The Indian Case

Annika Hohenthal, Department of English, University of Turku, Finland

A regional language has its geographical bounds defined within the state (Spolsky 1978: 26).

In addition to the designation of Hindi as an official language and fourteen others as national languages, each state can choose its own regional language for use in local government affairs and in education among the languages spoken in its territory. India's constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to communicate in their own language with any governmental agency (Bonvillain 1993: 304).

There are over 900 million people and more than one thousand languages in India; the area is thus one of the most diverse linguistic and cultural areas in the world. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there are many problems in classifying and labeling languages in India. One reason is that languages tend to fade into other ones, so that it is difficult to say which are different languages, or which are just dialects of one language (Fasold 1984: 22).

In 1971, it was estimated that the rate of bilingualism in India was 13%. 99% of English speakers are second-language speakers, whereas in many other languages there are no non-native speakers at all (although there are large numbers of native speakers) (Mahapatra 1990: 7).

Spolsky describes the situation on the Indian subcontinent as one highlighting the "multitude of problems facing a political unit that contains a great number of languages". He further points out that it comes as no surprise that India has some difficulty in setting up a language policy: the constitution, for example, avoids choosing a single official language (Spolsky 1978: 42-43).

D.P. Pattanayak describes Indian societal multilingualism as a non-conflicting type, in which different languages are allocated different functions. He describes mother tongue as the "expression of primary identity and of group solidarity". People are identified with certain linguistic, ethnic, religious or cultural groups through ones mother tongue. "Mother tongue anchors the child to culture", Pattanayak continues. In his view of multilingualism, it can be successful only if there is respect for multiplicity, "respect for the different", in a society (Pattanayak 1990: viii-xii).

Spolsky points out that although there are so many languages in India, most of the people do not know any other Indian language than their own. English is most widely spoken second language , followed by Hindi. English is more useful as a "lingua franca"; the usefulness of Hindi as a lingua franca is regionally limited (Spolsky 1978: 42).

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