Book Review: Politics of Indians' English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jun 7 13:34:19 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Linguist-List

AUTHORS: Krishnaswamy, N.; Burde, Archana S.
TITLE: The Politics of Indians' English
SUBTITLE: Linguistic Colonialism and the Expanding English Empire
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004 (Hardback edition, 1998)
Announced at

Chandra Shekar, California State University, Fresno


Linguists in India and abroad have been engaged, from time to time, in the
discussion of the nature of Indian English, a variety of English much like
Caribbean English, Singapore English, Australian English, American
English, Black English Vernacular etc. and the sociological and political
status of English in India vis--vis other Indian languages.  Krishnaswamy
and Burde's book adds a new dimension to this debate. The authors
forcefully argue that the explanation and the description of Indian
English and English in India is rather inadequate and offer a historical
and socio-political explanation to characterize the nature of Indian
English/English in India. The writers relate the characteristics of
present day Indian English and the role of English in India to the history
of English in the sub-continent that correlates with the political history
of British rule in India. Highlight of this book is the empirical evidence
in the form of archival material of English written by Indians dating back
to 1600 and other specimens used extensively to support their argument.

The book includes five chapters, with each chapter introduced by an
epigraph. It also includes a table of contents, preface, extensive
appendix, bibliography and index.


The first chapter, English in India: Problematics of Perception, reviews
the description of views expressed in the literature on Indian English and
English in India. The authors quote extensively from major sources the
different descriptions of Indian English/English in India and point out
the ambivalence, confusion and contradictions inherent in these works. The
authors conclude this chapter by highlighting the attitude of people
towards the role of English language and its future in the subcontinent.

In chapter two, Krishnaswamy and Burde examine the research done on
'Indian English' and 'English in India' by various researchers and
scholars in the field. The authors point out the confusion that has
resulted from using the terminology 'Indian English' synonymously with
'English in India'. While making an attempt to sort out the difference
between the two, they critically evaluate the works that treat 'Indian
English' only as a variety of English with unique lexical, morphological,
phonological, and syntactic properties and those that talk about the
perception and status of English language use in India and the creative
writing in English by Indian authors or authors of Indian descent.

The authors begin chapter three by introducing the notion of 'power' and
how 'language' is used as a tool of power to bring in socio- cultural,
economic, political and technological changes in a society in which it is
in circulation. They argue that any discussion on the role of English in
every day life in India should be done within the framework of 'power
structure' of languages of India. English in Indian context, authors
claim, is primarily a language of money and power, language of the urban
elite, language of the feudalistic society, a language of bureaucracy, a
language that has divided the society into 'haves' and 'have nots'. The
power differential between English and other languages of India, the
authors claim, has 'coerced' the 'weak' who speak a vernacular, to 'learn'
English as a 'survival' strategy. English used by the 'weak' as a survival
strategy, Krishnaswamy and Burde argue, in essence, captures not only the
linguistic nuances of this variety, but also gives us a glimpse of the
role of English in India. This social reality, as the authors point out,
has not been taken into consideration by scholars currently working on the
study of English in India.

Chapter four introduces the history of English language use in India.
The authors have divided the history of English in India into five
i) 1600-1813 -- the pre-transportation phase,
ii) 1813-1857 -- the transportation phase,
iii) 1857-1904 -- the dissemination phase,
iv) 1904-1947 -- the institutionalization phase, and
v) 1947-1990 -- the identity phase.

The authors show that each phase in the development of English in India
correlates with the economical and political objectives of the people who
were/are at the helm of the power structure. English education and
bureaucracy emerged at the same time, one serving the interest of the
other. In order to prove their argument, they provide data from the
written documents written by the people during the respective phases. What
is remarkably interesting is that the data suggests the 'domain
restrictedness' of the English language use in India through out its
history. English was primarily used in print-media, education,
bureaucracy, but not in the discussion of native 'religion', 'culture',
music, and fine arts. In other words, the authors point out that the
English language use in India was restricted to specific domains. This
'domain' restrictedness, they claim is the 'unique' feature of 'Indians'
English' or Indian English.

In chapter five, a brief summary of the major thrust of the authors'
arguments in characterizing 'Indian English' and 'English in India' is
given. Krishnaswamy and Burde conclude this book claiming that there is no
such a thing as *indianness* in 'Indian English', but English in India
simply reflects a complex web of socio-political and historical realities
of a geographical area that has come to be known as 'India'.


Krishnaswamy and Burde's book is worth reading for policy makers,
educationalists, linguists and other scholars who are interested in
postcolonial studies, language-in-education policy, sociolinguistics,
bilingualism, and multilingualism. It is a very well written book with
some forceful arguments worth considering in the discussion of the status
of English in India. This book is well researched, provides helpful data
to support the claims made and an extensive appendix and bibliography
which curious readers can follow up. A major drawback of this book is
there are too many quotations used by various authors and scholars
throughout the book that distract the reader's focus.


Dr. Chandra Shekar teaches in the Linguistics department at
California State University, Fresno, California. His courses include
Introduction to Linguistics, Language, Culture and Society,
Bilingualism, and Syntax. His research interests are in Syntactic
Theory, Dravidian Syntax, Bilingualism, language and gender,
language and politics, Language Acquisition and Language Teaching.

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