India is like a lot of Québecs. There are more than 1,600 languages spoken in India, and almost all are regional, with speakers centered in particular locales. After independence from the British Crown in 1947, one of India’s regional languages, Hindi, was named the country’s official language. Then, as now, what linguists call “native speakers” of Hindi comprised only about 40 percent of India’s population. There was much resistance to the language’s elevation. To this day, large numbers of Indians, particularly in the southern states (from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu and Kerala), are bitter over this perceived “symbol and arbiter of North Indian cultural hegemony,” as the anthropologist Rashmi Sadana describes it. The majority of the “languages”—as the regional languages are known—have their own competing media, and speakers of Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu together number hundreds of millions. That the rancor persists is hardly surprising. Less expected, however, is what the conflict has meant for English: the language of India’s erstwhile colonial rulers, a language that first entered the country by armed force and bureaucratic “necessity,” has become, increasingly, “neutral.”
more from Michael Scharf at the Boston Review here.