Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Javed Majeed (King's College London)

Title: Beyond hegemonic binaries: English and the Indian ‘vernaculars’ in post-liberalization India

Abstract: My paper addresses how the global spread of neoliberal free-market doctrines has naturalised the use of English as the language of global competitiveness in post-liberalization India and in the global South. In the ‘cognitive capitalism’ of the knowledge economy, language is a factor in the production process, and language learning is reconceptualised as an economic decision. This has had an impact on the language economies of India, in which the ascendancy of English as the language of global competitiveness co-exists with other languages in regional and state labour markets. I address these intersections between economic processes and languages in what Francine Frankel (India’s Political Economy 1947-2004 [2005]) has described as India’s ‘enclave economy with islands of excellence distributed between regions, states, and urban and rural areas’ (p. xiii).

I also address the dominance of English as the language of instruction in Indian Institutes of Management, and I consider how this stems less from the colonial legacy of English and more from other recent factors. One important facet of the positioning of English vis-à-vis the Indian ‘vernaculars’ in post-liberalization India is the former’s posited ‘neutrality’. In Management Studies, the use of Business English as a circumscribed and shared communication code in the global business community, which is not tied to a cultural identity rooted in a narrowly defined ethnos, is an example of this neutrality. However, this ‘neutrality’ is also reinforced by political factors in India, which I will outline in my paper.

Finally, I consider how the widespread acceptance of an English-Indian ‘vernacular’ binary in the subcontinent, with the latter indexing autochthonous authenticity and English indexing inauthentic rootlessness, misrepresents Indian multilingualism and its politics and economics in India. I end by considering how we might move beyond this misleading binary so that we can grasp the nuances of the complex multilingual situation in India more effectively.

Contact details

Linguistic Circle committee

Sep 29 2022 -

Linguistic Circle

2022-09-29: Beyond hegemonic binaries: English and the Indian ‘vernaculars’ in post-liberalization India

Online via link invitation and Lecture Theatre A, 40 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JX