ISSN 2454-8537

International Journal of Humanities in Technical Education, Volume 1 | Issue 1| January 2015, ISSN 2454-8537

English in India - Kapil Kapoor and R S Gupta

Kapil Kapoor

Retired Professor, Centre for Linguistics and English, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi

R.S. Gupta

Professor, Centre for Linguistics and English, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi

A lack of certainty, a certain scepticism and a certain degree of concern has always marked the attitude of the Indian intelligentsia towards English ; witness, for example , the phrases that recur in debates and declamations about English-'Indian English ' , ' English in India' , 'role of English in India ' , 'function of English in India' , etc. another set of phrases captures the changes that English has been undergoing in its used by Indians-'Indianization of English' , 'indigenization of English' ,' varieties of Indian English' , 'standards of English in India',etc. The two sets appear to coalescence and lead to the overwhelming question-'What is the future of English in India?' which perhaps is another way of asking 'what future the Indian intelligentsia would have sans English?'

For a language used by hardly three percent of India's vast population it is amazing that English has generated so much interest, anxiety and controversy. And yet it is not so amazing after all when we recognize the fact that this three percent of the population means that over twenty million Indians learn and use English, succeed through English and so have a vested interest in the continuation of English in India. It is even less amazing when we realize that this three percent constitutes India's 'elite'-people who are at helm of affairs in practically all spheres of national life and polity.

A host of people belonging to diverse profession have expressed themselves on 'the English questions' right down from the middle of nineteenth century. Scholars, journalists, political leaders, educational planners and pedagogues have addressed themselves to specific issues and taken definite positions on the spread of English in India, the form and function of English in India, the teaching and learning of English in India and the future of English in India. These studies-books, articles and public addresses-far exceed in volume and variety anything that has been written about any other language in India, and may be classified under four heads: socio-historical, structural/descriptive, pedagogical and literary. These pronouncements have had the cumulative effect of crystallizing the different dimensions and issues involved viz. (i) how English came to be introduced in the subcontinent and how it acquired its present superior status and extended functions; (ii) how English relates to major Indian languages in India's language policy, in education, in business and administrations and in mass media; (iii) how a kind of Indian English has developed which differs from standard British English in phonology, lexis, syntax and in discourse picture (iv) how English has interacted with Indian languages and influenced, in particular, their lexis and syntax; (v) how English language as the vehicle of a powerful literature has had impact on literatures in Indian language in terms of themes, forms and poetics; (vi)how a relatively modern Indian literature has grown up in English , and finally (vii)how English is linked with contemporary Indian reality-the power structure and social structure that obtain in India today

If one were to describe the structure of the situation of English in India, one could perhaps do so in terms of a functional grammar- the subject, the object, the instrument, and the event. The British rulers ('subject') used the English language ('instrument') to consolidate and expand their powerbase in India ('object'). The instrument was used to establish, enhance and sustain their political, intellectual and cultural supremacy over the natives. The instrument was employed in the setting of education and administration, the former being purportedly used to create a class of English-knowing Indians who could functions as interpreting buffers between the rulers and the ruled, as well as act as minor functionaries and emissaries for the rulers. It is perhaps ironical, though understandable, that while the British were divided over the desirability of initiating the natives into the mystic of the English language, the native Indians themselves demanded that they be taught English and given western education, thereby giving early evidence of Indians' all-too-ready willingness to cut themselves adrift from their own self for the sake of immediate gain. The process of English education, having once begun, brought in its wake the inevitable sequence-from the king to the court to administration to education and thence to literature and culture and to the drawing-rooms of the privileged few. This was exactly the path that Persian and Arabic had followed earlier in India, and Arabic had followed earlier in India, and latin and French had followed in an earlier-day England. The British employed the instrument methodically and purposefully and succeeded in.

  • Creating a well-define an easily recognizable class of English-knowing natives,
  • Distancing themselves from the large masses of non-English knowing people and, most importantly,
  • Creating a division between the English-knowing natives and the non-English-knowing masses, thus creating, as it were, two nations within one.

In the event, the Indian society which has already been riven along several parameters now had one more divisive element to contend with. The division, based on once access to English, tide in beautifully with multi-layered, hierarchical pattern of Indian society which not only accepted the new division but set about rather energetically to perpetuate, so much so that forty years after the departure of British, the knowledge of English has become the major dividing line between the haves and the have-nots. It is interesting to see how the multi-level Indian society thrives and sustain itself on the same 'myth' of the inherit power and the superiority if English that the British 'traders-invaders-rulers' had believed in and cultivated.

