Language issues in the context of higher education in india ravinder gargesh

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  • Professor
  • Department of Linguistics
  • University of Delhi
  • DELHI-110007 INDIA

General View

  • Language use in education depends on the linguistic situation of a country
  • Intimately bound are the issues of language rights, language empowerment, language promotion, language policy and language planning
  • A multi layered or multi strata based solution
  • Serious problems in the formation of educational policy in the context of medium of instruction/examination
  • Problem of shift from one medium to another

Plan of the Paper This paper attempts to present the Indian scene as follows:

  • Presents the socio linguistic perspective of the country with special reference to the English language
  • Presents the de jure position in the context of bilingualism and the education scenario
  • Presents a broad picture of the universities in India, with special reference to the medium of instruction/examination
  • Presents a broad picture of the University of Delhi, with special reference to the media of instruction/examination


  • Characteristic feature of Indian multilingualism:
  • Allocation of social roles to different languages
  • Pandit(1976: 172-173) provides an apt example:
  • Language use of an Indian businessman living in a suburb of Bombay:
  • His mother tongue and home language is a dialect of Gujrati
  • In the market he uses a familiar variety of Marathi, the state language
  • At the railway station he speaks the pan-India lingua-franca, Hindustani
  • His language of work is Kachhi, the code of the spice trade
  • In the evening he watches a film in Hindi or in English
  • Listens to a cricket match commentry on the radio in English
  • India has a population of over a billion people(1,027,015,247 as per the Census of India 2001), 1652 Mother Tongues (1961 Census), 67 educational languages and an area of 3,287,590 SQ KM. India is a multilingual giant.

Languages of India

  • -Language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Sino-Tibetan.
  • Indo-Aryan and Dravidian cover over 97% of the population
  • Grierson - 179 languages to 544 dialects - Linguistic Survey of India (1888 and 1927)
  • 1951 census - 845 languages including dialects
  • More than 10,000 speakers each speak 60 of these
  • 1961 census -1652 mother tongues corresponding to 193 classified languages
  • Classified languages belong to four language families:
  • Austric (20), Dravidian (20), Indo-Aryan (54) and Tibeto-Burman (98)
  • 1971, 1981, and 1991 Census - distribution of household population is presented along with the Schedule VIII languages and other major languages
  • Census 2001 – Language figures not yet available
  • Mr. Jaipal Reddy, Union Minister of Culture, stated in the Rajya Sabha on December 13, 2004., ‘There are 3,372 languages in India, …10,000 persons or more speak only 216 languages.’
  • 85 languages out of the 216 are subsumed under the 18 scheduled languages, the remaining 131 are classified as non-scheduled languages.

Multilingualism and Convergence

  • All major languages of India exist beyond their home territory
  • Border areas reveal a state of diffusion -- contact patterns
  • Frequent code-switching – vital function for intelligibility condition
  • Close contact – formation of Pidgins
  • Halbi = Convergence of Chattisgarhi, Oriya and Marathi
  • Malwi= Rajasthani and Gujarati
  • Saurashtri= Convergence of Gujarati and Tamil (unrelated languages)
  • Kupwar dialect= shows features of Kannada, Marathi and Urdu

Bilingualism/Multilingualism and the Census

  • Languages Andhra Haryana Maharashtra Uttar West
  • Pradesh Pradesh Bengal
  • Assamese 1,302 348 2,310 2,844 4,021
  • Bengali 30,281 9,995 161,497 263,917 58,541,519
  • Gujrati 43,844 2,266 2,016,381 11,311 38,319
  • Hindi 1,841,290 14,982,409 6,168,941 66,761,621 2,602,268
  • Kannada 519,507 936 1,060,701 3,727 1,624
  • Kashmiri 612 923 2,680 5,227 462
  • Konkani 3,794 148 312,618 364 944
  • Malayalam 66,409 1,257 340,597 15,721 17,215
  • Manipuri 221 75 748 576 824
  • Marathi 503,609 3,088 57,894,839 17,698 11,849
  • Nepali 6,634 5,823 39,751 99,859 860,403
  • Oriya 129,697 2,634 38,183 14,742 70,001
  • Punjabi 24,773 1,170,225 225,511 661,215 1,376
  • Sanskrit 199 81 277 44,847 41
  • Sindhi 12,919 369 618,696 52,168 5,404
  • Tamil 753,484 5,202 427,447 15,569 25,797
  • Telugu 56,375,755 2,402 1,122,332 10,597 108,443
  • Urdu 2,836,179 261,820 5,734,468 12,492,927 1,455,649
  • Distribution of the 18 scheduled languages in some states
  • (Source: Census of India 1991)
  • Numbers of speakers in States
  • All major languages of India exist beyond their home territory

