Perspective – The World Have you ever wondered about the number of languages that are in existence? While one might suppose that linguists would have a definitive answer, the reality is that we don’t know for certain. To add some perspective, the 1911 (11th edition) of the Encyclopedia Britannica implies a figure of around 1,000, […]
Have you ever wondered about the number of languages that are in existence? While one might suppose that linguists would have a definitive answer, the reality is that we don’t know for certain. To add some perspective, the 1911 (11th edition) of the Encyclopedia Britannica implies a figure of around 1,000, which has steadily risen over the century. It is imperative to understand that there is no increase in the number of new languages, but rather our increased understanding of linguistics in areas that had previously been under-described.
In 2009, the Ethnologue, the most extensive catalogue of the world’s languages, published a classified list that included 6,909 distinct languages. . Most languages belong to a family, and the best-known languages have been from the Indo-European family, to which English belongs. Languages are not uniformly distributed around the world. Out of Ethnologue’s 6,909 distinct languages, only 230 are spoken in Europe, while 2,197 are spoken in Asia. In Papua-New Guinea, there are an estimated 832 languages spoken by around 3.9 million people, making the average number of speakers around 4,500. Language serves a particular identity for a country and strongly influences the socio-economic impact of the population. Unlike the multilingualism of other countries, India’s multilingualism is home to various indigenous/ethnic languages themselves. 
India is home to several hundred languages, and the SIL Ethnologue lists 415 living languages in India. While India does not have a national language, the Constitution of India mandates the use of Hindi and English as Official Languages required for the Official Purpose of the Union.
The constitution recognizes 22 regional languages, named Scheduled Languages. According to the 2011 Census, 57.1% of the Indian population know Hindi, of which 43.63% of individuals have declared Hindi as their native language or mother tongue . India is a pluralistic society regarding language, culture, religion, and region. English is a hegemonic language, and its status in a social environment is determined by various political, cultural, and socio-economic conditions. While language is based on the notion of communication, it is often used as an exploitative tool to discriminate against the non-English speaking population. Individuals are often devoid of their fundamental rights through such discrimination, excluding them from various spheres of knowledge. Social conditioning to the idea of English being a ‘successful’ language has sowed seeds of complexities in the heads of individuals, especially those from underprivileged and marginalised communities. Linguistic discrimination is prevalent across the country and extends from schools and higher educational establishments to modern workspaces. Though non-English speaking individuals possess equal rational ability, the passive human nature around English as a superior language has made non-English speaking individuals feel unwanted and unsuitable in social contexts. 
Data from 2014 has shown that on an all-India basis, for every nine readers of Indian languages there is one English reader of newspapers, with 23 non-English to 1 English readers in Uttar Pradesh, 5 to 1 in Maharashtra, 6 to 1 in West Bengal, 8 to 1 in Tamil Nadu, and 1 to 1 in Delhi. This extends to television viewership as well; at an all-India level, the ratio of non-English to English viewers is a whopping 14:1 in UP,13:1 in Maharashtra,9:1 in West Bengal, 6:1 in Tamil Nadu, and 19:1 in Delhi . Even for a skilled orator, the flow of thoughts and the structure of their speech is influenced by the language in which they think, which is mainly based on one’s mother tongue. It is important to remember that thought processes and the mother tongues of individuals are intertwined, meaning discrimination based on language affects one’s ability to think and feel comfortable in their own skin. Embracing other languages is a cultural adaptation that would indeed open up new opportunities, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of discriminating against one’s native language altogether. Doing so creates chaos rather than achieving ‘economic productivity’. There is a stark difference between promoting minority languages and the promotion of minority languages. The notion of an ‘elite’ language in any environment creates barriers to acquiring knowledge and development, which deeply affects the mental health of individuals. Having a dominant medium of instruction or communication is supposed to bring communities and individuals together and not exclude the vast majority of individuals from the learning process.
Languages provide their own emotional, psychological, and moral values. Regional medium students who don’t have the opportunity to learn or adapt to a new language apart from their mother tongue get discriminated against at every step of their life. Repeated discrimination negatively affects intra and interpersonal relationships, further leading to passive or active exclusion and humiliation, leading to a crisis in confidence. Stigmatised individuals constantly exposed to vulnerable environments find themselves going through extreme psychological distress, depression, and having lower life satisfaction and happiness levels. For example, in a classroom setting, students who speak the dominant medium (English) set the course of the agenda and control the environment altogether. In doing so, students from other mediums generally are left behind in the aspects of classroom activities. Bonding among peers is largely dependent on the dominant medium, and when that is exploited, it results in language power relationships. Linguistic racism leads to deprivation in education, employment, health, and housing. Standardisation inevitably leads to unintentional social practices, which slowly become the new normal. The standardisation can be seen in everyday forms of life, from commute to visual media content. Content on television screens, cinemas, and other forms stigmatise the attitude around the usage of English language or rather its lack. While one might perceive entertainment to be lighthearted, the dramatic visual and audio effects and unsettling scenes blur the line differentiating entertainment and reality. While there is a sincere effort from certain sections of the content industry toward a progressive attitude to linguistic balance, there needs to be a shift in the workings of the industry to embrace linguistic diversity without perceiving the usage of English as a trait of elitism or empowerment since the influences of content on traditionally cultural communities will have an inundating effect on the attitudes and the mental health of people.
When it comes to education and employment opportunities in India, the English and Hindi-speaking populations have a better chance of performing. For instance, examinations for the National Defence Academy, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the Combined Defence Services, and other Union Public Service Commission services are primarily in Hindi and English. A Hindi non-speaking person cannot appear for the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection tests (PSU) interviews and the central Public Sector Undertaking Exams (PSU) in their mother tongue. Marathi-speakers cannot expect office forms in IIT Bombay to be available in Marathi. The careers section of military and paramilitary forces, such as the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force, provides information on pre-requisite qualifications in only English and Hindi. Let alone the applications, these examinations are often not conducted in all regional languages. The list of services, information, and other government communications isn’t made available in regional languages. 
The massive push for English started with India’s claim that English-language advantage would make it a ‘knowledge economy’. However, research collated by UNESCO shows that “children in their mother tongue make a better start, and continue to perform better, than those for whom school starts with a new language”. The transition from a home language to a school language is complicated as large proportions of the population do not speak the medium of language used by educational institutions. Learning, reading, and writing in a language that they have no exposure to at home or in the community makes learning extremely challenging and often disrupts their learning curve. 
Right now, all Indian children are put through an education system designed for a proportion of the population that has an intergenerational education advantage. Learning a language should be a skill that’s necessary to gain education, and expand one’s knowledge; the language is not an education in itself. 
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3. (PDF) Language Discrimination in Indian Higher Education | Deepak Kumar – Academia.edu. 2022. (PDF) Language Discrimination in Indian Higher Education | Deepak Kumar – Academia.edu. [ONLINE] Available at: <https://www.academia.edu/48903673/Language_Discrimination_in_Indian_Higher_Education>
4. Garga Chatterjee. 2022. What It Is Like to Use Neither Hindi Nor English In India. [ONLINE] Available at: <https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/hindi-imposition-india-discrimination>
5. Anjali Mody. 2022. India’s craze for English-medium schools is depriving many children of a real education. [ONLINE] Available at: <https://scroll.in/article/750187/indias-craze-for-english-medium-schools-is-depriving-many-children-of-a-real-education>