A look at the multi level setup in any sphere of our national life would show that English appears right at the top. A brief survey of the sphere of education revels that the lowest level of primary/basic education fifty-two languages are used as medium of instructions. This number is progressively reduced as we move upwards along the education ladder till we are left with twelve languages that are used as medium of instruction at the under graduate level. As one move to the post-MA courses and the institutes of science and technology, on finds that the only medium of instruction that remains is English. Thus, we have a kind of pyramidical structure where native Indian languages are progressively eliminated at each successive level as one moves upwards, till the apex is reached where there is room only for English. The same is true in the sphere of legal administration and the court of justice: we have vernaculars (regional Indian languages or state language) being used in lower courts, English and state-languages being used the higher courts (even here the judgements are delivered in English), and only English being used in supreme court-by the litigants, the advocates and the judge for the plaints, arguments and judgements. As a matter of fact, while the constitutional status of English is that of associate official language, and Hindi and other regional languages are designated as national official language and state official languages respectively, it is English that is ipso facto the language of education, administration, law and justice at the highest level. Has this situation come about or has it been brought about? A similar multi-level function allocation of languages can be seen in individual behavior too. A multi-lingual educated Indian (meaning thereby an Indian ' English -knowing Indian ) uses his native mother -dialect with close relatives and in intimate family circles, he uses the major regional language while interacting with the 'ordinary folk', acquaintances, vendors and traders, but when he enters a deluxe super-market or the lobby of a five star hotel he uses English. If he travels by bus or by ordinary railway coach he uses one of the regional languages, but when he travels first-class or on a plane he uses English and nothing but English

Thus , in the course of its spread English has been transformed for the people foe whom it was originally an alien language, as it is argued, into their 'own' language of inter-regional communication, a link language, a lingua franca, a language of education and culture and the language of power and social control. It has thus outstripped not only 1652 native Indian mother-tongues, not only 15 major Indians languages listed in the VII scheduled of the Indian constitutes , but also Hindi which is the language of vast majority of Indians, and also the National Official Language. The language of the 'babus' has come a long way. It is now the language of the elite. It has become the source and token of prestige, power, success and social superiority. No major Indian language today has the same 'paying potential' as English in every sphere of life: in trade and in commerce, in administration, in education and in science and technology. Everywhere the highest echelons are mannered by those who wield English, and in order to enter these 'hollowed upper reaches' one must possess a particular command of , and fluency, in English. The mystique of English has created yet another class of people in India - of the toddlers and the youth who struggle to learn English, who are cagoled and cudgeled by their parents, guardians and sponsors as well as by their own driving ambitions to learn English. The situation (the'event'of our functional grammar) can be simply stated thus: you cannot become a doctor a scientist a technocrat, a top level business executive or a high ranking bureaucrat if you do no know English. Time was when English was referred to as the 'window to the world'. Now English is simply and unequivocally to continue the metaphor, the door that opens out and success and social control.

However there are also signs that the great monolith is developing cracks. In recently years these cracks have appeared and widened. The cracks refer to newly emerging evidence in education that the insistence of English is gradually decreasing. Post- graduate studies in humanities and social sciences as well as, in the agriculture sciences are now possible through the medium of some of the major Indian languages; it is now possible to compete for and enter the Indian Administrative services without having to meet compulsory standards in English; middle-level jobs in commerce and industry are opening up for those who know little or no English. There is another way in which the cracks in monolith are surfacing. Those who wield power in mass-media are fast becoming aware of the vast potential of Indian languages, culture, folk-lore and mythology which are exploding across the small-screen, in comic strips through children's literature. The English-knowing elite in the business of mass-communication are going back to the Indian roots and this trend, if it continues, will bring about sure change in the Indian psyche and erode other power-base of English in due course of time. In this connection it is interesting to note that Jawaharlal Nehru's "the discovery of India" which was originally written in English, has in 1989 been bringing lessons in Indian history to millions of T.V viewers in Hindi. We think this signifies much more than a telecast in Hindi of a book originally written in English; it means a rediscovery of Indian history, Indian values, Indian ethos and reassertion of Indian identity, as well as, an affirmation of faith in the living Indian languages. This is significant, particularly so in a set-up where English newspapers, English journals and, indeed, anything printed in English is automatically unquestioningly taken as being somehow more authentic, more reliable, more unbiased and more 'sensible'. There are, thus, indications that the Indian languages will soon emerge and rightfully, assert their claim not only to parity with English, but as potentially viable alternatives.