Bilingualism/Multilingualism and English

  • 1961 bilingualism returns of 15 states and the union territory of Delhi show:
  • Hindi-Urdu (H-U) and English (E) together = ½ bilingual population
  • (52.5% = H-U 26.8% + E 25.7%) (Khubchandani 1972)
  • Overall picture is one of growth:
  • National average for bilingualism is on the increase
  • 9.7% in 1961  13.04% in 1971  13.34% in 1981  19.44% in 1991. (Vijaynunni 1999)
  • Hindi a language of wider communication/link language
  • for trade/commerce, mass entertainment and informal inter-group interaction
  • Khuchandani (1994: 19): Consolidation of English during 1961-1971 –
  • bilinguals with English increased from 26% to 35% of the bilingual population. The present figure till the arrival of new data stands at 57.3
  • Hindi – returned as second or third language by 70 million (of 807 million) speakers of scheduled languages (8.67%)
  • English - returned as second/third language 90 million people (11.15%= 8% report it as second language and 3.15% as a third language)

Functional Role of English in Multilingual India

  • Auxiliary (1)
  • Supplementary (2)
  • Complementary (3)
  • Equative (4)
  • Social
  • Function
  • Library
  • Language
  • Vehicular
  • Language
  • Link
  • Language
  • Alternate
  • Language
  • (1): for acquiring knowledge - ‘library language’ - creates ‘passive’ bilinguals
  • (2): for restricted needs – tourism - ‘vehicular language’- ‘unstable’ bilinguals with partial competence
  • (3): complementary function - ‘link language’- creates ‘stable’ type of bilinguals with partial competence
  • (4): equative function - an alternate language in all domains - ‘ambilinguals’

De Jure Status of Languages

  • The Constitution of India adopted on Nov. 26, 1949 in the Constituent Assembly
  • Effective date: Jan 26, 1950
  • Provisions about languages:
  • Part XVII deals with the official language of the Union in 4 Chapters.
  • Chapter I: Language of the Union (Articles 343 and 344
  • Chapter II: Regional Languages (Articles 345-347)
  • Chapter III: Language of the Supreme Court, High Courts etc. (Art. 348-49)
  • Chapter IV: Special Directives (Articles 350-351)

Chapter I: Language of the Union (Articles 343 and 344)

  • Article 343: Hindi in the Devanagari script as the official language of the Union stipulates Art. 343(3): English should continue to be used for another period of 15 years
  • Article 344: The President empowered to constitute an official language commission after 5 years and then to review the progress made by Hindi after 10 years

Chapter II: Regional Languages (Articles 345-347)

  • Art.345: Empowers Legislature of a State to adopt as official language any one or more languages in use in that State or Hindi
  • Art. 346: Official language of the Union shall be the official language for communication between one State and another State, and between a State and the Union
  • Art. 347: On demand the President may direct the use of language if demanded by a sizable number of people

Chapter III: Language of the Supreme Court, High Courts etc. (Art. 348-49)

  • Art. 348: The language of the Supreme Court and the High Court shall be English until the Parliament by law otherwise provides
  • Bills, authoritative texts of Acts, Byelaws, Rules, and Regulations etc shall also be in English
  • States in addition may use their official language/languages for this purpose but English text/texts will be authoritative
  • Art 349: No change in the language of Bills, Acts, Rules, Bye-Laws etc can be contemplated for 15 years and after that period the President must be satisfied of the need for a change

Chapter IV: Special Directives (Articles 350-351)

  • Art. 350 provides for every person to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer of authority of the Union or a State in any of the languages used in the Union or the State, as the case may be
  • Article 350A: Every State and every local authority is directed to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.
  • Art 350B: A special officer for linguistic minorities to be appointed by the President who is to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under this Constitution and report to the President upon these matters at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament, and sent to the Governments of the States concerned.
  • Art 351: Govt. to promote the spread of Hindi language in such a way that ‘it may serve as a medium of expression for the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating … the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in other languages of India … and by drawing… for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages’.

