English becomes the Language of the Elite, Press and Administration

Annika Hohenthal, Department of English, University of Turku, Finland

In the following years, English was established firmly as the medium of instruction and administration by the British Raj (1765-1947). Indian education was ever greater anglicized as the English language became rooted in an alien linguistic, cultural, administrative and educational setting. The first universities were established in India in 1857 (in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras). English became accepted as the language of the Úlite, of the administration, and of the pan-Indian press. English newspapers had an influential reading public. Indian literature in English was also developing (Kachru 1983: 69).

English in Independent India

India, after becoming independent in 1947, was left with a colonial language, in this case English, as the language of government. It was thought that the end of the British Raj would mean the slow but sure demise of the English language in South Asia. This, of course, has not happened. The penetration of English in these societies is greater that it has ever been (Kachru 1994: 542).

Nationalist imperative wanted that English continue to be used. Nationalist motivations were of the opinion that an indigenous Indian language should be adopted as the official language. Hindi seemed most qualified for that, since it had more native speakers than any other Indian language and was already widely used in interethnic communication (Fasold 1984: 24).

In addition, it was thought that linguistic unity was a prerequisite for political and national unity. Thus, Hindi was designated by the constitution as the language of communication between and within the states. It was to replace English within 15 years. The plan was that Hindi would be promoted so that it might express all parts of the "composite culture of India" (Spolsky 1978: 56).

There were, however, several problems with selecting Hindi, and since the protests were often violent (e.g. the riots in Tamil Nadu in May 1963, protesting against the imposition of Hindi), the government wanted to adapt a policy which would help to maintain the status quo. Firstly, Hindi is not evenly distributed throughout the country; e.g. in Tamil Nadu, in the south, only 0.0002 per cent of the people claimed knowledge of Hindi or Urdu, whereas in the northern states this figure can rise up to 96.7 per cent. Secondly, it was thought that the speakers of other languages would be offended by its selection; other Indian languages, for example Tamil and Bengali, had as much right to be national languages as Hindi. The other Indian communities felt they would be professionally, politically and socially disadvantaged were Hindi given the central role. Thirdly, Hindi was thought to need vocabulary development before it could be used efficiently as a language of government. In spite of these problems, Hindi was chosen as the national language in the constitution, and English was to be replaced by Hindi in fifteen years' time. However, due to the continuous opposition in the south, this replacement was not politically possible. In 1967 a law was passed which allowed the use of both Hindi and English for all official purposes - and that situation still exists (Fasold 1984: 24).

The controversy between Hindi, Urdu and Hindustani made the case for Hindi even worse. Support for Hindustani almost ended with independence; Hindi's supporters' enthusiasm was not, also, channeled in a constructive direction. As a result, English continues to be a language of both power and prestige (Kachru 1986a: 8).


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