While the spread of English in India and its extended domains of uses are natural consequences of the given historical process, its importance has been blown out of all proportion by various education commissions and commities of educationists and planners who, in their sage pronnouncments, have seemed to equate English with learning and a knowledge of English with excellence in education. These recommendations and pronnouncments have had the effect of making it incumbent on every aspirant to a university degree to pass a least a qualifying public examinations in English. An idea of the governmental support to English can be had from the following facts. There are in India three central institutes for languages; Central institute of Indian languages (Mysore), Central Hindi institute (Agra) and central institute of English and foreign languages (Hyderabad). The three institutes and their names reflect the official recognition of the special status and importance of English. While one institute is devoted entirely to Hindi, and one looks after all Indian languages other than Hindi, the third institute is meant primarily for English and only secondary to some foreign languages. For the administration and language planner in India, English thus is neither an Indian language nor a foreign language on the other. As an interesting aside , one might mention here that if one wishes to learn a foreign language at one or the major Indian universities one has to sit for an entrance examination in which one is , in addition to the other things, tested for ones proficiency in English. So one must know English if one wishes to learn Spanish or Chinese or German or French or Russia.

Thus, the present position of English in India is as follows: it is a non-Indian language which is recognized constitutionally as the associate national Official Language and as regional link language; educationally it is recognized as an essential medium of learning, with specialized education in science and technology available through the medium of English only; socially it is recognized and upheld as a mark of education culture and prestige. The polity and society confers great value on learning of English, gives it enormous paying potential, thus creating a great demand for English-knowing Indian bi-/multilingual.

So much for the spread and growth of English in India-the event according to our grammatical paradigm. What have been the effects and consequences of this growth? One can talk of two-fold consequences- those, in which English is the agent, and those in which English has been the patient. As an agent English has been at the heart of several myths - that it is a 'unifying' factor, that it is an 'enriching' factor (for culture, literature etc.), and that it is a 'rationalizing' force (for the essentially 'superstitious' Indian society) and that it is a 'modernizing' force (for the essentially 'backward Indian society). This being so, English has magical powers like the ancient mantras or Rks whose correct enunciation alone would procure merit, and therefore English has to be learnt exactly and accurately, with extreme care and unceasing effort, though all this may finally prove to be futile, for in the ultimate analysis how can mere mortals (the black or dark race) acquire the language of gods (the white race). No wonder, the entire vocabulary of English language learning and teaching is loaded to suggest the 'difficulties' for the learner, and a major part of E.L.T. research is devoted to 'errors' and 'deviations'.

'English is our window on the world'- this is one of the most well-thought out epithets that has tremendous psychological appeal for a people whose climate allows them to let the fresh air and sunshine into their homes. There is little doubt that in the field of different human activities, especially in science and technology, comes to us in and through the English language; at the same time it is equally doubtless that much of what we get in English is a translation from other European languages. It is often said that the latest books are available in English alone. True, but then these books are accessible to a few Indians only. Now, with a certain degree of national effort the 'latest knowledge' could be made available in major Indian languages (witness for example, what happens in Russia or in Japan by way of immediate translation of all that is new and useful into the Russian or the Japanese language). Moreover, new windows are opening up, new doors in fact.

Then there is the dangerous myth that would have us believe that English somehow makes us more rational and logical and allows us to see things in the cold light of reason, whereas the Indian languages are somehow more emotive, given to flights of fancy and exuberance. This myth is worked out in several ways, one of which is the modern linguistic analysis of discourse. Now reason and emotion are two strands of the human mind and language merely articulates them, it does not create them. In the history of Indian thought one can clearly attest in the evolution of 'scientific' reasoning in the sense of theory building from the time, at least, of Yaska, the ninth century B.C., with the advent of Buddhist reasoning, the Indian mind moved definitely from ritual to reason. Finally, the work of Panini (seventh century B.C.) is unparalleled for its logical analysis and reasoning. Seen in this light, cultivation of myths such as this particular one, appears part of the grand design to induce amnesia in the Indian people, a state of forgetfulness about their true self and heritage.

Then there is a myth that English is the link language that provides a communicative channel for the Indians belonging to diverse linguistic religions to interact. The ground reality is that when one travels from Kashmir down to the southern-most tip at Kanyakumari, the communicative link is best maintained through a form of Hindi rather than through English. This myth of English being the link language does not account for that 97% of the Indian population that does not know English. Also, while in the big urban centers one could possibly talk of English as a communicative link since most urbanites are familiar with English lexical items (several of which have been assimilated into Indian languages), the rural masses communicate only through some form of Hindi and local dialects. One can state the obvious by saying that boardroom interaction, seminars and conferences use English as a communicative link, but that does not make English a pan-Indian lingua franca or a common denominator for a nation about 800 million people of which only twenty million know and use English for official exchanges, but in a majority of across-the-counter negotiations and public dealings the lingua franca is not English but the major regional languages or a mixed form of Hindi. Our contention is that at best English id the elite's lingua franca, at worst, it is not a lingua franca at all.

