Table of Contents
THE BACKGROUND OF THE LANGUAGE ISSUE IN INDIA
THE LANGUAGE ISSUE TODAY
APPENDIX A Discussion Information
APPENDIX B Topics for Discussion on Language Policy in India.
APPENDIX C Excerpts from the Discussions
Note: Because this is being made available on the internet, I have changed
the original paper so that the informants' full names are not given---their
initials are given instead. I welcome feedback if anyone wishes to give
it---feel free to email me at email@example.com.
With over 900 million people and more than one thousand languages, India is certainly one of the multilingual nations in the world today. It is home to the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families, two of the world's largest. Languages of the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman language families are also spoken in India, though by relatively few people compared to speakers of the other two families. This multitude of languages reflects India's lengthy and diverse history. During the last few thousand years, the Indian sub-continent has been both united under various empires as well as fragmented into many small kingdoms. This has helped spread many common linguistic features among Indian languages without allowing any particular language to become overwhelmingly dominant. Having attained independence from the British in 1947, Indian leaders chose Hindi as the official language of India in the hope that it would facilitate regional communication and encourage national unity. They were aware of many of the difficulties inherent with instating a single language in India's multilingual environment, and they accordingly laid out a clear timeline and plan for introducing Hindi and phasing English out. Despite this planning, Hindi and English today still share their status as official languages. This is due to many unseen obstacles in addition to tactical errors made by some of the promoters of Hindi. These errors led to forceful counteractions by groups who felt that Hindi was being imposed upon them.
This situation offers an interesting case for the analysis of political and social aspects of language planning and promotion. I was first introduced to the language issue in 1993, when I formed several friendships with some Indian students at the University of Toledo. Though I had learned a fair amount of Indian philosophy while I was growing up, I was nonetheless quite ignorant of modern Indian life and national structure. Three of the Indians I knew best were from the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Orissa, and Karnataka. Curious at their excellent command of English and thinking that they would all have spoken Hindi, I asked them about their educations and was surprised to discover that they had all done much of their schooling in an English medium. When they began to explain the nature of linguistic diversity in India to me, the topic of national language came up and eventually led to several arguments between Vasu, who was from Karnataka, and K.M.K., a native speaker of Telugu from Orissa. Adamantly anti-Hindi, Vasu vehemently argued that Hindi was imposed on the southern states and that English should be the primary link language throughout India. K.M.K., though not necessarily pro-Hindi, questioned Vasu's rationale and offered counterpoints to his remarks. Rather than conceding on these points, Vasu became further agitated and argumentative. Thus, the issue was never resolved for me. I heard very compelling arguments from both Vasu and K.M.K. and wondered how I would internalize these issues if I were an Indian myself. However, like so many things which we come across in our lives, I relegated it the back of my mind and pondered over it only once in a while. From interacting with my many friends from India and from my trip there, I decided that Hindi would be the most useful Indian language for me to learn and left it at that.
My interest in the national language issue in India was rekindled during some ethnographic interviews I conducted for my Indian English research paper in the fall of 1995. Part of my line of inquiry was into how English, the language of the former imperial power, was perceived in India. Some of my informants indicated that they did not see English as symbolic of the British Raj; rather, they felt it should enjoy continued use as an official language in India. English is useful as such and it really does not take an overwhelming hold in Indian general social life except for those in the educated classes. Many Indians feel that English is no longer a foreign language-they have made it very much their own. Regarding Hindi, they indicated that regardless of its status as a national language, people communicate with whichever language or mixture of languages they are most comfortable with. They also reiterated the point that there is a great deal of opposition to Hindi in the south.
This new information still left me with only a skeletal account of what
was happening with the national language controversy in India. Unable to
synthesize the divergent viewpoints I had been exposed to from my various
contacts, I decided to make the language issue in India the focus of this
thesis project so that I could answer some of the questions on my mind.
What is the history behind the language policy? Why was it so vehemently
opposed in the south and other areas? Can India function effectively without
a common language? How important is the language issue to Indians today?
Is it strong enough to cause some states to secede? Has Hindi taken hold?
If not, will it be able to and what held it back? Finally, what might happen
in the future?
The information I have gathered to answer these and other questions has been obtained from literary, internet, and ethnographic sources. A fair amount of material dealing with the language issue in India was published prior to the mid-1980's, but after that, literary sources are somewhat scarce. Those that do exist are often based on information collected before this time. These sources were extremely helpful for understanding the history and theoretical underpinnings of the language issue. The India news servers on the internet provided very current information; however, much of it was only tangentially related to the topic.
The ethnographic phase of my research involved three taped group discussions, which altogether involved the participation of thirteen Indians residing in the Toledo, Columbus, and Detroit areas. More detailed information about these discussion participants can be found in Appendix A. Before each discussion, I stated a few rules that I wished the discussants to follow-namely, that interruptions were to be avoided, that each person's opinions were to be respected, and that I had the right to cut the discussion if it digressed too far from the topic. Apart from these rules, the discussions were basically informal. Each discussant was given a page with a list of questions (see Appendix B) which were intended more as starting points for conversation than as the end-all of my inquiry. I sometimes had to stress that whether or not every question on the sheet was discussed was unimportant and that digressions (within a reasonable limit) were more than welcome. Actually, I hoped that such digressions would elicit more sincere opinions and information than a question of mine which might potentially prompt a particular response. These discussions provided many helpful, and at times surprising, insights into the current state of language affairs in India.
The participants' backgrounds must be considered when citing their views and attitudes regarding the language issue. The discussants are all from well-educated classes and have done almost all of their upper level schooling in English. Their ages range from 23 to 29; the average age is 25.8. They are geographically diverse, coming from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. The number of languages each individual could speak proficiently ranged from two to eight and averaged 3.9 per person. Thirteen languages were represented in the three groups. Their distribution is given in Figure 1. It should be noted that Bhojpuri and Marwari were subsumed under Hindi after the 1981 Census and that Kutchi is a dialect of Gujarati. Figure 2 lists what the participants indicated as their first languages, and Figure 3 shows what they indicated as the language they most prefer to use or are most comfortable with.
From the above figures, it can be seen that this group in no way encompasses
the whole of the Indian spectrum; indeed, assembling a truly representative
group would require going to India and holding a massive conference. While
I would have liked to have had the opportunity to speak with individuals
in India who knew only one language, this simply was not possible. Regardless
of this void, the participants in the discussions, as educated Indian citizens
who have had to learn several languages for school and work, are actually
more affected by linguistic diversity than uneducated Indians who rarely
leave their home area. For my purposes, the discussion groups certainly
proved diverse enough to elicit many different viewpoints, and they were
also informed enough to speak intelligently on the topics in question.
When citing a discussant's comments in this report, I will identify the
individual and what they said followed by the topic and excerpt in parenthesis.
For example, 'Jason said "Abc xyz"(T8.E6).' refers to Topic Eight,
Excerpt Seven. The list of topics and excerpts related to them can be found
in their entirety in Appendix C. Because not every excerpt is referenced
in the body of the paper, I recommend looking through all of Appendix C
separately so that one may get a better idea of what Indians themselves
feel about the language issue.
As mentioned above, India is the home of the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families. It also contains speakers of two other language families, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman. Given in the Atlas of World Languages (Moseley and Asher 1994, p.207), the number of speakers of languages from these families in 1981 can be seen in Figure 4. Even though the Tibeto-Burman family has the fewest speakers, it boasts the largest number of languages. In 1961, the number of languages recorded in the census was as in Figure 5 (Annamalai 1994, p. 1651); however, one should be aware of the fact that the number of languages which are recognized changes after each census. This is partly because of the difficulty of deciding whether something is a dialect of another language or a related to it. Such questions have provided the basis for many scholarly debates on the relationships among languages in India. In 1961, over 190 languages were listed, which was a paring down of the 1,652 language names submitted by census takers. Many of these reductions affected languages which could claim only a low number of speakers-some as few as one or two. Later, many languages were subsumed under Hindi, and other language groups were consolidated, which ultimately decreased the number of recognized languages to 175 in 1971 and to 145 in 1981. Despite this still quite large number, the speakers of the eighteen scheduled languages recognized by the Constitution of India represent 95.6 percent of the population.
Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages extant in the world today. Westerners became interested in it after Sir William Jones "discovered" it, as it were, and then extolled its virtues at a meeting of the Bengal Asiatick Society in 1786 (Emeneau 1980, p. 25). Taking cues from Jones, linguists began looking for links between Sanskrit and other languages. This search eventually led to the classification of the Indo-European family of languages, which itself spawned many other language families such as Germanic, Italic, Anatolian, and Indo-Iranian, to name only a few. The Indo-Iranian branch split into Indic (often called Indo-Aryan), Iranian, Dardic, and Nuristani.
