Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dual Language Policy - Boon or Bane

I mentioned some time back, that I wanted to write about dual language policy we have in India (grossly marginalizing regional languages in favour of English). Finally, I have some semblance of an article. But since, it's going to stretch, I am publishing it in parts. Here is Part I


India is now the largest English speaking country in the world. I read about how we are a race of two-language speaking people. Now, that’s one thing that would make most Indians proud. Yes its commendable indeed, that we converse and transact in so many languages at one go. However, for now, I am going to put aside some obvious pros and put forward some issues with this dual-language system

The problem had begun ever since we let English on our soil. That was the first step before letting them into our minds gradually, breaking it into our psyche that everything English is superior and that if we want to survive globally, we cannot do without it. Certainly, around that point of time (19-20th century) most of the new inventions, discoveries, breakthroughs that would revolutionize the way we live - came from the West. That the Industrial Revolution. But I doubt if the Industrial revolution would have been possible without the spoils from the East.

With so many radical changes and discoveries happening around, we grudingly, grant the English language the honour of being the first to record many things, which completely revolutionalized our daily lives. The English lexicon was getting richer rapidly. The British empire was at its ascent, just about that time, so the hold of English as the medium of progress and advancement was deeply etched amongst its "subjects". Higher education, financial transactions and administration began to be propagated, perpetrated and accepted in English. India was missing a pan-Indian language (Hindi was and still is a mainly north Indian language) and English filled the gap.

The earlier generation grew up speaking one language and learning another in school/college as an additional language. However, the emphasis on English wasn't so great. It was ok, to have a barely working knowledge of English and still get recruited in government, companies or any medium/large establishment, for that matter. But increasingly this generation, our parents, have seen the changes in our milieu and decided that the kids cannot do without English. Thus, English schools have become a medium of choice. As teachers might fall short with their tasks and with Indian propensity for overworking the kid with his/her studies, parents started bringing him English books, subscribing to English newspapers, and horror of horrors, talking to him in English. "Beta, come here. Beta, eat, no!!. Lentils curry, so nice, you know". And can you blame them. English is everywhere. All blue/white jobs mandatorily require good English written and oral skills. Hardly anything in the corporate world is transacted in Hindi or regional languages. The media has been thus far so English centric, that we had them selling us TVs, , soft drinks, washing machines, refrigerators in English for ages. It's just recently that media pundits have realized the power of Hindi and the rural dialects/imagery, that they have started using (and how) Hindi as means of broadcast. Yet ad-spends continue to be disproportionately English media centric. English font continues to dominate all brands (I don't see any of the names of any big brands written in Devanagari on any of the products). Movie names and credits are in English ONLY(some exceptions like the very innovative Ab Tak Chappan). This basically a full frontal sustained assualt of English in our daily lives that should have us worried.
(to be continued)
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