KIRAN RAO BATNI writes: Yesterday, The Times of India claimed that…
[m]ore Indians speak English than any other language, with the sole exception of Hindi. What’s more, English speakers in India outnumber those in all of western Europe, not counting the United Kingdom. And Indian English-speakers are more than twice the UK’s population.
and further, that…
English was the primary language for barely 2.3 lakh Indians at the time of the census, more than 86 million listed it as their second language and another 39 million as their third language. This puts the number of English speakers in India at the time to more than 125 million.
ToI has picked data from the right source no doubt (pdf, xls.zip), and I’ve double checked that the numbers are all right. But it’s funny how The Times makes you believe that a whole lot of Indians “speak” English.
Even the data taken at face value means that nearly no Indian called English as his/her first language.
Further, a whopping 92 out of 100 Indians did not list English as their first or second language.
And finally, 88 out of 100 Indians did not list English as their first, second or third language.
But the data should not be taken at face value either (I’m sure you noticed the double quotes around “speak” above). Why? Because nobody told you what it means to “speak”, and what a “second language” or “third language” means. In fact, the terms first language, second language and third language imply that proficiency actually drops significantly going from the first to the third. Otherwise, all could be considered as first and the terminology discarded as erroneous.
In fact, upon digging a little deeper, I hit upon the question which was asked by the census (Page 221 of the Manual on Vital Statistics, June 2009) under “General and Socio-cultural Characteristics”, which shows how much the actual question is up to the interpretation of the questioner and the answerer, and how much the results could vary if the sun rises in the east tomorrow (yes, I mean east).
See the circled question below:
So, while the census casually asked people to list down the two other languages known in the order of proficiency, it did not define any yardsticks for measuring proficiency. What proficiency means is anybody’s guess in the census proforma above.
For one, it could be saying “A for Apple”, and for another, it could be a university degree in English.
For many more, it could well have been just “interest in English” based on all the media hype, such as that indulged in by English newspapers like the Times of India. And for many others, to “know” something might just be to “have heard of”, as in “do you know Bhopal?”, or even “do you know Dr Raj Kumar?”.
I had pointed out earlier that Google India’s R&D chief, Prasad Ram, claims that no more than 7% Indians are proficient in English. Google looks at the Indian language market as a huge opportunity.
As you can see, this 7% number is close to the 8% (which is what 86 million is in India as per the 2001 census) who rated their proficiency in English as second-rank. And I’d certainly attach a greater sanctity to Google’s data than the Times of India‘s, simply because the former is not in the business of make-believe; they are driven by hard market realities.
So I’d say don’t take the Times‘ article at face value, and not even the data at face-value.
The 7% or 8% number who rated English as second in their order of proficiency is probably closer to being the correct indicator of the number of English “speakers” in India, not the 12% claimed by the Times. Clubbing second and third language data under “speakers” is dubious, and is nothing but a method of minority aggrandizement.
Unfortunately, this fuels the false feeling that Indian languages are becoming increasingly insignificant, which further increases the vertical disintegration of India – something which has what it takes to sap all the life-blood out of India and render it dead.
colonial mentality. toi has again exposed its colonial hangover. i think indians use inglish.
My great Doddamma in village uses English words like
Chairu – still has Meju Kurchi in her.
English is the second language for her.
For urban teenagers English means white . They keep on staring at page 3 and any bikini ads and Bombai Bengloor times’ photoshopped images.
English is not a language it’s a commodity.
Just like sex it also sells.
Only traders and migrants can sell their language , culture and almost everything and Englishmen have not left a stone unturned in this regard starting from colonial days. Bennet and Coleman is just another illegitimate child.
Gone with the wind………
good one, kiran rao.
bhale. yedd band yedaeg vodralla raayre.
Some years ago, my mother visited us in Bangalore. She liked the bumgalow we were living in, near Lalbagh, the huge lawn, etc., Her one complaint was that we had no ugraana. My maid who was nearby, an illiterate woman from rural Karnataka wanted to know what an ugraana was. My mother explained to her that ugraana was the room where you store things(in 100% pure kannada). The maid then said-Oh, that room is called a shtoreroom in kannada! That is how we ‘use Emglish, we dont ‘speak’ English. TOI would love to believe that English is spoken by 80% of Indians, but give me google any day for a fact.
Good stuff – hope the TOI reporter(s) read this article and add to this discussion.
BTW you are setting the standards here, makes us think twice before typing in our BS comments :)
Thank you for the excellent article, churumuri.
We Indians speak english,Wheather it is right or wrong we just speak it.People thin k it is satauts to speak english becuase we still have the slavery mentality in us.that too people of karnatka who just acts that they come from england and do not know kannada at all.
We got to accept that literate India is bi-lingual. We think English is big as most of us are living in urban India.
Not sure why TOI wrote such an article. In the online space Oneindia.in is one of the strongest “implementers” of Indian languages. We have seen growth but would have seen a lot more if the penetration was better
Guess what, most of the hitech families talk only in English. Their kids have the mother tougue English. If you don’t know this, go to Total, Big Bazar, Star Bazar and so on and listen to the language in which a kid daughter talks to her father!
The only reasons for reading TOI : 1) R.K.Laxman’s cartoons, 2) Ninan’s cartoons, 3) Lot of girlie photos, 4) Speaking tree, 5) good raddi value. If anybody thinks the paper gives information or news, he is crazy.
I believe its a story cooked up by TOI.
By portraying English as the most-known language, may be TOI believes that its readers will definitely send their kids to English medium schools as well as influence others to send their kids too.
An increase in number of kids going to English medium schools over the years would lead to increase in TOI’s reader base. Hence I believe it is a story cooked up by TOI with a business-plan in mind.
@Kiran Rao Batni,
Facebook is fast emerging a huge social networking site.
There is a dearth of translators in this and many other such applications on web.
Probably some of the retd Kannada lecturers and profs and enthusisats can jump in and devote some time into it.
You will get lot of help if you can team up some dedicated people.
Once they get hold of the translations at the intial stage of any such popular application it propagates and encourages for users to use it.
At this point in facebook Tamil is 73% done while Kannada is still at 18% !