The oldest Indo-Aryan language is Vedic Sanskrit, which is attested to as far back as 1500 BC. It gave rise to a variety known as Prakrit in about 500 BC. Prakrit means "unrefined" or "common," a label which the language earned because of the large influence non-Aryan languages had on it. Around 400 BC, scholars, the foremost of which was the great grammarian Panini, developed a literary language out of one of the Vedic dialects and named it Sanskrit, which means "refined" or "purified" (Nayar 1969, p.31). This is now referred to as Classical Sanskrit. Although the varieties of Prakrit were eventually reduced to writing, the spoken language continued to evolve, and during the last few centuries of the first millennium AD, it became what is known as Apabhramsa, meaning "corrupt" or "vulgar" (Nayar 1969, p.32). Around the thirteenth century, the varieties of Apabhramsa finally evolved into the modern languages of the Indo-Aryan family. Languages from this group which, according to the 1981 Census of India, are spoken by more than 50,000 speakers are listed in Figure 6 (Moseley and Asher 1994, p.206; this reference used for Figures 7-9 also).
Less is known about the ancient past of the Dravidian family, though some connections with Uralic and Altaic have been posited (Asher 1994, V2: p. 1063). It is thought that from an original Dravidian language, two divisions, Andhra and Dravida, came about which together gave rise to the modern Dravidian languages. Telugu has come from Andhra; Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada arose from Dravida. Tamil and Malayalam are closely related enough that some claim they are mutually intelligible. With its great antiquity, Tamil can claim one of the oldest unbroken literary traditions of the world's living languages. A list of Dravidian languages and the populations of their speakers is given in Figure 7.
The other two language families natively present in India, the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman familes, have a relatively small influence compared to the first two. Speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages are primarily concentrated in the north-east, while those of Austro-Asiatic languages are centered more in Orissa and its surrounding areas. Figures 8 and 9 list some of the more prominent languages of these families.
Despite being the progenitor of the major north Indian languages, Sanskrit retains a somewhat pan-Indian character and is held in high regard by the majority of Indians in both the north and the south. This is largely due to extensive borrowing from Sanskrit into the Dravidian languages, mostly through the vehicle of religion in modern times, but also through general cultural interaction between the speakers of Dravidian languages and Indo-Aryan languages in times past. However, it is important not to ignore the strong possibility that Sanskrit contains many borrowing from Dravidian languages. One marked example of this is the presence of retroflex consonants in Sanskrit, a feature uncharacteristic of other Indo-European languages, but abundant in Dravidian languages (Emeneau 1980, p. 89). Sanskrit has been a dead language for many hundreds of years, yet it has remained relatively intact and unchanged since Panini's times due to religious sanctions for retaining its original character and pronunciation. Today, it is studied by many Indians for both religious and scholastic reasons as well as personal interest.
Shortly after gaining independence, the Indian government created states
based on linguistic boundaries. For the most part, each state has a majority
language which takes precedence over the many others which also exist in
the region. The official language is not always the majority language of
the state; for example, many of the north-eastern states use English for
this purpose. Others, such as Gujarat, use Hindi as their official language.
Map Two shows the majority languages of each state shaded according to
the language family to which they belong. It is important to remember that
this map very much simplifies the distribution of languages in India; nonetheless,
these languages play the biggest role in language policy in India. One
major language, Urdu, does not appear on the map. Though it is spoken by
more than 35 million people, it does not constitute a majority in any state.
Urdu actually presents a special situation in that it is mutually intelligible
with Hindi. The two are basically literary variants of the same spoken
language. Urdu has a more Persianized vocabulary and uses the Arabic script,
while Hindi has a more Sankritized vocabulary and is written in Deva Nagari
India has been home to several great empires which brought many centuries of peace to the land. Nonetheless, The Indian sub-continent has endured many conquests throughout its history. Certainly the one with the longest-lasting effect was the Aryan invasion which brought Vedic speech with it. Sanskrit, Sauraseni Prakrit, and then Sauraseni Apabhramsa served as languages of interregional communication from early times until the Muslim invasions in north India in the 13th century (Nayar 1969, p53). At this time, Persian became the court language while Sauraseni Apabhramsa continued to be used as an official language. Beginning with the Moghul emperor Akbar's reign, Persian was used as the official language and over time gained such prestige that it enjoyed continued use as the official language in north India even after the end of Muslim rule. However, during the 17th and 18th centuries, Hindi and Urdu also developed into languages of interregional communication (Nayar 1969, p. 57).
The last foreign language to hold sway in India is English, which to
this day continues to play a prominent role in Indian life. English replaced
Persian as the official language in 1837, though Persian and, to a lesser
extent, Hindi were retained in some capacity at the lower levels of administration.
English also became the language of the intellectual elite, a situation
which has been replicated in many parts of the post-colonial world. Today,
English is spoken by approximately three to four percent of the Indian
population. Although this is a minority, it is perhaps the most elite and
influential minority in India today.
Having gained independence from the British in 1947, the leaders of the new Indian nation recognized the opportunity to unite the many regions of India with a common, universal language. Mahatma Gandhi felt that this was essential to the emergence of India as a bona fide nation. He pointed out five requirements for any language to be accepted as the national language:
The task of the Indian government was an important but difficult one-not only because choosing the link language was a controversial task, also but because it would be difficult to get the public to accept any particular language. Starting years before independence, Gandhi tirelessly supported Hindustani, which is a kind of compromise between Hindi and Urdu, as the best choice for a national language. However, after the partition and the subsequent emigration of millions of Muslims, Hindu leaders in Congress saw little need for Gandhi's concessions to the Muslims. They accordingly focused on Hindi and left Urdu and Hindustani to their own fates.
Though it did not have an assured dominance over the other languages in India, Hindi seemed the clearest choice from the beginning. English, despite its prominence and somewhat even distribution throughout the nation, was unacceptable for several reasons. As the language of the colonial power which had just been ousted, English was to many a "symbol of slavery" (Nayar 1967, p.12). According to Ralph Fasold (1988, p. 182), "the former colonial language is an absolutely atrocious choice as a national language. Nothing could be a worse symbol of a new nation's self-awareness than the language of a country from which it had just achieved independence." More importantly, a foreign tongue such as English would not contribute to the national identity in the way that an indigenous one could (see T15.E1).
English also had few speakers-only about one percent of India's population.
Hindi claimed the greatest number of speakers of all the Indian languages,
and it was closely related to several of the other most widely spoken ones.
Though it was unrelated to the south Indian languages, it was also thought
that Hindi would not be entirely foreign to south Indians because of the
strong Sanskrit influence it shared with the four main Dravidian languages.
Whether or not this thinking was correct, Hindi was chosen as the official
language amidst Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's assurance that it would
never be imposed on people in non-Hindi areas.
The Constitution of India was framed with the provision that the official language of the Union would be Hindi in Deva Nagari script with international numerals (Das Gupta 1970, p. 136). Many actions were taken to aid the ascendancy of Hindi. A plan was adopted to phase out English over a fifteen year period and replace it with Hindi (by 1965). The Indian government funded associations which promoted Hindi throughout India, the most successful of which were organizations which provided Hindi instruction in the south. The government also gave money to writers, poets, and translators to produce works in Hindi. Committees were formed to "develop" Hindi in order to give it a more comprehensive vocabulary which would allow it to fulfill its official functions. The primary source for new words was Sanskrit; however, the new terminology was often unfamiliar and exceedingly long for the average person, and the majority of these words never took hold. Instead, English words or variants of them were often used (see T18.E1).
Even though Hindi was perhaps the most natural choice, there were many blocks to its achieving success as the national language. One of these was the high position of English-a position it has retained until today despite the plan to phase it out of all government communications by 1965. The desire to have an Indian language replace English was actually part of nationalist thinking since the 1920's (Nayar 1969, p. 98). However, because of English's importance internationally and the many advantages conferred upon those who could speak it, the study of English continued with even greater vigor than before, whereas Hindi suffered in many regions where people perceived little need for it. This ensured that a large section of the educated population who went into government services needed to use English in performing their jobs. Accordingly, English has merely shared its position as an official language with Hindi rather than relinquishing the role entirely.
Where English has acted as a stumbling block for Hindi, the other major
Indian languages have provided a wall. According to the Indians I talked
to, English is fine as an official language, but it could never be a national
language. However, other Indian languages, particularly Sanskrit, could
be national languages or could share the position. The major Indian languages
are all highly developed and have impressive literary traditions of their
own. People have great pride in their own languages and fail to see why
Hindi should be given a dominance which it cannot claim on its own. Even
so, it is more than just "a matter of psychological resentment, for
while this elevation of one language to the status of official language
endows great benefits and advantages on those whose mother tongue it is,
it also places a discriminatory burden on others" (Nayar 1969, p.
15). This can lead speakers of non-favored languages to push for a foreign
language as the link medium in order to neutralize this imbalance. Certainly,
this condition has helped English keep its place in India.