Some other provisions

  • Art. 120 in Part V and Art. 210 in Part VI of the Constitution vest powers in the presiding officers of the Union and State legislatures to use their discretion for allowing any member to speak in his mother tongue if he is unable to speak in the recognized official language or languages.
  • VIII Schedule today has a total of 22 languages in the list of ‘scheduled languages’ In 1949 these were 14 languages, including Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu
  • In 1967 Sindhi was added to the list
  • In 1992 Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were added
  • In 2004 Dogri, Maithili, Rajasthani and Santhali were added.
  • The languages of the Eighth Schedule are more concerned with Art. 345 and 351. The former empowers a State government to adopt one or more languages or Hindi for official use in the State.
  • A demand for the inclusion of English in the Eighth Schedule was made in a meeting of the CABE (Central Advisory Board of Education) in early August 2004. One of the issues widely reported was the discussion on the “inclusion of English in the list of modern Indian languages” (The Times of India August 12, 2004, p.2)

Languages in Education

  • The Three Language Formula was first devised for school education by the Central Advisory Board of Education in 1956, subsequently modified by the Conference of Chief Ministers in 1961, and formalized by the (Kothari) Education Commission (1964-6) (see Aggarwal 1993: 175-193)
  • Based on the following three factors:
  • (a) recognition of the right of ethnic minorities to get educational instruction through their MT,
  • (b) promotion of state official language as a major regional language for bringing the different ethnic groups of the region into the socio-cultural mainstream,
  • (c) development of pan-Indian official language of the Union for the integration of the country as a polity.

The Three Language Formula

  • Recognizes the following languages:
  • The first language to be studied must be mother tongue or the regional standard.
  • The second language : In Hindi speaking states will be some other modern Indian language (MIL) or English, and, in non-Hindi speaking states will be Hindi or English.
  • The third language in Hindi speaking states will be English or an MIL not studied as second language, and in non-Hindi speaking states English or Hindi not studied as the second language.
  • Implications: Teaching of the first language commenced from class I, the teaching of the second language was recommended from Class VI or a bit earlier from class III, or at a convenient stage depending upon the resources of a state. The third language was also recommended to be taught from Class VI (Gargesh 2002: 191-203)
  • Presently - an increasing trend to begin teaching of English as a subject from Class I, e.g. Delhi, Haryana and Bihar have begun to teach English as an additional subject from Class I from the year 2000, 2002 and 2003 respectively.
  • The 1967 Official Language Amendment Act has ensured the continuation of English and this has affected the domain of education

Language for higher education

  • Debates regarding the medium of instruction in education in India since independence:
  • 1. Education Commission (1948):
  • “… English has become so much a part of our national habit … English cannot continue to occupy the place of state language as in the past”
  • 2. Kunzru Committee (1955):
  • (a) Change in the medium of instruction at the university stage should not be hastened;
  • (b) Even after the change English should continue to be studied by all university students;
  • (c) English should be retained as a properly studied second language in our universities
  • 3. The Education Commission (1964-66):
  • (a) Concerted effort needed for Hindi/regional languages as the media of instruction;
  • (b) The medium of examination should be the same as the medium of instruction;
  • (c) English should be studied and taught as a library language;
  • (d) No student should be allowed to graduate unless he is proficient in English;
  • (e) The universities should offer special courses in remedial English and English for Special Purposes.
  • 4. National Integration Council (1962): observed that:
  • Need to make regional languages as media of instruction at the university stage.
  • 5. The Working Group of the University Grants Commission (1978):
  • (a) English has the advantage in publications and reference materials over RLs
  • (b) Employment prospects of students educated through English medium are better
  • (c) The shift from RLs to English in universities (instruction) ia a problem
  • (d) English continues to be the status symbol in society

