Rise of the English Tongue

April 17, 2009

It is widely believed and often confirmed that Indians are very obsessive people. Indians have obsession for everything, practically for everything under the sun. One such obsession is “talking”. In India it is impossible to miss the chatter and the noise of a public place and it seems natural for everyone. Bus stands, railway stations, restaurants etc. are the most preferred places for this tongue exercise. These venues often give a sense that the ‘Tower of Babel’ was somewhere around here. There are umpteen numbers of topics to be discussed, argued and often quarreled upon, beginning from neighbors cow to cricket. And today the latter one has gained more importance than anything else. So no Indian will ever regret and die, thinking that he/she has talked less.

One often wonders that this conversation is one of the main factor for our unity and solidarity. And the core of all this is language that intricately binds us all together. Though there are 13 official languages, other languages that are less popular also add more color for our conversation, my point is, today we have a considerable number of people who would prefer a foreign tongue as their own and use it extensively without feeling anti-patriotic. This new tongue that many are embracing is of our oppressors – English. This option for a totally new tongue has given these converts an upward mobility in all sections, especially in their economic condition. Thus so called ‘Auntie Tongue’ has become ‘Mother Tongue’ for the majority.

English came to India with Europe’s ships and for much of the 17th and 18th Century, it was seen as ‘port’ language spoken by invading ‘Firangi’ merchants and soldiers. As British found the need of including more and more aborigines in their administrative service, they felt the need of opening English medium schools for Indians. This move replaced the British Nationals with cheap Indian graduates. It is very similar to what is happeinig in today’s IT and BPO sectors. This is also considered as a move towards the rise of    Indian nationalism. As more and more natives were educated in English the awareness about freedom grew stronger. Exposition of Indians to the work of European writers, Western ideas of nationalism and the ideas like freedom and liberty were some of the areas of enlightenment. English offered Indian leaders a window into movements and with it hope.

Unaccepted by many as one of the ‘Colonial Relics’ gradually English was intricately woven in Indian blood. Many would say ‘I am Indian’ in English without feeling any pain of betrayal. Right from our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was ‘educated in English ideas but a nationalist when it came to language’ Indian political class has largely supported English education. In South English was used as effective weapon against Hindi, being forcefully pushed down the throats by fiat. In the case of Dalits, English was a language exempt from the restrictive convention of Indian Scriptures, which imbued with the traditions of caste and untouchability. English enabled them to communicate across linguistic regions, giving the low castes a ‘national wide solidarity’ and enabling their voices to be heard in public sphere. Hindi , thought to be the ‘National unifier’ but turned out to be that only English would do the job. In an Independent India, English became the protection from what many saw as the tyranny for the majority, specially in South Indian states like Tamil Nadu.

In the past confined to only Convent and Church run schools, today English is taught practically in every school and institutions. Country saw a new generation rising, the ‘Indian English class’. Now it is believed that there are more number of English speaking people in India than anywhere in the world. So many say, why can’t we be called as ‘English’. A point to be noted by the British and the Americans.

1990’s had marked the rise of India’s rise in IT and BPO industry. Global outsourcing giants saw India as a potential destination for cheap labor .India’s growing English population was just waiting for this opportunity. Cities like Bangalore simply grabbed this chance with thousands of youth finding a decent job in these sectors. Nearly 68% of jobs in these sectors are confined as voice based jobs, and English language proficiency is the main requirement for these companies. These firms provided umpteen numbers of jobs while the potential earnings for the English skilled graduates surged. For the middle class it was ‘Indian Dream’ come true. This highly visible rise of the outsourcing sector has helped to transform Indian attitude towards English language. English has become passport to lucrative jobs and entry into the country’s growing middle class .More and more software companies, as their outreach programme are supporting the spread of English literacy in schools. Making every child ‘BPO-employable.

India’s, National Knowledge Commission also underscored the advantage of English. In Indian employment and higher education, and recommended that English Should be taught from Class 1st across the country. Even in the anti-English states like Gujarat and West Bengal English language has been compulsory form Class 1st.The closer of English medium schools in Karnataka state met with severe public criticism. Rather than throwing the English language out, Indians have fought time and again to retain it. English has become too Indian to get rid of.

Today our country has ‘remade English in many voices’ There is Standard Indian English, Bengali English, Hindi English and even one of Kerala University has permitted its students to write in a mix of English and Malayalam. Another development that has shocked many is the rise in the number of English, both fiction and non-fiction written by Indian writers every year. They have become most preferred and well recognized by the International readers and publishers. We see every Inter national best seller pirated and sold in the sidewalks for a throwaway price. This tells that with the rise of writers there is rise in the number of readers too.

