Language Planning in India: A Case Study in Marathi


LIFE STANDS FOR CHANGE, but life also stands for maintenance. Life seeks to maintain harmony through change. The harmony is between and wants of the living and the changing exigencies and bounties of the surrounding environment. Life first invented heredity as the means for bringing about such changing harmony. In his theory of evolution Darwin gave us an account of this evolving revolution. But evolution is not merely a question of biology when we reach the level of man. Man speeded up evolution. To nature’s heredity he added culture. What is culture according to anthropology? Culture is the totality of customs through which a people come to terms with their environment. Their customs no less than their proverbs pass on the wisdom of previous generations to the present. But wisdom always comes mixed up with folly, or what was wisdom at one time becomes folly when times change. So the old order changeth yielding place to new. But all this is too slow. Anthropology may be faster than biology, but not fast enough for the rapid changes of today’s world. The makers of modern India like Ramamohan Roy and M.G. Ranade saw this and urged us to make conscious changes in our customs. This is the thin end of planning – the third great mode of evolution after heredity and custom. It was as if evolution itself had evolved!


            Now when we think of planning, and when we think of economic planning we think of the great debate between those thinkers who believed that the laws of demand and supply were enough to bring about the meeting between limited resources and man’s unlimited wants and those who supported governmental and social control of demand and supply. So it is not very easy to see how a government can control demand and supply in language matters. But, as we have already seen, this is taking too limited a view of planning.


            Planning is the transfer to the social level of what the intelligent individual tries to do all the time. He chooses his way through life. He decides what he wants to do with his life. He faces problems in the light of this decision and in the light of what he knows about the world. So he may decide to do this or to do that or even to do nothing.


            But whatever policy he adopts, he tries to look ahead into the future consequences of all these alternatives and once he adopts a policy, he does his best to implement it. When he runs into trouble, he may revise his policy. He decides that his children should get better education than he did, so he saves his money for this purpose. He decides to have fewer children. He plans to stop smoking. He goes into business and finds that the sharp tongue puts him into trouble, so he decides to watch his tongue. And so on. When an individual couple decides to limit and space their children it is family planning. When whole the society decides to adopt family planning as a social policy, it is population planning. When a young man decides to sweeten his tongue or to learn German because he wants to go into chemical engineering, it is his individual planning. When a society decides to encourage the study of German or to discourage the sloppy and inexact use of language, it is language planning.


            Planning, like democracy, is an expression of the faith in man’s ability to solve his problems rationally. Man is not satisfied with using his intellect to understand reality but man wants to use it in order to change it. Planning is revolution made permanent; that is why we can compare it with biological evolution and the evolution of culture through changing customs. Man is very much the product of history, history shapes man. In planning man is trying to shape history. This is like the replacement of traditional crafts and techniques by engineering. Indeed some people have given the name of language engineering to what we call here language planning.


            Language is so familiar to us that it is difficult to see how we can indulge in language planning. Most of the time we use language simply as a means of conveying our thoughts and feeling and wishes  (or concealing these as the case may be). We make up a new sentence or pick up a ready-made formula such as, what can I do for you? We make use of it in the particular situation, and then we are ready to forget it, so to say. It is only when we become conscious of difficulty – say when the speaker doesn’t know how to say in Marathi that the father could not communicate with the son or when the listener cannot understand radio news bulletin or when a traveler does not know the local language or when a harmless comment leads to a violent misunderstanding – that we consciously think of problems presented by language. And of course people are solving such language problems all the time – the speaker makes up a new word or says the thing in a roundabout way, the reader of a letter asks for a clarification, the traveler carries a phrase book in his pocket, the shop-keeper puts up a sign English is spoken here, and so on.


            But some language problems crop up repeatedly and some are too difficult to solve without expert advice and some call for co-ordination on a large scale. In other words we need language planning with the help of language experts and of course everybody thinks he is a language expert, at least everybody who can read or write. But such is not the case. Unfortunately, in India we don’t seem to have realized the importance of the study of linguistics and allied language disciplines such as language psychology and language sociology. Still less have we realized the need to seek the advice of language experts. A typical case is the efforts made some years ago to standardize the keyboard of a Marathi typewriter. Expert typists were called, but expert linguists were never called. As a result avoidable mistakes were made and then rectified at great cost. A worse fate awaited the standardized dot-and-dash code for sending Hindi telegrams. Again, the code was prepared without the benefit of language experts. It was cumbersome and leads to transmission errors. Very few people dared to use it. Even those wishing to send telegrams in Hindi simply romanise them crudely. (I prepared an alternate code and knocked at the doors of authorities for a try-out. Needless to say, I did not even get an acknowledgement.) Luckily the electronic revolution is making dot-and-dash code superfluous.