Language for higher education

  • English in higher education was viewed as India’s window to ‘the world’s technical and scientific information and knowledge’
  • The Report of the Committee for review of National Policy on Education 1986 notes that “the regional languages are already in use as media of education at the primary and secondary stages. Urgent steps should now be taken to adopt them as media of education at the university stage” (Ramamurti: 1990: 250)
  • It also mentions that the Education Commission of 1964-66 “had called for a changeover to the regional language media over a ten-year time frame;” but that “progress in this regard has not been uniform or satisfactory” (Ramamurti 1990: 265)
  • The Ministry’s document Programme of Action (1992: 178-179) acknowledges that “university teachers having received education through English find it difficult to teach through Indian languages,” and that “Indian language-medium courses are generally not popular amongst the students because of lack of professional comparability and poor employment potential.”
  • It is true that the higher we move in education and the more we aspire for professional excellence the only medium left at the top is English.

De facto language use in society

  • English is used throughout the length and breadth of the country
  • Number of speakers of English in India: Between 30-50 million (estimate basis 3-5% as per Kachru 1986: 54) to about 200 million (estimate basis 20% as per Encyclopedia Britannica 2002: 796 and Crystal 2003: 50)
  • Positive attitude towards the language
  • Most significant language for obtaining information
  • Language of prestige in higher education
  • Careers in business and commerce, government positions of high rank (regardless of stated policy), and science and technology (attracting many of the brightest) continue to require fluency in English

Attitude towards English

  • Some studies related to attitudes towards English
  • Abbi, Gupta and Gargesh (2000):
  • English is overwhelmingly sought as a medium of education but not as a mother tongue.
  • Agnihotri and Khanna (1997: 74) “more than 90% informants want some amount of English to be used, in teaching at all levels of education”
  • One of the major reasons for learning English is the ‘instrumental function’ that “it is also seen as a means for enhancing social mobility and individual personality (ibid: 85)
  • 77% of the informants believe that progress in science and technology will be hampered without English” (ibid: 90)
  • Attitude towards English speaking Indians: More than 60% informants considered them to be sensitive to Indian culture and they also perceived them to be progressive and honest.
  • There is strong parental encouragement for the study of English. The extent of positive attitudes towards English indicates that English is here to stay for quite some time as a valuable tool.

Major language for obtaining information

  • Narendra Kumar, President of the Federation of Indian Publishers says that ‘a sizeable portion of this clientele [higher education] is the reader of English books’ (1998:41).
  • Of the about 3000 ‘active’ publishers in India about 1/3 publish in English and the rest are shared by 21 other languages (Kumar 1998: 44)
  • Newspapers: Published in India in about a 100 languages
  • Amongst the multi edition dailies, The Times of India edited simultaneously from seven cities has the largest total circulation of 1,695,945 copies followed by Malayala Manorama (eight editions) with a circulation of 1,132,813 copies, Dainik Jagran (12 editions) in Hindi is third with a circulation of 1,122,544 copies (Press in India 2000: 21).
  • Radio: A total time of 12 hrs 20 minutes is devoted to news in the Home Service out of which 2 hours 25 minutes are taken up by 21 news broadcasts in English while Hindi takes up 2 hours and 30 minutes for 20 news broadcasts. The remaining languages get between 10 to 40 minutes each.
  • TV:In the National Network News in English gets six slots in a day which totals a 100 programs in the English medium. The educational programs too have a high percentage of programs in English.
  • Abbi, Gupta and Gargesh (2000) – more of English is used in India when the aim is to provide information.

Higher Education in India: A glimpse

  • University Network
  • About 324 Universities including:
  • 95 Deemed Universities
  • 162 Traditional Universities
  • 40 Agricultural / Forestry / Fisheries / Veterinary Universities
  • 36 Engineering and Technology Institutes such as Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institute of Science, etc.
  • 18 Medical Universities
  • 11Open Universities
  • 18 National Institutes of Technology
  • 17625 Colleges of Engineering, Medical, Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Commerce, Science and Management Education.

Language as medium of instruction and examination 2003-04 (108 Univs.)