The long contact between English and Indian languages has had the inevitable effect of linguistic convergence. This has manifested itself in different ways. One effect has been the so called Englishization of Languages in as much as certain linguistic features of the English language have crept into Indian languages, leading to certain phonological and syntactic adjustments. Conversely, English itself, through the prolonged contact with Indian languages, as well as, due to its use by Indians with varied linguistic background and varying levels of competence, has been 'Indianized', in as much as there have been phonological and morpho-syntactic adjustments in English, adjustments that can be attributed to the influence of Indian languages and cultures. Both these processes, the Indianization of English and the Englishization of Indian languages, have received considerable scholarly attention the details of which we need not go into at this point. A third dimension of the linguistic contact and convergence has been the emergence, wide-spread use and acceptance of mixed codes of usage wherein English words, phrases and even clauses are freely inserted into sentences which have the general grammatical matrix of one or the other Indian Language. Thus, mixed Hindi-English or mixed Bengali-English or mixed Tamil-English is commonly used by bilinguals who have some degree of proficiency in English. The use of mixed-codes characterizes the verbal behavior of a large majority of educated/semi-educated Indians in different domains. This has had the consequence of making English much more functionally relevant as far as day to day common usage is concerned. This has also led to the percolation of English words and phrases into the speech of those sections of Indian society which otherwise do not learn or use English.

The use of English by a large number of Indians hailing from diverse linguistic backgrounds has also resulted in the emergence of regional varieties of English. As a matter of fact when one talks of varieties of Indian English, one has in mind two dimensions: on the vertical scale there is, at the top, educated Indian English which is remarkably free of regional influences and is a close approximation of Standard British English. As we move down the vertical axis there are varying degrees of competence shown by Indian users of English, ranging from a standard Indian English to a rather pidginized version that may be called bazaar English. On the horizontal axis we have regionally marked varieties of English with discernible and describable phonological and syntactic features. Thus we have Bengali-English, Punjabi-English and Tamil-English etc. these variations along the vertical and horizontal axes are significant since they point to the fact that no mono-model description of Indian English is possible, except if one were to describe the speech of highly educated, cultivated users of English; but then their English would approximate so closely to Standard British English that it would hardly qualify to be designated 'Indian English'.

Yet another consequence of the spread and growth of English in India has been its enduring influence on Indian literatures. This influence can again be said to have two dimensions. One of these is the influence of English literary practices on Indian writers during the last hundred and fifty years. This has led to the emergence of new forms, new themes and a new critical idiom which, in turn, has led to the reshaping or urban Indian literatures. The second dimension of this influence is the rise of a new breed of Indian creative writers who have chosen to write in English rather than their own mother tongue. The creative efforts of these writers have given rise to a considerable body of writing that is generally referred to as 'Indian writing in English' or as 'Indo-Anglian literature'. This body of fiction, drama and poetry has a rather anomalous position in that it is suspended, as it were, half way between being either English literature or Indian Literature. Within the Indian setting it is not recognized as Indian literature and is taught in the departments of English only: outside India it is not recognized as English literature, and forms part of what is loosely and derogatively referred to as 'third-world literature in English'. The fact. However, remains that some very fine creative writers have chosen to write In English, a medium that is not native to their soil and their psyche and which imposes its own constraints and limitations on their creativity. One if the spin-offs of this creativity has been that the Indian mind has increasingly tended to perceive and evaluate literature in terms of categories derived from the western critical traditions, and also that some of the recent trends in Indian literatures seem to emanate directly from and follow western trends which are disseminated largely through the medium of English. This has also had the less than salutary effect of pushing into the background Indian literary and critical theories and practices, at least as far as the educated Indian intelligentsia is concerned. Of course, those steeped in the Indian classical tradition are ever endeavouring to revive and enrich it, but the places of institutionalized learning are more enamoured of the western traditions and practices. Thus, even those writings that are truly Indian in themes, treatment and ethos, are analyzed and characterized in terms of western categories, this tends to give the whole creative and critical endeavor an air of unreality.

The most important aspect of English in India, to our minds, is the two fold rupture it has caused among Indian scholars and thinkers - one in relation to the traditional Indian scholars and thinkers who are generally away from the major urban 'cosmopolitan' centres of learning, and the other in relation to Indian intellectual tradition. In this way, it circumscribes the modern intellectual activity. This is all too evident in Indian university scholarship which remains, by and large, derivative. Above all, it precludes, to use a Yeatsian phrase, 'a dialogue between self and soul'.


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*With authors' due permission, this paper has been reprinted from their book English In India: Issues and Problems, published by Academic Foundations.