More on English in India

Thanks to a ruptured ear-drum (the left one) I’m convalescing, and reading to keep the  pressure of fretting over the classes I’m losing from rupturing  the other ear-drum as well. So here’s something from the reading—an extract from an essay by Probal Dasgupta* on the “war between the forces favouring the unchecked spread of English, and the forces that strive to maintain cultural plurality”  examined primarily through an analysis of Braj Kachru’s book The Indianization of English: The English Language in India (OUP, N. Delhi: 1983)

I’m posting here just a small bit (for obvious copyright reasons) in response to one of Kachru’s comments, because it links in some way to  my previous post.


In the preceding I have attempted to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. I have argued that a pragmatic or functional view is essential in understanding the uses of English in unEnglish contexts. It is especially true now, since English has already attained the status of a universal language whose functions vary from situation to situation, from one continent to another. (Kachru:237-38)

One would have thought that the descriptive imperative would have led to a comparison with French or Russian, which too are used as major link languages in non-native social contexts. At least French has obviously developed interference varieties; I am less sure about Russian; one would have expected to learn something about these matters from a general chapter such as this.  That one does not is perhaps an indication that the pragmatic attitude K advocates functions as an alibi — an indication that the point is to accept the spread of English as ‘a universal language whose functions vary from situation to situation, from one continent to another’ just as it was once okay to speak in positive terms of ‘the Empire where the sun never sets.’  In those days, liberal thought was in favour of domestication of the imperial system on a country-by-country basis; the system had to operate in a manner suited to the local needs of each area, as befits the grandeur of a benign despotism. Today, the concept of appropriate technology has taken the place of such earlier thinking. ‘Appropriate English’ is one variant of this concept; the metropolitan groups in power get to decide what technology, what religion, or variety of atheism, what economic system, and what language should be imposed on the peripheral regions, and the specifics of this imposition will vary from one place to another so that the domination is locally effective.

I am not proposing a conspiracy theory. Surely only the consent of the governed, and in this case an active and enthusiastic sort of consent on their part, can permit a system of domination to continue. Anyone who suggests that it is the fault of the native speakers of English that English is spreading the way it is must take into account the evident popularity of English as an international medium in many non-English-speaking societies today. However, it is clear that the situation that is emerging is extremely beneficial to the native speakers of English, and gives them a lot of cultural power. Since many native speakers of English also have global power of other sorts, again with the consent of collaborators in a host of satellite nations, and again with much sophisticated defence of the exercise of such power in terms of notions like ‘pragmatism’ and ‘appropriate technology’ it seems natural to link the linguistic dimension of the present imperial power system with other dimensions which have received more attention in Third World intellectual circles. If such a link is deliberately not made, one begins to ask what the function of concepts like ‘pragmatic’ and ‘descriptive’ is.

* Dasgupta, Probal. “On the Sociolinguistics of English in India.” Explorations in Indian Sociolinguistics. Eds. Rajendra Singh, Probal Dasgupta and Jayant K. Lele. Sage Publications. New Delhi: 1995



  1. gaddeswarup said

    I think that the power elites are not a homogeneous group. There are always a considerable number them who want to help the underprivilleged if they can but are usually caught up with their own livelihood problems and those close to them. With our sort of caste systems, often many close to them by marriage etc. tend be from their own group. Perhaps what one needs is tools which can even make well coordinated small groups effective. One possibility I see is online education, perhaps in English to begin with. See:
    At the moment, I see that this has the scope of many of different ages getting reasonable education each at his own pace and place of convnience. I think that groups of well meaning enthusiasts can do this both for profit and non-profit using the internet resources and courses available abroad and in India. In some ways, it is beating the elite groups at their own game. Just some preliminary thoughts.

  2. gaddeswarup:
    Thanks for sharing. Can’t say I share your optimism though. Sure, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!!

    Online education – I will not cut a vein open commenting on this. IMO the delivery mechanism hardly matters (and in this case it really is insignificant because of access issues). As long as content and content developers are bad, the delivery mechanism won’t make any difference. Oh yes, universities in India are seized of the opportunities of online education too. They’re busy “digitizing” their distance education course material . . .

  3. anu said


    Had to come over here with this link,….
    found it in a hard core science blog of all the places, reminded me of your ruptured ear and your anguish of Telugu going into oblivion :), i know the book you need for this mood is ‘Resurrecting Hebrew’ to cheer up and be hopeful of a Telugu Ben-Yehuda coming by 🙂 .

  4. anu:

    ruptured ear drum and anguish over Telugu – totally isolated events I assure you!! Thanks much for the link. The book sounds interesting.

  5. anu said

    this link may work…

  6. anu:

    You pushing me to a sequel? 🙂 Meanwhile, you might find this link interesting –
    UNESCO’s linguistic rights web site.

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