Languages of India

About 6,500  spoken languages  are in use in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 users.

Mandarin and English are the most spoken language on Earth followed by Urdu used as Hindustani and then, comes Hindi, the language that has been adopted as part of the Indian identity by some. A battle rages on in India among people who want to use Hindi as the lingua franca of the country and those who speak other languages, including English. What does homogenisation of languages to create a national identity do to a people?

The Cultural Tool , a book by linguist Daniel Everett shows that languages develop out of cultural needs. As nations try to create homogenous identities with a single language, they wipe out cultures. Everett explains that this linguistic diversity “is one of the greatest survival tools that human beings have … each language is a cognitive tool for its speakers and comes to encode their solutions to the environmental and other problems they face as a culture”.

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“Now, writers have to conform to market rules to ensure their works can be sold and read globally. This global influence can be so cruel that non-native English writers may consider writing in their mother languages inferior and may prefer writing in English instead,” says Brazilian author Bernando Carvalho

bernardo-carvalhoAccording to Carvalho, the hegemony of English language has created an atmosphere where non-native speakers are accepted mostly only if they write in English incorporating some of their local slang or ethnic experience. At the same time, the Anglo-Saxon world uses this multiculturalism as an excuse to not translate works from other languages to English, he said.

Carvalho gave examples of 19th century writer Machado de Assis, arguably the best Brazilian writer ever, and the 20th century Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges during his talk. He said these writers used the Western literary canon but transformed it with their own local sensibility to create a new and exceptional body of writing that was reflective and relevant domestically. They were able to use their peripheral status as an asset, Carvalho said.