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How Much Is English Used In India?

By Yann, published on 29/08/2018 Blog > Languages > Hindi > The Use of English in India

India was under British rule for more than two centuries and when the country was given its independence by the British Crown in 1947, it took a while for the first Indian elected assembly to agree on the languages that would benefit of an official status.

In 1950, when a Constitution of India was eventually drafted and the Constituent Assembly finally agreed on it, the new law of the land recognised no less than 23 languages, including English.

English and Hindi became the official languages of the Indian government while 21 other languages benefited from an official status under the Eight Schedule of the Constitution.

These languages represented the most spoken dialects of the country, leaving the choice to each of the 29 states and 7 territories of the Indian Union to choose for themselves which one would serve their population better. Often, a state has more than one official language and in this context, it is not surprising to learn that most Indian people are bilingual or even trilingual.

 

The Viceregal Lodge of Shimla. The Rashtrapati Niwas, also known as Viceregal Lodge, is located on the Observatory Hills of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. It was formerly the residence of the British Viceroy of India. It houses some of the most ancient articles and photographs going back to the times of the British rule in India. (by Mike Legend)

The English Rule In India

English was introduced in India, in 1611, when the East India Company arrived at the court of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and secured the rights to trade in India.

The East India Company was an English private company owned by stockholders and reporting to a board of directors in London. It was formed to trade with the East Indies (presently maritime Southeast Asia). While it started as a monopoly on trade institution, the powers of the Company quickly rose to be a de facto government with its own army and legal system.

For more than a century the Company’s influence continued to grow throughout the Indian subcontinent, and in 1757, the Company started its military expansion, using the decline of the Mughal Empire to its advantage. During those years, the official language of the Company’s government was English, and the education system put in place also used English as a teaching language.

In 1784, the British parliament passed a law giving the British government direct control of the Company.

In less than 30 years the British East Indian Company conquered most of India as well as other territories in South East Asia. However, in 1857, a major uprising of the Indian soldiers of the Company started. The mutiny was driven by a general discontent about the British Company rule and the harsh treatment that some rich and noble Indian had received.

One incident that most likely sparked the insurrection involved the newly delivered Enfield rifle. The ammunition that was delivered along with it were greased. However, the grease was rumoured to be made out of tallow from both beef and pork fat. As the cartridges needed to be torn open with the teeth, they directly infringed with both the beliefs of Hindu soldiers (who consider cows as sacred) and Muslims soldiers (who considered pig as an impure animal).

The presidential palace in Delhi. The Rashtrapati Bhavan (“rásh-tra-pa-ti bha-van”) is the official home of the Indian president located at the Western end of Rajpath in New Delhi, India. Its construction was ordered by the British government of India in 1911 when they decided to move the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. (by leonyaakov)

The disregard for the Company soldiers’ beliefs was the straw that broke the camel back.

In 1858, once the rebellion quashed, the British Parliament, dissatisfied with the shortcoming of the East India Company, liquidated it and took control of all its assets. Thus began the British Raj.

The British Crown continued to control India for almost a century until its Independence in 1947 and the subsequent creation of the Indian Union.

Although there never were many British people living in India, they controlled most of the country’s wealth and political institution. They imposed British laws and created wicked ones to maintain their dominion over the Indian sub-continent.

During all this time, English was the language of the ruling elite, both British and Indian, and despite India’s independence, English remained an official language.

Marathi is also the main languages spoken, especially in the Maharashtra state.

The Official Language Status

Indian was declared independent and thus free of the British rule in 1947.

The Constitution of India however, was not written until 1949 and only became the law of the land on the 26th of January 1950.

Two copies of the constitution were written, one in Hindi and the other one in English. All 284 members of the Constituent Assembly of India had to sign both copied.

The original document stipulated that Hindi would be the only official language of the Indian government with English serving as a transition language for the next 15 years. However, states in the South and West of India strongly disagreed with Hindi being the sole official language of the Indian government. Dravidian languages which are spoken in South India (mainly the Telugu language and the Tamil idiom) do not share significant linguistic, grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation similarities with Hindi, an Indo-Aryan language).

Street cricket in India. The English language is not the only thing that the British left in India. Cricket is India’s national sport. (by Aravindan Ganesan)

After years of controversies and political unrest regarding the statue of Hindi as sole official language, the Indian parliament decided to amend the Constitution to allow English to be used after the 15 years limit and it ratified the Official Languages Act of 1963.

However, the Urdu language is simply the Persian version of Hindi.

