Language and inequality: English for all or enabling a multilingual economy?

Language and Inequality in India: English for All or Empowerment of Indian Languages? - Anuradha Kanniganti at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015


In the midst of debates around medium of instruction, concerns about disappearance of multilingual languages, ineffective language policies, and dealing with inequalities arising from multilingualism by promoting ‘a’ common language, Anuradha Kanniganti focused on a pragmatic approach that focuses on establishing links between languages and economic development. This approach could not only enable the revival of local languages but also narrow the gap between English and opportunities.

Anuradha proposes a shift in focus from ‘English for all’ to empowering local languages for better economic performance. She pressed on the fact that economic dimension of language is a relatively neglected aspect in language advocacy. Hence it is important that research is conducted to explore the link between languages and socio economic development, and find out opportunities available in different languages for people to look forward to. If we enhance the capacity of local languages to perform various aspects in economic development, we are better likely to deal with the ‘Language catastrophe’ that we are facing and linguistic diversity can then turn into an asset rather than a liability.

She expressed that politicians traditionally have been least interested in promoting local languages. Hence we need to present solid fact based and figure based arguments to push politicians to consider the language catastrophe seriously The governments are more likely to be convinced about creating opportunities in multi languages if we talk to them in terms of ‘cost benefits’ rather than in the sense of ‘rights’. Also the organizations need to be more ‘enlightened’ in accepting the reality and make arrangements to accommodate the presence of multilingualism. Language should not become a barrier when it comes to contributing to the economic growth of a country and an attitude of ‘We somehow manage’ should change. Role of local languages should be seen in terms of technical functions and industrial use rather than mere ‘Cultural tag’.

The stimulating presentation was followed by equally stimulating responses and questions from the audience. The discussion highlighted the need for making the courses, curriculum, and assessment available in local languages, informing the people about their linguistic rights and fighting for the same and the role of governments in contributing to changing the gloomy scenario. The audience seemed to be echoing Anuradha’s sentiments that discrimination due to languages is as ridiculous as caste discrimination. People need to come together to bring a language revolution.


Post by: Manisha Dak
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in North India

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