Language Policy in India

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  • Topic: Language policy, India, Languages of India
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  • Published : February 10, 2013
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McGill
Poli 322 Final Paper
A Game Theoretic Explanation of Indian Language Policy Outcome

“India has been a crucible for the drama of language conflict” (Laitin, 415). Exploring language policy in India is both a complex and interesting task. Contrary to other empires that went through state consolidation, it is clear that India is quite the linguistic mosaic (Laitin, 415). Not only is there no single language for official exchange, but citizens of India have developed complex language repertoires in order to interact with servants, family, merchants, colleagues and officials. Language needs are so onerous that many parents with sufficient resources seek to equip their children with different repertoires in order to hedge their linguist bets. This situation has led sensitive observers of India to forecast dangerous decades of language conflict” (Laitin, 415). Although in the past there has been significant controversy surrounding language policy in India (and even a history of violence) the present system that exists is quite stable. The current policy in India can be described as a 3+/- 1 language outcome (Laitin, 415). The explanation that this paper seeks to offer is to make clear why, when Indian Congress attempted to create a single domestic language for the purpose of official communication did they receive greater opposition than rulers who consolidated earlier on? More importantly, common explanations on this matter at the current time seem to be inadequate and are often based on “special attributes of Indian culture and history” (Laitin, 415). In the place of the standard explanations it is clear that a game theoretic analysis of political strategy is better suited to understand why India faced greater opposition to a single language than other states. A game theoretic analysis not only gives a collective understanding of the Indian language policy in place, it helps to specify the outcome of the policy through the factor of historical state consolidation and time as well as through the nature of the politician and bureaucrat relations that existed within postcolonial states (Laitin, 415). By placing the complex problem of Indian language politics in to a more broad comparative perspective, conclusions can be made about the sufficient differences that India has that have impacted it’s language policy whilst helping us to understand the relationship between politics and language. Ultimately through answering the paper’s main question we can see the universal characteristics within state building as well as India’s distinct experience within state consolidation and language policy creation (Laitin, 416).

History shows that in the development of many states, rulers were actually able to impose one language for the purposes of administration that was foreign to that of the elite and were not faced with huge opposition. This can be seen through examples of the “twentieth- century cries of internal colonialism on the parts of people in European peripheries (Basque country, Catalonia, Provence, Alsace) when rulers declared that their language was the sole medium for official communication, they faced remarkably little opposition. Regional elites, since they had to learn the ruler’s language in order to communicate with the court, paid all the transactions (i.e. learning costs)” (Laitin, 416). As well, linguistic unity existed in the nation states of France, Britain, Spain and Germany. This linguistic unity stemmed from complex political, social and economic forces. Many people assume that the cultural unity prevalent in these states actually pre-existed state consolidation when in fact this is not the case. “While the importance of trade and social interactions has been well-identified in explaining the development of linguistic uniformity, the interests of rulers in nurturing that process has been clearly understood” (Laitin, 416). Language rationalization ultimately had lower costs for the rulers versus other...
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