Survey request

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
Sun Feb 3 18:16:54 UTC 2008

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All:  I've been asked by John at Haifa University in Israel to pass along
this survey on diglossia. He would like people knowledgeable about the
various Indian languages he mentions to answer some questions and send
them back to him at john at

Hal Schiffman

I'm interested in why there are significantly different literacy rates
(according to the figures I've seen) for these different languages.
Sinhala and Malayalam are like 90%, Kannada and Tamil are like 70%, Telugu
is like 60%, and Bengali in Bangladesh is like 40%. Any ideas?

I'm also interested in WHY these languages are maintaining this type of
diglossic situation (that is, a standard language which no one anywhere
speaks) even though it's obviously not good for literacy. Outside of the
Indian subcontinent, the only languages which do this are Arabic (literacy
rate 72%) and Persian (literacy rate 80%). In Arabic there's a combination
of religious fanaticism (they think that the H language was dictated by
God) and nationalist fanaticism (they want to try to create a maximally
large `Arab people' united by a standard language), while for Persian they
are using an older language because it's associated with the multinational
empire they're trying to hold together (vs. Azeris and Kurds). But neither
of these explanations work for the languages of the Indian subcontinent.
Any ideas?

Thanks and best wishes,

Please answer the following questions about diglossia in your language:

1. What is the language of school instruction (that is, the language the
teacher speaks in)? Does this vary between subjects and/or levels and if
so, how?

2. Which language are the students expected to speak in class?

3. Which language is used in teaching reading? Is it only H from the
beginning, or is L used at an early stage? If so, until which stage?

4. What is the language of textbooks, H or L? Please specify if there is a
difference between subjects or between beginning and advanced learners.

5. How much exposure is there to the H language before formal school
begins (e.g. television, children's readers, etc.)?

6. Have there been studies of the effects of the diglossic situation on
reading comprehension, mathematical literacy, scientific literacy, etc.?
It would be particularly helpful if any of these studies compared reading
in H as opposed to reading in L. Specific references (in any language)
would also be appreciated.

7. What is the literacy rate for H among the L-speaking

8. Is L being used these days (particularly by young people) for
electronic usages, like blogs, SMS messages, email messages, etc.?

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