Because of these and other factors working against the promotion of Hindi, neither the planned changeover from English to Hindi as the official language nor the envisioned rise of Hindi as the national language occurred. Nonetheless, in 1965, in accordance with the 15-year plan, instructions were given to go ahead with the linguistic changeover. Communication between the Center and the states was to be in Hindi, except for the non-Hindi states, which would receive an accompanying English translation (Das Gupta 1970, p.236). This determination led to protests in many different regions of India-most notably in Madras. There, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) political party helped organize the Madras State Anti-Hindi Conference on January 17, 1965-little more than a week before the January 26 date scheduled for Hindi's ascent to the role of sole official language of India. The day before this deadline, students in Madras picketed with cries of "Hindi Imperialism" and "Hindi never, English ever!", beginning a two month long period of agitation and repression. During this time, sixty-six people died-two of which were members of the DMK who committed suicide by self-immolation on the street. At the same time, pro-Hindi groups in the north staged demonstrations which attacked "English imperialism" and urged the Union government to go ahead with the shift to Hindi. Because of the general lack of awareness of the ruling Congress party, the violence in Madras served an important function, according to Jyotirindra Das Gupta. In Language Conflict and National Development, he says
As in many Indian agitations, the Madras agitation made visible what the official leaders had consistently refused to see. Violence brought into the open what was seething underneath and thereby opened a way to the seeking of a solution of the problem. In this sense it performed an important political function. The manifest function of this violence was to help construct a bridge of communication between the leaders in power, who lacked sensitivity, and the sensitive people, who lacked power. …This is not to say that the Madras agitation was entirely based on violence. In fact, the magnitude of violence in the initial stage was minimal, and the acts of violence were largely products of the ruling authority's failure to establish communication with the people who had intense feelings concerning the language issue. The effect of violence was to initiate this communication and to open up the subsequent opportunities for compromise. (Das Gupta 1970, p. 240).
A compromise was worked out, but it was plagued by the equally adamant
and opposing pro-Hindi and anti-Hindi forces. In February 1965, a resolution
was passed by the Congress Working Committee which stated that the position
of English as an official language would not change unless all states consented
One of the greatest concerns of the students in Madras was that any prominent use of Hindi in the government services would disadvantage them for employment within those services. They also felt it was unfair that they would have to learn Hindi and English, whereas native speakers of Hindi would need only learn English. In response to this, the Three Language Formula of education was instated so that the educational load would be more fair. People from non-Hindi areas were to study their regional language, Hindi, and English (or another European language). Hindi speakers were to study Hindi, English, and another language. According to Kamal Sridhar (1989, p.22) in English in Indian Bilingualism, the Three Language Formula is "a compromise between the demands of the various pressure groups and has been hailed as a masterly-if imperfect-solution to a complicated problem. It seeks to accommodate the interests of group identity (mother tongues and regional languages), national pride and unity (Hindi), and administrative efficiency and technological progress (English)."
Like so many things, this was fine in theory, but it was not followed in practice. Hindi states did little to enforce this curriculum. Despite the fact that Hindi classes were not seriously taken in Tamil Nadu, the anti-Hindi DMK government in Madras decried the northern states' lack of implementation of the Three Language Formula and removed all teaching of Hindi from schools in Tamil Nadu. The Three Language Formula has proven a failure in India as a whole (Handa 1983, p.16), though in some areas, it has worked well.
As far as the teaching of Hindi is concerned, there have obviously been few obstacles to its being a compulsory subject in the north, but some areas in the south and the north-east either do not require Hindi or oppose the study of it. Map Three shows the status of various regions regarding the study of Hindi, according to Nayar 1969 (p. 223). It should be emphasized that this information is from 1969, and the situation in some states has certainly changed; for example, Hindi is now compulsory in Orissa. Two notable states should be mentioned. It would seem that West Bengal should be like any other of the states where the most prominent languages are Indo-Aryan and closely related to Hindi. However, the attitude was as greatly anti-Hindi in West Bengal as it is in Tamil Nadu. The Bengalis took great pride in their language and its rich literary tradition. They did not see why they should have to let Hindi, which they saw as less developed and refined as Bengali, have precedence over Bengali. Rather than spend time learning Hindi, they felt that their children should be allowed to study classical languages-in particular, Sanskrit. The second seemingly odd state is Kerala, which is in the deep south, yet holds very high standards of Hindi education. This is partly due to the great success of Hindi promotion organizations in this state. However, the main reason for Kerala's strength in Hindi comes from its great emphasis on education, which has made Kerala the state with the highest literacy rate in India.
The language issue in recent years has attracted much less attention than it previously did. The India-Pakistan war in 1965 pushed the language issue to the background for only a short while, but the second war with Pakistan in 1971 compounded this effect. The population explosion which began in the 1970's has become one of the foremost problems in India up to the present day. When basic human needs must be taken care of, people simply have no time to worry about such things as linguistic differences.
The DMK party in Madras gained its initial popularity and power because
of its anti-Hindi stance. It is still a prominent party today, but it no
longer relies on the language issue for votes. As Subramanium put it, "they
(the DMK) have coupled their hands with the devil." The state of Tamil
Nadu, once the bastion of resistance to Hindi, is now more concerned with
the volatile situation in Sri Lanka, among other things. However, one should
not infer from this that the language issue has been resolved-perhaps a
more accurate perspective is that it has been in stasis. Oddly enough,
it seems that in this stasis, a much more productive paradigm for language
use has emerged.
Having explored the background of the language issue, it is possible
now to explore what the current situation is and what it means to Indians
today. Even though the issue is perhaps less of an issue now, it remains
ever present in the background. The DMK recently declared that "Tamil
is the natural expression of Tamil nationalism, and the Central Government
should declare it an official language on par with Hindi and English, to
protect the identity and individuality of the language" (The Hindu
on Indiaserver, Jan. 30, 1996). In February, Tamil Nadu's Education
Minister stated that "the State Government would stand by the two-language
formula of having only Tamil and English and would defeat all efforts to
impose Hindi in any form" (The Hindu on Indiaserver, Feb. 24,
Even apart from such opinions and actions, the simple fact that most Indians still deal with a multiplicity of languages everyday ensures the continued importance of the language issue. Tensions may still rise when one uses the wrong language in some places. It is often recommended that one should not speak Hindi in south India, as N.G. reiterates, "If you try to communicate in Hindi, the people won't answer back, they'll be rude, or they'll say something. That's a common experience" (T13.E2). P.C. (unfortunately this was not taped) once had a problem on a bus in Tamil Nadu. He was unable to communicate with the bus driver in Tamil, so he tried Telugu. This failed, so he tried English. Again this did not work, so at last he tried Hindi, which angered the driver. He threatened to kick P.C. off the bus, but fortunately some people who knew both Tamil and Telugu were able talk to the driver and P.C. was able to remain on the bus.
However, the language need not be Hindi for problems to occur, as B.C. discovered in Tirupathi:
Like it happened once with me. I am not very familiar with my mother tongue (Telugu). So I'd been to this holy place of Tirupathi. I went there, and this was the time I went alone. And I didn't know how to converse with him properly. Basically, the thing out there is between Tamil and Telugu-it's a bit mixed up, you know, the dialect. So I was trying to converse with him and I wasn't successful, so I thought I'd do it in English. I started talking to him in English, and that fellow got really pissed. He was telling-like he was real mad. 'If you don't know, just get out,' or something like that. It was all for booking of a silly room. (T13.E3)
Subramanium ran into a similar problem in Bangalore (T13.E1). One should
take care not to over generalize from these isolated incidents, but they
do demonstrate that language conflict on a personal level is very real
for Indians who are away from their own regions. It is also important not
to assume that such occurrences only happen in the south, as Kota's reply,
"Same thing in the north also," (T13.E2) to N.G.'s comment reminds
Before entering a discussion on the reasons why Hindi has thus far failed, the need for a national language, etc., I would like to address the distinction between a national language and an official language. Quite simply, a national language is that which enjoys use throughout an entire nation in the political, social, and cultural realms. It also functions as a national symbol. An official language is one which is used for the operations of the government. In a word, national languages are symbolic and official languages are pragmatic. It is not uncommon for a national language to also be an official language, but it is less likely that an official language will be a national one as well.
I have used these two terms somewhat interchangeably in reference to the status of Hindi thus far in the report. This is due to the ambiguity which India itself seems to have about whether Hindi is the national language or the official language, or both. Technically, according to the Constitution of India, Hindi is only the official language. In actuality, it seems that Indian leaders at the time of independence thought of Hindi more as the national language. According to Das Gupta (1970, p.36),
If the framers of the Constitution of India took care to choose one single "official language," the status of this category has not always come out clearly in the political and social deliberations in India. A good deal of semantic confusion has persisted from the very first demands for national language during the early phase of nationalist struggle. …A lack of appreciation of the complexity governing the question of a national language in a multilingual society can be discerned in the speeches and writing of the leaders and intellectuals during this phase of Indian nationalism. These leaders rarely drew a distinction between the categories of common language, national language, and official language. They tended to use these as interchangeable categories.
Indeed, this "semantic confusion" seems to persist to the present day, for even in books regarding the language issue, one finds Hindi being referred to as both the national language and the official language. Also, while the participants in the discussions for the most part understood the difference between national and official, they still characterized Hindi as one or the other or both. This certainly stems from the way Hindi was formally labeled an official language but was simultaneously forwarded in a nationalistic manner. If it must be defined, Hindi is an official language which aspires to be national.
