Languages – Make us Strangers in our Own Country!
by Maj P. Tuhinikar Choudary (Retd) (Mob: +91 98480 47477)
Chairman – Institute for Democratic & Economic Affairz (IDEAz)
Language is for communication, both Nationally and Globally and, enough importance must be given to the Mother tongue / Local language and also to develop our ancient language Sanskrit. Especially today as the world is recognizing the importance of Sanskrit and is seeking to learn it.
The three languages formula has not worked out well because;
discriminatory, when compared to people for whom that script is of their Mother tongue.
gives us an advantage, even Globally.
We need to have a more practical and widely acceptable Language Policy.
Language is for communication, both Globally and Nationally.·
In a Country like India, with so many languages, parochial insistence on one language over·
the other defeats the purpose of Nation-wide communication.
Rational, open minded approach will show the way.·
Quotations for consideration:
To encourage a common language that allows for better National Integration and another for ease
of Global Communication, both with a common script and to also encourage the local language with
its phonetic script that can also be used for Sanskrit as our National language.
language, with its script (Roman) also used for our Working language (Hindustani). The English do not have a script of their own and had themselves adopted the Roman script.
manner appropriate to the age of the learner. Learning by speaking and play in childhood is the best way.
Learning a language….. by speaking and play in childhood is the best way.
Some decades ago, when AT &T was the only telecom giant in the USA, it carried out a study to
determine how large a vocabulary was required to be able to communicate well in English. A
study of all the words used in a 24 hours period in telephone conversations in New York city led
them to conclude that general conversations needed knowledge of only about 300 words, while
most business and other financial transactions needed knowledge of at most another 300 words.
The fluency lay not in knowing the words, but in knowing the grammar and idiomatic use of
So to teach a language, one first should learn the words for common items and activities
in that language and how they are used together. This means, first learn to speak, the grammar
and idiomatic usage will then follow.
Teaching the alphabet and writing is the next stage and not the first. Children pick-up the
mother tongue, or even the different language, if any, of their playmates, Ayahs or maids etc. They do not need to attend classes to do so. So teaching should start by making children pickup the other spoken languages too and only thereafter be taught to recognize and correlate the written words.
Perhaps the best way would be for schools, from the play school itself, insisting on children
speaking in only one language each day of the school. Say, Monday – English, Tuesday –
Hindustani, Wednesday – Mother Tongue or local language, Thursday – Sanskrit, Friday –
English, Saturday – Sanskrit. Of course on Sunday at home it would be the mother tongue or
In the USA a play TV series ‘Sesame Street’ was started to teach English. Today many similar programmes are available for various languages, to not only do the same for language skills but also thereby spread awareness of common cultural concepts.
As citizens of our Country, we are free to go where ever we please within it, but once we are out of our own State, or the State we were brought up in, we are handicapped. We can no longer freely communicate, either verbally or in writing, with the people now around us. We find ourselves Strangers within our own Country. This leads to divisiveness.
…once we are out of …the State we were brought up in, …We find ourselves Strangers within our
Perhaps some around us speak and understand English (Indian) or ‘INGLISH’ and moving within that restricted circle we find our self quite at home, but that circle intersects often with other local circles in which people do not speak ‘INGLISH’ and there once again we are Strangers or ‘Pardesis’ – and thus at a loss. If we know some Hindi or Hindustani (the pidgin or mixed version of Hindi, Urdu, English and some of the other Indian Languages) we might get by in many parts of the Country where the local Language is Hindi or its cousin or in other urban centres where some of the people are familiar with Hindi / Hindustani. But in other areas, mostly rural, we will again find ourselves at a loss.
Not only that we can’t communicate, except for a few commonly recognized words aided by sign
language, but we also cannot read or make sense of the Milestones, Name Boards, Destination
Boards on Buses, Direction Boards, Buildings etc and hence cannot know where to go and to whom for help, and even when we do find someone we are unable to communicate satisfactorily and are therefore again handicapped.
So, as it is no one’s stand that everyone should know all the languages of the Country and yet, as we do need to be able to at least communicate with one another, we need to find a solution to this problem of communicating well with each other across the Country and even Globally.
