SAPT seminar: TT21 wk 7: Language and 'Postcolonial Shame': Attitudes towards Mother Tongues amongst the Contemporary Urban Youth in India

Conveners: Pratinav Anil, Pratim Ghosal, Benjamin Graham

Speaker: Mohini Gupta (DPhil Student, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford)


What role does language teaching in India play in perpetuating postcolonial language hierarchies between English and Indian languages? How does language planning by the state influence language attitude formation amongst the Indian urban youth?

This presentation will highlight the relationship between pedagogical practices in the classroom related to language teaching in India, and their impact on attitudes of the Indian urban youth towards the languages they speak, especially their mother tongues. This project is located in linguistic anthropology, and builds on theories of multilingualism, language attitudes, language planning and policy, language and colonisation, as well as language ideologies. It will trace the production of language ideologies to the level of primary education, which could lead to a sense of developing ‘postcolonial shame’ (Timothy Bewes) associated with the mother tongue.

According to critic Alok Rai, the problem with English is not that it is an alien language anymore, but that it is an Indian language, inextricably linked to social, class and caste privilege. There is a sense of inferiority inflicted upon non-English speakers, closely linked with social class orders, and this language hierarchy between English and Indian languages is internalised over decades of postcolonial conditioning, through educational institutions. The presentation will also include a case study of the language revitalisation project in Wales that promotes the Welsh language, and investigate whether this pedagogical model can be effective in relation to Indian languages.


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