has been Hindi and because of this i have always felt lost amidst the ppl around .i think that perhaps if i had been speaking the vernacular more frequently n fluently things would have been different.To establish a common communication code around you is really important.The truth is that in a multilingual social scenario like that of India the issue of language will always remain a major problem.The irony is that we knw atleast 3 languages still we face this dilemma of conversating with ppl within the territories of our country.’3 languages and you could be the master of Europe’.

  24. April 28, 2013 at 8:07 pm
    Teena – What you are talking about are the problems related to choices that we made in the past. In 1947, after India’s independence, we needed to play catch-up.

    Yesterday

    Britain was the Super-power and America was the emerging super-power. The other super-power was France. All three on one side. Africa was still under Anglo-French rule. Most of Asia was under Anglo-French rule. India’s independence started the end of the colonial edifice.

    To do business in a world so dominated by the West, we needed English.

    Today

    Britain is irrelevant in world affairs today. France is only slightly better. US debt is equal to 400% of its GDP. The collapse of the US economy is imminent. Is it 20 years or 40 years is the question.

    In this situation, English becomes useless.

    So my question is purely business-like.

    Are we ready for the day, when English will become unimportant in the world.

  25. July 25, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Not trying to be smart here. But some points from my side

    A. I think of which language is imp for india is null and void if technology is out in place.

    B. C-DAC has come up with language softwares all one needs is to keep increasing the No of languages that can be converted from any language to any other language. Keep updating and improving. Don’t you think we have a lesser problem.

  1. July 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm
  2. August 19, 2009 at 3:14 pm
  3. August 30, 2009 at 6:08 pm
  4. January 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm

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