            And then there is the mistaken notion that a knowledge of Sanskrit automatically makes on an expert on all aspects of language problems – at least when the language is an Indian language. Now a knowledge of Sanskrit can be a help some of the time, but such a knowledge without a scientific outlook on language problems can actually be a handicap, too.


            Unfortunately the ignorance about linguistics and other language disciplines is not confined to the general public and administrators. The academic community in Maharashtra is no better. What is worse, ignorance is often reinforced either by open or concealed hostility (especially among teachers of literature) or by plain indifference (especially among social scientists). The net result is that in spite of one of the premier centres of language studies being located in Maharashtra the number of young scholars trained in linguistics or allied disciplines is dismally low in Maharashtra. So if there is a call today for language experts, we are going to be in short supply.


            I have just mentioned a couple of examples of language- related technology – telegraphic codes and typewriter keyboards. One can extend the list to include Braille, shorthand, telecommunication codes, typesetter and computer keyboards, the establishment of conventions for alphabetization and the writing of Indian personal and geographical proper names in Devanagari and Roman, the preparation of standardized tests of proficiency in Indian and foreign languages and proficiency in using communication media for different languages. But it should be obvious that there is more to language planning than standardizing language technologies. The central idea behind language planning is that language is as much a piece of national resource as manpower or the railways or energy sources.




            While skilled and energetic and resourceful people can constitute the nation’s principal strength, sickly and indolent and lackadaisical people merely present a popular problem. The same is true of language. It is said by some that the economically backward nations of the world tend to be multilingual or the other way round – and of course the finger points to India.


             Now the fact that India has many languages is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it is simply the legacy of history, just as Europe’s many one-language nations is a legacy of history. What is good or bad is what we make of this fact. Indians tend to jump to one of two extremes. Either we decide that this multiplicity of languages is a silly nuisance and whatever pet link language one espouses, Hindi or English or even Sanskrit, should take over all the fields of communication that matter-perhaps we grudgingly concede a place to the local lingo in the kitchen council or the neighbourhood chat. Alternatively we decide that pride in one’s own language is not complete without an obstinate refusal to adjust or compromise or an insane jealousy for other languages.


            For the half-century councils are being held to have a uniform calligraphy for Kannada and Telugu, the script being essentially the same. Every time the out come is the same – Kannada speakers recommend that Telugu speakers should adopt the Kannada script and vice versa. It does not occur to anyone to purpose that Kannada speakers can start using Telugu letter-shapes when they want to do the equivalent of itching and vice versa, so that both get used to each other’s calligraphy – a major step forward towards unification. (Example can be multiplied from other parts of India. This cautious parenthesis in necessary since such is the climate of ill will and suspicion that Kannada and Telugu speakers will immediately accuse me of animosity towards them. It is unfortunately to say that such is not at all the case.)


            Now adopting either of these two extremes – suppression of regional languages or intolerant pride in regional languages – will be a misuse of national linguistic resources. Nobody in his right mind will suggest that airplanes (or bullock carts) ought to be the sole means of transport in a huge and highly populous country like India. We need airplanes and bullock carts and lots of things in between. What is more to the point is that we need better airplanes and better bullock carts, and by better I mean better-suited to meet certain specific needs. And if bullock carts can change (and be fitted with pneumatic rubber tyres), languages certainly can, for change is the very law of language as any beginning student of linguistics can tell you. Decisions about language should be taken in a level-headed manner after a through analysis of costs and benefits.


            Once we take such a level-headed view of things, certain things claim our attention.


            1.            The multiplicity of languages certainly imposes certain liabilities on a country struggling to find its economic feet. Apart from the obvious liability of the cost of essential translations or multiple versions (e.g. of union government notifications, advertisement campaigns of large corporations, results of important research available in regional languages), we have to accept limits on the mobility of white-collar jobs, educational opportunities, technological innovations, and the like. The regional economic and educational imbalances between “backward” and “advanced” areas consequently become to that extent harder to eradicate.


            2.            At the same time it will be a piece of narrow utilitarian to overlook certain other facts just because these lend themselves to romantic sentimentalism. The slogan, ‘let a hundred flowers of regional and popular culture bloom to reveal the rich diversity within Indian unity’ makes perfectly good sense when we find a Gujarati dancer rendering a Manipuri dance or a Tamil vocalist singing a Telugu composition.


            After all the political unity of India today is a democratic unity and not an imperial unity.


            3.            There are areas in which the two extremes seem to meet. The advocacy of linguistic states relied upon both utilitarian and romantic arguments.


            4.            In the India of ancient and medieval times, the traders, the pilgrims, the travelers, the scholars, and the rulers did face solve the problem of inter-regional communication in their own diverse ways. No uniform solution was imposed and the modalities were informal and leisurely. Now, while we cannot quite afford total informality and leisurely pace, we can at least emulate their good sense and flexibility. These qualities are certainly not incompatible with language planning. Rigid slogans, violence, wordy rhetoric, and procrastination are certainly inimical to planning.


            5.            In advocating any plan of large scale learning of any second language, we must be mindful of the limited resources and manpower. Our teachers are too few, not too well-trained, and given the unattractive salaries, not too talented. Our students, again, are insincere and poorly motivated. Improved language teaching methods are not magic wands for replacing hard work, as some Indians seem to think!


            6.            At the all-India level, Hindi, or English or Urdu or even Sanskrit may act as a contact language or link language between the regional languages in a gathering of traditional pandits, musicians, scholars and scientists with a university education, Muslim theologians, and so forth. But these very regional languages also act in turn as link languages and are “imposed” (if we must use the word) on sub-regional dialects, minority languages, and tribal dialects. If regional language partisans need “assurances” from the all-India contact languages, they also in turn should be ready to offer “assurances” to the dialects and minority languages.


            7.            The so-called language problems of India are not exclusively problems arising out of the multiplicity of languages. After all even monolingual under developed or developing face certain language problems and India faces those too in addition to the better-advertised problems arising out of linguistic diversity.


            8.            Knowing a language is no guarantee that you are articulate in that language. A mere “working knowledge” is sufficient for all but the most elementary purposes. Thus a mere working knowledge won’t help you to read an English book on economics, or to follow a Hindi speech by a parliamentarian. Let us not deceive ourselves on this account. Even articulateness in one’s mother tongue is not guaranteed – witness the unhappy fate of many English-medium pupils even when residing in their home state. In later life they feel witness in a literary gathering in their own mother tongue.





            Two basic principles emerge that should be the watch ward of our language planners. One is that every language that Indians can lay is a link language for some purpose. Thus standard Marathi is simply the link language between different regional and social dialects in Maharashtra – a peasant from Sindhudurga district and a peasant from north Chandrapur district cannot discuss problems of rich cultivation if each insists on using his local dialect. It is also a link with Marathi literature and culture for a young Tamilian specializing in Marathi – and why not? If a young Tamilian can specialize in French, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be given the opportunity of learning Marathi within the school or the college system if he wants to. Instead of making a bugbear or a fetish of learning additional languages, we should amplify, improve and diversify language-learning facilities. Language planning does not spell language compulsion, but language freedom. To learn a new language is to gain the membership of a new community, a new freedom.


            We have already hinted at the other principle when we spoke of redesigning bullock carts and airplanes. A distant example will perhaps enable us to appreciate the point with grater objectivity. The Swedish language is full of expressions of status and hierarchy handed down from a feudal past. In today’s egalitarian Sweden, a young Swede finds them a nuisance – he cannot open his mouth with out first determining his exact status relative to the other person. No doubt the Swedish language will one day rid itself of these. Given our historical situation, in India we cannot afford to let custom take its slow course to effect such a change. We have to accelerate some changes and keep in check other changes. We have to remould our languages natured in an agricultural, rural stratified and segregated society to enable them to cope with the triple needs of a modern society-


            (a)            the need for impersonal, standardized expression of science and other routinized contents so as to make them accessible to the man who needs them;


            (b)            the need for the richly distinctive expression of novel ideas and highly personal feelings in literature and thought so that the individual is not submerged in a mass society;


            (c)            the expression of shared ideas and feelings without falling into state cliēches or esoteric jargon or snob appeal in journalism, public life, and popular song and fiction.


            The major languages of Europe modernized themselves over a period of four centuries. Indian languages cannot afford to wait that long. At the same time, the problem of remoulding our languages cannot be wholly solved in the committee room or even the class room. But committees can give direction and indicate possibilities; and teachers can alert their students to the problem and to the new tools being forged by the writer and speakers of talent. Let not the writer feel frustrated because his reader is too lazy to meet him half-way. A school cannot make you a Shakespeare or a Bertrand Russell but it can make you able to recognize a Shakespeare or a Russell when he speaks to you – and, what is even more important, to recognize an impostor when he uses verbal bombast in order to conceal the absence of any real thought or feeling.


            Language planning is therefore not something to be left to a government agency. It should become the concern of academic experts and educationists, authors and public speakers, journalists and mass media people – indeed, the concern of every citizen.




            At the time of yādavas (12th-13th centuries) the state language of Maharashtra was Marathi. In the Bahamani Kingdom and of its successors the Adilashi of Bijapur and the Nizamshahi of Ahmednagar (all together, 14th- 17th centuries) Persian became the state language, though the two Indo-Aryan languages Marathi and Dakhani-Urdu also played a secondary role with a heavy load of borrowings of Persian administrative and judicial terms. The same picture holds good of the Asafjahi rule (Nizam’s dominion) which took shape out of the disintegrating Mughal Empire (18th century) and covered a sizable portion Maharashtra. (I have not made any separate mention of Arabic borrowings, since these came largely through Persian. Doublets of Arabic borrowings taken directly and taken through Persian are rare- a case in point will be kaagad in and kaaghaz in Urdu as the words for paper.) Shivaji, the founder of Maratha dominion not only introduced Marathi as the state language but asked a scholar Raghunath Pandit, to prepare the Rājavyavahārakosha (circa 1976), which is chiefly a Persian-Sanskrit lexicon of administrative terms arranged topic-wise in verse form. This led to a considerable lowering in the text frequency of Persian loans in Marathi. (V.K. Rajavade cities three sample documents dated 1628, 1677, 1728 with the percentage of Persian loans being 86, 38, 6 respectively). The Marathi of those days distinguished between two situational modes – Sanskrit loans and Sanskrit zed diction for serious work and plain language drawing upon tadbhave and deshi words for the ordinary people (praakrtajana). This distinction applies to the two kinds of literature. State craft was of course serious business and called for the former style. (The underlying framework of thought is not entirely obsolete even today. Only, state craft in a democratic context is now being rectegorized as ordinary people’s business). These British rulers broadly assigned administration at the district and lower levels to the regional language (in our case, Marathi) and that at the provincial and all-India levels to the English language. Administrative Marathi retained the Persian borrowings (surviving largely in judicial matters), and also absorbed many new English borrowings. The princely States in Maharashtra (with the exception, of course, of the Nizam and possibly of Janjira) used this kind of Marathi with many Persian and English administrative words.


            During the freedom movement (up to the coming of independence in 1947) the ideas of linguistic reorganization of provinces and the use of Indian languages in government were mooted. (Raghunath Pandit’s lexicon was printed in 1860, 1880 with this in view by the editors. The poet Madhav Julian in his song in praise of the Marathi language expresses the lament and the hope in his line – “even though Marathi is not the state language today”.) When the time came, after independence, to implement these two ideas and other attitudes (as of laziness, clinging to vested interests) came in the way. The question of accepting Marathi as the state language came to a head in 1960 when the Maharashtra state in its present form came into being.


            The question came to a head but there was no one straight forward answer. Indeed the question got redefined in some such terms:


            Should Marathi truly become the language of the State of Maharashtra?

            Yes, it should.

            No, it need not.

            If it should, what form should it take?

            It should lean towards Sanskrit and Sanskritized Hindi.

            It should not lose its characteristic native flavour.


            That yields three schools of thought – Sanskrit-inclined, Marathi-inclined and English-inclined. It is surprising to note that the English-inclined were quite unopposed to accepting Marathi as the State language (raajabhaasha) on the formal plane. (Perhaps this need not surprise us, given the Indian penchant for the formal rituals) Indeed, in the subsequent controversy the followers of this last school are content to remain on the sidelines and merely comment on the goings-on. All this has naturally delayed the solving of the problem, but also served to highlight neglected aspects and the lack of any simple-minded uncomplicated answer.


            Against the backdrop of the raajabhaasha controversy the events from 1960 on can be quickly reviewed. The year 1961 saw the establishment of the Directorate of language and the associated Language Advisory Committee, which between them set about the task of framing Marathi administrative terms. As a first installment the Padanam-Kosh (a dictionary of designations) was put out in 1962 and promptly attacked by the late P. K. Atre, journalist and literary artist. Atre wanted that Marathi as a State language should remain Marathi and should not get over-Sanskritized. The Marathi Rajabhasha bill was proposed and passed in 1965. A preliminary edition of the shasakiya Vyavahar kosh (a dictionary of the business of government) was circulated confidentially in 1968 to elicit opinion. (Making it confidential was mis-guided move and prevented the elicitation of more useful comments on a large scale.) The publication in 1973 of the finalized edition by no means allayed the controversy. Actually the controversy merged to some extent with that about the technical terminology in Marathi for natural and human sciences and for mathematics in the context of the adoption of Marathi as a medium of instruction (the latter controversy also lent itself to the emergence of three schools on analogous lines). A government of India directive designated 1979 as the Rajabhasha year. In Maharashtra this occasioned a fair number of talks, articles, seminars, and the like (both under government and non-governmental auspices) on administrative terminology and the use of Marathi and thus served to bring up a number of interesting points.




            Before we proceed to set forth the points advanced by the three schools of thought in their favour, we may do well to get certain things out of the way. To begin with, this three-way allocation of arguments is made only for convenience of thinking and should not be given exaggerated value. Secondly, the labels Sanskrit, Marathi, and English inclined are not quite exact as will be seen in the discussion to follow. An even more inexact set of terms is sometimes used in the heat of controversy – the Brahmans for Sanskrit, the Marathas for Marathi and the bureaucrats for English. (The Marathas, it will be recalled, from the dominant peasant caste of Maharashtra.) We shall presently propose a better set of terms.


            The Sanskrit-inclined and the Marathi-inclined are, of course, one in one respect – both of them urge an early adoption of Marathi as a rajabhaasha (State language) not merely as a formality but as a reality and would want a deliberate speeding up of the process. In other words, both of them advocate language planning. But they differ in the form of language planning. The first school would control language as and when required; sooner or later, it argues, the people are bound to come round; after all it will be to their own good. The dependence on Sanskrit and the limitation of Hindi in this respect is a matter of detail. This is essentially the party for language control. The second school would rather go by the natural process of linguistic adaptation in language planning. This, they think, is better and in any case more democratic. They are for limited language planning. The preference for tadbhava and deshi words is a means to this end. In comparison with the first two schools, the third is more for the status quo, they don’t really believe in language planning and artificial speeding up. After all, they ask, what is wrong with the existing allocation between Marathi up to the district level and English to the State level?


            In this perspective, we may substitute a new set of labels for the three schools of thought – the school of well-controlled planning, the school of limited planning, and the conservative school. (Students of economics will inevitably be reminded here of the arguments for centrally controlled planning, mixed economy, and laissez faire economy.) There are going to be some people at least who are going to side with one of these not on the merits of the argument but on their immediate personal and class gain. But it will be better to refrain from looking for motives if we are interested in finding the right direction for action.


            The school advocating well-controlled planning pleads the following points in its favour:


            (1)            There is little time now left for the natural process to work itself out. National languages in the West had four to five centuries in which to adapt themselves to the role of the language of government and administration; we hardly have had four to five decades. For someone totally innocent of English the choice of a new word doesn’t make any difference – he will assimilate whatever word is presented to him.  (Some times, however, this last point develops into a homily to Marathi speakers why don’t you follow the example of the Hindi-speaking people and accept without noisy complaints the government sponsored terms? I should at this point like to interject – one should rather be happy that the Marathi speakers are so jealousy alert and discriminating about the shape of their language and unhappy at the excessive docility of the Hindi-speakers).


            (2)            One must not make a fetish of the simplicity of language. Is the ordinary man so dull-witted that he will fight shy of a few unfamiliar words? Can’t we trust him to show some adaptability?


            (3)            And simplicity is not merely a matter of avoiding heavy consonant sequences. Shouldn’t we be equally mindful of matching different senses by different words and resemblant senses by resemblant word-forms? One must discriminate between law, by-law, rule, ordinance, bill, and the like; and one must be able to spawn a whole family of words-words for law, lawful, unlawful and the like. It is always easy to ridicule a word just because it is new or is going to be used in a novel sense.


            (4)            The linguistic integration of India is desirable, and it is better to base this on an indigenous language like Sanskrit rather than on imported languages like English or Persian.


            (5)            The language of the state should sound weighty and dignified. To call a clerk or a sweeper or a piggery-officer by Sanskritic names like lipik of svacckak or suukaraalaya-adhikari is so much more considerate and respectful than to use more homely names like kaarkaun (Persian) or jhaaDuvaala Dukkarvaa or Daa-adhikaari.


            A little thought should be enough to make one realize that points 1,2,3 are arguable but that points 4,5 will not bear examination.


            The school advocating limited planning pleads the following points.


            (1)            It is certainly desirable to undertake language planning and by so doing to improve the capacity of Marathi as a state language. But surely all this effort will come to nought if the very ordinary citizen who is supposed to be served by it is unable to follow and grasp the administrative terminology so created?


            (2)            Only a genuine sympathy for the ordinary citizen’s problems will bring home to one the real evil of a language bar. To say that eventually one can get used to anything is to imply that the ordinary citizen can be pushed around and made to accept anything.


            (3)            Why can’t we trust the Marathi language – that is, its speakers – to be enterprising and innovative? How long can Marathi nourish itself with translation? Why does one have to translate ten million bindly as dahaa dashalaksh (ten ten-lacs). If only one thinks in Marathi, one comes out with ek koti (one crore) quite naturally.


            (4) Marathi has put up all these years with the dominance of Sanskrit, Persian, English in turn. Let it now suffer from Hindi imperialism. Let Marathi retain its individual character. Out of these points 1, 2, 3 are worthy of consideration. Point 4 merely appeals to one’s emotions.


            One has only to make a counter-appeal to see its hollowness. Is the Marathi-ness of Marathi so filmsy that a few borrowings from other languages will be enough to destroy it?


            The conservative school arguing for the status quo pleads the following points:


            (1)            Let us plant our feet on the ground. Language is after all only a means to an end, technical language even more so. A technical terminology which does not convey anything to the person addressed is a mere bauble that will gladden only the fool.


            (2)            Marathi can’t prosper by hating other languages. After all, English gained its richness largely through borrowing from other languages unhampered by senseless taboos. Nothing, is to be gained by hating English or Persian.


            (3)            There are lots of more important things that the ordinary Indian citizen has to learn and assimilate. A new terminology that is more a burden than a convenience is worse than use less.


            (4)             Precision and accuracy is of the utmost importance in administration. English has won these qualities after years. How can we possibly do without its support?


            While points 1 and 2 are weighy, points 3 and 4 are only based on half-truths. Each of these schools has its lunatic fringe which it is best to ignore.


            Even so each school has some substantial points to offer which reveal to us the many facets of the question of the State language. It must be borne in mind, however, that the facets revealed in the course of this controversy do not exhaust all the facets. It is some of these neglected facets that we shall now present in the form of four call-attention notices, so to say.





            The first gap in our thinking on the subject that I become aware of is the absence of the realization that the question of administration terminology is but a small portion and not the whole of the question of the State language. In our preoccupation with terminology, we must not lose sight of three aspects of a State language.


            First, the non-technical, ordinary vocabulary in government- related communication. The presence of technical terms inevitably makes the language a little heavy- going. By way of compensation to non- technical word should be kept especially plain and simple. It is so much better to use the plain disuun yetaat (become apparent) than the learned draushtopattiis yetaat (come into the scope of our vision); and, again, to avoid the Anglicism durdaivii vichar  (unfortunate idea) and resort to the more robust karaNTTaa vichaa or veLDgal vichaar (wretched idea, crazy idea) depending on the context.


            The second aspect is syntax, the hang of the sentence. It is perfectly possible to write an abscure sentence with plain words. The version “Only such an officer can cancel an order that has originally issued it “is unusual in Marathi and sounds clumsy while the version “what officer has originally issued an order that alone can cancel it” is the more natural way of saying it in Marathi without any loss of meaning.

            Last but not least, the style of administrative communication. It should be precise and crisp. Unfortunately it invariably tends to be verbose and slow in coming to the point. Sir Ernest Gowers conducted a one-man campaign against this tendency (documented in the penguin the complete Plain words, which will be instructive to Indian too). Indian governmental communication whether in English or in Indian languages is not only true to type, but often needlessly arrogant and discourteous to boot. It was an officer of rare imaginativeness who thought of putting up the sign: “This is a jhopaDpaTTii (shanty town) improved under the Slum Clearance Scheme.” (The Marathi word for slum means filthy settlement.) The draft contract of a semi-government scheme in Maharashtra for encouraging authors in unconscionably arrogant and patronizing and calculated to hurt – I have met author who felt too hurt to accept it. Of course, an administrator’s style is the expression of the administrator’s personality and grooming. But at the same time it is often no more than a result of ignorance and headless-ness about the good and bad effects of language. In the course of the controversy about Marathi as a State language, the Language Director, Y.S. Kanitkar has often been complimented on his Marathi. While this is certainly to his credit, it also reflects very unfavourably on the general run of Marathi-knowing government officers. Their distaste for writing in Marathi is very often rooted in their inarticulateness in Marathi (and often in English too).


            The second gap concerns the lack of realization that the criteria for good administrative Marathi cannot be wholly uniform for the different functions it is designed to perform differing tasks in different contexts. The contextual functions should govern the criteria. True, there has been some nodding recognition of the special precision of legal language, but this is hardly enough. Indeed our elected representatives are as much in the dock as our government officers so far as the proper use of Marathi is concerned. We mustn’t overlook this. To take a more comprehensive view, the State language functions distinctively in the following contexts:       


            (1)            Communication between the citizen and the elected representative: simplicity is especially important; let us hope that precision will gradually follow.


            (2)            Between the citizen and the administrator: The administrator’s language should be both plain and precise; lack of precision may lead to misunderstanding and consequently a sense of grievance on the citizen’s part.


            (3)            Between the elected representative and the administrator: More or less on the same line as (2).


            (4)            Between administrators: being fairly technical in nature, a certain heaviness may have to be accepted as a price for precision and clarity.


            (5)            Between the citizen and the lawyer: More or less on the same lines as (2).



            (6)            Between the lawyer and the judge: More or less on the same lines as (4).


            (7)             Between the elected representative as a legislator and the lawyer or the judge: The language of the statutes is the most technical and the legislators have very little to do with it, but the drafters must pay heed that the statute as drafted really represents the legislator’s intention.


