The Language Situation in India. Exegesis of A Literary Article by Mr.Das Gupta

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I have read the article written by Dr. Das Gupta, an eminent linguist. Its title is “The Language Situation in India”

I appreciate it from my point of view as a student, it may not be construed as a review, or criticism or deconstruction; it is simple an appraisal of assembly of facts- figures ponder upon by me in conjunction with the opinion of the writer. I have re-organized sequence of his thoughts and facts to facilitate understanding, my presentation do not cite the tables of facts and figures of census as referred to in the article. My article has a mere object to make the substance and matter more comprehensible and clear.

The caption of the article gives an impression of the singularity but in real sense pregnant with the plurality. The writer talks about almost also all the languages of India but concentrates mainly on ‘English’ and ‘Hindi’ contextually with political, economic, social, educational, journalistic and regionalist situations substantiated with government records data and foreign references.

The article appeared in 1970; it seems that the language situation in India taken into consideration by the writer is up to that period only. Hence we should not attempt to match the prevalent situation.

The writer indicates the sources and origin of details incorporated in the article in the foot notes. His approach is dominated with the historical perspective.

The beginning tells that the scholars of ancient India used to take interest in the study of languages but their writings remained confined to in-groups communication only away from social perspectives. Even in fourteen century the Muslim scholars recorded their observation classifying and analyzing the languages but that is not more than a list of languages in a confused manner. Hence during that period there has not been systematic study of languages of India.

It is when Europeans came into India, their commercial interests and religious missionary zeal made them to explore and do systematic inquiry in the multiplicity of languages in India. Actually the same began in seventeenth century. The credit goes to the English rulers of country for systematic codifying contributing the pragmatic use, official encouragement and comparative study of languages of India.

The prominent amongst the initiators were William Jones, Franz Bopp and the Asian Society, who organized the efforts to find out connection of the Indian languages with that of languages of Europe and the their relationship.

In nineteenth century a question for finding out medium of instruction cropped up which had become the subject matter of controversy and reached up to the parliament of England, ultimately gave a prop to the study of diversity of languages in India. Some designate it, as a conspiracy of subduing the Indian languages and thrusting upon English language on the Indians.

Based on the progress of study up till now George Grierson did the tremendous work of publishing the volumes of his contribution from 1903 to 1928.

The Indian census of 1881 records the data of mother tongues of individuals in India; discovers 179 languages and 544 dialects in undivided India. This gave support the Census of India in 1951 1961.
The Census of India 1951 records 845mother tongues/ languages. The numbers rose to 1652 (out which 103 were foreign) in 1961 census. This census had scanned 85% population. It records 14 major literary languages: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi (1967), Tamil and Telugu together with English, Urdu and Sanskrit. These languages had acquired a status in the eight schedules of the Constitution of India.
There were 439 million people inhabiting India, the country roughly the size entire Europe without Russia, with an area of approximately 1,178,995 square miles. Having viewed this size and population it was a big achievement in classifying the languages of India.

Census of 1961 identifies the population on the basis linguistic family also.

The writer points out four aspects needed to study the situation of language in India:
I. Numbers of bilinguals.
II. Degree of control on language other than mother tongue.
III. Relationship between the languages and
IV. Circumstances and attitude of people in the use of languages.

He takes up the issue of bilingualism and degree of control on language other than mother tongue at length, throws some light on the attitude of people but has not discussed the relationships between the languages.
He says that the meaning of bilingual is based on the knowledge a person has of another language than his mother tongue (not dialect of his own language). The larger portion of population of India is monolingual; out of 439 million only 30 million (7%) are bilingual. The switching code does not signify any bilingualism. English is ordinarily found as the most used second language in social and political life. Regional language or Hindi is used as second language only when facile communication is desirable in business or social transaction owing to predominance of that language.

Writer says that twelve regional languages have varying degree of affinity and rivalry amongst themselves. He has not expanded the degree of affinity. Without finishing the discussion on these aspects he abruptly shifts to discuss the status of Hindi and English in India.


The important issue discussed by the writer is means of communication among the various regions and language communities in India reflecting upon the status of English and Hindi in the article. He first envisages on the situation of English and then takes up Hindi.

