Multilingual Europe and Multilingual India: Lessons to Learn from Each Other

Asha Sarangi

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

WS153: Constructing Multilingual Europe? Micro and Macro Perspectives

The paper examines layers of linguistic hierarchies and practices shaping the political, social and cultural future of India, an excessively multilingual and multicultural country in the modern world. More specifically, I will look at the institutional mechanisms and political ideologies that went into the making of the language planning and policy of post-colonial India. These policies and programs have continued to affect the democratic governance and plural cultural and social order of the country. The Indian state’s efforts to institute language policies- such as the three language formula in the school education, bilingual practices in the administrative spheres and multilingual social recognition and acceptance of twenty two official languages enshrined in the constitution along with more than sixteen hundred existing languages and dialects in the society at large – have continued to result in various forms of economic, social and cultural exclusion of people and communities not ready to integrate and assimilate within this cultural mosaic of multi-lingual India. The making and remaking of the states and their boundaries along the linguistic and territorial criteria has further added to this intricate exercise since the fourteen states within the Indian Union at the time of independence have now been broken into twenty eight states. Furthermore, the demands for newer states along the criteria of linguistic cultural contiguity and social homogeneity have continued to be on rise since independence. It is instructive to see as to how the Indian state has managed, successfully or not, to pull along with such linguistic cultural diversity within a democratic political framework. It is in this context that Indian case does provide a useful and an innovative example to learn from for new multi-lingual Europe of our times.

The cultural heritage of linguistic diversity of Europe has continued to overshadow the present political and cultural predicament of New Europe of the twenty first century. The disintegration and reintegration of Europe has been a long drawn process that has resulted in various economic, political and cultural policies and programmes on the part of the state in dealing with the problems of diversity and differences within the nation-state boundaries of contemporary Europe. On the other hand, the latter has shared colonial/imperial ties with its colonies which are now independent nation-states, having evolved their own political and cultural order. It is in this context that Europe and non-European contexts can be mutually instructive and imperative. Whether the multi-lingual Europe of today will remain so or less multilingual will be a consequence of policies, programmes and practices on the part of both state and society, both of which are in the process of historical transition at this moment. Can we say that European experience of today has already been, partially, thought of and dealt with, however differently, within the Indian experience of linguistic-cultural diversity and its assimilation into the democratic polity of the last fifty years? In this regard, multi-lingual European experience and Multi-lingual Indian experiences can be considered as being more complementary in nature.

Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 18