History of English Language in India



Nor is it the most commonly spoken language in the country. In fact, although it is widely spoken as a second or third language, only a tiny minority of the population has English as a first language or mother tongue. But despite all that, English is incredibly important in India and is spoken by more people there than in any other country in the world except for the USA and the UK.

As in many parts of the world the English language followed the businessmen, soldiers and missionaries who colonized India. To help British interests in the colony there was a policy to create an Indian administrative class. People who should think like the British, or as it was said then in Britain “Indians in blood and color but English in taste, in opinions and morals and intellect.” The key was education. Indian administrators were sent to British universities to be trained. In the missionary schools the lessons took place in English. And in the universities built by the British in India the language of instruction was also English. By the end of the 19th century when India was the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, fluent English was seen as the key to success and the new native elite had to speak it well.

British colonial rule ended in 1947, and in 1950 the Indian constitution established a 15-year period during which Hindi was supposed to replace English for all official purposes. The need for a common language in a country with hundreds of languages was clear and the government’s choice was Hindi. However, things did not go according to plan. There were protests – some of them violent – in non Hindi-speaking areas, and consequently the proposal to end the use of English was dropped.

Now the Indian government is supposed to be working to progressively increase its use of Hindi and reduce its dependence on English, but the current situation is that English is still recognised as a “subsidiary official language” throughout the country and as the official language in several regions.

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