Many suggestions had been made and we can take a look at some of the main ones and try to
understand why, even after over 70 years of independence, we still have not found a satisfactory
What needed consideration was to;
fact, as more Indians speak English, than in any other Nation and as we have our own style
of speaking it and a modified vocabulary, perhaps it would be better to call it English (Indian)
communication is better undertaken in the popular vernacular form, perhaps with the
vocabulary including words mixed in from many sources, that has already established itself
as a reasonably functional and practical medium of communication and take the best of
whatever is found acceptable to best serve the needs of our citizens in their lives within the
Country i.e. Hindustani as popularized by Bollywood Cinema as the Working language for the
Select the language of our Constitution, English as the Official language,…Hindustani…as the
Working language…, the Mother Tongue as the Local language, …Sanskrit as the National
language of all Vedic literature, or any other acceptable Indian language, or perhaps the
language most spoken across the country. However being only one out of the 25 officially
recognized languages, the most spoken Language will evidently not be any language spoken
by the majority of the people of the Country but only by more people than any of the other
languages. Make it compulsory for all the other Citizens to learn this selected Language even
if the script selected is radically different from that of their own Language. However will such
a policy be equitable and acceptable to all? Obviously the other language speakers, who too
associate their identity and community rights with their own language, are not going to love
this idea, but may only grudgingly give it a try as long as they are not disadvantaged till they
too can develop an adequate proficiency in the selected language. This was the basis of the
3-language formula which has proved in effective. Sanskrit has the advantage of being the
language of ancient India and being connected to all local languages and hence has the best
claim to be our National Language.
encourage its learning. Everyone in India is rightfully proud of his/her mother tongue, but
unfortunately is also jingoistic about its importance in comparison to other languages,
refusing to accept that speakers of other languages could be equally right in calling for
recognition of the importance of their language.
Jawaharlal Nehru, did not agree with the proposal for retaining English as the National
language, as they felt it offended their sentiments. They settled for practical reasons, to
allow it to continue as the Official language. They also did not accept the call for Hindustani
with the Roman Script.
language and accepting English as a Pan Indian link language till the selected Indian
Language could be developed into a Pan Indian language. In their fervent enthusiasm
they thought this would take only 10 years. They, as a compromise measure also
decided to keep the mother tongue or local language as the third language wherever it
was not already the local language.
decided, the National language should be the language spoken by the most people in the
Country and even though Sanskrit was the root language for all Indian languages, it was
no longer the most spoken.
To be able to view this emotion laden matter in an objective and dispassionate way we need to
remember the following and understand their implications.
At the census, to arrive at the National language for India, soon after attaining our Independence the finding was that the language spoken most people in India was not Hindi but ‘Telugu’.
The purists of language should recall how the purists of dance (Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi,
Kathakali, Odissi, Manipuri, etc) or music (Hindustani, Carnatic etc) had also led futile protests
against the common man’s attraction for the ‘Bollywood’ style through which he / she could
express their feelings in dance or music. Finally the protests died out as the purists noted that
this in no way prevented the expression and appreciation of the pure dance forms and
expressions of music. Each encouraged the other and gave rise to fusion forms. Also it was noted that what people earned in performing ‘Bollywood’ style allowed them to indulge in their passion for the purer styles and advance them. So too we can expect in the case of language.
Realistically at that time there was no practical way of enforcing any one language across India
till enough time was allowed for the rest of the Country to learn it proficiently. Unfortunately
Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in his hurry did not allow for sufficient time for proper assimilation of Hindi in those parts of the Country where it was effectively a foreign language, thus leading to a rift across the Country and to antagonism and resentment against what was perceived by many as an attempt by the Hindi speaking people to dominate the rest.
