According to Gumperz (1964) the kind of deviation we notice in Indian English represents not a failure to control English, but a natural consequence of the social conditions in the immediate environment in which Indian English is used. According to Halliday et al. (1964), RP and Standard British English is not the only possible model of English in India. In fact, in terms of the emergence of some kind of a small, even though highly influential, culture associated with English in India, one could talk in terms of an early colonial, colonial and post-colonial (or independence) period. In the early period, the colonial masters were not worried about either the local languages or cultures but during the colonial period when they wished to consolidate their power and appropriate local resources, they, in addition to economic policies, planned linguistic and cultural interventions that helped their dominance over the 'natives'. In the post-colonial period, most countries including India decided to continue maintaining the language of the colonizer, but on its own terms. In India, English was no longer to be a foreign language; it would be an important second language. It has been observed that a second language Indian variety with a complex network of features contributed by the mother tongue of the speakers and their cultures is beginning to emerge.
According to Singh (2002), "There are 4635 identifiable communities in this country, diverse in biological traits, dress, language, forms of worship, occupation, food habits and kinship patterns. It is all these communities who in their essential ways of life, express our national popular life". Like any other nation where there are multiple communities, religions, castes and linguistic groups that live under the same national boundary India faces a highly diverse, fluid and yet rigid social stratification. With all these diversities come rigid customs, ethics, values and taboos that make sure that this stratification is maintained. This stratification is further reinforced with vast economic disparities: from people who are far below the poverty levels to people who are middle class business oriented populace who cater to the private sector, public sector like the bureaucracy and a large team of technically trained professionals to people who are far above the economic ladder i.e. the upper class (Singh, Y. 1980). To this, we must add the multiplicity of linguistic groups that make India one of the most stratified nation. The culture that is associated with a near exclusive use of English in this multiplicity is indeed very small.
Hinduism is the most dominant religion in India. According to the Census of India 1991, 82% of Indians follow Hinduism, 0.40% of Indians are Jains, 0.76% follow Buddhism, 1.94% of Indians are Sikhs. Islam is followed by about 12.2% Indians. Christians are more then 2.34% of India's population; Zoroastrians make up of 0.01% Indians and there are other religious persuasions which account for about 0.39% of the population.
In Hinduism the "caste system" that divides the society into distinct groups is an extremely powerful system of social stratification. At one level, at least in ancient times, it was seen as a convenient arrangement for division of labour in which the Brahmins managed the construction and distribution of knowledge, the Kshtriyas looked after the defence systems, the Vaishyas managed the trade and the Shudras looked after sanitation and cleanliness. But that perhaps is the kindest interpretation of the Caste system. In reality it turned out to be quite inhuman; in particular the Shudras suffered centuries of exploitation at the hands of upper castes. Then there are hundreds of sub-castes within each major caste, each with its own load of pride and prejudice (Ross 2001). There is a two-fold hierarchy that developed in the Muslim community: Sharif Jat (upper class) and the Ajlaf Jat (lower class). Like the Muslim community, the Christians also have a two-fold social hierarchy. In some cases the untouchables who were converted to Christianity are still treated as untouchables. Other religions, which opposed the caste system like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, also have some marks of caste system. The people who adopted these religions are still considered as the same caste or jaatii as they were before they converted. The access to English has been delimited in a variety of ways depending on the caste to which one belongs. For example, it could be said without much exaggeration that even today, that is over 57 years after independence, Gandhi's struggle against untouchability and the Indian constitution and legal system declaring untouchability as a crime, the access of low-caste communities to English would be minimal. In addition to their poverty, their caste often becomes a strong reason for their not being able to go to school, particularly in rural India. It is only now that the Government of India is waking up to the educational needs of the underprivileged and is seriously trying to make efforts to reach English to the poor (see for example the recent attempts made at the SCERT, Delhi and NCERT, Delhi).
Most Indian social structures are patriarchal by nature. Joint family system is the most widely accepted family structure where three or four patriarchally related generations live under the same roof. Patriarchal joint families include men related through the male line, along with their wives and children. Most women are expected to live with their husband's relatives after marriage. In India a male member is usually the head of the family. He is the final decision-making authority, he governs the financial aspects and he is normally the bread earner. The eldest male member of the house is the institutional head of the family. If he is not physically or financially sound the buck is passed on to the next eldest male member of the house. In some cases where there is a woman who is the eldest, her advice is considered and she is respected. She is then like the head for namesake because most decisions are taken by the next eldest male member. With the globalization and urbanization some families have become nuclear. However, even where the ideal joint family is seldom found there are often strong networks of kinship ties through which economic assistance and other benefits are obtained. In this network, in general, English language or some features that may be associated with its usage actually have no real space. It is only in some elite families that English may have some marginal role to play. For example, in most middle class families the wedding cards would generally be bilingual, printed both in English and the relevant regional language. Similarly, the popular music played at wedding parties may often be both English and regional. But in hundreds of rural or semi-urban weddings, English will have no role to play at all. However, in Christian weddings and prayers, it may often be centre-stage.
India has been marked by various rigid institutional structures where the roles of all the members are strictly defined and demarcated. However there is also immense variability in terms of culture and language. The variation in terms of language and its effects on IE have been noticed in Chapter 3. Aspects of Indian culture that are reflected in IE are given below:
In their pioneering work, Brown and Gliman (1960) have shown how the use of non-honorific (T) and honorific (V) forms varies along the direction of power and with the degree of solidarity. Asymmetrical power relations involve non-reciprocal use of T and V; the more powerful person receiving V, while symmetrical solidarity relationships encouraging a reciprocal use of T or V. Most studies have pointed out that pronominal usage is an extremely complex phenomenon varying along many parameters such as status, intimacy, sex, age, situational context etc. In view of India being such a rigid hierarchy in terms of culture, one of the major reflections of the Indian culture on IE is the adoption of extreme politeness in speech. Where English has only a one way system i.e. 'you', Telugu has a two way system of politeness i.e. 'niiwu' and 'nuwwu' and languages like Hindi have a three way system i.e. 'tuu', 'tum' and 'aap' that are used with varying levels of hierarchy and intimacy. Hence the use of "They" instead of 'he' for one's husband or elder is now prevalent in Indian English in some culturally rigid parts of India. It is also interesting to note that In India wives do not address their husbands by name; hence the use of 'he/him' in reference instead of the name is also accepted.
ji is a respect marker in Hindi. It has now crept into English in the form of mummy-ji, uncle-ji, papa-ji, sir-ji, Magistrate sahib-ji and madam-ji is an accepted norm in speech and informal IE writing. Similarly it is more respectful to use 'Shri' /'Thiru' instead of Mr. before a name.
It is common for Indians to use exaggerated polite expressions where native speakers would use very simple words or phrases. A letter may often start by saying: Most respectfully I beg to state that I may kindly be forgiven to… etc. It may similarly end with the Victorian: I remain, your most faithful servant, etc…
Except in the case of a very small metropolitan elite, it appears that English language and culture has had very little influence on the cultural patterns of the Indian life. In terms of food and dress habits, ceremonies associated with birth, marriage and death, music, art and dance, folk tradition of music, craft, painting, dance etc., one very much remains an Indian. There are of course exceptions such as Ravi Shankar, but one can just count them on their fingers.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore