A large number of people in India learn the English language and use it for a variety of functions and purposes in their daily lives and therefore English constantly co-exists with the Indian languages in an Indian socio-cultural context. This reasoning is then coupled with the mix of a person’s mother tongue and as a result shows an interesting and inevitable end result that the forms and structures of English have been affected by Indian languages and a new variety of English (known now as “Indian English”) has come into being. This is mainly because of the Mother Tongue Influence, commonly referred as MTI


If one needs to understand the present status and functions of English, it is a must to go back in time and have a look at the history of English in the Indian subcontinent.

  1. Beginning with the establishment in India of the East India Company, the British came to India as traders in the second half of the 18th century, and stayed on as rulers for nearly two centuries. During this phase, the British had gradually introduced 2 main aspects, 1. English as a language and 2. the idea of western education in order to create a class of Indians who could serve these rulers as officials and also function as a communicative link between the rulers and the masses.
  2. The second phase of the presence and spread of English in India is identified with two names, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and T.B. Macaulay.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy,  an Indian reformer, was regarded as the pioneer of modern Indian Renaissance for the significant reforms he introduced in 18th and 19th century India. Roy led a group of young Indians who demanded that English education would do more good to the Indians. They were convinced that English would be more useful for Indians than Indian languages for academic, socio-economic, scientific and international purposes and tried their best to convince the rest as well. Roy believed that English-language education was superior to the traditional Indian education system, and he rejected the usage of government funds to support schools teaching Sanskrit. 

Minutes on Indian Education of February 1835 commonly referred to as Macaulay’s Minutes-  Thomas Babington Macaulay was primarily responsible for the introduction of a Western-style education system in India. He urged Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor-General, to reform secondary education on utilitarian lines to deliver “useful learning”. This debating note was logical and culture-centric, and this document therefore marks the turning point of English in Indian history. 

Quoting one significant statement from the “Minute of Macaulay -1835”: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. (Source: Wikipedia) 

It’s important to know that T.B. Macaulay points out to the Indian backwardness and argues that no one can be called a learned person with the Indian Languages as the learning comes from the European language alone.  He was truly biased. 

By the end of the 19th century, five universities had been set up (Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, Allahabad and Lahorti). With the spread of English language and the increase in the number of English-knowing Indians, this foreign language then came to be established as the official and academic language of India. It also acquired great prestige and replaced the age-old  Persian and Indian languages from several areas of education, administration, trade and even in business between Europe and India. 

  1. The 20th century witnessed further strengthening of the roots of English in India as an influential English press grew. 

“After World War I, there was a significant increase in educational institutions, and schools and colleges spread to the interior of India. This then helped in spreading the idea of bilingualism in India mainly among the middle and lower classes of the Indian society.

The period since then has seen a tremendous increase in English-knowing Indians and, even after the British formally left India in 1947, English has continued to gain ground and remained firm on the Indian soil. 

Government policies have also been given official recognition to English as an associate official language which remains true to this day as well.  English is recognised officially as the “Associate National Official Language, and as inter-regional link-language”

And that is the story of how the genesis of English happened in India and how it turned out to be the language of opportunity, social advancement, prestige and power. India has the second-highest number of English speakers, but the language still remains in the status of a foreign language and the common mistakes we make prove it! Yet with the advancement of Lingua Franca, English has become the dominant means of international communication and irrespective of what one’s mother tongue is, English should be added to an individual’s language repertoire to survive in the competitive world.


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