Some might argue that even though it is not officially recognized as
the national language, Hindi does enjoy that status. After all, it is the
most widely spoken language in India with the most geographically diverse
population of speakers. However, this cannot change the fact that vast
regions of India have little or no knowledge of Hindi, and some are quite
opposed to its dominance. As K.M.K. put it, "But south Indians, they
don't know. From their point of view, they don't care how many people speak
Hindi" (T4.E1). Francis Coulmas (1988, p. 11) quite aptly points out
that, "if language can be employed as a symbol of national unity by
a dominant group, dominated groups may, of course, exert the same logic
and make political claims based on their linguistic identity. Thus, while
the idea of a national language-ideology and its political enforcement
may be said to function as a cohesive force, the reverse is also true."
In many ways, the process of trying to make Hindi the national language
has caused more division than cohesion. It may serve as a national symbol
for some, but this certainly is not universally the case.
Why has this happened? Some are quick to point out Indian politicians and their infamous way of manipulating the uneducated masses. The entire DMK party was able to attain a prominent position by capitalizing on the language issue in the late 1960's. Other politicians used it at times when they knew it would get them votes. An interesting excerpt came out of Discussion Three regarding the influence of politicians:
K.M.K.: "Here we have so many diverse languages-each language in itself is so different from the other languages. Just for the sake of national feeling, if you try to enforce one language on all these people, they tend to revolt against it. And that creates more problem than any good it does."
N.G.: "The people who revolt are the politicians. They have the vested interests in revolting."
K.M.K.: "I agree that the politicians might be the reason. But the thing is when the politicians say that, the common masses tend to believe them. And if you are talking about real life, you have to forget who is starting the problem. I mean, just by knowing the politician is the sole reason, you cannot just strike out the fact that it is creating problems." (T8.E3)
Both K.M.K. and N.G. are absolutely right. When a politician can convince people that the dam up the river is removing the electricity from the stream and get them angered about it, he or she can easily woo them on issues of language. As N.G. says, the politicians are the instigators. However, K.M.K. is also correct in pointing out that once the people have internalized an issue, it can no longer be attributed only to political manipulations. And even though worrying about electricity being taken from the river is a ludicrous fear, concern for one's linguistic rights is certainly not. The politicians have simply pointed out something which would have become an issue sooner or later anyway.
Despite their fervor at various times, the population of uneducated and generally poor people is more pressed to take care of their basic needs when economic difficulties hit. K.K.P. says of the uneducated man: "He doesn't bother with what's happening in the world. Whatever he is doing, he is bothered about everyday food and everything. As long as he gets that he's fine-he doesn't bother about who the prime minister of India is" (T10.E2). On a side note, an accurate and cutting remark was made by one individual that the uneducated people in India are not unlike the general populace of the USA in that neither really know what is going on in the world. Sadly, I must agree.
This indifference does not allay the fact that India's uneducated population has made it possible for many inept and corrupt leaders to win political offices. They are unlikely to have acquired the analytical tools by which they can critically assess a politician's arguments, and thus they, and the rest of India with them, fall prey to the machinations of poorly chosen leaders. India celebrated the beginning of its fiftieth year of independence with some very sober reflections by its own newspapers. In the article "India looks back in despair at 50 years of self-rule" in The Times Internet Edition, Indian newspapers are quoted deriding the state of political affairs and the rampant corruption inherent in them (The Times Internet Edition, Aug. 17, 1996). Discussions about Indian politics consistently bring exasperated sighs from educated Indians who are frustrated that very few qualified individuals are elected, even to the highest offices.
Nonetheless, the language issue simply cannot be blamed on the politicians alone. Though much of the support was provided by the masses, the primary organizers of the protests in Madras were students who were concerned about students from Hindi areas gaining an undue advantage in the job market, particularly in government services. The fact that the issue exists simply cannot be a priori attributed to the blind masses following a false political cause. Many very intelligent and well-informed individuals, with good reason, are adamantly anti-Hindi.
Regarding language, one thing has caused greater division within India than vote-seeking politicians could ever have done: the fact that Hindi was imposed on regions which did not speak it. The only blame here lies with the brash promoters of Hindi who were more interested in forcing these areas to learn Hindi than with allowing them to gradually accept it first. Organized around the promotion of the Hindi language, influential associations such as the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan and the Nagari Pracharani Sabha continuously fought for the dominance of Hindi. Their prominent leaders, some of which held high political offices, tirelessly pushed for Hindi so that the decision in late 1964 was made to go ahead with the changeover to Hindi as sole official language in 1965. When various regions protested this imposition, these groups continued to apply pressure to enforce it without compromise. These overzealous people did not necessarily have ignoble intentions in mind. Actually, they had high hopes that their policies would help strengthen the nation and, through the decisive removal of English from official work, erase the stain of British rule. Nonetheless, it was agreed by almost all of the discussion participants that imposition was the fatal error which stopped Hindi from succeeding as an official language, much less a national language. Nehru himself declared in Parliament "that it was the overenthusiasm of the leaders of the Hindi groups which came in the way of the spread of Hindi" (Das Gupta 1970, p. 226). Perhaps if people had been simply encouraged to learn Hindi, it would be more widely spoken today.
Another thing which appears to have blocked Hindi was the decision after
independence to organize the states of India according to linguistic boundaries.
P.C. feels that, "If India were divided in such a way that different
regions of people have intermingling of different languages, it would have
created more harmony and understanding than what exists today. They should
have divided India with state lines, which would have removed that national
language problem today. If you have different languages spoken and intermixing
of those languages among the population, it is much easier to propagate
the national ideas" (T12.E1). S. Sood concurs with this in, bringing
up the point that if state lines had been made more arbitrarily, people
would have had more nationalistic rather than regionalistic sentiment (T12.E2).
While this may be true, whether it could have ever been done is another
matter-those infamous politicians probably would have found in it another
lucrative issue to cash in upon. However, what this division along linguistic
lines has undoubtedly done is foster a very regionalistic perspective in
the majority of the people. Perhaps the few who escape it are those who
live in the major metropolises and progressive cities.
Could another language have been chosen which would have been more acceptable? When asked what they would have chosen as the national language, most of the discussants picked Hindi. Regarding the choice of language, Ralph Fasold (1988, p. 185) states that, "The biggest problem is that there often simply is no language that a sufficiently large majority of the citizens will accept as a symbol of national identity." Hindi, despite its impressive statistics, cannot claim that majority. This means that it will always remain an imposition on a significant portion of the population.
The idea of Sanskrit as the national language came up in Discussion Three:
N.D.: "Sanskrit should have been chosen. There would have been less of all these things (problems) coming out."
K.M.K.: "If you choose Sanskrit, it is an imposition on the entire country. Now, no one would complain against that."
V.K.: "But no one could use it either."
A.: "That's a different question, whether we would use it or not. …Considering this issue, Sanskrit should have been chosen. We needn't have used it-we don't need to use it. From that could have sprung something through the passage of these years."
R.J.: "Why not choose Dutch?" (T4.E3)
Sanskrit could have very well met Fasold's challenge-as mentioned before, Sanskrit commands respect in almost every region of India. It would also be, as K.M.K. mentions, an imposition on everyone rather than on a large minority. Thus, no one could claim unfairness and no one would have an automatic advantage. Many Indians feel that the modern Indian languages, including those spoken in the south, are derived from Sanskrit (T19.E1;T19.E2). However, as V.K. notes, no one would really be able to use it-it's function would have been only as a symbol of national identity. Considering that no other language can do this, perhaps Sanskrit was and is the best choice for a national language. Rakesh's comment was meant jokingly, but it does bring up the point that when asked, every single one of the discussants who voiced their opinion agreed that the national language would have to be an Indian one. Sanskrit seems ideal provided that it is expected to serve as a symbol, not as a tool of communication.
Any other Indian language will inevitably be an imposition on one portion
of the population and not the another, thus creating the imbalance of power
that has become associated with Hindi as a national language. Of all of
them, Hindi would be an imposition on the fewest number of people. Nonetheless,
such dominance has no place in a democratic country like India. One must
accept, as Das Gupta (1970, p. 269) points out, that "given the nature
of the language situation in India, no single language community can overwhelm
all the rest." S. Sood aptly states that "you can't just force
people to do one thing. Because we have this great diverse background coming
in, you have to provide a more flexible thing" (T8.E5). Any attempts
to further enforce one language throughout India only threaten to push
the nation towards greater state autonomy or possibly break it up (see
It is here that we must depart from the assumption that a monolingual model is desirable for a nation such as India. Udaya Narayana Singh (1992, p.54), whose precise and cutting observations I will cite at length, aptly characterizes this assumption as a Western one:
In the zeal of generalizing for all language planning problems something that is true of only situations in the West, some scholars blame linguistic and cultural heterogeneity as the root cause of all developmental problems in the 'developing' countries. …Thus, we find Nuestupny claiming that a high degree of arbitrary social and 'linguistic heterogeneity' in a region is characteristic of less developed modernizing societies, whereas 'the fast growth of functional homogeneity' within a language, is associated with more developed industrialized societies.
However, we find that "the monolingual state and, by consequence, the true nation state, has always been the odd exception rather than the rule. It is by no means self-evident, therefore, why linguistic pluralism is generally regarded as a problem" (Coulmas 1988, p.12). The idea of having one nation with one language is essential a Western paradigm.