English has been associated with the evangelical zeal of the Christians missionaries. The introduction of English to educate the Indians begins with the Charter Act of 1813. It continued without proper planning on adhoc measures because state planning of education was not in even existed in England during those days.

When the issue of medium of instruction came up there was not a unanimous opinion even amongst the leaders of India. The Bengal group advocated encouragement of Sanskrit and Arabic; Bombay group wanted to promote the modern Indian languages and the third group proposed English as the medium of modern education. Raja Rammohan Roy opposed the investment of public fund on oriental education rather he formulated plans to establish educational institution for science and literature of Europe through English Medium and started an English free school in 1816.He wrote to Lord Amherst in 1823 pointing out that the Sanskrit system of education would keep the country in darkness. Hindu College (Presidency College) was established in Calcutta.
Although adequate public fund was incurred on vernacular education in schools by the government during 1819-1827 the period of Montstuard Elphinston as such this approach was not against regional languages. The Bombay Native Education Society continued its support for vernacular education till 1840.

Lord Macaulay put forward the concept of colonial superiority and moral authority. This Macaulaian contention of Political and administrative interest (Minute (1835)) was accepted by Lord William Bentinck ignoring the protests of vernacularisms and Orientals. Lord Auckland (1839) used to have views of down-ward percolation of education; also had put his stamp on the Macaulay’s convictions but did not withdraw the facilities of oriental and vernacular instructions with a motive to pave the path for higher English Education.

A balanced policy was adopted through Wood Dispatch recognizing the role of English without resisting the Indian language (1854). In this way English gained the status of court language in 1837 displacing Persian. This practice created two strata of society: the elite national life in English and the commoners in vernaculars. Hindu was more tended toward English education in the beginning. English took a shape of code matrix in specific community. English was reserved for official, academic and international situations. Indian educated people created an Indian English with its characteristic features. Indian English deviates considerably from the norms current among native speakers of English in America and Midwest. English became a medium of Elite communication and not the medium of mass communication.

The above situation made the leaders of national movement to find out a language that could serve as the symbol of national movement. Consequently the Indian National Congress in 1934 adopted the Hindustani. Ultimately Hindi was unanimously gained constitutional recognition.


In ancient days Sanskrit was used by elite and Prakrits by the masses. Like other Indian languages Hindi also developed from the Prakrits and Apbhransh.

Gradually an assimilation of mass composition of variety of speeches.Braj-bhasha, Bundeli, Awadhi, Bagheli, Chhattisgarhi, Rajasthani, Pahari, Bhojpuri, Maghi, Maithili, Punjabi, Urdu, and Dakhini of South India was considered as Hindi. Hindi regions are mostly confining to north India. The major Hindi states are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajsthan and Haryana.A big portion of population lives in these states and proved to be the greatest sources of support for the political parties particularly congress. Uttar Pradesh has been a focus of attention in this regard.

The Muslim migrants in 12th century had adopted Hindi for their commercial and social communication. Some Muslim writer also contributed to the literature of Hindi. The view that Amirkhusro was first eminent poet of Hindi has not been accepted by Muslims. Kabir used a mixed Hindi. The Hindi used in and around Delhi was personalized which gave birth to ‘Hindustani’ and ’Urdu’. The impact of Urdu had remained considerable during Muslim administration.

The writer has discussed the controversial situation which gave entity to Hindi and Urdu as two separate languages. He observed that ascendancy of Urdu was due to political, military land administrative needs of Muslim rulers. Patronized Muslim writers and official facilitated Urdu amongst the non-Muslims too. During early years of British rule Dr. J. B. Gilchrist engaged a group of writers to write Hindustani Prose. They developed two style of prose one style was full of Persian vocabulary discarding the Sanskrit and another vice versa; from this juncture a difference between the two language came up. Both the languages use two different scripts; which made some of Muslims to widen the difference during nineteenth century, deliberate Sanskrit aspect of Hindi was also developed. The impact was that Hindu and Muslim of every class marked their mother tongue as Hindi and Urdu. The linguistic study of dialect –speech of touchable and untouchable castes had shown the difference much greater than those of Muslims and Hindus. Hindi gained the uniform standard purging the old idioms due to impact of media and education achieving the communication mobility.

