Language Planning: English in Education

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

English is the state language of two states in eastern India, Meghalaya and Nagaland. It is the main medium of instruction at the postgraduate level, and it is taught as a second language at every stage of education in all states of India.

In India, as in other linguistically and culturally pluralistic societies, the position of English is determined by various political, cultural and social considerations. Kachru (1986b:20) sees primarily three questions which continue to be discussed. The first question concerns the position of English in early and in higher education. The second question is concerned with the roles of the regional language, Hindi and English. The third question deals with the model of English presented to Indian learners, and how that presentation can be made uniformly and effectively. The Government of India has primarily been concerned with the first two questions, which are directly related to language planning at both the national and state levels. There are, as yet, no acceptable answers to any of these questions (Kachru 1986b:20).

In the 1960s a bitter conflict considering the status of various languages in India arose from concerns of the southern states (in which Hindi is not widely spoken) that the use of Hindi in the government services would disadvantage them for employment in those areas. They thought, also, that it was unfair for them having to learn both Hindi and English, whereas native speakers of Hindi would only have to learn English.

Consequently, the Three Language Formula was developed for the educational load to be more fair, to promote national integration, and, to provide wider language choice in the school curriculum (Srivastava 1990: 43). According to the formula, people from non-Hindi areas study their regional language, Hindi, and English. Hindi speakers, on the other hand, study Hindi, English and another language. Baldridge quotes Kamal Sridhar (1989):

"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)." (Baldridge 1996: 12).

Although the formula sounds fine in theory, Baldridge (ibid) states that the Three Language Formula has proved to be a failure in India as a whole, since it has not been followed in practice. Hindi states did not enforce the curriculum, and the anti-Hindi DMK government in Madras removed all teaching of Hindi from schools in Tamil Nadu.

Thus, in India, there is a great number of sociolinguistic pressures influencing the development of language education; Spolsky (1978: 55-64) has stated that the language policy of the school system is both a result of the pressures and a source of pressure itself. He, too, claims education to be the strongest weapon for enforcing language policy , listing the following pressures to have an effect on language planning in a society: family (attitudes at home), religion (if the maintenance of a language is based on a belief in a "holy tongue"), ethnicity, political pressures (aiming at establishing national unity; a language tradition is acknowledged as a powerful force within a nationalist movement), cultural pressures, economic pressures (which include commerce, advanced science and technology: the idea is that not all languages have modern technological vocabulary and it is more rational to adopt a language such as English for this purpose), the mass media (e.g., if there is no media in a particular language, there will be strong pressure to learn another language which is better provided), legal pressures (lack of the official language can often become the basis for discrimination), military pressure (desirability to use one common language) (Spolsky 1978: 53-63).

Mark Tully (1997:161-162) points out that the Úlitist status of English in India creates problems for the economic development because that means that the education of the mass of people will be ignored. He argues that the solution for the situation would be that the spread of English throughout India would be encouraged so that it would become a "genuine link language of the country, not just, as it is at present, the link language of the Úlite".


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