However, attempts to remove English as an official language, forced the Indian lawmakers to amend the 1963 Act. In 1967, the following amendment was added:


The provisions of (all clauses guaranteeing the use of English) shall remain in force until resolutions for the discontinuance of the use of the English language for the purposes mentioned therein have been passed by the legislatures of all the States which have not adopted Hindi as their Official Language and until after considering the resolution aforesaid, a resolution for such discontinuance has been passed by each House of Parliament.”


This simple addition to the 1963 Official Languages Act meant that it would be challenging for any political party in power to remove English as an official language as it would require the adherence of the parliaments of 19 of the 29 Indian states as well as 4 of the 7 Indian territories.

English is used to communicate between states not sharing the same official language. And communication between the states and the central government, even though written in Hindi, need to be accompanied by the Hindi to English translation.

It is mainly because of India’s strong regionalism that English remains so used today, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland even listing English as their only official language.

Higher education, most national and international businesses, as well as certain parts of the Indian government, continue to use English as their primary language.

In most recent years, learning English has become one of the most critical piece education for students, as reading and writing skills as well as a perfect fluency in English, became a must to have on your curriculum would you wish to get a decent job.

Raksha Bandan ceremony in India. Raksha Bandhan is an Indian and Nepalese festival centred around the tying of a thread on the wrist as a form of bond and ritual protection. The festive Hindu and Jain ritual is one principally between brothers and sisters but was used as a symbol of unity between Indian Hindu and Muslims by Rabindranath Tagore in 1905 to protest the British Empire rule. (by Yogu)

English speakers in India

English is only spoken as a first language by approximately 220,000 people in India, but about 125 million people claim to speak English as a second language (or even third).

This figure would not be surprising given that multilingualism is pretty common in the country. However, it is difficult to asses the language skills for the entire Indian population that counts more than 1.3 billion people.

With a cost of ~£140 to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), not many people in India can afford to gain such certification (the average net monthly salary is £875).

I recent years, the newly coined term of Indo-Anglians. This term takes on the older Anglo-Indian word that referred to those with mixed Indian and British ancestry, and people of British descent born or living in the Indian subcontinent.

Indo-Anglians refers to people of Indian origins who’s fluency in English is perfect and who use written and spoken English as their first language even though it might not be their mother tongue. Indo-Anglians families are mainly concentrated in urban areas around the biggest cities in India, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata. 

Read more about the Bengali language in India.

These families are usually considered to be part of a privileged class and more often than not their members have attended or attended international schools where English is the primary educational tongue.

Even though it seems that this Indo-Anglian class do not conform to the usual religious norm so ingrained in the Indian tradition and culture, because of their tendency to marry other Indo-Anglian, they are seen by the rest of the Indian society as a caste of its own.

No formal studies have been looking into this phenomenon, but with English being the primary language on the Internet and with national and international companies using it to conduct their business, India may see more and more English speaking household in the future, to the detriment of the local native language and dialect.

Diversity in India. India is a land of diversity: different religions, different clothing, different dialects. (by Visual Hunt)

English or Hinglish?


“She was bhunno-ing the masala-s_ jub_ phone ki ghuntee bugee.”                                                                                                                                               meaning “She was frying the spices when the phone rang”


Hindi has been around India for more than a thousand years. English on the other, only made its way to the Indian sub-continent 400 years ago. 

One thing happened, the two mixed and fused to give birth to a new language: Hinglish.

When English became the world’s lingua franca during the 19th century, it became clear to Hindi speakers that their success rate in the world would be directly related to their proficiency in English. This remains the mindset for a considerable part of the Indian population today.

The first occurrences of Hinglish are said to date from the 17th century when the East India Company first arrived in India, yet it only became popular during the 190’s when it was fully integrated to the Indian popular culture through pop music and the Bollywood film industry.

As more and more people in India started to speak Hinglish, the language is now taught in some British universities. Businesses and corporations are interested in hiring people who master the hybrid language, not wanting to waste any opportunities to acquire new markets.

As Hinglish as yet to be listed as one of the official languages recognised by the Indian Constitution, it does not figure on the census list of languages and estimating the number of Hinglish speakers is pretty hard. Some linguist considers that this composite language is amongst the fastest growing one on Earth.

Hinglish includes code-switching, direct and sometimes nonsensical translations, changing certain words in English or Hindi, and spicing each language with the other. A few examples of this include the following phrases and sentences:

  • Chuddies – underpants
  • Airdash” – to go somewhere very quickly
  • Timepass” – to pass the time
  • Chaivanist – a person who is extremely fond of chai tea
  • Prepone” – a word used to describe the opposite of postponing, i.e. bringing a meeting forward
  • Glassi” – thirsty
  • Mera friend mera dimag kha raha hai” or “My friend is eating my brain out” meaning that one’s friend won’t stop talking.
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