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Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics (Second Edition)

2006, Pages 610-613

India: Language Situation

Author links open overlay panelE.Annamalai []Get rights and content

The number of languages in India varies from census to census, and so does their speaker strength because of the language is a sociopolitical construct. The number can be placed at around 200, and these languages differ in their status and are categorized into groups based on their legal, historical, and functional status. Indian multilingualism is more than demographic, and it is functional with many languages being used in public domains. The provincial boundaries have been redrawn to coincide with language boundaries. More languages are used at the lower levels of the domains giving rise to a pyramidal structure. Even minor languages are transmitted in private domains from generation to generation, which makes multilingualism stable. The postindependence development from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy and from local bureaucracy and market to national bureaucracy and market threatens this stability with regard to minor languages. The position of English has strengthened in the spheres of education and economy. Language conflicts occur in claiming new status and autonomous territory for specific languages. They are resolved through the political process of finding compromises made possible by the democratic form of governance.

Bilingualism Indian English Language loss Linguistic area Multilingual communication Multilingualism National language Official language Tribal language

E Annamalai is professor emeritus of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India. After retirement from the directorship of this institute, he has been a visiting professor at the Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo; International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden; Department of Linguistics, University of Melbourne; and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He is currently a visiting professor at Yale University. He is a member of India's National Council for the Promotion of Indian Languages. His earlier training in Tamil and Linguistics was at Annamalai University, India. He studied generative grammar and semantics at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. and was a visiting faculty in the Department of South Asian Civilization and Languages. Professor Annamalai's research interests include the study of language policy and its implementation in its linguistic, social, and political dimensions, language contact and its linguistic consequences as well as lexicographic and grammatical description for a comparative understanding of the lexical and syntactic structures of languages. Some of his recent sociolinguistic papers are ‘Language choice in education: conflict resolution in indian courts,’ Language Science 2(1), 1999; Use of language rights by minorities in right to language, equity, power and education (Robert Phillipson, ed., 2000); Medium of power: the question of English in education in medium of instruction policies: which agenda? whose agenda? (James Tollefson and Amy Tsui, eds., 2003); ‘Language policy for multilingualism: a reflective essay,’ Language Policy 2(2). His books include Lectures on modern Tamil (1999), Managing multilingualism: political and linguistic manifestations (2001), and (with Ron Asher) Colloquial Tamil (2002). He continues to publish papers and books on syntactic and semantic analysis and on lexicographic problems, particularly with reference to Tamil, in addition to his publications in the area of social and historical relation between the languages of India.

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