            A good deal has been said about the all-India character and uniformity of administrative terminology. There should be not two opinions about the desirable uniformity of legal language under contexts (6) and (7). But  else where the insistence on uniformity cannot be pressed too far. Formerly the same office was designed as tehsildar, mamlatdar, lambardar, etc. in the different provinces. It is certainly an improvement to have the same name for the revenue official and general administrator for the smaller division of a district. While elections may be called by their plain names, say Chunau in Hindi or nivaDNuuk in Marathi, we can still retain the Sanskritized nirvachan as a secondary all India term. On the other hand there is little point in having an all-India term for, say, arrears; the simple thakbaakii is good enough for Marathi. Perhaps I may be permitted to make a concrete suggestion in respect of contexts (1), (2) (5) that between them involve such technical terms as are needed even by the ordinary citizen – perhaps about 40 percent of the total stock of terms. It will be very helpful to bring out a handy dictionary for such terms – with Marathi entry-headings, English equivalents, and a descriptive explanation with example in the main text and an English-Marathi index in the appendix. (Highly technical definitions will be uncalled for.)


            Finally we may focus on the administrative terms as such in Marathi. What are the considerations that need to govern their selection and coinage? In the first place, any linguistic taboos on the sources of terms are clearly to be set aside. A comparable case in point will be the terminology of cricket in Marathi which just “growed” without the midwifery of any committee and was made popular thanks to the efforts of the journalist A. B. Kolhatkar and others. It is shamelessly eclectic and cheerfully accepts the English loans leg and off, the Persian bindad (not-out, the homegrown paaycit (leg-before wicket), the Sanskrit yashitirakshak (wicketkeeper), even the hybrid golandaj (bowler) combining Sanskrit and Persian. Nobody is known to have complained about the last two words. ‘Why couldn’t we show the same good sense in other fields? Even when we have two synonymous words from different sources we can often find use for both – bhuumiti and jamiinmojNii both mean ‘land-measuring’, but the first is a branch of mathematics (geometry) and the second belongs under the revenue department. Having settled the denotations of samsad, loksabhaa rajyasabhaa vidhan-parishad, and vidhan sabhaa we shall find handy the left-over kaydemaNDaL when of all these bodies together (in the sense of any legislative body).


            The criterion of simplicity and plainness is easier to defend than to apply. Drawing a straight line, as the Hindi saying goes, is quite a difficult job. Simplicity is no mere counting of conjuct letters or syllables. The word bhaashaarsanchaa lanaalaya (language directorate) should past muster, but is actually more difficult to pronounce than bhaashaa-sanchaalan-karyaalaya (language director office). Nor again is it a matter of familiarity. What is more to the point is learnability of the word. The word prasaadhan-kaksh is not too bad for the room where ladies powder their nose, but to use it for the urinal is a piece of illiteracy, a senseless translation of the English toilet. Very often it is pleaded that a certain English term is already quite familiar even to the Marathi speaker who doesn’t know any English. An example cited is the word seed farm. Now it is one thing to say the peasant is acquainted with the term, but it is quite another to claim that, he understands the term. He may know that a certain place is called a seed farm but he has no more an idea why it is so called than a schoolboy who has blundered into the true answer to a sum has any notion of how one arrives at it. To say that the peasant knows the term and that the boy can do the sum are both equally misleading. To render the term culvert as adhahpraNaa is certainly otiose; but the attractive-sounding puliyaa (bridge let) in Hindi is also inappropriate in that it achieves simplicity by sacrificing precision. The English term does not refer to the passage for vehicles but to the passage for the water. An appropriate term could be bhuyarigaTaar (tunnel-drain). One should admit that for rendering midwife, the suggested parasaavika sounds more obscure than the homely suin: but one should also admit that its relationship with prasuuti (childbearing, delivery) and suutika (the woman being delivered) is much more transparent and learnable. The epithets plain, simple are highly question-begging ones.


            One final word – about the target of a lot of criticism, the shasakiya vyavahaar kosh with its 30,000 entries. I did a simple check of 20 pages, that is, about 1,000 entries. Out of these, about one percent of the entries paired an obscure and a simple Marathi term:


            Government: shaasan, sarkar (simple term second)

            Overhead expenses: varkaD Kharcha, uprivyaya (simple term first)


            Another three percent of the entries offer words that could perhaps be improved upon and typify the terms that draw a lot of journalistic and literary fire.


