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Language (status) Planning in India

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Language (Status) Planning in INDIA

India can be considered a case of status planning that did not work out as intended, but many citizens are satisfied with the results. India is an extremely multilingual nation, with up to 500 different languages. However, in the North most people speak language varieties related to Hindi (many are even mutually intelligible with Hindi), and Hindi supporters always tout Hindi as spoken by a very large percentage of the entire population.

In the original Indian constitution written in 1949, Hindi was named the national language as the apparent heir to English, the language of the colonial rulers. But the handover to Hindi as the central-level national language (equivalent to official language status), scheduled to happen in 1965, has never occurred. That is, English remains in place more than fifty years later in many official roles, such as court judgments and the writing of bureaucratic files. (A number of other Indian languages were also declared to be official in the 8th schedule of the constitution, and that number rose to 22 in 2004.)

The use of borders and corpus planning

When colonial India was partitioned into the independent states of Pakistan and India, what were two mutually intelligible varieties were turned into two separate languages, Urdu for Pakistan and Hindi for India.

Historically, both are descendants of Sanskrit, but speakers of Urdu are largely Muslims and speakers of Hindi are Hindus. Around seven centuries ago, Urdu had developed around Delhi, now the capital of India, under the influence of Persian-speaking sultans and their military administration. It adopted the Persian writing system (the Arabic writing system) and took in many Persian words. By the eighteenth century, Urdu had changed enough to differentiate it from related dialects (including Hindi dialects) so that when Pakistan was set up as a separate state, Urdu became its official language.

Meanwhile, back in India, Hindi scholars rose to the task of helping the border with Pakistan remain firm. They brought in a Sanskrit-derived vocabulary to add to Hindi and preserved the ancient Sanskrit writing system, too. In fact, one of the complaints of non-Hindi speakers against having Hindi as the main central language was the difficulty in learning it created by all these Sanskrit-based words.

Sometime later, East Pakistan became Bangladesh and West Pakistan became simply Pakistan. About 80 percent of the population there is Muslim and up to 98 percent of citizens speak Bengali, also an Indo-Aryan language related to Hindi and Urdu. But in Bangladesh, Bengali is now called Bangla and is the official language.

English and its spread in the states

The individual Indian states have a lot of authority over what languages are to be used for official business and as media of instruction or subjects in the schools. In many states the main state language has millions of speakers and this language is the medium of instruction for local literatures or music, even in universities. This is the case with Tamil, which is a language in the Dravidian family, making it very different from Hindi, an Indo-Aryan language. In addition to having many L1 speakers, Tamil has a literary variety that in mid-2004 was declared a “classical language”, meaning that, in terms of prestige, it is on the same level as Sanskrit, the ancient religious language that is evident in loan words in many Indian languages, notably Hindi. But a few years ago, when an international Tamil congress was held in the Tamilnadu State, English was the medium.

English is the main medium of higher education and attempts to introduce state languages as media of instruction in other subjects have been soundly rejected because this would put graduates at a disadvantage in competing for jobs requiring English. In some states, English, which was ousted as a medium in the lower grades when India became independent, has been invited back. The reason? English apparently has lost its taint as the language of colonialism and instead is considered the language of international business and is used within India in many businesses, such as banking. However, while English-speaking elite has developed a wider base across ethnic groups, in the villages English is relatively unknown.



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