English in India -- and Who Speaks English to Whom and When?

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

In terms of numbers of English speakers, the Indian subcontinent ranks third in the world, after the USA and UK. An estimated 4% of the Indian population use English; although the number might seem small, out of the total population that is about 35 million people (in 1994)(Crystal 1995:101). Although the number of speakers of English in India is somewhat limited (as compared to the total population), that small segment of the population controls domains that have professional prestige (Kachru 1986a: 8).

English is virtually the first language for many educated Indians, and for many, who speak more than one language, English is the second one. Indian speakers of English are primarily bi- or multilingual Indians who use English as a second language in contexts in which English is used among Indians as a "link" or an "official" language. Only a minimal fraction of the English-using Indian population has any interaction with native speakers of English. According to Kachru's survey (the population of which was graduate faculty of English in the universities and colleges), only 65.64 percent had occasional interaction with native speakers of English; 11.79 percent had no interaction and 5.12 percent claimed to have daily interaction with native speakers of English (ibid, 110).

The Role of English in Indian Multilingual Setting

English serves two purposes. First, it provides a linguistic tool for the administrative cohesiveness of a country, and, secondly, it serves as a language of wider communication. (Kachru 1986a: 8). English functions in the Indian socio-cultural context to perform roles relevant and appropriate to the social, educational and administrative network of India (Kachru 1986a: 111).

English is used in both public and personal domains and its functions "extend far beyond those normally associated with an outside language, including the instrumental, the regulative, the interpersonal and the innovative, self-expressive function" (Kachru 1986a: 37). As pointed out before, the role of English is not replacive: it overlaps with local languages in certain domains (Kandiah citing Sridhar, 1985;Shridhar and Shridhar, 1986; 1991: 273).

English as the Language of Administration and Press

English is not classified as one of the 15 national languages of India (NEB:286). Although Hindi is the Official Language of the Union; provision was made in the Constitution that English would be used in official work until 1965, after which Hindi would replace it. Because of the opposition of the Dravidian south against Hindi, the Indians decided to further extend the role of English as an additional language with Hindi to be used for purposes of the Union and in Parliament. English is now recognized as an associate official language, with Hindi the official language. It is recognized as the official language in four states (Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura) and in eight Union territories.

Various political and nationalistic pressures continue to push for the choice of Hindi as a national language. However, it is hard to remove English from its place as a language of wider communication, lingua franca, especially among the educated elite, or to replace the regional languages in mass communication by Hindi.

Fasold (1984:139) suggests that English lacks the symbolic power required to be chosen as the sole official language in India, although it does have a high communicativity necessary for the successful function of a nationalist language.

English plays a dominant role in the media; it has been used as a medium for inter-state communication, the pan-Indian press and broadcasting both before and since India's independence. The impact of English is not only continuing but increasing.

The English press in India initiated serious journalism in the country. The number of English newspapers, journals and magazines is on the increase. According to Kachru (1986b:12), at present there are 3,582 Indian newspapers in English. English-language newspapers are published in practically all states of the Republic. Of a total of 19,144 newspapers registered in India in 1982, those in English accounted for 18.7 percent, whereas the newspapers in Hindi accounted for 27.8 percent.

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