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Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005 10:41:19 -0700 From: Chandra Shekar Subject: The Politics of Indians' English: Linguistic Colonialism and the Expanding English Empire
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)
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 Indian descent.
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 India.
Chapter four introduces the history of English language use in India. The authors have divided the history of English in India into five phases: 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 reader's focus.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.