On Language, Identity and Linguistic Chauvinism

I got to thinking today about what we mean by a national language? Does such a concept mean anything at all in a multicultural, multilingual nation like ours? The whole issue started of with someone complaining that the posting of notices in regional languages rather that English is offensive because it excludes all people not knowing that particular language. Now, this again sparked of the age old debate of the Rashtrabhasha, which makes me wonder, what is the significance of Hindi in the National context? Sure, with around 40% of the nation speaking it as their first language and another 10% understanding the language it is by far the most spoken language in the country, and given that these figures are from the ’91 census, I suppose that Bollywood & Doordarshan may have made Hindi speakers a small but definite majority, but is that reason enough to force the other half to learn the language?

Then there is the weirder question of what exactly is the status of English? Spoken by 11% of the nation according to the ’91 census, definitely a larger figure today, and still growing. Left behind as the unwanted legacy of a foreign oppressor, unwanted and suspect, it has managed to cling on in the nation and now as we slowly realise that with the Internet, that this knowledge of English has turned out to be a boon with a lot of outsourcing and BPO, stuff English is only going to strengthen it’s hold on the nation. I think it is time we realised that English is as much an Indian language as any other and moved on to institutionalise this Indian English.


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