Presently, English rules in every sector of our country. Though there are a smaller number of people fighting against this bulldozing act, they are often neglected because it is obvious that this is for their vested interests and for the love of language. For ‘Macaulay’s children’ English is the window to the new world, step towards global opportunities, wings for a new horizon and new tongue for their old habit – talking. The English talk.

by Rohan Sequeira
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Comment on this article

  • Anita, Mumbai/Dubai

    Tue, Apr 21 2009

    I truly agree with Barbara Bayer, Muscat, Oman. English is important to us, however let us not forget our Mother tongue/Vernacular languages of India.

  • Barbara Bayer, Muscat, Oman

    Mon, Apr 20 2009

    An excellent article Rohan, well done!!! A very enlightening subject covered very well in all aspect. A change should always be welcome with a positive thinking and positive acceptance. Imagine where we INDIANS would be if not for this one UNIVERSAL language boom in India. My request to All Opposers is please think far and wide and for a bright future, we INDIANS are no lesser than any other nation in the world and second to none. There is not a sigle area where INDIANS fall back. Today we can proudly stand up to any challenge in all aspects. Let us take what is good for us and the country. Let our country prosper, let are children move forward. Jai Ho INDIANS!!!

  • Kiran, Mangalore\UAE

    Mon, Apr 20 2009

    As said by Fr. Jossie D'Mello SJ, Bejai /Madrid we must not undermine the importance of vernacular languages. English has enabled Indian to advance and move around the world. We Indians are in demand around the world because of our skilled work and our ability to speak English. There some short coming in English language. In English we don’t write what we say. If we compare this with Kannada, we can write what we say or pronounce. Kannada script is almost perfectly phonetic. Along with English language importance has to be given to vernacular languages. A. R. Rehman has produced real good music and also won Oscar because he is good in mix Indian classical music in western style. We can’t compare or say what is important and what is not.

  • Fr Sunil Ranjar, SJ, Rome

    Sat, Apr 18 2009

    Rohan, very good article with apt use of phrases. Please continue. That's the real Jesuit spirit.

  • Edwin, Karnataka

    Sat, Apr 18 2009

    Thanks to British! No one would deny that if not for anything and everything, British are the reasons for spreading this common language "English" across the globe.

  • donald, bangalore

    Sat, Apr 18 2009

     Mr Rohan has come out strongly for the cause of English Language and its rise in India and abroad,Indians are great learners and humble people, They are very helpful all over the world today,They very good technocrats,Doctors,Engineers,Spacetechnicians etc, etc and they will prosper in any part of the world Jai Ho Bharath.

  • A.D'Cunha Shenoy, Mangaluru

    Sat, Apr 18 2009

    Can we resurrect "Indian Tounges" against the onslaught of "English tounge" like the Jewish people did in resurrecting "Hebrew tounge"?

  • John Ronald Pereira, Kulshekar, M'lore/Ghatkopar, Mumbai

    Fri, Apr 17 2009

    Dear Rohan, You have aptly mentioned the current position of English education and usage in India. I remember, some states such as W. Bengal, U.P., Gujarat had decided to give English less importance by allowing the introduction of English from 5th Standard onwards. But this apparently boomeranged, and these states had to retract by allowing the teaching of English from 1st standard as per the directive of Knowledge commission ed by Sam Pitroda. In fact other states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra etc. also fell in line. Even the uneducated people prefer to send their children to English medium schools as they say their children's well-being in future depends on their English education helping them to get better jobs etc. If you notice the Television programs in Hindi, they are mix of both Hindi and English, with the DJ speaking in both languages. This underscores the importance of English.

  • Fr. Jossie D'Mello SJ, Bejai /Madrid

    Fri, Apr 17 2009

    Rohan, thanks for the article. No doubt it’s a thought provoking one. Hope the rise of the English tongue will not undermine the importance of vernacular languages.

  • m ashraf, mangalore/dubai

    Fri, Apr 17 2009

    Rohan, very nicely written .

  • John Peter Fernandes, Moodubelle/Nottingham

    Fri, Apr 17 2009

    Rohan good article.....really interesting ...keep writing..

  • John Peter Fernandes, Moodubelle/Nottingham

    Fri, Apr 17 2009

    Rohan good article.....really interesting ...keep writing..

  • val, Dubai

    Sat, Apr 18 2009

    Very well and rightly written

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