  • Faculty/Subject E- E- H/RL- H/RL- Languages
  • Arts 52 53 30 30 H(18), P(2), G(3),
  • K(2),T,B(3),Mar(2)
  • Science 64 64 07 07 H(4), G(2), T
  • Comp Science 32 32 03 03 H, Skt, G,
  • Commerce 36 36 06 06 H(2), G(3), T
  • MBA 37 37 03 03 H(2), G
  • Engineering 34 34 01 01 H
  • Medicine 19 19 02 02 H(2)
  • Education 38 38 16 16 H(10), G(2), K,B, Mar(2)
  • Law 23 23 08 08 H(6), G, P
  • Agriculture 16 16 02 02 H(2)
  • Vet. Science 12 12 01 01 H
  • Others 58 59 26 26 H(17), B(3),Mar(2)
  • G(2), Mal,T
  • ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • H=66, P=3, G=15,
  • K=3, T=4, B=7
  • Mar=6, Mal=1,Skt=1
  • TOTAL= 421 422 105 105 105

Medium of Instruction and Examination in University of Delhi

  • Faculty-wise Distribution of Students during the Year 2003-2004
  • --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • 1. Arts 41826 102427 144253 E/H
  • 2. Ayur. &
  • Unani-Medicine 605 605 H/S/U
  • 3. Inter-Disciplinary 1782 1782 E
  • 4. Mathematical Sc. 5768 -- 5768 E
  • 5. Medicine 2149 2149 E
  • 6. Music & Fine Arts 486 486 E/H
  • 7. Science 15449 15449 E
  • 8. Social Science 16249 2798 19047 E/H
  • 9. App.Soc.Sc. 1799 1799 E
  • 10. Commerce
  • & Business 27877 73236 101113 E/H
  • 11. Technology 3958 3958 E
  • 12. Education 763 763 E/H
  • --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • Grand Total (U.G.) 118711 178461 297172
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Medium of Instruction and Examination in University of Delhi

  • Faculty-wise Distribution of Students (2003-2004)
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • 1. Arts 3121 3149 6270 E/H
  • 2. Ayur. & Unani-Medicine 0 0 0 H/S/U
  • 3. Inter-Disciplinary 418 418 E
  • 4. Mathematical Sc. 1199 231 1430 E
  • 5. Medicine 1042 1042 E
  • 6. Music & Fine Arts 309 309 E/H
  • 7. Science 3269 3269 E
  • 8. Social Science 1873 601 2474 E/H
  • 9. App.Soc.Sc.& Humanities 243 243 E
  • 10. Commerce & Business 801 1662 2463 E/H
  • 11. Technology 366 366 E
  • 12. Education 697 697 E/H
  • 13. Law 3913 3913 E
  • 14. Management 575 575 E
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • Grand Total (P.G.) 18057 5412 23469
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Perceived benefits of English-medium education

  • English is a highly developed language and is at present best suited for the country’s industrial and scientific progress
  • English is less divisive because of its neutral character
  • English enables the educated Indian to move about inside and outside the country
  • English brightens the students’ prospects of getting prestigious jobs
  • English is still the language of administration at the Center and in many States.
  • Beneficial for good effective education
  • Helps the country in maintaining a competitive edge in the production technical manpower

Problems Perceived in English-medium education

  • Very large population does not use English in daily life
  • Those who come through the RL medium find it difficult to cope with English medium at higher levels
  • There is a need for creating effective intermediate language courses so that the shift in medium at any stage doesn’t remain a major hindrance
  • Need to perceive English as a functional language rather than as an elite language that creates socio-political conflict.
  • English occupies a special place in the domains of education, law and administration.
  • It is widely believed that one cannot become an engineer, doctor, lawyer, scientist, pilot etc. without proven proficiency in English.
  • It has been absorbed in the multilingual fabric of India.
  • Creative writings reveal that English in India is undergoing a process of decolonization.
  • The main Educational goal is to minimize social and economic disparities and to create a positive discrimination in favor of the weak by giving each person an opportunity to learn this language.
  • Intermediate programs of English need to be created which may enable students to smoothly switchover from a regional language to English as a medium of instruction in higher education.
  • The present system of English Language education is unable to meet the growing aspirations of the people in the new globilized contexts. Hence, the mushrooming of private English medium schools.
  • In the emerging new situation using RP would be an impractical goal with so many varieties of Indian English today. We are gradually moving towards an indigenous standardized Indian English.


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