According to Singh (1992, p. 59), the monolingual approach "had its root in several factors, the most important of these being the neglect of the researchers of the developed societies towards understanding the sociolinguistic processes and pluricultural undercurrents of the third world nations." Indeed, Western researchers and decision makers too often live up to their infamous ability to adopt a paternalistic, smarter-than-thou attitude when dealing with places like India. Most never bother to try to understand the Indian way of life and how it might effect political and other policy. R.J. called attention to the importance of contrasting perspectives on the language issue in Discussion Three:
It's unfortunate, but even we look at India from our Western background and our Western perception. It is impossible to look at India with just one perspective. India is its multitude of perspectives, its diversity, and therefore, this national language can only be true in nations which have only one language, which are homogenous. It can never be true in India, so the issue is a non-issue. (T1.E7)
This is a very perceptive observation which apart from the last comment is echoed by many researchers of language policy. The issue, however, does most certainly remain an important one.
My raising the issue of monolingualism is not meant imply that the intent
of Indian leaders was to make India a truly monolingual state with Hindi
supplanting the other languages. Rather, they had the more moderate goal
of having a pan-Indian language which could be used for governing and which
the people could use to communicate with others who did not speak their
language. Even so, India's diverse population delivered a powerful message
that even this kind of national language could not rise through any sort
of official push. One thing that is important to realize about this is
that the way in which it occurred affirms the ability of the Indian democracy
to overcome the attempted use of mild authoritarian measures on its people.
Das Gupta (1970, p.270) goes as far as to say that "language politics
has proved to be one of the most important positive democratic channels
for pursuing political integration as well as political development."
While I cannot entirely agree with this, for language conflict has undeniably
caused great tension between people of different linguistic regions
and a more regionalistic perspective for the general populace, it does
emphasize the point that language diversity has provided a forum, albeit
volatile, by which the Indian nation could explore the mediation of differences
among its various regions.
To a person unfamiliar with India and Indian life, it may seem that Indians have a difficult time reaching agreements-as it may appear from the tenor of the discussion so far. However, it should be stressed that this is because the topic until this point has been primarily why things have not worked out. Actually, Indians are generally very tolerant of each other and each other's languages. This very important point was brought up in Discussion One:
S. Singh: "Probably you (in the USA) don't have a problem of so many language in a country. We are supposed to kind of live with it, with so many languages. And if we start like talking about it, so if I say, 'He is speaking Telugu." Now, if I don't put up with him, it's like chaos."
P.C.: "Tolerance is inborn, I guess, to a large extent. If you don't take isolated incidents at different parts of the history of India, tolerance is a general phenomena. You can easily see that. That is why there are so many religions that could survive, so many languages that could survive, so many cultures that could survive." (T14.E1)
It may be difficult for U.S. Americans, who have grown up in an essentially monolingual society and who have a penchant for being tragically monolingual, to fully understand this fundamental part of Indian life. As the roster of languages spoken by the discussants (Figure 1) attests, most Indians, particularly those in urban areas, grow up in a milieu of multiple languages. Simply put, having to interact with many languages does not strike most Indians as being anything out of the ordinary. It was brought up during a discussion for my report on Indian English that Indians often speak what is known as kichiri. Kichiri is dish which is made of a mixture of practically any food items available at the time of its preparation. When communicating with others, Indians will use whatever language or mixture of languages is understood by both parties, and their extensive use of code-switching has thus earned the kichiri label.
While the first inclination of U.S. Americans might be to disparage this kind of environment, they should perhaps reconsider this point of view. P.C. explains that
That is what adds flavor to life, if you have so many differences. You like colors-if you have so many colors, it is more attractive. You should have so many different things that life becomes more enjoyable. If everything is uniform and same, it'll be boring and drab, in my view. (T15.E1)
P.C. may not speak for all Indians, but most would have to admit that they appreciate the things about their region which make them unique. That the colorful linguistic spectrum of India can be positively viewed is reiterated in the news brief "Mutli-lingual ambiance can be a blessing" (The Hindu on Indiaserver, Oct. 30, 1995) :
Indian writers have to ensure that the "ambiance of languages" in which they live does not become a curse but a blessing, said Sahitya Akedemi president… By "ambiance of language" he meant that no Indian had one single language. "We speak one language at home, one language of the street, another of the province, besides the language of communication. Even while speaking, we are always translating from one language to another," he said.
Singh (1992, p.57) actually claims that "if we turn away from language planning literature, and look at the history of the western cultures, sciences, technology and economics, we see that there was an unprecedented spurt in development in each of these fields only when the monistic (monolingual) institutions and tendencies we relegated to the background." He goes on to say how "in the context of Indian painting schools and musical traditions, pluralism brought in enormous changes in both style and content." Indeed, the challenge against the monolingual "ideal" is not insubstantial.
The argument against the monolingual approach is not really against the idea itself. It deals more with the appropriateness of one model (monolingual or multilingual) against the other for a given situation. Unfortunately, most language policy makers have proceeded on the assumption that the monolingual model is the evolutionary pinnacle of language development for all nations. It is necessary to quote Singh (1992, p.57) once more:
My stated position has always been that both the condemnation of pluriculturalism/multilingualism and the idea of an evolutionary scale of language development are theories that leak in many respects. I have also shown that if there are social tensions in a multilingual community, they can be used for developmental ends rather than for subverting development. One can even go further to argue that in countries such as India we need to take a pluristic language planning strategy which may not even be in a unidirectional plan. What one has to realize is that our problems do not stem so much from plurality as from bad planning and/or execution.
Once again the blame goes to politicians-but this time the culprits
are those who implemented the initial language policy rather than those
who instigated the masses to revolt. They were not deliberately trying
to do harm. Basically, they were misinformed and they were under intense
pressure from the language associations. This combination kept them from
deciding on the more sensible multilingual model which Singh recommends,
and they thereby made a choice which could only fail.
Before proceeding further, I must first address the notion that a national language is a necessary symbol of national unity. Several of the discussants indicated that this was an important purpose of having a national language, including N.G.: "I think the function of a national language should be to bring about a national feeling-which we lack so much due to the vast diversity and everything" (T3.E3). However, this sentiment was not shared by all; in fact, it led to a lengthy argument concerning all things which could be declared "national." For example, making one religion "national" would be truly unthinkable-the conflict over language would appear quite paltry to that which would arise over this. Massive religious conflict already has risen up without one having been named as the national religion.
One might argue that language cannot be compared to religion, but neither cannot it be directly compared to things which are traditionally designated as national. As S. Singh said, "It's not like unfurling the flag or something" (T3.E1). He is joined by Jacob Mey (1988, p.46), who puts it quite emphatically: "That the national language should be a precondition for 'national' feelings makes no sense in any context. Even for believers in things national, the existence of 'multinational' states (in itself a conceptual enormity) must turn all such considerations into pumpkin meat." P.C. consistently reiterates his opinion that Indian nationalism has existed, in one form or another, for thousands of years. It is not something which came about because of the British Raj-nor did it come about because of a common language.
To Hindi's credit, it does enjoy increased use in the USA by Indians
who occasionally spoke it in India. Once they come to the USA and find
themselves a part of a minority, many Indians begin speaking Hindi much
more often with other Indians so that they can., as S. Sitaraman puts it,
"get a feeling of home" (T2.E1). Nonetheless, this is true of
other Indian languages, most notably Tamil and Telugu. For Indians outside
of the country, it cannot be said that Hindi reminds all of home. Anyway,
regardless of what happens outside, no language currently functions to
create a 'national feeling' inside of India.
Now the question of whether or not India needs a national language can be justifiably answered. From the above discussion it seems apparent that it does not. India has managed to conduct its affairs for the past fifty years with its many regional languages and two official languages. Despite the overall failure of the government and the resultant multitude of problems it has created, the lack of a common language cannot be blamed. Certainly, not realizing that declaring a national language would do more harm than good has itself contributed to the problems. The one exception to this might have been Sanskrit, but it would have only served in the symbolic sense. Personally, I might have named Sanskrit the national language (and made the study of it available but entirely optional) and then made all of the regional languages plus English the official languages. Each state government could specify which language(s) it wished to use for communications.
To be fair to those who wish they could move about India with the assurance that they will be able to talk to other people through a common medium, I will concede that the absence of a national language does cause some complications. The question now becomes, could India use a national language? The answer is, of course, yes. It certainly would facilitate mobility for those who wished to travel or take jobs in other states, which is happening more and more in recent times. Even so, many of the discussants remarked that it really is no problem to learn a new language if one needs to. S. Sood says this as a matter of fact: "If you need it, then you'll learn it. Otherwise, if you don't need, then you don't learn it" (T20.E3). Rather than being forced to learn ahead of time languages which they may or may not need, many Indians would prefer to just learn them as they need them. Even the current prime minister of India, Mr. H.D. Deve Gowda, did not begin learning Hindi until shortly after he took office. The absolute need for a common language seems less imperative in this light. The fact also remains that no matter how much it is desired by some, no language can be enforced in India, and any attempt to instate one will be met with opposition.
