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Language Problems in the Rural Development of North India

  • John J. Gumperz


Most of the discussion regarding the language issue in India so far has revolved about two problems. One of these concerns the spread of Hindi knowledge in those areas or fields of endeavor where other regional languages or English are now used; the other, the enrichment of Hindi vocabulary (or, as is usually stated, the development of the Hindi language), so as to make it possible to use it for dealing with topics related to modern science and technology. The Central Government and several of the state governments have devoted much effort towards the solution of these problems by setting up special departments for the creation of vocabulary lists to deal with new subjects, encouraging attempts to introduce Hindi in universities and legislative bodies, and fostering the growth of societies for the propagation of Hindi learning. These activities have aroused a great deal of controversy, and so much has been written about the pros and cons of the issues involved that the above two problems seem to be the only ones associated with language in the public mind.



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1 The field observations resulting in this study were made under a fellowship granted by The Ford Foundation. The conclusions, opinions, and other statements in this publication, however, are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Ford Foundation. The author is further indebted to Professor Morris Opler and the staff of the Cornell University India Project for furnishing living quarters in the village and providing much helpful background information for the study. Special thanks are due to Dr. S. C. Dube for his help in formulating the problem.

2 India is of course not unique in this respect. Similar differences existed throughout medieval Europe and still exist, for example, in Greece, where they have become the subject of a great deal of political controversy.

3 SirGrierson, George Abraham, Linguistic Survey of India (Calcutta: 1927). For an account of the rise of spoken and literary Hindi see Vol. I. Another account of the development of modern Indo-Aryan vernaculars, which also discusses the gap between spoken language and literary idiom, is given in Chatterji, S. K., Indo-Aryan and Hindi (Ahmedabad: Gujerat Vernacular Society, 1942).

4 The Library of Congress transcription of Devanagari as adapted to Hindi is used throughout.

5 Gumperz, John J., “Dialect Difference and Social Structure in a North Indian Village” (unpubl. paper).

6 Grierson does not draw this distinction explicitly; however, it is implicit in his comments.

7 See Grierson, IX, Pt. 2, p. 1 for Rajastani, and V, Pt. 2, p. 13 for Maithili.

8 Some excellent examples of studies of this type are: Saxena, Baburan, Evolution of Avadhi (Allahabad: 1937); Varma, Dhirendra, La langue Braj (Paris: Librairie d'Amerique et d'Orient, 1935).

9 Workshops on writing for new literates were held in Delhi in 1953 and in Mysore, Poona, and West Bengal. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research publishes a journal, Dharli ke lal, intended for new literates, which has a circulation of about 8,000; cf. The Ford Foundation and Foundation Supported Activities in India (New York: The Ford Foundation, 1955). The Uttar Pradesh Development Commissioner at Lucknow has also published a series of pamphlets on agricultural topics for new literates.

10 Mr. Philip Barker, a linguist who has spent about eighteen months in rural areas of Sarguja, Madya Pradesh, tells me that villagers in his area were not able to understand the terminology of official announcements posted in the village. See also Chatterji, pp. 140f.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
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