A particular segment of this Hindi became the standing language (Khadiboli) as against the fallen language (Padi Boli) Braj Awadhi and other dialects. The standing language is more close to the Hindi.
The nationalistic aspiration of one single language was felt for an official language after independence. This should imply for an acceptable language of administration as well as a means of communication between the government and the governed.

Our national leaders paved the path for that. Mahatma Gandhi held the view that “Hindustani” as a common symbol of India comprehensible code of communication used throughout the nation should be adopted as a common language. Nehru considered Hindustani as the all-India Language (official language) and C. Rajagopalachari put forward Hindustani as the National language the natural speech of a major linguistic community with primordial affection.

Regarding distinction in various usage of language the writer says that official language may not be a common language but official language is always a designated and accepted in a political community as a language for official interaction. There can be several official languages in a country. He cites the example of Switzerland where German, French, Italian and Romanche have been designated as national languages and given the status even of the official languages but none of them claim to be the common language of the Switzerland.

He draws the attention toward the clarity adopted in the Constitution of India where the use of term national or common language has been avoided at all. Contrary to this the politicians and leaders in India have always created confusion by intermixing and indiscriminately using the terms ‘the national language’, ‘the official language’ and ‘the common language. Even Mr. Nehru goes to say in the Parliament that “thirteen or fourteen” languages of the Eight Schedule of the Constitution are “national languages”. Some of the writers have also been found increasing the confusion by using the term “State Language”(Rastrbhasha) as synonym.

In the wake of finding a mean of communication amongst the various regions and language communities, there have been proponents and advocates of Sanskrit and Persian too. Having studied the past and applied aspects of these languages, both the language could not stand the test. Ultimately Hindi won the constitutional recognition as the official language of the Indian Union. There have been protests against Hindi in India.

Mr. Dass Gupta has discussed the cases for and against Hindi. While pointing out about the cases of protest of Hindi, the writer says that technically, Hindi is both official language and regional language but due to lack in command of prestige in the regional level it falls short of the mark as a standard national language. Non-Hindi states rank Hindi in terms of literary value but defenders of Hindi argue that the status of the official language is not an award of literary merit in the language. Nut for the purpose of interstate communication as it is understood and spoken amongst the regions by the larger numbers Even during the national movement many leaders of the non-Hindi groups were not prepared to tolerate the imposition of Hindi a the single official language of the Union. They consider the English as the link language with the logic the idea of English as the symbol of foreign domination had lost its relevance after independence. Hindi is also viewed as a symbol of North Indian dominance.

The writer also notes down the remarkable facts of development of education in Hindi states and none-Hindi states. The educational development in the Hindi states is much lower in comparison with that of the major non-Hindi states both at the elementary level of education and the middle. In his opinion the backwardness of Hindi states is interrelated with the level of development of states in terms of composite index based on ecological, economic, demographic and social features. He also studies the comparative performance of the Hindi in the sphere of mass communication as compared to the English in term of readership and circulation of print media. Only 2.5%Indian were able to understand English but the circulation of English dailies from 1964 to 1966 increased from 24.9 to 25.3 as against 30% of Hindi population where it remained 14.13 %. In degree of comparison proportionate to the population, the percentage circulation enjoyed by Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali appears to be larger. He attribute to illiteracy factor prevalent in the Hindi region too. The record of Broad cast listeners goes not in favour of Hindi too. Hindi speakers achieve low score for their interest and learning the second language.

While summing up the article the writer has opined that in assessing the situation of the language the historical and political aspects play an important role. To review the situation of language the political roles and actions of the people of the country are more important than the size of language communities and their relative social position; the organized form in which the politics of language has been carried out; the motive of the actors concerning the group and the conflict of the language.

In nutshell, I conclude and say that Dr. Dass Gupta has reviewed the lack of study of language system during ancient and Muslim period, attributes the credit to the British rulers who organized & formulated the language policy and study and implemented it though motivated by their own selfish commercial, religious and political ends. Writer brought out the classification and position of regional language family- wise and high lights the their position as well looks into the causes of emergence and prevalence of English language in India and ultimately scans the position of Hindi as the official and national language and its growth and acceptance.

Himadri, “The Language Situation in India. Exegesis of A Literary Article by Mr.Das Gupta,” in Literally Literal, July 20, 2015. Accessed on July 21, 2015, at:

The item above written by Himadri and published in Literally Literal on July 20, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on July 21, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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