This does not preclude the possibility that India may one day have some manner of lingua franca which is spoken all over India. Hindi still stands a very good chance of becoming just that, but the mechanism by which this happens will not be government recognition and promotion of it. During the discussions, a reoccurring theme emerged which pointed to the tremendous influence of the economy in this respect. According to Subramanium, "The economic factor of the market should force the blending of the languages, not the government" (T6.E2). While it cannot dictate widespread language reform, the interaction of people from various regions in one workplace or market does necessitate an ability to communicate. S. Singh, who worked for several years for Tata Iron and Steel Company in Jamshedpur, offers a very good example of how this operates in some places:
What we have achieved, by way of linguistic unity, is everyone now speaks a common language, which when they came they could not. Like a Tamil who came, didn't know how to speak in Hindi-but he could learn. The language has been evolved in such a manner that everyone speaks. Then you learn. You can achieve a linguistic unity, not nation wide, but one place at a time. Then it grows. We can go to a second place, it grows. Things are much better in Andhra now. Why? It's proximity to Orissa, Orissa's proximity to northern states. Things are moving, people come, people migrate.…..Something forces you to go for linguistic unity. (T6.E2)
The language to which S. Singh is referring is "not exactly Hindi" (T6.E1); rather, it is a mixture which has a Hindi base with elements from the local language, the local dialect, other Indian languages, and English thrown in. Not adhering rigidly to some notion of "pure" Hindi makes this language easier for others to learn. And as S. Singh says, it spreads out to other areas and grows. S. Singh, P.C., and Subramanium all lamented the fact that India was a socialist country until recently (T11.E1). This held back the economy and provided little room for the sort of lingua franca which S. Singh describes to evolve.
Interestingly, economics now seems to have become the primary mechanism for spreading a common language. The beauty of this is that it is a very non-invasive way for this to occur. It may not be fast, but it is not mandated and does not constitute a direct imposition on anyone. They would learn such a language to increase their chances of employment-something most people would like to do (see T6.E3&E5). It could be simply given as an option for study and not be required as some wish had been done with Hindi. The ever changing product of this evolution would certainly be a mixture quite distinct from even the language it most resembles. It is this process to which I was referring when I said earlier that a more productive paradigm is emerging. No widespread lingua franca can be said to exist right now, but it may begin to come about as more and more Indians move about India.
Of course, such a common language may never arise. Whether or not it does should not be a tremendous concern, for as stated earlier, India does not explicitly need one. Regardless of what happens in this respect, Indian policy planners should explore the multilingual model to see how it might be best applied for India's situation. They must also uphold Nehru's promise to protect individual linguistic rights. At the very least, they must not repeat the mistakes of the past, for this will only serve to divide a nation which, while retaining its vast spectrum of languages and all of its diversity, has great potential to truly unite.
Note: I have given only the initials of the informants in this version
to protect the privacy of the informants, since this is being made available
on the internet.
My name is Jason Baldridge. I was born on January 16, 1974 in Grand
Rapids, Michigan. My first and most preferred language is English. I have
some proficiency in Spanish and have limited conversational and reading
ability in Hindi. With the completion of this thesis paper, I have fulfilled
the requirements for my B.A. Honors degree in Anthropology from the University
of Toledo. This fall, I will begin working toward my Ph.D. in Linguistics
at the University of Pennsylvania.
Discussion One was held at 11:00pm on July 30, 1996 in my apartment in Toledo, Ohio (2816 Alisdale, Apt. 203). Three individuals, P.C., S.K., and S. Singh, were part of this discussion, which lasted almost three hours (of which one hour and forty-five minutes was taped).
P.C. was born on August 31, 1969 in Andhra Pradesh. His first language is Telugu and he also speaks English and Hindi, but he has no preferred language. The medium of P.C.'s schooling has been in both Telugu and English. He has worked as a computer networks engineer for both Hewlett Packard in Singapore and Al Moayyed International Group in Bahrain. Currently, he is pursuing an M.S. in Computer Science at the University of Toledo.
S.K. was born on October 29, 1972 in Erode, Tamil Nadu and did his schooling in English medium in Madras. His first language is Tamil, but he prefers to speak English. He is now working toward an M.S. in Engineering Science.
S. Singh was born in Jamshedpur, Bihar on May 4, 1967. His first language
is Hindi, he prefers to speak both English and Hindi, and he can also speak
Bhojpuri (a language which was subsumed under Hindi in 1981). His schooling
was in both Hindi and English in Jamshedpur, Bihar and in English in New
Delhi and in Ranchi, Bihar. S. Singh worked for Tata Iron and Steel Company
Limited in Jamshedpur for four and one-half years, after which he came
to the United States and completed his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at
the University of Toledo.
Discussion Two was held at 10:00 pm on July 31, 1996 and also took place in my apartment. K.K.P.and S. Sitaraman participated in this discussion. All forty-five minutes of Discussion Two were taped.
K.K.P. was born on December 24, 1970 in Madras. Tamil is his first language, but he prefers to speak English and can also speak Hindi. He studied in English medium schools in both Madras and Bangalore. He is currently working toward an M.B.A. at the University of Toledo.
S. Sitaraman was born on November 10, 1970 in Bombay. Her first language
is Malayalam, but she prefers to speak English. She knows many languages,
including Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Punjabi, and Telugu. All of
her schooling was in English medium in Bombay. S. Sitaraman is nearing
completion of a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of Toledo.
The largest of the three discussions was held at 10:00pm on August 2, 1996 in N.G.'s apartment in Toledo, Ohio (2711 W. Central Ave, E12). Eight individual were present: N.D., N.G., R.J., K.M.K., V.K., P.P., S. Sood, and one other who has requested anonymity. Discussion Three lasted one and one-half hours, all of which was taped.
N.D. was born in Bombay on October 28, 1973. Her first language is Gujarati and her preferred language is English. She also speaks Hindi and Marathi. She studied in English medium in Bombay and is currently pursuing an M.S. in Engineering at the University of Toledo.
N.G. was born on September 24, 1971 in Bombay. Her first language is also Gujarati, but she prefers both Hindi and English. She can also speak Marathi and Kutchi, a dialect of Gujarati. All of her schooling was in Bombay in English medium schools, and she is now working toward a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Toledo.
R.J. was born on March 2, 1971 in Bombay. Marwari, which like Bhojpuri was subsumed under Hindi in 1981, is his first language, and he prefers both Hindi and Marwari. He also speaks English, which was the medium of his education throughout his life in Bombay. R.J. received his M.S. in Computer Science from the Ohio University in Athens.
K.M.K. was born in Berhampur, Orissa on March 16, 1971. His first language is Telugu, his preferred language is English, and he also speaks Hindi, Oriya, and Tamil. Kota's schooling was in English medium in Berhampur and Madras. He received his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toledo in 1994.
V.K. was born in Madras on August 13, 1973. However, she grew up in Bombay, where she studied in English medium schools. Her first language is Tamil, but she prefers Hindi or English and can also speak Marathi. V.K. is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Toledo.
P.P. was born on June 10, 1969 in Jalsan, Gujarat. Her first and most preferred language is Gujarati, and she also speaks Hindi and English. P.P.'s schooling up to higher secondary was in Gujarati medium in Cambay, Gujarat, after which she studied in English at a college in V.V. Nagar, Gujarat. She is now working toward an M.S. in Microbiology at the University of Toledo.
S. Sood was born in Jamshedpur, Bihar on September 2, 1967. His first language is Hindi, he prefers both Hindi and English, and he can also speak Punjabi. His schooling was in English medium in both Jamshedpur and New Delhi. He has received an M.S.
The last participant asked not to be identified in the report. This
person is from Bangalore and studied in English medium there. Their first
language is Telugu, and they also speak Hindi, English, Kannada, and Tamil.
In the report, this person is referred to as "A." (for anonymous).
Information given by B.C. during an interview for my previous report
on Indian English has also been used in this report. He was born in Kakinada,
Andhra Pradesh on December 8, 1972. B.C.'s first language is Telugu, and
he can also speak English and Hindi. He is currently a masters student
in manufacturing management at the University of Toledo. His contribution
comes from an interview held on November 11, 1995 in which B.C., A.S.,
S. Singh, and I were present.
It should be stressed that when an Indian says that he or she knows a language, it is usually with a good deal of proficiency, unlike the majority of U.S. Americans who study a foreign language for two years at the most. K.M.K. provides an excellent example of how a person often comes to know several languages proficiently in India. Though he grew up in Orissa, his family speaks Telugu, which he obviously acquired by default. However, because he lived in Orissa, the state language, Oriya, and the national language, Hindi, were both taught for many years. Also, due to the prominence of English worldwide, particularly in science, K.M.K. did most of his studies in English medium schools. His proficiency in both Hindi and English was boosted by his frequent attendance at movies which were produced in those languages. He has also learned Tamil out of a personal desire to be able to communicate with Tamilians. His preferred language is English, but this in no way implies that he is less capable of speaking the other languages-K.M.K. is unquestionably comfortable speaking in Telugu, and his ability to speak Hindi has been remarked upon quite favorably by persons who speak it as a first language. The same is certainly true of a great number of Indians.
