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MORE THAN JUST LINK LANGUAGE

Bookwise

More than sixty years after Independence — and inspite of the promotion of Indian languages — English language publishing is still the dominant sector in Indian publishing. According to statistics issued by the National Library, Calcutta, the Central Library in Mumbai and the Connemara Library in Chennai, books in English constitute about 50 per cent of books published in the country. Hindi is catching up, but is still way behind; progress in other languages has been even poorer. India stands third after the United States of America and Britain in terms of the number of titles published in English.

There are three reasons why English language publishing dominates and is likely to continue to do so. First, India is primarily an educational market. There are few textbooks in the regional languages up to class 12, and very little later, especially in the professional courses. However, there is a vast choice of textbooks in English. This fact has been recognized even in the Hindi belt, which has introduced English as a compulsory subject at the primary level.

Second, all government and public sector jobs require a modicum of English language skills — both written and spoken. Hence the proliferation of language teaching schools and crash courses in English, even in small towns.

Third, English has evolved as the link language for inter-state business communication. Out of practical considerations, all regional languages have borrowed English words. For commercial reasons, there will be no decline in English language publishing; it will keep expanding as the trendsetter for regional languages.

Of the three, it is the absence of suitable texts in the regional languages that drives the middle class towards learning English at an early age. Bilingualism had been an essential part of school syllabi for long, but English was just one of the subjects. Instructions in the other subjects were provided in the regional language. This arrangement has now been reversed in many schools, with English as the medium of instruction and the regional language as one of the subjects. Teachers have accepted the change, partly because of parental pressures and the easy availability of textbooks in English.

English language skills are a requirement for any job today, although they may not amount to much more than reading names, addresses, phone numbers and passing on simple messages. Without a working knowledge of English, there are no jobs to be had.

But more than anything else, it is the spoken language that is driving the need for learning English. Everyday speech has more than a sprinkling of English words and phrases and one often breaks into English to explain a point of view. The effects are complex but they point to the need to learn English as well as to make one’s way in the world.