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Defining the Indefinable: Delimiting Hindi


Agnieszka Kucziewicz-Fras

The nine extensive essays of this volume are by specialists on South Asia whose research focus includes the extremely complicated problematics of the linguistic situation there. It is devoted to the broadly understood problem of defining Hindi as well as indicating the different ranges of its use. The authors of the included texts come from Europe, the USA and India, and grapple with questions such as what Hindi is, how it functions in the social, political and cultural dimensions of present-day India, and how it is being used by authorities and various influential actors at different levels of Indian reality. The volume should be important and useful for all those who are interested in Hindi, its official and non-official status, and in Indian linguistic policy and politics generally.
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Depoliticising Hindi in India Selma K. Sonntag



Depoliticising Hindi in India

Selma K. Sonntag

The politics of Hindi dominated the language policy debate in India for much of the 20th century. The ‘communalisation’ of the regional vernacular in North India under British colonial rule reached its apogee at the time of independence and partition, with Hindi envisioned as India’s national language and Urdu proclaimed the national language of Pakistan (see KING, C. 1994; RAI 2000; AYRES 2003). In newly independent India, the triangulated politics of Hindi—between Gandhi championing vernacular Hindustani, conservative and revivalist landed elites in North India pushing Sanskritised Hindi, and Nehru’s proclivity toward English—resulted in the adoption of Hindi as India’s official language by the Constituent Assembly, with a single vote securing the majority, and English as an associate official language (AUSTIN 1966: 265; SONNTAG 2003: 61–62). That Hindi became the official, and not national, language of India reflected a significant turn in language politics in newly independent India: the increasing saliency of anti-Hindi politics in South India (DAS GUPTA 1970: 133–137). Tamil youth rioting over the impending expiration of English as the associate official language—associate to Hindi—prompted the 1967 Official Language Act institutionalising the status of English as an additional official language to Hindi.

Yet by the turn of the new millennium, the politics of Hindi seem to have dissipated on the national level. As David Stuligross and Ashutosh Varshney put it, “no significant political force favours any longer the imposition of...

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