I would also like to add that during this summer of 1996, I have been living in an apartment with S. Singh, B.C., and P.C.. Though our focused discussion on the language situation in India lasted three hours, we have had many other opportunities to talk about this and other issues regarding India. These discussions have been very important in helping me form more informed opinions and ideas about India as a whole than I otherwise would have. For this, and for the participation of all those listed above, I am extremely grateful. I appreciate their taking time out to help me with this project, and I hope that the discussions were as educational and enjoyable for them as they were for me. I would also like to thank K.M.K. in particular for being my host during my month-long stay in India during the winter of 1993-94 and, most importantly, for being a great friend for the past four years.
Is a national language necessary for India? Why or why not?
What functions do you feel a national language performs?
Does it need direct government backing and promotion?
Is linguistic unity, with Hindi as the lingua franca, achievable in India?
Could the language conflict ever break India up?
Must the national language of India be an Indian one?
Are some languages "better" than others?
What is the difference between a national language and an official language?
How do you feel about the leadership of people such as Nehru, Gandhi, and others in regards to the language issue and the formation of language policy after independence?
Is the Hindi which is used as the link language throughout India very different from "chaste" Hindi as it is spoken in Hindi areas? If so, how?
What are the most important reasons for one's wanting to learn Hindi?
What are the most important reasons for one's not wanting to learn Hindi?
Would you want to learn Hindi even if was not required?
Do you feel that Hindi is imposed on non-Hindi states?
Should native speakers of Hindi be required to learn another language if others are required to learn Hindi?
What do you perceive is the relation between South Indian languages and North Indian languages?
Is Hindi as foreign to South India as English is to all of India?
What are the current language requirements to gain employment into the All-India services?
Could writing Hindi in Roman script speed up the spread of Hindi?
Is the three-language model a viable educational strategy?
How would you characterize the current language situation in India? How successful has the promotion of Hindi been? How do state governments communicate with each other and with the central government?
Should English retain its current important status?
Where does English stand in the symbolic sense?
If you were to place yourself in the shoes of an uneducated Indian citizen, how might you feel about many of these issues, particularly the prominent use of English for official and governmental work?
Was Hindi the right choice at independence? Is it the right choice now?
Have you ever personally been involved in or know of a "touchy" language situation?
In your opinion, how important is the language issue today?
If you feel that the language issue is less important now than it was previously, why do you think this is so?
Are there any other questions you can think of?
Any other comments or suggestions?
This appendix contains transcriptions taken from the taped discussions.
These excerpts are organized by topic; however, one will certainly find
that many comments could have been placed under multiple topic categories.
In transcribing these excerpts, I have generally left out repeated or redundant
sentences and extraneous pause words (e.g. "um"). I should also
mention that the fact that I have extracted these excerpts here in no way
detracts from the importance of other things which were said in the discussions.
Most everything which was said-including the digressions-helped immensely
with my understanding of the topic.
"Yes. We do need a national language because there are too many languages and you cannot communicate with another person unless you have a common medium of expression."
"Going by the current situation, I don't know what the big deal
is about having a national language. Right now, a lot of south Indians
are against it. The topic of having a national language creates more problems
than it solves."
"You have your own choice about which language. If you want to
communicate with a person from another part of the country, it's his problem.
If he wants to communicate, he should learn a language which is common."
"I don't think there is a need for national language, and even
if there is a need, I don't think you can identify a language and make
everyone speak that language."
"To me the whole question of national language appears a bit silly.
This could be an exaggeration, but still I think it's kind of a far-fetched
idea. It can never work out."
"There's not much of a need in the sense of a national language
for the general public, because if you go to a different place, you get
to learn that language anyway."
"Why have a national language? What problem does it solve? Will
it solve any of the major problems we are having? It's just adding one
more-it's not solving anything."
"It's unfortunate, but even we look at India from our Western background
and our Western perception. It is impossible to look at India with just
one perspective. India is its multitude of perspectives, its diversity,
and therefore, this national language can only be true in nations which
have only one language, which are homogenous. It can never be true in India,
so the issue is a non-issue."
"If you declare it as a national language, then it's like an imposition. Don't have any national language. Then people say, 'If I want to go to Bombay, I have to learn Hindi.' He would learn. If you declare it as a national language, then he would be revolting against it. So the final thing is, don't have a national language."
"Maybe they put the stamp on [Hindi] a little to early, but that does not eradicate the need for a language which should be common. They put the stamp that this is the national language. If they had not done that at '47, forty years, I think, the entire country would have assimilated all the languages that we needed to. And now if they put the stamp on any language, there would have been less resistance. They did it a little to early."
"No, doing it would probably again create the same problems. Just
don't have anything-people will learn on their own."
"National language now? No possibility."
"When I was in India and I used to interact with my friends, we
used to never talk in Hindi at all. We used to always talk in English,
all the time. After I came here (the USA), like when we talk on the phone,
we sometimes liked to switch to Hindi just to get a feeling of home."
"See, you haven't declared a national dress, you haven't declared
a national festival, so why do you declare a national language? You haven't
declared a national religion."
"I haven't seen someone taking a procession out, 'I am very happy
with whatever I am speaking!' or someone who is expressing oneself in a
group that, 'I speak this and that is why I am proud of it.' It's not like
unfurling the flag or something."
"The problem is that each and every region or language, whatever
you take, it has a very strong history behind it-many, many hundreds of
years of history. So no one can say that, 'Okay, this language is the national
language, so I take pride in it.' Everyone feels that his own language
is as good or better."
"Considering the high degree of diversity, given so many different
languages, I think there has to be a common bond. And probably national
language should bring about that common bond. That can only happen if there
is a way it can be taught in all the states, which doesn't happen. Probably
that's the only reason there is so much of controversy over national language.
If everybody knew Hindi, then I wouldn't think there would be a problem.
"I think the function of a national language should be to bring
about a national feeling-which we lack so much due to the vast diversity
"Why not introduce Sanskrit as the national language instead of Hindi? It is older than that."
Because it's not known. At least Hindi sixty percent talk right now. That's the practicality of the situation."
"But south Indians, they don't know. From their point of view, they don't care how many people speak Hindi. They don't speak Hindi. Why not Sanskrit then?"
"A better solution might be to identify a language which nobody
knows so that everybody is on level ground."
"I would elect Hindi to be the national language if I was on the
panel (in 1947). At that time, probably they didn't know all of the problems
that would arise out of trying to make Hindi the national language. But
going by statistics, I would make Hindi-I would select it."
"Sanskrit should have been chosen. There would have been less of all these things (problems) coming out."
"If you choose Sanskrit, it is an imposition on the entire country. Now, no one would complain against that."
"But no one could use it either."
"That's a different question, whether we would use it or not. To be fair, which was needed in India. Considering this issue, Sanskrit should have been chosen. We needn't have used it-we don't need to use it. From that could have sprung something through the passage of these years."
"Why not choose Dutch?"
"Then they are not national languages anymore. A national language
should be spoken largely by people from all regions, more or less. If every
region in India speaks that language to some extent, then it is useful."
"[A national language] is necessary for uniformity. Whenever you
have different people from various parts of the country coming together,
what I have seen in my work experience-that is what I can relate to immediately-you
have different people coming together, working at one place. And where
I come from (Jamshedpur, Bihar) people of different places have come together
and have given their ideas, views. Just for uniformity's sake and for understanding
just one given problem at a time, it is always better to have a common
language, which we have developed where I come from. It's not exactly Hindi.
It is like a local language, the local dialect, someone coming from Andhra,
Tamil Nadu, everyone. If they don't know a few words of Hindi, that's fine.
English is mixed, Bangla (Bengali) comes in, some words of Punjabi come
in. Andhra guys, they have their things-like, we know, it has become a
mixture. It's not pure Hindi."
What we have achieved (in Jamshedpur), by way of linguistic unity, is
everyone now speaks a common language, which when they came they could
not. Like a Tamil who came, didn't know how to speak in Hindi-but he could
learn. The language has been evolved in such a manner that everyone speaks.
Then you learn. You can achieve a linguistic unity, not nation wide, but
one place at a time. Then it grows. We can go to a second place, it grows.
Things are much better in Andhra now. Why? It's proximity to Orissa, Orissa's
proximity to northern states. Things are moving, people come, people migrate.…..Something
forces you to go for linguistic unity.
"The economic factor of the market should force the blending of
the languages, not the government."
"If learning Hindi is going to fetch me a better job, I would love
to do that. If it is not, I don't want to learn Hindi-unless I like to
learn. At the end of the day, everyone has got to count their pennies."
"They have started realizing the value of Hindi, because a lot
of people are going out of state and working. Knowing Hindi seems to give
a better boost."
"Whatever [language] is dictated by economic terms, you would want
to learn that."
"[Karnatakans] probably identify more with Tamil guys and Telugu
guys and say, "Let's learn Tamil and Telugu because we are going to
be interacting with those guys more. Why Hindi? My business is in Andhra
Pradesh, my business is in Madras, my business is in Vizag! I want that
more than Hindi. Why do you need Hindi at all?"
"I think a government will bring more chaos into this issue. That
is what they tried to do to Tamil Nadu (force Hindi), and it totally screwed
the thing up. Now nobody is ready to take Hindi up as a second language.
It's a shame in my region if you try to learn Hindi."
"The central government should take over and they should implement
Hindi. Hindi should be taught in all schools, and from the kindergarten
level in all states, not only in the northern Indian states."
