LINGUIST List 16.1787|
Mon Jun 06 2005
Review: Politics of Lang/Lang Policy:Krishnaswamy&Burde
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara
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The Politics of Indians' English
Message 1: The Politics of Indians' English
From: Chandra Shekar <chandrascsufresno.edu>
Subject: The Politics of Indians' English
AUTHORS: Krishnaswamy, N.; Burde, Archana S.
TITLE: The Politics of Indians' English
SUBTITLE: Linguistic Colonialism and the Expanding English Empire
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004 (Hardback edition, 1998)
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/9/9-1767.html
Chandra Shekar, California State University, Fresno
Linguists in India and abroad have been engaged, from time to time, in
the discussion of the nature of Indian English, a variety of English
much like Caribbean English, Singapore English, Australian English,
American English, Black English Vernacular etc. and the sociological
and political status of English in India vis-à-vis other Indian languages.
Krishnaswamy and Burde's book adds a new dimension to this
debate. The authors forcefully argue that the explanation and the
description of Indian English and English in India is rather inadequate
and offer a historical and socio-political explanation to characterize
the nature of Indian English/English in India. The writers relate the
characteristics of present day Indian English and the role of English in
India to the history of English in the sub-continent that correlates with
the political history of British rule in India. Highlight of this book is the
empirical evidence in the form of archival material of English written by
Indians dating back to 1600 and other specimens used extensively to
support their argument.
The book includes five chapters, with each chapter introduced by an
epigraph. It also includes a table of contents, preface, extensive
appendix, bibliography and index.
The first chapter, English in India: Problematics of Perception, reviews
the description of views expressed in the literature on Indian English
and English in India. The authors quote extensively from major
sources the different descriptions of Indian English/English in India
and point out the ambivalence, confusion and contradictions inherent
in these works. The authors conclude this chapter by highlighting the
attitude of people towards the role of English language and its future
in the subcontinent.
In chapter two, Krishnaswamy and Burde examine the research done
on 'Indian English' and 'English in India' by various researchers and
scholars in the field. The authors point out the confusion that has
resulted from using the terminology 'Indian English' synonymously
with 'English in India'. While making an attempt to sort out the
difference between the two, they critically evaluate the works that
treat 'Indian English' only as a variety of English with unique lexical,
morphological, phonological, and syntactic properties and those that
talk about the perception and status of English language use in India
and the creative writing in English by Indian authors or authors of
The authors begin chapter three by introducing the notion of 'power'
and how 'language' is used as a tool of power to bring in socio-
cultural, economic, political and technological changes in a society in
which it is in circulation. They argue that any discussion on the role of
English in every day life in India should be done within the framework
of 'power structure' of languages of India. English in Indian context,
authors claim, is primarily a language of money and power, language
of the urban elite, language of the feudalistic society, a language of
bureaucracy, a language that has divided the society into 'haves'
and 'have nots'. The power differential between English and other
languages of India, the authors claim, has 'coerced' the 'weak' who
speak a vernacular, to 'learn' English as a 'survival' strategy. English
used by the 'weak' as a survival strategy, Krishnaswamy and Burde
argue, in essence, captures not only the linguistic nuances of this
variety, but also gives us a glimpse of the role of English in India. This
social reality, as the authors point out, has not been taken into
consideration by scholars currently working on the study of English in
Chapter four introduces the history of English language use in India.
The authors have divided the history of English in India into five
i) 1600-1813 -- the pre-transportation phase,
ii) 1813-1857 -- the transportation phase,
iii) 1857-1904 -- the dissemination phase,
iv) 1904-1947 -- the institutionalization phase, and
v) 1947-1990 -- the identity phase.
The authors show that each phase in the development of English in
India correlates with the economical and political objectives of the
people who were/are at the helm of the power structure. English
education and bureaucracy emerged at the same time, one serving
the interest of the other. In order to prove their argument, they provide
data from the written documents written by the people during the
respective phases. What is remarkably interesting is that the data
suggests the 'domain restrictedness' of the English language use in
India through out its history. English was primarily used in print-media,
education, bureaucracy, but not in the discussion of
native 'religion', 'culture', music, and fine arts. In other words, the
authors point out that the English language use in India was restricted
to specific domains. This 'domain' restrictedness, they claim is
the 'unique' feature of 'Indians' English' or Indian English.
In chapter five, a brief summary of the major thrust of the authors'
arguments in characterizing 'Indian English' and 'English in India' is
given. Krishnaswamy and Burde conclude this book claiming that
there is no such a thing as *indianness* in 'Indian English', but English
in India simply reflects a complex web of socio-political and historical
realities of a geographical area that has come to be known as 'India'.
Krishnaswamy and Burde's book is worth reading for policy makers,
educationalists, linguists and other scholars who are interested in
postcolonial studies, language-in-education policy, sociolinguistics,
bilingualism, and multilingualism. It is a very well written book with
some forceful arguments worth considering in the discussion of the
status of English in India. This book is well researched, provides
helpful data to support the claims made and an extensive appendix
and bibliography which curious readers can follow up. A major
drawback of this book is there are too many quotations used by
various authors and scholars throughout the book that distract the
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Chandra Shekar teaches in the Linguistics department at
California State University, Fresno, California. His courses include
Introduction to Linguistics, Language, Culture and Society,
Bilingualism, and Syntax. His research interests are in Syntactic
Theory, Dravidian Syntax, Bilingualism, language and gender,
language and politics, Language Acquisition and Language Teaching.
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