In the old days, even as most people literate in their local language, the Intelligentsia across the Country used Sanskrit as the link spoken language though it was written down in the local script. This was possible as languages in India are mainly phonetic and like using short hand, it was possible to write the words spoken in one language in the script of another and properly reproduce the speech when necessary. It was the spoken language that was recognized as important for communication; the script was only a means of recording it. It is historically wrong and untenable to claim that Sanskrit was always written in the Devanagari script
“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity is of wonderful structure, more
perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than
either” – Sir William Jones (English scholar)
But the policy of the British rulers, seeking to break the Brahmanical structure of the Indian
Society by banning all Sanskrit education and encourage only English and thus give importance
to the English culture, reduced Sanskrit, which till then was the language of learning and
communication across the country, even as it used the local phonetic language script, as now the
language of only a few, mostly priests and language experts. Today, Sanskrit is being recognized
as being extraordinarily precise and well structured language with a flexible root structure
having the potential to easily expand its vocabulary and with a rigour and depth of thought and
consciousness not available in other languages.
History has over the centuries encouraged the extraordinary growth and spread of English (in
India as English (Indian) or ‘INGLISH’ and its use, and of Hindustani over the past 70 years,
across the country. We need to recognize and act on this and not only bemoan the fact that
none of the other languages have kept pace.
Let us note how other Countries, faced with a similar problem of being multi-lingual, had dealt with the situation.
the only practical way. However up to school level it would be good to have local
language schools to instill the local culture in them.”
For India the 3 languages formula has proved non-workable. A better proposal would be a Two script Four language formula. It is therefore proposed that ENGLISH (India) or ‘INGLISH’ be is recognized as our Official language and HINDUSTANI with the same Roman script recognized as our Working language. With the MOTHER Tongue recognized as the LOCAL language with its own script and SANSKRIT recognized as our National language with the same local phonetic script of the Mother Tongue / Local language. Thus with two scripts we could easily speak and deal with four languages. Perhaps thus even be able to better understand more Global as well as more Local spoken languages while still keeping our mother tongue and script and National / Ancient language alive and developing.
For India the 3 languages formula has proved non-workable. A better proposal would be a Two script Four language formula.
Specialist language courses could be conducted for other languages as demanded. The script could be common, based on the English alphabet or the phonetic script of the Mother tongue / Local language, to allow easy learning of other languages later on.
In order to address all these issues effectively and satisfactorily, it is proposed as follows:
Script, as the OFFICIAL language of India.
Country, with the ROMAN script as the WORKING language of India.
language. This is how it was in the old days, when spoken Sanskrit was the same but the
written script was different from location to location.
Sanskrit, traditionally an oral language, can be written in any phonetic script, even in shorthand,
even though in the written form it may lose some of the clarity of the multiple meanings of the
words which depend on the pronunciation and emphasis. The script for Sanskrit is more an aide
Learning languages must start with speaking during play from the earliest ages and reading and
writing can be learnt thereafter. Also perhaps each day of the week at School could be nominated
for one language.
distinctive regional variants and should therefore perhaps be called as ENGLISH (Indian) or even
as ‘INGLISH’, is the link Language of the Country and those who know it have many an advantage
within and outside our Country. Especially as it has a vocabulary of over one million words which
is easily at least 8 to 12 times greater than that of any Indian Language, except Sanskrit, and therefore it would be ridiculous and practically impossible to try and generate that many new words.
We need feel no aversion to English as belonging only to England, because though it originated there it grew from the Shakespearean time vocabulary of less than One Lakh words to a vocabulary of over Ten Lakh words, mainly by absorbing words from most other languages from all over the world. The earlier ‘Chaucerian’ time English, the actual mother tongue of England, is today almost a foreign language even in England and hence we need have no hesitation in accepting English (India) or ‘INGLISH’ as our language. They are today many more ‘INGLISH’ speakers in India than in any other country in the world.
Such an advantage, especially when it allows us an edge in these days of globalization, is to be
further enhanced and exploited by encouraging the spread of the Language.
Nandan Nilekani in ‘Imagining India’ writes –
“Dalits also came to support English as an emancipatory language that enabled
communication across linguistic regions, giving (them) a nationwide solidarity and
enabling their voices to be heard in the public sphere… the importance of English as a
neutral player in India’s Language debate cannot be exaggerated.”
