Home » Language & identity

English in India: No Longer a Colonizer’s Tongue?

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on April 26, 2011 1 Comment

During data collection earlier this year for my dissertation, exploring language and literacy socialization among a group of young boys at an orphanage in the suburbs of New Delhi, India, I headed over to National Council Of Educational Research And Training, or, as it is widely known, the N.C.E.R.T. I grew up within a mile of the N.C.E.R.T campus, though I’d never been inside it, and used N.C.E.R.T textbooks, like millions of other students in India, all the way through Class 12. Going there for research purposes gave me a strange thrill: this is where so many influential educational policy decisions are made, decisions that impact the schooling at both Central and local levels. I made my way to the book store, which was largely empty-one makes selections from catalogs that are piled high in one corner of the counter. On the left hand side, however, there are shelves of some children’s illustrated books, and, “National Focus Group Position Papers,” which are:

expected to produce a research-based position paper, providing a comprehensive review of existing knowledge, representing an awareness of the field reality, especially in rural schools. The main objective of these position papers [is]…to provide an accessible resource to curriculum designers and writers of textbooks and other material, including teacher handbooks.

My eyes immediately focused on the Position Paper “On Teaching of English.” I thumbed through the first few pages, and my eyes fixed on a familiar name of one of the Focus Group authors, who happened to have taught me English in the 8th grade. With no little excitement, I started reading the introduction, which began:

English is in India today a symbol of people’s aspirations for quality in education and a fuller participation in national and international life. Its colonial origins now forgotten or irrelevant, its initial role in independent India, tailored to higher education (as a “library language”, a “window on the world”), now felt to be insufficiently inclusive socially and linguistically, the current status of English stems from its overwhelming presence on the world stage and the reflection of this in the national arena.

I could not get past the second sentence. The claim-in a national position paper by the most influential educational research body in India-that the “colonial origins” of India are “now forgotten or irrelevant” is surprising, to say the least. I cannot deny that English is wedded into the fabric of Indian society in too many ways to enumerate. Millions of parents-drawn from all kinds of socio-economic classes-think English is important for career advancement for their children: in the words of a Delhi-based government school teacher I interviewed, there is a “craze” for English-medium instruction, even among parents who cannot speak one word of it. However, I have found, in my own fieldwork, that the colonial association is neither “forgotten” nor considered “irrelevant.” In previous fieldwork, several years ago, I collected a set of  “chutkulas“(one of which is produced here) that the boys at the orphanage narrated. Each of the narratives ridiculed the monolingual speaker of English, and the children’s narratives, I argue, lay bare some of the tensions that continue to problematize the location of English within the Indian linguistic hierarchy. These tensions, in my opinion, reflect at least some residual discomfort with how-and from whom-we came to acquire the language. That is not to state, again, that English skills are not coveted in many different contexts. It is. But to deny some of our ambivalence towards it, especially in the context of developing a vision of how English language learning occurs (and should occur) across the nation is to have a blinkered perspective that could only undermine our understanding of what is happening on the ground.

As I said, I could not get past the second sentence. When I do, you’ll hear about it!

Tags: , ,

Digg this!Add to del.icio.us!Stumble this!Add to Techorati!Share on Facebook!Seed Newsvine!Reddit!

One Response to “English in India: No Longer a Colonizer’s Tongue?”

  1. mira- belle on: 9 October 2011 at 12:35 am

    After a while the language is usually assimilated and adapted to the local culture. But even today, some Indian movies treat English as an urban, rich people, not authentic language.

Leave a Reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  Copyright ©2009 Found in Translation, All rights reserved.| Powered by WordPress| WPElegance2Col theme by Techblissonline.com