Problems of Unrecognized Speech Forms in India


I propose to make this a bare working paper-more an agenda for discussion than a piece of substantive discussion. I have also taken the liberty of somewhat broadening the scope of this session-the subject of this paper will be the problems faced by the speakers of a form of speech found in a region but not recognized in that region of India.


            ‘Form of speech’ (I would actually have preferred to use the term ‘microlect’ which I have proposed elsewhere) in the most neutral term. I could find; the term like ‘language’ and ‘dialect’ are riddled with ambiguity and tend to use prejudge issues.


            By ‘recognized’ I mean “recognized by the state of the Indian union in question”. Naturally as a social scientist I am less interested in this legal technically than in the broader situation of which it is but one symptom. The broader situation can be described as one of the language dominance. Governmental recognition of a speech form not only means its use as the language of administration and records but also use in the court of law, in public notifications of all kind (including government propaganda), and as a medium of instruction in schools. Another informal index is the statistics of second and third language learning (who learns whose language whether formally in a classroom or informally outside it?). The factors that lead to emergence of one speech form as dominance are: (a) the distribution of population (the dominant language group may be in absolute majority or be the biggest single group); (b) the distribution of power (the dominant group may be identical with or inclusive of the ruling class; in a democratic set-up, factors (a) and (b) will presumably coalesce); (c) the distribution of prestige (which does not always coincide with (a) or (b), cultural factors like the presence of literature or technical literature often supervene ); (d) non-political exigencies (especially economic ones like job-hunting, marketing and the like).


            Of course actual dominance does not automatically imply acceptance of that position by the dominant or the non-dominant group(s).


            After presenting a survey of the types of cases (in section I), we shall go on to look at the twin problems of the relation of the non-dominant group to the recognized speech form (section II) and the status of the unrecognized speech form (section III).



            The types are arranged roughly in the order of increasingly disadvantaged position for the unrecognized speech form.


(I)                 If any speech form in India really deserves the title ‘unrecognized contact language’, it is Bazaar Hindustani, the lowbrow casual form of Hindi-Urdu. Apart from professor Chatterji’s sketchy description and casual advocacy, there is no recognition; not even a reliable scientific description is available of Bazaar Hindustani in all its regional variation (Bambaiyā , Kalkattiyā, etc.), and stylistic gamut (casual versus slight formalization of the so called ‘footpath literature’). Some regions of India lack it. Another possible example is sadri (sadani) used in the tea plantation of Bengal and Assam: it has Bhojpuri base.


(2)               Speech forms recognized in the Eighth schedule of the Indian constitution but not recognized in the state though spoken by the people who are native to that state: Kashmiri has an anomalous position; Urdu has its own problems in states other then Jammu and Kashmir.


(3)               Speech forms recognized in the Eighth schedule but not recognized in the state and spoken by an immigrant minority; Sindhi or Gujarati in Maharashtra, Telegu in Madras, Hindi in West Bengal are some examples.



(4)               Speech forms not native in India but spoken by sizable minorities native to India or settled in India: English is of course an example that comes readily to one’s mind; Portuguese in Goa or Nepali and Chinese in Calcutta may be the cases in point. It appears that in Chikmanglur district of Karanataka when the first coffee plantations were made by the immigrant Arabs a form of Arabic is still or was until recently spoken.


(5)               The so called tribal speech forms: Kolami (Dravidian family) in Maharastra and Andhra pradesh or Santali (munda family) in Bihar are cases in point: such cases are abundant in Assam, Madhya pradesh, and orissa.


(6)               Other speech forms not recognized in the Eighth schedule: these may be (a) Non-standard varieties of languages recognized in the Eighth schedule but not recognized in the state; as non standard varieties of Gujarati in Uttar pradesh or of Tamil in Mysore or of Gujarati in Madurai (called saurastra) or of Marathi in Madras; these are typically immigrant minorities of long standing. (b) Non- standard varieties of recognized language of the state; as, Varhadi in north Maharastra, Regional Hindustani in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; numerically this case is more important than any other; in many cases there may be some dispute; some Kokani and Maithili speakers have claimed independent status from Marathi and Hindi respectively; in any case the linguistic distance between the regionally recognized speech from and unrecognized speech form may vary considerably. (c) Unrecognized speech form not possible affiliable with any language of the Eighth schedule: Tulu in Mysore would be good example; according to some Konkani should fall here. (d) Specialized speech forms which are used by the speakers only for specific contexts like religion, occupation, crime, trade are a class by themselves; Sanskrit would really belong here though technically it happens to be recognized in the Eighth schedule.




The non- dominant language group may take up any of the following positions in relation to the recognized language: (1) outright rejection; (2) concealed rejection or unwilling acquiescence; (3) limited acceptance as auxiliary language with widespread or universal bilingualism; (4) limited acceptance as third or fourth language; (5) full acceptance of regional language with pride and loyalty to some extent.


