English in India

History, features and users

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

25 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. The history of the English language in India
2.1 The history until 1947
2.2 The history of English in India after 1947
2.2.1 Language policy in the Constitution
2.2.2 The language policies after 1950
2.2.3 English in education
2.2.4 Current language situation

3. Features of Indian English
3.1. Phonology
3.2 Grammatical, syntax and lexical features
3.2.1 Grammatical and syntax features
3.2.2 Lexical features

4. Examples
4.1 Newspaper Article
4.2 A letter

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

India is the second largest country in the world, concerning the number of inhabitants. 1.2 billion people are living on an area about 10 times larger than Germany. The country has a long, sometimes violent history with many ups and downs and many different ethnic groups trying to conquer the country.

Right now, it has the status of a so called take-off country and is considered to become one of the most leading nations in the world, economically as well as politically, in near future. But even though the country is on the road to a better future, there are still many problems that have to be solved. Of course there are problems like poverty, environmental issues and so on.

But one problem in India is the fact that the country itself is not unified, many different ethnic groups are living there and over 500 different languages are spoken.[1] One of the many languages spoken is English. Almost every Indian gets in contact with English at one point of his live. It is the medium of instruction in most of the schools as well in universities. And in order to get an occupation, for example in the civil service in India, one has to master English, alongside with Hindi and another regional language as well. Over the last 200 years, it has been established as a lingua franca in India, a language that unites a country where 500 different languages are spoken. But how important is English in India, and what is its history and status?

Also it has to considered, whether Indian English has become an own variety of English. It is, as mentioned, being used and spoken in India for over two centuries now and certain features, in written as well as in spoken language, developed in the course of time. Some of them are obvious to the native speaker, others not. Some might even sound or look rather comical to someone not familiar with the features of this variety. But what are those features and by whom are they used?

Another question that also arises is how, where and by whom English is used. Is it a language of the common people, the poor classes, or is it a language used only by a small group of people and who might those people be?

2. The history of the English language in India

2.1 The history until 1947

English in India has a long tradition. While it has become one of the present official languages, the history of English in India is an exiting one.

It has to mentioned before starting that in the literature considered for this paper it is often talked about South Asia, which includes the countries of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives and, of course, India. But since the development of the English languages is very similar in those countries until the independence of those countries, especially in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, which make up most of the population in the area, most of the information given on the development in this region is also true for India.[2]

The first time an Englishman put a foot on Indian soil was as early as 882 AD, when an emissary of Alfred the Great went to the South Asian subcontinent. But this was only a short visit and did not lead to any kind of English influence in India (cf. Kachru: 1994, 501).

Until the English language actually could be established as a lingua franca, several other nations put a foot on the South Asian subcontinent. It started around 200 BC when the Indo-Aryan came from the northwest, the area which is today the Pakistan, into South Asia using a form of Sanskrit to communicate. Then, in 711 AD the Arabs came into India, but they did not introduce their language from the beginning on. It took until the 11th century when Mahmed of Ghazni invaded India and brought along the Arabic language as well as the Islam. A few hundred years later, in 1500 the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka. Until 1510, the year the Portuguese reached Goa[3], they had conquered the whole southern part of India as well as Sri Lanka (cf. Ferguson: 1996, 30, 31).[4]

The spread of the English language in India began on December 31st, 1600. On this date, “Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to a few merchants […], giving them the monopoly to deal with the east, […]” (Kachru, 1994, 502). At this stage, the Indians had to learn at least some English in order to make business with the English Company and the first contact of English in India was established. But it took until 1784 for England and the East India Company to become a political power, when William Pitt passes the India Act and thus gave the East India Company the “responsibility to for Indian affairs with the British crown” (cf. Kachru: 1994, 501).

At this point the actual ‘start’ of the spread of the Indian language begins, since English is now introduced to the people and the English Crown has gained power over India. But until English in India gained its present status, it was along way (cf. Kachru: 1994, 502). Kachru (1994, 502) names four stages “that the introduction of English into the language policies of the region primarily has gone through:

The four stages are

“first exploration;

second, implementation;

third, diffusion;

and, finally, institutionalization” ( Kachru: 1994, 502).

