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Case study pushpibagch_withcoveri

  1. 1. Speaking inT ongues By Pushpi A case study on multilingualism in contemporary India.
  2. 2. Speaking inT ongues By Pushpi Bagchi A case study on multilingualism in contemporary India.
  3. 3. All content for this book is for academic purposes only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without permission from the author. Content, editing and design by Pushpi Bagchi Printed and bound in Edinburgh College of Art. 02
  4. 4. Contents 04 INTRODUCTION BODY 07 English Spoken Here 09 Language = Cultural Asset 13 Advocating Language 19 CONCLUSION 22 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 23 BIBLIOGRAPHY 03
  5. 5. Introduction Earlier this year at the 79th All India Kannada Sahitya Sammelan (All India Kannada Literary Conference) the attendees demanded that the Union Government of India create a national policy that would advocate regional languages and make it compulsory for primary school children to be taught in the ‘mother tongue’. This was in response to a sentiment that many of the participants shared— the influence and use of local languages (in this particular case Kannada) was being lost due to the predominance of English as the lingua franca (ND Shiva Kumar, February 2013). In a country with over twenty official languages and over a hundred unofficial ones (Timmons, 2012), linguistics, regionalism and politics are topics that evoke passionate responses from most. In a globalised world being bilingual is a necessity for many, and most contemporary Indians have the character trait of being multilingual; yet there is much debate over the issue of loss of linguistic diversity. One cannot discount the importance of learning the English language. It can be considered as the world’s second language as it “allows you to be part of a global conversation” (Jay Walker, 2009). In India competence in English leads to opportunities as it is the official language of commerce (Joseph, 2011). There are people like Mr. Chandra Bhan Prasad, an Indian Dalit activist who believes that promoting fluency in English will help liberate his people from being at the bottom of India’s social caste system (Tripti Lahiri, 2011). Which leads us to Indian English; the adapted English language that is spoken 04
  6. 6. differently based on your geographic location—is not the evolution of the spoken language inevitable and necessary? The aim of this project is to initiate a dialogue on the issue of multilingualism and the apparent loss of Indian vernacular culture by using graphic design as a tool to reflect contemporary India’s evolving cultural values. This report explores the role of language as part of our cultural identity and the significance of linguistic diversity in a fast globalising world. The primary audience is contemporary, multilingual Indians who posses the gift of tongues but also share the responsibility of taking it forward to the next generation. The loss of cultural diversity is a global concern and while this research might be region specific, the issues are wide ranging and of significance to many. The study uses two main research techniques; primary research as personal interviews of Indian students in Edinburgh and secondary research of literary reviews of articles, journals and talks that address the issue. The interviews were conducted in an informal manner, not unlike a discussion to put the respondents at ease and engage in an active dialogue. The report does not include details of the studio practice done alongside this study due to the limitation of the word count. “The greatest indicator of the loss of cultural diversity is language loss” (Wade Davis, 2003). This study attempts to understand what it is that we stand to lose and hopes to contribute to the safeguarding of the vernacular. 05
  7. 7. “ Whether a Kannadiga can speak good Kannada or not isn’t an evaluation of him as a person. Him as a person comes first— languages are just words. Prasanna Kumar, PhD Student University of Edinburgh 06
  8. 8. English spoken here According to the constitution of India the country does not have a national language. However, one can confidently claim English as India’s unofficial national language (Joseph, 2011). The best schools in India teach in English and the best jobs require fluency in the language. Institutes that teach English are thriving and according to Sumanyu Satpathy; even broken English speaking skills are considered to be empowering with advertisements for “Spoken/Broken English” classes (Satpathy, 2012). He continues to claim that the growth of India’s two most popular languages, English and Hindi in the Indian education system and consequently the culture will turn the country’s linguistic landscape into a “depressingly monolingual affair. ” As mentioned earlier, Mr. Chandra Bhan Prasad believes that in a country riddled with the social stigma of caste barriers, English is “casteneutral” (Lahiri, 2010). Figure 1: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Prasanna Kumar’s Portrait [sketch].
  9. 9. In Raj Krishnan’s opinion, a Business student at the University of Edinburgh giving English preference is a step in the right direction as “it is necessary to be a more global citizen” (Krishnan, 2013). However, he doesn’t believe this is at the cost of losing our traditional culture or linguistic diversity. 8
  10. 10. Language = Cultural asset A few years ago the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had released a fact by linguist Ken Hail which stated that of the 6,000 languages currently spoken on earth, 3,000 aren’t spoken by the children. This fact implies that the world’s linguistic and therefore cultural diversity is going to be halved over the span of a single generation (Borges, 2006). What do we lose with the demise of a language? Borges continues his talk by suggesting we lose a philosophy and knowledge system as that is no longer passed on. According to Jenal Mehta (an Irish citizen of Indian origin) apart from knowledge, languages are also a cultural asset and a commodity that can establish cultural identity. Her ability to speak in Gujarati (her mother tongue) and Hindi plays a significant role in establishing a connection to her Indian roots (Mehta, 2013). To help preserve a language, or ensure the continuity of its use there has to be an emotional connection to it. Vani Sriranganayaki believes Indians won’t lose touch with their mother tongues as it is deeply embedded in our familial values (Sriranganayaki, 2013). It is often considered disrespectful to talk to elders in the family, especially grand parents in a language Figure 2: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Vani Sriranganayaki’s Portrait [sketch]. 09
  11. 11. 10
  12. 12. other than the mother tongue. It is part of tradition. Khushi Mandalia on the other hand takes pride in the fact that she can express herself in three languages without having to think about it too much. Her multilingualism is one of her biggest cultural assets (Mandalia, 2013). Figure 3: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Multinlingual signage [collage using found images]. 11
  13. 13. “ Language cannot be legislated by an emerges from human minds interacting with one another— slang, jargon... . Steven Pinker, 2005 12
  14. 14. Advocating language The Indian Census asks for a first, second and third language from each respondent. The 2001 census listed a 122 spoken languages in the country, making multilingualism a presumption (Timmons, 2012). Most Indian education boards require students to be taught a second and often third language along with the language of instruction from primary school which makes most educated Indians bilingual at the very least. It is not uncommon to find contemporary Indian households where children speak in a different language to each parent, another one with their friends and English at school. Such examples can be found in my family and among the students that I interviewed. Shruti Chandak speaks Marwari (her mother tongue) at home, she learned Sanskrit as a third language in school and her mother made her read religious texts in Sanskrit which familiarised her with the language. Living in Maharashtra she often speaks to her friends back home in Marathi which is the local language there. She is also fluent in Hindi as that was her second language at school and of course English (Chandak, 2013). People like Shruti are not uncommon as multilingualism is inevitable in such a diverse country. A medium where one can find fantastic real world applications of multilingual methods of communication is Indian street graphics. Whether hand painted signboards or embellished means of transport, there are innumerable examples of multilingualism seen in everyday communication. One can also find ways in which English is adapted to suit the 13
  15. 15. vernacular (Figure 3). Instead of fostering such unexpected avenues of multilingual expression, we find politicians in Karnataka legislating rules that require all commercial institutions to have their signage in Kannada, the official state language alongside their English counterparts or pay a hefty fine (The Times of India, 2008). Such laws do not help in advocating the regional languages, instead they often encourage acts of violence and vandalism by Figure 4: Samosapedia (2012) Screen shots from [online image]. 14
  16. 16. 15
  17. 17. self appointed protectors of the vernacular by giving them liberty to deface signs in English and create social tension (The Economist, 2012). It is the same in the state of Maharashtra (Joseph, 2011). Other than violence, such laws also have other effects, as pointed out by Vani, regional magazines and publications that talk of preserving or protecting vernacular languages are often perceived as fundamentalist (Sriranganayaki, 2013). The State Governments appear to be failing in their attempt to help save the vernacular and promote regional languages. Figure 5: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Jenal Mehta’s Portrait [sketch]. 16
  18. 18. “ People should be taught to take pride in their own language and in the fact that they can learn more Indian languages— because most people in India know quite a few languages...and that’s not the case in most places. Jenal Mehta, MSc Business University of Edinburgh 17
  19. 19. Considering the earlier research, some might consider this as debasing languages. In his Ted talk, John McWhorter discusses how texting is considered by many as the fall of serious literature, especially among the youth. In his opinion however this is simply not true as texting is a form of speech and is not literature (McWhorter, 2013). He terms texting as “fingered speech” which has an emergent complexity and its own structure which acts as an extension of a persons linguistic repertoire. Mingling Indian languages in spoken slang or otherwise is a similar concept and indicates an interesting alternate to the dominant use of English. Figure 6: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Khushi Mandalia’s Portrait [sketch]. 18
  20. 20. This matter of culture The variety of people that make up the Indian subcontinent bring together the influences and inspiration of many different cultures (Cooper, Gillow, 1996) and this culture has been evolving and adapting to change for hundreds of years. However, Indian history is unique in the way that it has maintained a sense of tradition while absorbing aspects of other cultures during its numerous invasions and colonizations (Ypma, 1994). It appears that the only constant is the continuos evolution of the culture and a sense of unity amongst the vast diversity. From the research undertaken, it is clear that English is a predominant language in India. Whether this is at the cost of the country’s linguistic diversity is debatable. Contemporary Indians are not going to stop speaking their mother tongue as its deeply rooted in their familial values and is a source of comfort as mentioned by most students interviewed (refer appendix). However, as Jenal mentioned, “ ... people should be taught to take pride in their own language
  21. 21. and take pride in the fact that they can learn more Indian languages because most people in India know quite a few...and that’s not the case in most places” (Mehta, 2013). This study has helped generate content for studio work that aims to introduce the issue of multilingualism and linguistic diversity in contemporary India and generate a dialogue on the topic of loss and preservation of vernacular culture. While there are no conclusive solutions it can be seen that the issue is not the predominance of English or Hindi in India, or for that matter the world over but that
  22. 22. of appreciating the value of culture and linguistic diversity and encouraging its expression in new and innovative formats. The ideal goal is to instil a sense of pride, whether nationalistic or cultural regarding this unique gift of tongues. The loss of culture is a loss of knowledge and identity, and languages are a commodity that can be freely used to express identity. Perhaps by allowing them to evolve and adapt freely is their best method or preservation. Figure 7: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Shruti Chandak’s Portrait [sketch]. 21
  23. 23. List of illustrations Cover image: Bagchi, P (2013) Speaking in Tongues [personal image]. Figure 1: Bagchi, P (2013) Prasanna Kumar’s Portrait personal image]. Figure 2: Bagchi, P (2013) Vani Sriranganayaki’s Portrait [personal image]. Figure 3: Bagchi, P (2013) Multinlingual Signage [personal image]. Figure 4: Samosapedia (2012) Screen shots from [online image] Available from: http://samosapedia. com/. Figure 5: Bagchi, P (2013) Jenal Mehta’s Portrait [personal image]. Figure 6: Bagchi, P (2013) Khushi Mandalia’s Portrait [personal image]. Figure 7: Bagchi, P (2013) Shruti Chandak’s Portrait [personal image]. Figure 8: Bagchi, P (2013) Raj Krishnan’s Portrait [personal image]. 22
  24. 24. Bibliography Barnard, M. (2005). Graphic design as communication. London, Routledge. Barnard, N. (1993). Arts and crafts of India. London, Conran Octopus. Bhattacharya, U. (2011) A Case for Hinglish. Found in Translation, [blog] 13th October, 2011. Available at: [Accessed: 3rd May, 2013]. Chandak, S. (2013) Interview on the significance of multilingualism. Interviewed by Pushpi Bagchi [in person] Edinburgh, 4th April, 2013. Cooper, I., Gillow, J., & Dawson, B. (1996). Arts and crafts of India. New York, Thames and Hudson. Dawson, B. (1999) Street Graphics India. London: Thames and Hudson. J.M. Ypma, H. (1994) India Modern, Traditional Forms and Contemporary Design. London: Phaidon Press. Krishnan, R. (2013) Interview on the significance of multilingualism. Interviewed by Pushpi Bagchi [in person] Edinburgh, 23
  25. 25. 1st April, 2013. Kumar, N. (2013) Kannada Sahitya Sammelan demands national language policy. The Times of India, [online] 11th February, 2013. Available at: bangalore/37038162_1_regional-languages-mukhyamantri-chandrukannada-development-authority [Accessed: 13th April, 2013]. Kumar, P (2013) . Interview on the significance of multilingualism. Interviewed by Pushpi Bagchi [in person] Edinburgh, 6th April, 2013. Lahiri, T. (2010) A Dalit Temple to ‘Goddess English’. The Wall Street Journal, [blog] 30th April, 2010. Available at: [Accessed: 1st May, 2013]. Mandalia, K. (2013) Interview on the significance of multilingualism. . Interviewed by Pushpi Bagchi [in person] Edinburgh, 6th March, 2013. Manu, J. (2011) India Faces a Linguistic Truth: English Spoken Here. The New York Times, [online] 16th February, 20122. Available at: [Accessed: 7th May, 2013]. Mcalhone, B., & Stuart, D. (1998). A smile in the mind: witty thinking in graphic design. London, Phaidon Press. 24
  26. 26. Mehta, J. (2013) Interview on the significance of multilingualism. Interviewed by Pushpi Bagchi [in person] Edinburgh, 4th April, 2013. S.A.P (2012) Language in India ., [blog] 20th August, 2012. Available at: language-india [Accessed: 13th April, 2013]. Samosapedia (2013) [online] Available at: [Accessed: 17 Apr 2013]. Sriranganayaki, V. (2013) Interview on the significance of multilingualism. . Interviewed by Pushpi Bagchi [in person] Edinburgh, 20th February, 2013. TED Talks (2003) Wade Davis- Dreams from endangered cultures. [video online] Available at: endangered_cultures.html [Accessed: 13th April, 2013]. TED Talks (2009) Jay Walker on the world’s English mania. [video online] Available at: english_mania.html [Accessed: 13th April, 2013]. TED Talks (2006) Phil Borges on endangered cultures. [image online] Available at: 25
  27. 27. endangered_cultures.html [Accessed: 13th April, 2013]. TED Talks (2005) What our language habits reveal. [video online] Available at: and_thought.html [Accessed: 1st May, 2013]. TED Talks (2013) Txtng is killing language. JK!!!. [video online] Available at: killing_language_jk.html [Accessed: 7th May, 2013]. Timmons, H. (2012) If Bilingual Is Good, Is Trilingual Better?. india.blogs., [blog] March 20th, 2012. Available at: [Accessed: 13th April, 2013]. Unknown. (2013) Display boards in Kannada or pay penalty. The Times of India, [online] 16th October, 2008. Available at: [Accessed: 1st May, 2013]. Figure 8: Pushpi Bagchi (2013) Raj Krishnan’s Portrait [sketch]. 26
  28. 28. 27