            For upward promotion of the recognized language along this scale (say, from 2 to 4), measures have been taken ranging from some degree of compulsion to persuasion through incentives. The morale and the motivation of those teaching the recognized language or learning it will have to be maintained. Consider the following case study from the United States.


            ‘The child of Mexican descent knows some English but has used it infrequently. The language of his home, his childhood, his first years is Spanish. His environment, his experiences, his very personality have been shaped by it. And yet in some schools the speaking of Spanish is forbidden both in the classroom and on playground, and not infrequently students have been punished for lapsing into Spanish even with corporal punishment. In addition, the Mexican American child encounters a strange and different set of culture patterns, an accelerated tempo of living and more often than not, teachers who, though sympathetic and sincere, have little understanding of the Spanish- speaking people, their customs, beliefs and sensitivities. The end result discloses a grim prevalence of low grades and high rates of dropping out from school. The National Education Association who made a year’s study of this state of affairs recommend bilingual instruction in pre-school programmes and early grades, the explicit teaching of standard English as a second language instead of leaving the children to fend for themselves, the employment of the Spanish-knowing teachers or teacher’s helpers, making the teachers aware of the bilingual situation when being trained and (where the child speaks non-standard forms of Spanish) emphasis on good Spanish no less than on good English’.(Based on the Association report; see Joshua A. Fishman,” the Breadth and depth of English in the U.S.”, universities quarterly, March 1967, which quotes from New York Times, 8 August 1966.)


            Comparable situations are probably to be found in India even in cases of type 6-b above where they remain unnoticed for a long time; Bhojpuri peasants will have a problems with standard Hindi no less than Sindhis in the Hindi area (type 3)


            Over and above these general difficulties of policy-making, there will be the specific technical problems of language teaching, self teaching, and testing of proficiency.








            The other side of the medal is the attitude of the community as a whole, especially the dominant language group and the government, towards the unrecognized speech form. This may range over the following: (1) outright rejection of the unrecognized speech form as an ‘uncultivated language’ or ‘mere dialect’; (2) limited acceptance for certain purposes, as trade or occupational medium in rural or urban set-ups, as a secondary in primary schools as a literary or scared medium recognized on radio or as a subject for specialized study at the university; (3) full recognition as a minority language if not as a second regional language.


            For discouraging the unrecognized speech form, incentives may be withheld or withdrawn or some degree of penalization may be undertaken.


            At the opposite end, others, especially speakers of dominant language, may decide to learn the unrecognized speech form on a limited scale; administrators, teachers, preachers, and the like, may learn it for dealing with the minority, or scholars and others may learn it for purely academic or cultural purposes.


            For promoting the unrecognized speech form, especially if it not recognized even outside the state, the following measures will have to be taken by the community, especially by the speakers of that unrecognized speech form:


(1)   Making available and exploiting channels of public use, as radio, cinema, the press, the stage, poetry recitals, posters, telegraph, the gramophone records etc.

(2)   Making available texts in great variety and number: translated and original; utilitarian, technical or literary; periodicals, textbooks, or other books.

(3)   Using it for private and semi-public use: letters, memos, diaries, telephone calls, etc.

(4)   Providing opportunities for learning it and preparing teaching aids: grammars, dictionaries, manuals, audio-visual aids.

(5)   Encouraging the process of standardization by fulfilling the requirements of a standard speech from which has to be simultaneously learnable and usable. Learnability implies codification, simplicity, uniformity, stability, the fixing of writing system, identify in difference. Usability implies versatility ability, the availability of formal as well as informal styles, and elaboration of vocabulary not in the directions of mere numbers but in the direction of precision. Richness, and the like qualities. Bazaar Hindustani is eminently learnable but not usable; Sanskrit is usable perhaps, but of questionable learnability.



In conclusion, I may point each type of case, if not each individual case, will have to be decided on merits and the balance between the recognized speech form may be arrived at separately for each case. Obstinacy and intransigence is not the monopoly of the dominant group; don’t side uncritically with the underdog! Indifference and abasement may characterize the non-dominant group; but the dominant group may not be free from these. The overall welfare of the community at large and of the minority community need not always be at variance. Possibilities of harmonization have to be thoroughly explored.


            Some of the lessons to be learned from the consideration of the interrelation of recognized state languages and the unrecognized speech forms will also be available for the larger problem on the Union level. For example, even some of the languages of the English Schedule are Under-developed in the sense that they do not wholly fulfil the complex and exacting requirements of standardization elaborated above (learnability and Usability).




This was presented as a seminar on language and society in India, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, October 1969, are published in Language and Society in India, ………;  Ed., Arab India Poddar, the Institute, Shimla, 1969, p 299-303