According to Kachru (1994, 502), “during the phase of exploration, the role of the missionaries had been quiet vital.” But the purpose of the missionaries making the Indians learn English and to start teaching and establishing schools was a rather pragmatic one: they needed the English language to spread the Holy Word of the Gospel to evangelize the people (Cf. Kachru: 1994, 503).[5] “The initial efforts of the missionaries started in 1614 and became more prominent after 1659. This was the time when the missionaries were permitted to use the ships of the East Asia Company.” Kachru: 1994, 503)

The stage of exploration started when the Minute of Education was passed on February 2nd, 1835 by Lord Macauly and “recommended the use of English in Indian education” (cf. Ferguson 1996, 31). “With this declaration […], yet another external language was added to the multilingual repertoire of South Asia. The implication […] was that by 1882 over 60 per cent of primary schools were imparting education through the English medium.” (Kachru: 1994, 506) Until then, “there was no national language in-education policy for the subcontinent. (Kachru, 1994, 507)” Kachru (1994, 500) states, that until this Minute was passed,

“each Indian state had its own agenda for language in education and the political divisions did not foster a national language policy. In India […] at least four languages had roles of wider communication, or bazaar languages: Hindi-Urdu […] , Sanskrit and Persian. […]

However, the new policy could not change the linguistic, cultural and religious diversity of the country. [It] did, however, provide for the first time a blueprint of a national language policy for the subcontinent.”

What can be confusing when dealing with those four stages is that Kachru (1994, 502) does not consider those four stages to happen chronologically. For example, he states (1994, 501) that “the diffusion[6] […] is closely linked with the control of the region by the British.” So it can be said, that the third stage of diffusion is actually one of the first stages that can take place before stages one and two. And that the latter stages do in fact only support the diffusion.

The fourth stage, institutionalization, is not specifically mentioned by Kachru (1994). But it can be said, that when the British Crown gained power over India alongside with the Minute of Education, the English language was institutionalized in India.

Ferguson (1996, 31) on the other hand offers only three stages, which are nevertheless chronological. For Ferguson (1996, 31) “the first stage was the use of English in direct relation to British […] activities. The second stage was the use of purely Indian contact […]. The third stage was the official recognition that English is necessary as a “link” language in independent India […].” However, even though Ferguson’s approach is chronological, he does not go that much into detail as Kachru (1994) does, since for the pre-independence time Ferguson only offers two stages for the English language development in India.

From the date the Minute of Education was passed, not many important changes took places in the language policy in India. English was medium of instruction in many schools and, of course, the language of the administration, but the language never gained popularity, which was due to fact that it was the language of the imperialists (cf. Kachru: 1994, 501).

2.2 The history of English in India after 1947

2.2.1 Language policy in the Constitution

As mentioned before “the spread of English in India since independence has been more pervasive than during the colonial period“ (Dua: 1996, 557). India became independent in 1948 and the constitution, which also had paragraphs on the language issue came into force in 1950.

But the timeframe between 1940 and 1950 is also important because it “sets the stage for controversy between Hindu and English on the one hand, and between English and the regional languages on the other” (Dua: 1996, 558 et seq.); a language struggle that continued from the first years after India’s independence until now. (cf. Dua: 1996, 558 et seq.)

A Committee was set up prior to the release of the constitution in order make recommendations concerning the language issue. And this turned out to become a debate on whether English shall be used in the new, independent India or not. While some preferred English over Hindi and the other regional languages as a medium of instruction, others preferred Hindi or one of the regional languages (cf. Dua: 1996, 558 ff.).

As mentioned above, the Indian constitution contains also articles on the language issue.[7] It starts with article 343 where it says:

The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. […]

(2) Notwithstanding anything in clause (1), for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement:

Provided that the President may, during the said period, by order authorise the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union. (The Indian Constitution, §343)

According to Dua (1996, 560) the timeframe of 15 years to replace English with Hindi was “unrealistic, as it was not based on any adequate assessment of the developmental efforts involved in extending the use of Hindi, […].” As Dua (1996, 560) further mentions, article 343 also “nullifies” itself when the Constitution continues, saying:


[1] Nevertheless, only 20 are officially listed.

[2] As a matter of fact, most authors use India as a role model when talking about the language development in this region.

[3] A city on the west coast of India

[4] According to Ferguson a Portuguese Creole is still spoken in Sri Lanka

[5] As the Spanish did for example in South America.

[6] Which is the third stage.

[7] §343-351

Excerpt out of 25 pages


English in India
History, features and users
University of Trier
English in South and Southeast Asia
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Diese Arbeit behadelt eine Vielzahl von Aspekten des Indischen Englisch und seinen Unterschieden zum Standard-English. Am Ende der Arbeit gibt es eine Corpusanalyse, welche 2 Texte, einen Brief von 1900 sowie einen aktuellen Zeitschriftentext auf die "features" Untersucht.
English, India, English, South, Southeast, Asia, varieties
Quote paper
Heinrich Mario Nink (Author), 2008, English in India, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/116087


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