Bringing English into the 21st century: A view from India

English in India has had an extended and elite colonial history. It was the dominant language of governance in the 19th and 20th centuries till India became independent and a new set of language policies came into being. This paper traces the narrative of English on the Indian subcontinent from its genesis as a foreign and imperial tongue to its acceptance and ‘democratization’ as one amongst the many languages of India. It is emphasized that English in India has always existed in a vibrant multilingual environment and that the emergence of Indian English as a ‘world’ variety owes much to this fact. A detailed analysis of the lexicon, grammar and pragmatics of the English spoken today in urban India especially by India’s youth who comprise over 65% of India’s population is undertaken in the paper with a view to demonstrating that radical and striking shifts in attitudes toward English in India have occurred over the last few decades of economic liberalization and technological growth. Yet, the timeline created in this paper also shows that many of the paradoxes and dilemmas that attended English from its inception in India have not quite been banished. Rather, they have taken on new, acutely self-reflexive and challenging forms that will require a radical reassessment in the 21st century.

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