Role of English in India

Topics: Hindi, Languages of India, India Pages: 47 (15807 words) Published: February 23, 2013
English in India and the role of the elite in the national project the elite in the national project1
Annie MO NTAUT, INALCO (SeDyL), Paris

Published in
Problematizing Language Studies, Cultural, Theoretical and Applied Perspectives, Essays in Honor of Rama Kant Agnihotri
Akar Books, Delhi, 2010, pp. 83-116 (eds. S. I. Hasnain & S. Chaudhary)

Introduced by the British colonization and today the official language of the Indian Nation in association with Hindi, English is spoken as a second language by a minority of the educated population of 8 to 11% according to current estimations. A chance for India to converse with the world cultures, in compensation for centuries of domination, or conversely an inherited alienating burden still preventing this conversation from being on equal terms? The paper will dwell on such issues, after a factual evaluation of the role of English in the Indian pluralism, and a study of the consequences of its historical infiltration in the whole system of the State.

English in India and the role of the elite in the national project2

Annie Montaut, INALCO (SeDyL), PARIS

« In India, English is the language spoken by the ruling class. It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government. It is likely to become the language of commerce throughout the seas of the East”. Thus ended Macaulay’s most famous minute, in 1835, a report aimed at instructing the Indian elite in the English language, in order to produce “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. This most famous sentence, to be later quoted everywhere, summarized the explicit intention “« to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern”3 . Hundred and seventy years later, most of the reports devoted to the use of English establish similar conclusions regarding the sociology of English4: the small proportion of people using English corresponds to the ème


A first version of this paper was published in Herodote 115, 4 trimestre 2004, pp. 63-90 ème
A first version of this paper was published in Herodote 115, 4 trimestre 2004, pp. 63-90 3
The complete text of the minute is available on-line: the original reason prompting this momentous report was the concern about the use of the British financial support in education institutions, particularly the “misuse” of it in Delhi College and Banares Hindu College for Persian and Sanskrit respectively, both curricula leading to the unemployment of the graduates and an intellectual bend towards obscurantism and non-modernism, thus considered as useless studies. 4

The available data is not as important as expected, and lacks reliability: “there is little information on the extent of knowledge of English in India. Books abound on the place of English in the Indian educational system, job competition, and culture; and on its socio-linguistic aspects, pronunciation and grammar, its effect on Indian languages, and Indian literature in English. Little information is available, however, on the number of people who “know” English 2


social class which is tightly integrated to world economy and techno-structures. This is particularly true for the millions of expatriates of the Indian subcontinent who are at least as close to the foreign techno economic trusts as to their own country and people, an elite whose belonging to the world, linked to the English language, is sharpened by the new technologies (Bhattacharya 1998 : 45)5.

Introduced in India by the British colonizers, English today is the associate official language of the State, along with Hindi, a status first suggested for fifteen years in 1950, then renewed sine die, largely because of the protest of Dravidian speakers against Hindi. Although it was not mentioned in the original list of the 14 constitutional languages (“major regional languages)” listed in the Eighth schedule, nor in its...
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