            Over: avekshak

            Part-time: ashakaalik

            Passed with grace: anugrahottirNa


            So about three hundred plus nine hundred terms have brought a bad name to this dictionary. And one cannot expect otherwise. In eating rice, the pebbles stick is one’s mind, one doesn’t keep a count of the rice-grains that went in past them, Moreover the offending minority of words may include some that are needed quite frequently and therefore prove to be even more offending. One cannot underestimate their capacity for language pollution. I urge that the Government should really consider this a question of prestige in a constructive sense and take speedy steps to appoint a scrutiny committee and bring out a revised and improved edition of this dictionary. P.K.Atre who was the first to cast a stone, is reported by Yeshwantrao chavan (In likaraajya, 1 October 1979, p. 70) to have consoled him – let you of the government do your job and let us do not do our job of criticizing your efforts, and someday this will lead us to less obscure terms. (Chavan was chief Minister of Maharashtra when Atre said this: he had expressed chargin at Atre’s attack.)


            Perhaps a glance at some of the other States of India may not be out of place here by way of rounding off this case study. After all, the problem of administrative terminology, indeed of all scientific that is also being faced by Indians other than Marathi-speakers and, indeed, by people of many other underdeveloped and developing countries.


            Punjabi is the chief language of Punjab. The Indian languages Kashmiri, Urdu, Sindhi, and to some extent Panjabi are oriented towards Persian rather than Sanskrit. The choice before their speakers is between plain language and learned Persianized language. (Thus Urdu speakers from India find Pakistan Urdu excessively laden with words of Perso-Arbic origin.) There are not many Muslims now among panjabi speakers in India. The Sikhs favour panjabi and Persian orientation. The Hindus under the influence of the Arya-Samaj tend to favour Hindi and Sanskrit orientation. Gradually panjabi is coming into its own free from either Urdu dominance or Hindi dominance. At the same time the orientation to Sanskrit is gaining ground when it comes to technical terms – thus economy is now rendered as sanjam rather than mushiimuaamalaa.


            Hindi has a strong tendency to get Sanskritized. Thus while many Marathi-speakens have protested against using nirvachan at the expense of nivaDNuuk for an selection, one doesn’t see too many defenders for the Hindi chunaav. Hindispeakers have been pretty docile about the growing obscurity of technical and administrative Hindi. There is an added twist that makes things more complicated for Hindi-while the sort of Hindi that prefers chunaav will be earlier for ordinary Hindi speakers, the one that prefers nirvaachan may be less difficult for Dravidian-speaking learners of Hindi. What then is the person using Hindi to do?


            Malayalam-, Kannada-, and Telugu-speakers have no qualms against eking out vocabulary gaps with words lifted from Sanskrit. Tamil-speakers have had serious qualms on this matter in the last few decades in the wake of the Tamil resurgence. Such Tamil-speakers turn to classical Tamil – sometimes excessively so, to the puzzlement and distress of the man in the street who cannot follow this ultra-pure Tamil.


            Sanskrit loans do not always make for uniformity among Indian languages. The so-called “false friends” abound. While cheshTaa means ‘efforts’ in Bengali and Hindi, it  means teasing jokingly in Marathi and Telugu. While in English term history is rendered as itihaas in Marathi and Hindi, it is rendered as caritramu in Telugu. These loans are often passed on, however, from one, Indian language to another. Thus V.K. Rajwade coined Samskriti in Marathi for culture, Rabindranath Tagore picked it up for Bangla, and eventually it spread to other Indian languages.


            Bengal presents a case worth mentioning. The few decades that were available to Indians to develop technical terms in a natural way were fully utilized by Bangla speakers. Bangla has been producing copious literature on scientific and other subjects for several years. (By way of contrast, the Marathi publishing business rarely  venture beyond school text-books religious books, and belles-letters. The Marathi reader is also to blame for this poverty.)

            Now the Bangla-speaker’s love of his own language in sometime carried to an excess, but it does not seem to have stood in the way of his use of the English language. The Bangalis can claim a prominent share both in respect of quality and quantity in the English books published in India. Love of one’s own language need not be equated with a hatred of English. The Marathi-speaker’s attitude towards English presents a curious spectacle. He seems to have developed a strange sense of insecurity in respect of English right from the days of Tilak. There are not many authors who have written plentifully in both Marathi and English. On the other hand there have been worthy scholars who are poorly known outside Maharashtra because their writings are available exclusively in Marathi (with no English translations made). The Marathi-speaker often exhibits a native penchant for English or a blind hatred of it-in-either case he is expressing a buried inferiority complex. It is high time that he ruthlessly reexamined his attitude to English.




            This was published in The Administrator Journal of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie 37:4:29-44, winter 1992 (special issue on language).


            This study incorporates the substance of author’s ‘Language planning’, Lokarajya 1979:10:01, Rajabhasha number; ‘Marathi’ as a State language’, New Quest no. 23:265-77, September-October. 1980 together with a portion of ‘Language and education’, Vishveshvaranand Indological  journal 13:1-7, 1975.



* The author has retired as the Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies in Linguistics, Deccan college pune.