Status and Acquisition Planning and Linguistic Minorities in India1

Status and Acquisition Planning and Linguistic Minorities in India1,Cynthia Groff

Status and Acquisition Planning and Linguistic Minorities in India1  
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How is the development and revitalization of the languages of linguistic minorities officially addressed in India? What policies deal with multilingual education and what impact have they had on linguistic minorities? The number of languages in India remains a political question and census categorization of minority languages impacts that number. Within the Indian Constitution there are many safeguards for linguistic minorities. How have their rights, both linguistic and educational, been addressed? Over the years, national education policies have recommended such strategies as the Three Language Formula and considered education for linguistic minorities. One important question: What actually happens in education for linguistic minorities in India? This paper examines the development over time of India's language policies pertaining to linguistic minorities as revealed in the census, constitution and national education policies, and citing the work of current Indian socio-linguists. Issues include national versus state jurisdiction, positive rights versus negative rights, linguistic versus relative minorities, the transitions from one language to another in the school, standardization's impact, and natural bilingualism versus planned bilingualism. With respect to the problem of providing access to education through the mother tongue and access to higher education and economic advancement though the more powerful languages, could the observed de facto multilingual education be part of the solution? The paper considers these possibilities, keeping in mind the words of Khubchandani (2001: 43): "When dealing with plural societies, we shall do well to realize the risks involved in uniform solutions." Introduction: Languages and minorities in India How many languages are there in India? Which languages get status? What about the other languages? What languages should be taught? What languages should be used for teaching? What happens in education for linguistic minorities? The importance of the latter question can be seen in education-related statistics on minorities in India. According to the 1991 census, while the average literacy rate in India was 52.21 percent, the literacy rate for scheduled tribes (those tribes listed in the Constitution) was 29.60 percent. The drop-out rate for scheduled tribes was 63.8 percent at the primary level, 79.35 percent in middle school, and 86.27 percent in secondary school (Census of India). The importance of the middle questions above can be seen from a glance at India's linguistic diversity. The importance of the first question will become apparent in the discussion that follows.
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