"I'm not saying that the government should push. They should make
it in a polite way so that the people understand the advantage of knowing
Hindi. They should realize what is beneficial if they want to go and work
in different state after some time, if they want to move around anywhere
in India knowing the language. Otherwise, they'll be having some differences,
not knowing the language.
"I don't see where the question of imposing or not imposing comes
into the picture at all, because [Hindi] is the nation language. You have
to accept it."
"Politicians, just for their political point of view, they say
that it is imposed upon them to learn Hindi."
"Here we have so many diverse languages-each language in itself is so different from the other languages. Just for the sake of national feeling, if you try to enforce one language on all these people, they tend to revolt against it. And that creates more problem than any good it does."
"The people who revolt are the politicians. They have the vested interests in revolting."
"I agree that the politicians might be the reason. But the thing
is when the politicians say that, the common masses tend to believe them.
And if you are talking about real life, you have to forget who is starting
the problem. I mean, just by knowing the politician is the sole reason,
you cannot just strike out the fact that it is creating problems."
"Whatever language you choose should be an imposition for everyone.
Then only will people accept."
"You can't just force people to do one thing. Because we have had
this great diverse background coming in, you have to provide a much more
"If Hindi was not labeled as a national language, what would happen?"
"Nothing. No such problems would have come out!"
"You'll have one problem less out there among the other multitude of problems!"
"And I think that more people would have known Hindi otherwise
without being told that this is the national language."
"Why is [the language issue] no longer at the forefront?
"Because the politicians found that it doesn't sell anymore."
"It's always a very sensitive issue. Nobody really wants that to
erupt. Once that erupts it's going to be very hard to contain it. Considering
how many states there and how many different languages there are, I think
that's the reason. For some reason, the national language seems to be taken
like it is the national language for the north of India-it's not for the
south of India. Which is not true. But I think it could definitely break
up India, in conjunction with other factors."
"Another thing which is a very likely scenario in the future is
more autonomy for all the states. Already, two or three states are fighting
for it. And that's a very, very big possibility in the future. Then the
question of imposing one thing nationally will not be there again. And
I think that this is also where we should really think of going in the
future. Because currently quite of few of the problems - economics and
the problem in Punjab and all that - came because of some of these things,
that there is one central force which is trying to govern the whole country."
"It'll be like, you have all these autonomous states which depend on some central things."
"But then the language portion is totally gone. No language, no nothing."
"No nation! No nation, no language!"
"That is what we are saying!"
"It is going to head for it. Whether you like it or not, it is heading for it. Already they are talking about more autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. Other states will start fighting. Tamil Nadu is already asking for it."
"And this is all over the world."
"For a commoner, who has no knowledge of these languages (Hindi
and English), it is really not going to affect him in any way. If he goes
to a government office, they have no problem speaking in Telugu. They speak
only in Telugu for that matter. There are two versions for any kind of
application forms. If you take one in Telugu and one in English, you can
choose whichever you want. That option is always given to you. So it really
does not affect for a person if he does not know English or Hindi. As long
as you know the regional language."
"So if you are not educated, you're generally not concerned?
"No. You just have too many problems of your own to think about these things."
"Because he doesn't bother with what's happening in the world.
Whatever he is doing, he is bothered about everyday food and everything.
As long as he gets that he's fine-he doesn't bother about who the prime
minister of India is."
"The only reason the politicians are able to play it (the game
of using language for political gain) is because they are playing it against
sixty percent of the population which are illiterate. They know only one
language, and they go and tell them, 'Look here, these people are trying
to take that language away from you.' So naturally, they'll revolt."
"And that's exactly what happened. Until you solve the illiteracy
problem, you can't go about imposing a language on people."
"If you talk about the rural class (in Tamil Nadu) and the people
who are not envisaging themselves in different states in the future, they
are still anti-Hindi. If you go into the rural areas, if you go into the
villages, they'll say, 'That's what the politicians say, that's what this
particular leader says and he's my god. If he says it is wrong, that's
it, and I won't learn Hindi. I won't let my kids learn Hindi.' That's it."
"It again comes back to economic progress. We had such a good new
nation in 1947, [Nehru] could have gone ahead with economic progress and
"It so happened that we have had to carry the burden of socialism
for the past forty, fifty years. It is a sad story."
"Nehru is the guy who has screwed it up. India should never have
been divided along linguistic lines, in my view. Today, there is a lot
of conflict which exists along linguistic lines mainly because of Nehru.
If India were divided in such a way that different regions of people have
intermingling of different languages, it would have created more harmony
and understanding than what exists today. They should have divided India
with state lines, which would have removed that national language problem
today. If you have different languages spoken and intermixing of those
languages among the population, it is much easier to propagate the national
"The first step to take toward a national language is to do away
with all the borders and have states just straight lines. So that then
at least you don't identify like a person with one particular language
who belongs to this particular state. Then you're not associated with any
"In Bangalore when I tried to get into a bus, I tried to speak
to him in English. I am a bit fair compared to them, so that guy thought
I was some guy from north India. He said something in Hindi, which I didn't
understand. What could I do? I talked to him in English and he was giving
me lots of attitude. I couldn't purchase the ticket directly. Then I had
to get somebody else to talk Kannada to him."
"These Kannadigas are very staunch. They are very opinionated.
They hate people from other areas."
"I don't know. I've never had problem in Bangalore."
"If you really speak with a Kannadiga, you'll have a problem. The
lower level clerks, those guys are worst. They have a staunch language
"If you're touring the south, that happens quite often. If you try to communicate in Hindi, the people won't answer back, they'll be rude, or they'll say something. That's a common experience."
"Same thing in the north also."
"Like it happened once with me. I am not very familiar with my
mother tongue (Telugu). So I'd been to this holy place of Tirupathi. I
went there, and this was the time I went alone. And I didn't know how to
converse with him properly. Basically, the thing out there is between Tamil
and Telugu-it's a bit mixed up, you know, the dialect. So I was trying
to converse with him and I wasn't successful, so I thought I'd do it in
English. I started talking to him in English, and that fellow got really
pissed. He was telling-like he was real mad. 'If you don't know, just get
out,' or something like that. It was all for booking of a silly room."
"Probably you (in the USA) don't have a problem of so many language
in a country. We are supposed to kind of live with it, with so many languages.
And if we start like talking about it, so if I say, 'He is speaking Telugu."
Now if I don't put up with him, it's like chaos."
"Tolerance is inborn, I guess, to a large extent. If you don't
take isolated incidents at different parts of the history of India, tolerance
is a general phenomena. You can easily see that. That is why there are
so many religions that could survive, so many languages that could survive,
so many cultures that could survive. The country has not split yet. It
will never split because there is a general tolerance among people."
"If I say, as an Indian, that my national language is English,
I have no identity there. If I say my national language is Hindi, I have
an identity in the sense that I am different from you. Does that differentiation
help me? I don't know. It may or may not. I need to distinguish myself.
It gives me a good feeling."
"That is what adds flavor to life, if you have so many differences.
You like colors-if you have so many colors, it is more attractive. You
should have so many different things so that life becomes more enjoyable.
If everything is uniform and same, it'll be boring and drab, in my view."
"English will take more prominence than Hindi. If you see the education
system in India today, it is all English."
"Do you perceive English as being foreign?"
"I don't mind English being an official language."
"I have no problem with Hindi. It should be there. It's something
you need. Because you don't want English, better have Hindi. How can you
not have anything?"
"I would say I learned more Hindi from movies than in school."
"That's why you have tennis as over the net, under the lights,
back and forth."
"Yeah, something like that. That has directly been translated to
Hindi (from Sanskrit). So, somehow you don't relate to that. Railroad is
something like that too-which belts out smoke, whistles, and runs on two
rails. So there is a long word for that in Hindi. In my opinion, if they
wanted to evolve Hindi, they should not have done that…It's not required.
It's so difficult to speak.
"So, in other words, if you have something simple, use it…"
"People would love to use it, why not? For example, a train is
called railghari (ghari: car, Hindi). The long name I do not myself
"The only similarity between Sanskrit and the north Indian languages,
as I see it, is the script. In Telugu, a south Indian language, you could
find as many Sanskrit words as you find them in Hindi. That is one reason
why I could pick up Hindi so easily. There were so many similar words."
"Sanskrit had a lot of influence like English is having today,
so all the languages picked up that tongue."
"Tamil comes from Sanskrit."
"But, so does Hindi. Hindi also takes its roots from Sanskrit. Its not a direct descendant of Sanskrit, but it takes a couple of its stuff from Sanskrit. I definitely think there are connections, you just probably don't see them."
"Most of the languages come from Sanskrit."
"Tomorrow if I go to France and settle there, I'll try to learn
French and get along-I don't mind."
"If somebody who is living in Tamil Nadu comes to Bombay, he will
automatically pick up some portion of Hindi which he needs to converse
with people. And if somebody from northern India goes to Tamil Nadu, he
or she will automatically pick up Tamil."
"If you need it (a language), then you'll learn it. Otherwise, if you don't need, then you don't learn it."
"You want to come to south India? You want to stay there? Learn
a south Indian language! Or speak English!"
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