History of India

information on India - Languages in India

English in India

Officially English has a status of assistant language, but in fact it is the most important language of India. After Hindi it is the most commonly spoken language in India and probably the most read and written language in India. Indians who know English will always try to show that they know English. English symbolizes in Indians minds, better education, better culture and higher intellect. Indians who know English often mingle it with Indian languages in their conversations. It is also usual among Indians to abruptly move to speak fluent English in the middle of their conversations. English also serves as the communicator among Indians who speak different language. English is very important in some systems – legal, financial, educational, business – in India. Until the beginning of 1990s, foreign movies in India weren’t translated or dubbed in Indian languages, but were broadcast in English and were meant for English speakers only. The reason Indians give such importance to English is related to the fact that India was a British colony (see Europeans in India).

When the British started ruling India, they searched for Indian mediators who could help them to administer India. The British turned to high caste Indians to work for them. Many high caste Indians, especially the Brahmans worked for them. The British policy was to create an Indian class who should think like the British, or as it was said then in Britain “Indians in blood and color but English in taste, in opinions and morals and intellect”. The British also established in India universities based on British models with emphasis on English. These Indians also got their education in British universities. The English Christian missionaries came to India from 1813 and they also built schools at primary level for Indians in which the language of instruction was local language. Later on the missionaries built high schools with English as the language of instruction which obliged the Indians who wanted to study to have a good knowledge of English. The British rulers began building their universities in India from 1857. English became the first language in Indian education. The ‘modern’ leaders of that era in India also supported English language and claimed it to be the main key towards success. Indians who knew good English were seen as the new elite of India. Many new schools were established in which the language of instruction was English. According to the British laws the language of instruction at university level was English and therefore schools that emphasized English were preferred by ambitious Indians. Even after India’s independence, English remained the main language of India. Officially it was given a status of an assistant language and was supposed to terminate officially after 15 years of India’s independence, but it still remains the important language of India.

Even today schools in India that emphasis English are considered better schools and the same is the case at university levels, even though there is a trend towards Indianization. In the 1970s and 1980s about one third of the Indian schools had English as their first language. For most of these students, English is their first language and it is easier for them to communicate, read and write in English than in Indian languages, including their mother tongues.

Just like the Americans, Australians or even the British who have their unique English words and phrases, the Indians also have their own unique English. The Indians and the Indian English language press uses many words derived from Indian languages, especially from Hindi. Other than that, the Indian accent is sometimes difficult for non-Indians to understand. There are some Indian pronunciations that don’t exist in non Indian languages. The British also had problems with that and they caused some changes in Indian words so that they could pronounce them. Even the Indians started using these changed words and made them part of their English. Two examples of such changed words are currey and sari.


The God of Small Things - by Arundhati Roy

©Aharon Daniel


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