He also draws our attention to the difference of prosperity in Singapore, which chose English,
and of sectarian strife in Srilanka which in similar multi language circumstances chose its
majority language Sinhalese as its official language.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy had said – “So long as the English language is universal, it will remain
And Also as Shri C. Rajagopalachari, wrote – “English was Saraswati’s gift to India”.
treasure in our many local languages, mostly derived from Sanskrit. However, it may be noted
that no one today calls for any single regional language to be imposed as a National Language on
the other regions without they too agreeing to learn and communicate in the language of
another region (a uniformly applied 3 Language formula which has proven non-workable). But
given the multiplicity of languages and the predominance of Hindustani, a sort of mixed heritage
language based mainly on Hindi, but having elements of Urdu, some English and of many other
Indian languages to some extent or the other, that has established its sway and hold across India
over these post Independence decades. The so called ‘Bollywood’ movies have been a catalyst
for this spread. This language could have its script be based on the English Alphabet (Roman
Script). A script based on this alphabet would also have the advantage of recognition of the
scripts of many other languages that use Roman letters across the World. Infact during the
language crisis in the 50’s and 60’s, one of the 300 amendments suggested to the Language bill
was that Hindi be written in Roman script instead of the Devanagari script. Obviously this was not
accepted then. This requires reconsideration today. This one script then will easily allow us write
/ read both ‘INGLISH’ and Hindustani allowing us to communicate as both National and Global
Now before you purists respond ‘No Way’, please first look at what is around you and see the
The Military, which recruits soldiers from all across the Country has shown us the way. All Military Jawans, which ever part of India they come from, are taught in Hindustani with the ‘INGLISH’ / ROMAN script. This has proven to be the quickest and most effective way to bring everyone on to a common platform and also to allow the familiarity of the Alphabet to grow into a better knowledge of English to enable them to further expand their education and skills to be useful in a globalized world. There are now tens of millions of such soldiers and ex-soldiers across the Country all familiar with Roman Hindustani even as they also learn ‘INGLISH’.·
All people familiar with ‘INGLISH’ will find it no problem to read the script and pronounce the·
words even if the local spoken language is different. They will also have no difficulty in
recognizing common words on Milestones, Name Boards, Destination Boards on Buses, Direction
Boards, Buildings etc. There are many more millions of such people.
In order to make the pronunciation standardized and easy, we could look at the accent and·
diacritical marks / ‘Matras’ as in English, Turkish and even Indonesian / Malaysian languages,
though only if deemed necessary.
For better working communications in the local language, especially for inter-state employees or migrants it may be good to offer short spoken local language courses in each State.·
This in no way takes away anything from any of the Regional languages as it allows for both the
Mother Tongue as the Local language, and Sanskrit as the National language, to be taught with the same phonetic script of the Mother Tongue. This will give a boost to the Mother Tongue and allow local communication in it and also to establish spoken communication across the Country in Sanskrit as our National language. Sanskrit being the root language of almost all the local languages, this will even help us understand other local languages better.
To be willing to learn from others, to adopt, adapt and improve on whatever we see as good
practices elsewhere is only being smart. We Indians are generally recognized as smart people;
hopefully we will so act in this matter too. Of course even indecision, will not be able to stop the
slow but steady spread of ‘INGLISH’ and of ‘HINDUSTANI’ across the Country, but it would be better to allow it to do so in a quicker, conscious and planned manner.
The aim of having a common language is not to decry any local language, but to rationally arrive at the best way to allow communication across the Country and even Globally. Let us build on what advantages we now have than cry about what it could or should have been. Be Practical,
encouraging ‘INGLISH’ and Hindustani with a common Roman script and, the Mother tongue / Local language each with its own script and, Sanskrit with the local phonetic script would be the best way.
A TWO script and FOUR language formula that starts with speaking from Play School level and
writing from later classes, would be easier than the three script, three language formula as taught today, as it would be more acceptable to all since the Mother tongue / Local language has its due recognition, and would also allow easier communication both Nationally and Globally.
– JAI HIND! –