Ashok R . Kelkar





When looking at India’s linguistic landscape one is struck by India’s linguistic diversity : hundreds of spoken idioms, well over a dozen of them with writing and written literary tradition and about half of a dozen language families in which to classify them. The boundary between language families (as with Oriya and Telugu) is so much sharper than within a single family (as with Oriya and Bangla). Correspondingly, mutual intelligibility is not possible across families but is at least minimally possible within a family. Linguistic differences are linked not only with geographical differences (as with costal and inland Oriya or with Marathi heartland and central and south Indian Marathi speaking groups but also with coexisting groups within a single area (as with Oriya and Orissa’s tribal languages or with Christian, Saraswat and Gavada groups of Konkani-speakers in Goa) and with sex and age divisions (as with the conservative speech of females and elderly males and the assimilative and innovative speech of younger males among Urdu speakers).


            Recognizing diversity in this fashion is then recognizing gross and subtle differences of identity. Speaking Telugu rather than Oriya is not simply using diverse word forms and sentence forms but indeed understanding the world around oneself in subtly different ways. That is why translating from Telugu to Oriya will be more complicated than translating from Bangla to Oriya. Linguistic diversity is linked not only with geographical or social segregation but also with cultural diversity.


            The picture changes when one looks not at India’s linguistic landscape but at India’s linguistic history. One is now struck not only by linguistic continuity but also by linguistic convergence. Certain word forms and sentence forms are taken over form the inherited speech form to a borrowed speech form (as in a Dakhani speaker’s Dakhani-coloured Kannada ) or from a borrowed speech form to the inherited speech form (as in a Kannada-knowing Dakhani speaker’s Kannada–coloured Dakhani) or from a borrowed link language to the various inherited languages linked by it (as with Sanskrit Persian,  Hindi-Urdu, or English borrowings shared by various Indian languages) or the other way round (as with Hindi, Bangla, Kannada , Newari versions of spoken Sanskrit). In the West, bilingualism is the exception; in India it is the rule. The emergence of all-India vocabularies in each historical period; Vedic, Puranic, or Quranic recitations; Asokan inscriptions; communications at centres of trade, pilgrimage, administration, or higher learning; and the emergence of Sanskrit, Prakrit, Indo-Persian or Indo-English written literary traditions- all testify to this multilingual way of life. Again in the West obsolescence and replacement is the rule of life; in India nothing ever becomes wholly obsolete. Kanyakumari Muslim Tamil preserves an Arabic phoneme (namely the e-sound   modified by throat tightening) that has disappeared from the Arab world! Linguistic continuity reinforces linguistic convergence.

            Recognizing convergence in India’s linguistic history is then recognizing not so much an ignoring out of differences of identity as the emergence of fresh all-India linguistic identity. Translating from Telugu to Oriya may be complicated, but translating from English or Arabic to Oriya will be even more complicated. Linguistic convergence across linguistic diversity is linked not only with social aggregation but also with cultural affinity. Being an Indian (or being a citizen of any of the South Asian countries, for that matter) is sharing a long history that is separate from South West Asian or European history.


            To sum up, linguistic diversity and linguistic convergence are both differing patterns of linguistic identity, which are in turn embedded in patterns of social identity and cultural identity. To use a language is to participate in a social fabric and to share a culture-bound way of life.


            All this was a necessary preamble to my argument for diversity, because in modern times diversity, linguistic or otherwise, is too often looked upon with suspicion; it is seen as an embarrassment if not a nuisance and an encumbrance if not an obstacle to progress and unity in the modern search for trading blocks and power blocks and for the circulation of information technologies and ideologies. But then why did Gandhiji go against the grain when he uttered these words? He said:


            ‘I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any… I would have our young men and women… to learn as much of English and other world languages as they like, and then expect them to give the benefits of their learning to India and to the world…. But I would not have a single Indian to forget, neglect or be ashamed of his mother tongue, or to feel that he or she cannot think or express the best thoughts in his or own vernacular’. (English  learning. Young India 01:06:1921)


These are ringing words and we can forget them only at our peril. Without a keen awareness of their import, globalization will be no mere concealed Westernization for the convenience of Western economic and political powers. With such a clear awareness, globalization will be no less than an opportunity for convergence of diversity on a global scale, the fulfillment of an old human dream dating back to the ancient empires, to the classical languages and literatures, and to the universalizing religions, the dream of true catholicity. It will be difficult to think of a better summation of the twin themes of linguistic diversity and identity than these words of Gandhiji.


            Let us connect this thought with another. The importance of biodiversity is rightly being dwelt upon in our present age, which threatens biodiversity. The present age also threatens cultural and linguistic diversity. Ethnodiversity is as important to the life of human kind as biodiversity is to the life on this earth. Let the world languages and cultures enrich the Indian civilization and at the same time (as Vivekanand reminded us) let the Indian languages and cultures enrich human civilization (even as these have enriched one another within the composite Indian civilization.


            Language, literature, and shared culture all go with a community of people interacting with one another in a sustained manner. Segregation of people makes for segregation of language, literature, and culture. Aggregation of peoples may lead to assimilation and integration, but it certainly cannot over come linguistic, literary, and cultural diversity. (The United Kingdom certainly effected a parallel assimilation and integration of the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English peoples but still remained as disunited as ever!) Such is the human extension of biodiversity.


            What is culture? With out proposing a formal definition, let me call a linguistic episode. Around the turn of the 20th century, some Indians thought of ‘translating’ the concept of culture from West to their own languages. Bangla speakers came up with the term krishi, thus preserving the original agricultural metaphor. Tagore was not too happy with this choice and consulted Dr. P.L.Vaidya, who taught Sanskrit at Fergussion College in Pune and who informed him that Marathi speakers were quite content with the coinage saskriti made by the historian and thinker, Vishwanath Rajwade. Tagore liked the coinage, adopted it, and helped making it another all India word. Instead o making a ‘faithful’ translation, Rajwade creatively adapted the traditional concepts of saskֹāra, the trace, good or bad, conscious or unconscious, indigenous or alien, left on a person by his experience of the surrounding environment, especially the surrounding human environment. Such traces of impressions admit of accumulation (sachita) or loss (lopa) or recovery (sthitisthāpana). Culture is the totality of saskāras ; thus, saskriti ends up being a much richer concept of culture!


            Language is an important vehicle for the transfer of saskāras or impressions from the speaker (or writer) to the listener (or reader). Language, however, is not merely a vehicle of communication or transfer of messages, but it also serves to give shape to the contents of what is being conveyed. Such is the case, because the speaker is also conducting an inward dialogue with the self and including a like inward dialogue in the listener. So the growth and development of language goes hand in with the growth and development of the culture which that language serves. Indeed, sometimes even a single expression in frequent use may come to be seen as revelatory of a culture—thus, the Asamiya expression lāhe lāhe  (in a leisurely manner) tells us something about this culture even as the Americanisms ‘buy an idea ‘or’ sell an idea’ tell us about that culture. Language is thus as much a medium of cognition as it is a vehicle of communication. No wonder then that it is through language that a people keep negotiating with the impressions they keep gathering all the time from all sides. They will, then do so from a position of strength and confidence and with a readiness to accept or reject them after due scrutiny. They will, to recall Gandhiji’s angry words, simply, ‘refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave’.


            Literature in the present context is not only poetry and other imaginative texts but also the literature of ideas and debate and the literature of spiritual sustenance. In this large sense, literature is the whole body of texts available to a people which they consider memorable enough to go over repeatedly (pārāyaa is our traditional for this activity) and share in common. Of course, some new texts keep adding to this repertory and some old texts get subtracted from it. Literature, then, is not only sustained by language and culture between them but also serves to sustain in turn.


            It is high that we learn to associate diversity, linguistic or otherwise, with enrichment and enlargement of the gene pool of concepts, ideas and norms of life and with the emergence and stabilizing of new genes of this kind in interaction with the environmental niche of each bio community of social groups and cultural affinities. Concepts, ideas, and norms of life are not churned out by thinking machines but fashioned into being by thinking creatures living out their lives in specific human and natural environments. India is not just a museum of languages and cultures, rather it is a laboratory of changing and shifting linguistic and cultural norms.


            Any account of linguistic identity in India will therefore remain incomplete until one has considered both various sub-identities within India the over all Indian identity.


            What we purpose to do here is to begin by considering by way of a case study one such regional sub –identity –indeed, regional identities in India have a promising future, the continuing promise of mutual enrichment. Then we proceed to round off the discussion by considering the single, over all, composite Indian identity in its linguistic aspect.





            I shall take up the region and the regional language I am most familiar with, namely, the region of Maharashtra and Marathi language. What one has to say about these can also be matched by a similar examination of other regions and other languages – Orissa and Oriya, for instance. In one sense, they are all variations on the Indian theme. Thus Marathi, Oriya, Telugu, or Manipuri are all characteristically Indian languages, in spite of their distinct historical affiliations. In another sense, the Indian theme is an orchestration of the regional themes. Indian-ness of thought and culture, for example, can hardly be conceived in a trans-regional vacuum, as the orientalists and antiquarians have sought in vain to do.


            ‘How to save Marathi?’ has lately been the refrain in many spoken and printed presentations and discussions at popular as well as more serious levels of communication. Marathi is felt to be losing ground to Hindi and English. But the less kind but more relevant question still remains to be asked: ‘Why save Marathi?’ What is it that one saves by saving Marathi? To save Marathi is to save the language the literature, and the culture embodied in these two, all three associated with a certain region. One should begin by asking: How has this peculiar state of affairs come into being?


            How and when did the Marathi language come into existence? One mustn’t forget language constantly changes over time –not too rapidly, otherwise the change will disrupt communication between grandparent and grandchild. Pronunciation, vocabulary, even grammar evince steady drift and, occasionally, sudden shift. A language spoken by a small population over a limited area may sometimes come to be spoken by a large population occupying a large area, thanks to population growth and migration. In that case the language does not change uniformly over all the regions. This results in regional varieties and along with them regional identities. That is how the Old Indo-Aryan (or Indic) speech of which Sanskrit happened to be a literary version gave rise to regional varieties of Middle Indo-Aryan speech, which in a step by step manner split into North western, Western, South western, Eastern and Central varieties. The Prakrits are no more than a literary version of Middle Indo-Aryan speech and like their predecessor Sanskrit out lasted the respective speech forms. The South western speech differentiated into Marathi and Konkani.


            This regionalization of the Indian civilization as it stands today was shaped by the decay of cities (the 4th to be the 10th centuries of the Christian Era). That is the time when India truly became a country of villages, not a sign of glory but a sign of decay. There was a partial restoration of cities and city culture subsequently (the 11th to the 15th centuries). (Incidentally, one must point out that a healthy civilization calls for a proper balance of the rural and the urban even as a balanced diet includes both carbohydrates and proteins. Such was the case with the classical period of Indian civilization from the 5th century BC to the 4th century CE. An excess in either direction produces it own serious problems). The rise of linguistic regions as they stand today was probably also the time when the case system became stable if not rigid. Even today the language identity of a person takes precedence on the whole over the caste identity. For example, a person identified as a Vokkaliga in Karnataka will be identified simply as a Kannadiga out side Karnataka (unless of course someone is carefully calculating voting probabilities in an election). The Marathi language, like Marathi culture, shows a blend between the North and the South. The base of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar is Indo—Aryan and so Northern, but these are all permeated by a Dravidian and thus, Southern under layer; the sentence tones, for example, are more like Kannada and Telugu than like Gujarati or Hindi; there is a larger proportion of Dravidian elements in Marathi vocabulary than in Gujarati or Hindi; and many verb roots have a negative from (dei ‘he gives’, nedi ‘he does not give’), which is a Dravidian habit.


            The recognition of the Marathi language as a literary medium has not been without problems. Marathi has through out kept up a struggle for identity. In medieval times, it faced a challenge from Sanskrit with which bhakti poets like Jānashwar, Mahādambā, Eknāth had to contend. The Mah ānubhāva sect’s initiative in Marathi prose, commentaries and hagiographies, had nobody to follow suit. Later, Marathi faced the challenge from Perso-Arabic vocabulary: in state papers and political correspondence, the percentage of Perso-Arabic borrowings reached 85 percent in 1628 before it was brought down to 6 per cent in 1728 thanks to shivaji’s initiative in nativizing the vocabulary of state craft by having by having a lexicon and a book of standing orders compiled. Nearing our times, Marathi has to maintain its own against English and more recently, against Hindi. On the whole, one must point out, the Marathi language and literature  have thrived from this struggle. Most notably, jnāneshwar fashioned Marathi not merely into a lyrical medium of bhakti but alternately into a poetic medium of philosophical argument towards man’s spiritual life. Again, the 19th century saw the rise of a vigorous prose of ideas and debare modeled on Sanskrit or English rhetoric, Sanskrit all along and English in modern times have been freely plundered for the vocabulary of tradition and modernity respectively. The borrowings from Perso-Arabic and English often take the form of translating the foreign word: thus, ājñāpatra for hukumnāmā, shaili for ‘style’. Rendering ‘culture’ as saskriti is a happy example of creative translation. The borrowings from Perso-Arabic extend beyond Islamic doctrine and practices, statecraft and law to new found bio facts, artifacts, and mentifacts (bulbul, kāgad, sarbat, tārikh, ārām.dasti, jamānā, nashīb). The culture of the Marathi speaking people has thus come to be as much a composite culture as the culture of Indians is composite.


            Other circumstances too have affected the shaping of the Marathi linguistic, literary, and cultural identity: (1) The struggle between the Brahmanic-vedic culture and thought and the Sramanic-non-vedic culture and thought has worked creatively in Maharashtra. In the pattern of worship the relation between the worshipper and the worshipped (be that god, saint, or guru) is one more of friendship and mutual involvement than of object surrender and respectful distance. Interestingly enough , while Marathi does use the more widespread gopi and Krishna or, less common, bride and bridegroom for imaging the relationship between the bhakta  and God, it tends to prefer imaging through child and mother or married woman and her maternal home she longs for. In the bhakti literature, there is a strong element of philosophical cotigation, social satire, and social protest. In the North, Kabir remained an isolated and possibly frustrated rebel. Significantly, Marathi bhaktas have a special regard for him. (2) Thanks to the raiyatwārī system of land revenue, the peasants and other rural folk are not so abjectly submissive as elsewhere in India: their spine is very much in place. (3) Bride and groom are honoured as the divine couple at the time of the wedding, which is never wholly forgotten in later-life. The wife, no matter which caste she belongs to, never does obeisance to her husband. The awakening of the oppressed, be they the Dalits, the women, or the exploited workers of farm and factory, in Maharashtra (1920-70) is significantly more self-aware, more forthright, more self-sustained than elsewhere in India. (4) The Indian Awakening (1820-1920) took a distinctive form in Maharashtra. Among other things, it led to the rise of the prose of ideas and debate, as we have already seen. There was a critique of the religious tradition, for instance. Was bhakti debilitating or invigorating? Can the Brahmanical lore hold its own in the modern context of science and democracy? Should conversion to Christianity or Islam up root one’s Indian identity? (5) The geographical position of Maharashtra, religious and military venture, the spread of Maratha rule to central and southern India, and the mercantile-industrial-educational revolution (the 19th to the 20th centuries) have all led to considerable migration from Maharashtra to different parts of India and the other way round. This has served to instill in Marathi speakers a strong sense of being Indians and at the same time to reinforce the sense of pride in the distinctive aspects of their history and heritage. Marathi-speaking migrants have acted more as creative innovators than as unadjusted irritants in their respective lands of adoption. (Kalelkar, Bendre, Deuskar, Paradkar, and Muktiboth readily come to mind for their notable contributions to Gujarat, Karnataka, Bengal, and the Hindi heart land.) Marathi speakers have a distinct image in their own eyes of other Indians. An 8th century Apabhramsha narrative, Kuualayamālā  by Udyotanas,ūri, offers a cameo describing Marathi speakers as typically sturdy, stocky, swarthy, stead fast, proud, and quarrelsome, an early stereotype. The self-image of Marathi speakers was not too different.






            Earlier, we observed how Marathi, Oriya, Telugu, or Manipuri are all characteristically Indian languages. What is this Indian identity that was formed over centuries in the course of linguistic convergence across diverse language families? Is it not then something that one would save by saving Indian languages against the onslaught of linguistic globalization?


            Certain words and phrases tend to get associated with certain specifically Indian ways of perceiving the natural and the human world. Thus, there are no ready equivalents in a non-Indian language such as English o expressions like jusha | ucchista (Hindi j,ūhā, Marathi ushā) , a married woman’s pirtr,grhal matrgrha (,Hindi pīharmāykā). In yet other cases the available ready equivalents are very tough and ready indeed if not simply misleading. Consider dharma and religion, bhakti and devotion, guru and teacher, for example. All such expressions are more than mere stumbling blocks for the conscientious translator. If there is a danger of non-Indians riding rough shod over them, there is also the more insidious danger of Indians glossing over them, possibly even abandoning the original sense in favour of the adoptive sense. That would be a pity, being a loss to the non-Indians as much as a loss to Indians, all in the name of a homogenization of the human world. An innovative translation can save the day for the non-Indian, as with ‘non-duality’ for advaita, ‘Indian cuckoo’ for kokila (Hindi koyal), or ‘brain-fever bird’ for Hindi papīhā .


           We are, however, going to focus on the Indian linguistic identity in the relatively neglected area of sentence forms and discourse forms. Earlier we spoke of the twin functions of language, namely, as a vehicle or means of communication and as a medium of cognition.  


            What exactly does this dual nature of language involve? To think of language as no more than a ‘means’ of communication is to think of the relation between content and form in any piece of language, whether word and phrase or sentence and discourse, as a mere external relation as between, say, body and garments. So translating from one language to another is seen to be simply a changing of garments leaving the content intact. On the other hand to think of language as no less than a ‘medium’ of cognition is to think of the relation between content and form in any piece of language as a deep and intimate relation as between, say, mind and body. Word form or sentence is no inert garment but a living, throbbing body. So to translate is to reformulate the content. Indian languages impart an Indian form to the content, which thus becomes Indian content. (This is even more true of Indian literatures.) The reason for distinguishing between the ‘means’ of communication and the ’medium’ of cognition will have become clear by now. But we are fast-forwarding. Let us wind back to sentence forms and discourse forms.


            It will be worth looking at the cognitive structure of a sentence in human languages.


            1) Devadatta sights a bull.

             This sentence can be understood in either of two ways:

The sighting activity has Devadatta for its agent and a bull for its object --- where the predicate sighting has Devadatta and a bull for its actants or arguments.

Devadatta is engaged in bull-sighting activity—where the subject Devadatta has bull-sighting for its predicate.


This is somewhat like one of those visuals that flipflop between two modes of looking at them: a cube seen as a solid from below or a hollow seen from above, for example. Thinkers, however, have argued for the one or the other view. View (a)Has been defended by Frege, later Chomsky. Mimamsa, and Nyaya. View (b) Has been defended by Aristotle, early Chomsky, and Vyakarna. It must be admitted, however, that in given circumstances the activity-focussed view (a) may be more plausible or the subject-focussed view (b) may be more plausible. The plausible focus is italicized from now onwards.


2          (a) Devadatta sees and hears the spring’s first cuckoo.

            (b) Devadatta looks at and listens to the spring’s first cuckoo.

            (b’)The spring’s first cuckoo was seen and heard by Devadatta .


            We introduce here a sub-variety (b’) of (b) where the subject focus is not on the agent Devadatta but on the object, namely, the spring’s first cuckoo.


            We are now in a somewhat better position to handle some English and Indian language sentence forms in terms of their cognitive structure.


            We need to make a distinction between predicates of perception activity and predicates of operation activity.


            English perception predicates ----


3          (a) Me thought so. (Up to the 16th century)

            (b) I thought so. (The 15th century onwards)


4          (a) She pleaseth me. (Dominant up to the 15th century)

            (b) I like her. (The 15th century onwards)

            Notice the shift from (a) to (b) around the 15th –the 16th centuries.


            English operation predicates-----


5          (b) I made/committed the error. (Dominant all along)

            (b’) The error was committed by me.

                        (Available from the 17th century onwards)


            Notice the later shift from (b) to (b’) around the 17th century.


            Indian language perception predicates---  


6          (a)        shām- ko  bāt burī lagī. (Hindi)


                        shām- lā apmān vā¶lā . (Marathi)


                        shām- nigē  vamānā annisitu. (Kannada)


            (b)            shām- ne   bāt burī sochi/mānī. (Hindi)


                        shām- ne apmān mānlā . (Marathi)


                        shām- nu avamānā-vēndu. bagē datu.(Kannada)


7          (a)            shām- ko rekhā  bhāti-haī . (Hindi)


                        shīm- lā  rekhā āva dte. (Marathi)


                        shām- nigē  rekha i¸¶   (Kannada)


            (b)            shām- rekhā  ko cāhtā-hai. (Hindi)


                        shām  rekhā- lā cahto. (Marathi)


                        shām   rekha-yannu  i¸¶a –pauttāne. (Kannada)


            Pattern (a) appeared probably around the 11th-the 13th centuries and later became more dominant over (b); but (b) has made a partial come back in the 20th century in formal speech or writing. This shift from (b) to (a) also applies to Sanskrit and the Prakrits. Notice how it contrasts sharply with the English shift from (a) to (b).


            Indian language operation predicates ----


8          (a)         shām-se galtī   ho-gaī. (Hindi)


                        shām-ka d£n cuk jhāli. (Marathi)


            (b)             shām galtī kar-gayā . (Hindi)


                        shām-ne cūk kelī. (Marathi)

            (b’)            galti  shām-se ki-gai. (Hindi)


                        cūk  shām- ka d£n keli-geli. (Marathi)


            Pattern (a) appeared probably around the 11th-the 13th centuries, but (b) continued to be dominant. Pattern (b’) appeared probably around the 18th- 19th centuries, but remains even less common than (a). The shift from (b) to (b’) resembles the corresponding shift in English.


            The shifts in Indian language sentence forms need to be studied more closely with proper documentation.


            How do we explain the shifts in English and in Indian languages? The first shift from (a) to (b in English may be associated with the shift from the Medieval God-centred world view to the Renaissance man-centred worldview. The second shift from (b) to (b’) in English may be associated   with scientific and mercantile-bureaucratic discourse in the post- Renaissance period.


            With Indian languages, the first shift from (b) to (a) may probably be associated with the shift from a more trusting and agency-oriented lifestyle to a more disoriented and patience-oriented lifestyle. The second shift from (b) to (b’) may be associated with bureaucratic-scientific discourse which may also favour (a) over (b).


            So much by way of motivating the shift in cognitive style historically in terms of shifts in life-style and worldview. But then it will also be worthwhile to evaluate each cognitive style as better equipped or less equipped in coping with the demands of certain situations. Notice how—


            Structure (b) is activity-focussed and so personalized.


            Structure (b’) is  object-focussed and so depersonalized.


            Notice how a given cognitive style associated with a language at a given period of history may put a premium on this or that structure or even leave the other structure simply unavailable. Thus, present-day English offers (b) and less commonly (b’); (a) is often unavailable even for perception predicates. Even for operation predicates like “rain” or “dawn”, English needs to set up a dummy subject like “it”. Present-day Marathi, on the other hand, offers (a) and (b) for perception predicates and (b) and much less commonly (b’) for operation predicates. Even for some operation predicates, it offers (a) in preference to (b’).


            Consider how an English speaker and an Indian speaker will handle the description of that bane of modern life ---stress or tension. Indeed, contemporary Indian speakers freely borrow the word “tension”, which may not have yet entered their dictionaries.


(9)        English speaker

            (b) (i)  Sam was under  stress/ tension. (The subject-agent not in control).

            (ii) Sam incurred stress/ tension. (Not much in control)

            (iii) Sam sustained stress/ tension. (In greater control) 


10        Indian speakers


            (a) Shām-lā enshan āle. (Marathi: not in control)


                 shām- nigē         enshan bonditu (Kannada like wise)


            (b) (i) Shām  enshan-se dab-gayā / pareshān –huā.


                (ii)   Shām ne  enshan mol-liyā. (Hindi; not much in control)


                        Shām ne  enshan  ghetle (Marathi)


                        Shām nu  enshan tandukŏdanu. (Kannada)


             (iii)     shām-ne enshan  bardāsht kar-liyā. (Hindi). In greater control)


                        shām-ne  enshan   jhelle. (Marathi)


                         shām-nu  tenshan-annu durisidanu. (Kannada)       


                        A Sam who takes a Sam-centered view (b) all the time may find it rather difficult to move forward from (i) through (ii) to (iii) without some outside help. A Sam who starts with an impersonal activity-centered (a) view may find it easier to by-pass (b) (ii) and move straight on to (b) (iii), getting hold of  himself.


            Again, consider how an English speaker and an Indian speaker will handle the description of one person helping another person in some difficulty.


11)       English speaker


            (b)             Sam helped Ron.

            (b’)             Ron was helped by Sam.


12)       Indian speakers


            (a)             shām-se rām-ko madad mil-gai. (Hindi)


                        shām-chi rām-lā madat jhāli/mil̞̟̠̙̬̘̗̖ālī. (Maratlii)


                        rām- nigě shām-ninda nĕrvāyitu. (Kannada)


            (b)             shām –ne rām-kī madad kar-dī. (Hindi)


                         shām-ne rām-la madar kalī . (Marathi)


                        shām-nurom-nigĕ nērvadanu. (Kannada)


            A Sam who takes a Sam-centered view (b) all the time may find it rather difficult to be modest about his good deed. At best he will try to hide behind a passive (b’) or will say in protest “don’t mention it!”. A shām to whom an impersonal activity-centered view (a) comes naturally will find it easier to follow the Bhagavadgītā injunction (11:33) for ethical modesty, “nimittamātra bhava!”


            These two little parables of Sam and sham should help us realize that Indian speakers a thing or two when it comes to taking an impersonal view of human activity in stressful conditions or in the ethical context or, for that matter, in a scientific assessment of human life processes.(Note in passing how the ending—“(iz)ation” can be rendered as –bhavan rather than—karaņ in certain situations – dehydrations nirjalī bhavan in the context of diarrhea, nirjalī-karaņ  in the context f vegetable storage.)


            So much for the Indian identity in cognitive style. In turning to the communicative  style, let us illustrate it not through sentence forms as we just did with cognitive style, but through discourse forms and their communicative structure. Consider the following piece of discourse.



13)       Let us send a fire engine to the town’s east end!


           ---Why? Well, there is no smoke billowing on the eastern horizon.


            ---So? Well, there is no smoke without fire, is there?


            ---And then? Well, What are fire engines for, if not for putting out fire?


            This discourse can be cast either as a dialogue between two fire persons or as a monologue addressed by the small-town fire chief to the fire persons or even as an interior monologue going on in the fire chief’s mind. Whether cast in this manner or that, the discourse proceeds progressively from the more salient feature of the situation to the less salient features –in the present case, from staking claim to looking for the grounds in support of that claim.


            But there can be a more radical communicative recasting of the discourse.


14)       Our fire engine is in readiness for putting out fires but lying idle.


            --Don’t we have any fire around? Let us look for smoke.

            --Well, there is smoke billowing on the eastern horizon.

            --Aha, let us send a fire engine to the town’s east end!


            This discourse too can be cast in the form of a dialogue or a monologue or an interior monologue. But surely the more striking feature this time around is that the discourse proceeds communicatively from the less salient features of the situation to the more salient--- in the present case, from preparing or exploring the grounds to making the claim itself.


            Whether we readily adopt the first strategy reserving the second for special occasions or readily adopt the second strategy reserving the first for special occasions will depend on the communicative style of the language. Any viable human language will be in need of either strategy; any historically shaped human language will come to be weighted in favour of one strategy or the other.


            Informal observation of English and Indian language discourses have revealed that for English (and probably for many other European languages as well) “the more salient to the less salient” strategy is the routine mode. And “the less salient to the more salient” strategy is the occasional mode. English speakers are thus more quick in staking claims than in looking for supporting grounds. The observation also reveals that for Indian language speakers (and probably for some East Asian languages as well) the communicative style is just the other way round. Indian language speakers are thus more anxious to prepare grounds for a claim before making that claim. An Indian’s routine adoption of the strategy of going from grounds to the claim may often elicit the English speaker’s impatient comment: “Come to the point, man/lady, don’t be beating about the bush!” Indeed the Indian gambit of postponing the salient claim to the end may take the extreme form of leaving it out altogether to the listener’s shrewdness (as at the poetry recital). An English speaker’s routine adoption of the strategy of going from a claim to the grounds may often elicit the Indian’s patient comment: “Don’t rush me, man/lady, let’s look at the lie of the land first.” An Indian may attribute the English speaker’s gambit to brashness and lack of courtesy.


            It will be rewarding to look for the historical explanation for this difference in communication style between English speakers and Indian language speakers. It will also be rewarding to look for the advantage or the handicap the communicative style offers to the groups of speakers in this or that given situation. Again, there is a historically emergent common Indian identity and there is some advantage it occasionally confers on the Indians.





            We have just seen how the Indian linguistic identity can best  be understood. First, we need to place it in the context of Indian cultural and social identity. Secondly, we need to use some non-Indian linguistic identity, say, the English-speaking as a foil and bring out differences the two present. It may be observed in passing that an Indian who has learned to use English rather well has acquired an additional, potentially complimentary, identity if the Indian were to adopt English communicative style as well.


            Earlier, we also saw how, by the side of the common Indian identity, we need to recognize specific regional sub-identities. The presence of such a regional identity can be best be understood by considering in some detail one such regional identity (the Marathi-speaking identity in the present case) and by placing that regional identity in the context of the common Indian identity. An Indian who has learned to use expertly a regional language not his own acquired an additional and potentially enriching identity. May I hope that some Oriya-speaking listener is induced to work out the Oriya-speaking identity.


            The consideration of the Indian identity and the included sub-identities brings out the diversity of human lifestyles and human worldviews (the lifestyle and the worldview being supportive of each other). The consideration of the regional sub-identities within India brings out the diversity of Indian lifestyles and Indian worldviews. In either case the diversity also Under-lines the underlying unity---of human kind in one case, the unity of India in the other case.


            Diversity is no mere spice of life: it is nothing less than a value in life. Living organisms variously work out their survival in interaction with the specific environment they cope with from time to time. Different spices within a given habitat work out different equations that mediate this process. Different varieties within the spices make different contribution to the overall gene pool. This is what biodiversity is all about.


            Within the human species, different human cohabiting groups variously work out their different cultural equations in coping with the natural environment and of course with the human environment. Each way of life, each paired lifestyle and worldview makes its own precious contribution available the rest of mankind. This is what ethnodiversity is all about.


            Just as an all-English world will be an intolerably dull place to live in, even so an all-Hindi India will e just as intolerably dull. But then a world without any link languages will be a chaotic and so equally uninteresting world, given that modern transport and communication has made it a small world. An India without any Indian link languages will also tend to be an all-English India and a dull one into the bargain.


            The sooner our power-wielders, power-brokers, and power-seekers (whether we have political, economic, or ideological power in view) clearly grasp these ground realities the better for everybody. They will thereby be doing a favour not only to the power-oppressed and the power-deprived but also to themselves. Thus, if globalization were to take the shape of Pax Americana, the Americans will just as surely be losers as the rest of humankind. Consider the decay of Brahmanical scholarship and thought after centuries of monopolizing and the exit of Buddhist thought




            This is a slightly revised version of the Second Radhanath nath Memorial Lecture delivered at Bhuvaneshwar, Orissa on 12th February 2001. The revised version was published in New Quest no. 145 261-82, July-September 2001 (published March 2002)



            I India’s framed linguistic diversity implies the presence of specific regional and other sub-identities, but is also matched by an all-India common identity emerging out of shared history. Unfortunately, in these times diversity is looked upon not as an asset but as a sign of backwardness. Assimilating Western or other non-Indian influences will work to advantage only in so far as we retain our intellectual initiative through our respective mother tongues and not otherwise.


            Language embeds literature and both are embedded in culture and society, which are forms of life. Language is as much as cognitive medium as it is a communicative vehicle.


II.         An account of the regional identity of Marathi and Maharashtra is presented by way of a case study. The regional identities are variations on the Indian theme, which in turn is an orchestration of the regional themes in languages, literature, and culture. The emergence of Marathi and Maharashtra was part of the larger process that resulted in the present regional division of India. The shaping of that regional identity was more of a local process, which left the Indian language, literature, and culture resembling the Indo-Aryan North and the Dravidian South and yet possessing a distinct image.


III.       The all-India linguistic identity in which Marathi partakes is evident not only in world forms, concepts, and ideas but also in cognitive and communicative structures at the level of sentences and discourses. Indian languages appear to have moved (11th-13th centuries) from a personalized to a depersonalized predication in cognitive terms in contrast to English which moved (15th-16th centuries) in the opposite direction. The emergence of a passive later remained an after thought both in Indian languages and English. Again, Indian discourses prefer to move from the ground to the claim in communicative terms in contrast to English. The depersonalized modality and the ground-first modality preferred by Indians has its strength and functionality, just as the preference has its possible historical explanation.


IV.       In sum, the regional and the Indian identity both merit proud preservation rather than apologetic playing down. Such a move will be help in maintaining autonomy within globalization and resisting homogenization. Ethnodiversity is but the human extension of biodiversity; it is a value in life.