India’s Emergence as Economic Tycoon Through the Language Corridor
| Didhiti Ghosh, Bureau Chief, IOP, Kolkata - 09 Aug 2019

India’s Emergence as Economic Tycoon Through the Language Corridor

By Didhiti Ghosh, Bureau Chief (Kolkata), IOP

Kolkata, August 9, 2019: India is aspiring to become a world power in the present global economic backdrop. What role would language play in the pursuit? Granted accepted, what kind of language policy and language planning should India adopt?

The aforementioned provides a challenging question before India’s policymakers. In these circumstances, it stands pertinent to determine the language policy to be adopted by the country, this being an interrogative by Dr Bawa Singh, Dr Rajinder Kumar Sen and Dr Naresh Kumar Singla in an article published by Eurasia Review.

When the question emerges in terms of languages and cultural traditions, it is claimed with the sense of pride that India is rich with the heritage of more than 780 languages along with 66 scripts.

According to Eurasia Review, in the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) the North-East has one of the highest per capita language densities even throughout the entire world given its complicated history and the terrain.

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However, in the era post-independence, language conflicts have become more critical as several Indian states joined the conflict list to oppose Hindi as a discipline as well as to demand the creation of states based on languages.

Role of Language in National Integration Policy

English, Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, German and Italian had all the more played a constructive role in expanding imperialism, apart from Latin, part and parcel of the colonized world.

The languages of the colonized countries had not lost their importance and were spoken lucidly in the respective colonies more than their native languages even today. In the post-colonial era, English dominates the official mode of communication in many countries.

These apart, language has a critical role in the nation-building in terms of building socio-cultural ethos, political and economic framework.

Language as a tool to Diplomacy & Soft Power

Bilateral trade between countries having lucid communication in a native will be easier, cheaper and more intensive.

Widespread knowledge of languages is an important determinant for foreign trade, with English playing an especially important role. The same translates into positive individual economic payoffs.

These gains embody in better employment opportunities and higher wages, in addition to non-pecuniary benefits such as being able to visit foreign countries, meet new people and read foreign books or newspapers.

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Fact notes that several European languages have official status in two or more EU countries: English (UK, Ireland and Malta), German (Austria, Germany and Luxembourg), French (France, Belgium and Luxembourg), Dutch (Belgium and Netherlands), Swedish (Sweden and Finland) and Greek (Greece and Cyprus).

Spanish as the Emerging Business Communication Language

According to the latest annual report from the Instituto Cervantes, more than 577 million people around the world speak Spanish, some 7.6% of the global population. By 2050, the Spanish speaking population is expected to increase to 756 million, an increase of 0.1%. This makes it the second most widely spoken native language on the planet, just after Mandarin Chinese.

In the online world, Spanish is the third most widely used language after English and Chinese, comprising 8.1% of all online communication. It is also the third most widely learned foreign language, also after English and Chinese, with a particularly high level of popularity in the Anglophone world.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (Report 2016), bilateral trade between India and Spain in 2015 (Jan-May) stood at around USD 3billion with Spain's exports to India during the same period being USD 1.0 billion and India´sexports to Spain at USD 2.2 billion.

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Aforementioned inclusive, Spain is the 12th largest investor in India with USD 1.8 billion in FDI. The main investments are in the sectors such as infrastructure, renewable energy, auto components, water desalination/purification, and single-brand retail.

Indian pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textiles, chemicals, machinery and other value-added products have found dedicated customers all over Latin America. Indian companies like UPL, Godrej, Hero, and others have bought local companies or invested in Greenfield projects.

In May 2017, Ecuador, a Spanish-speaking country expressed its interest in signing a preferential trade agreement (PTA) with India to enhance trade linkages. Colombia has also shown interest in collaborating in industries like food processing and agriculture. In 2016, the PTA between India and Chile was broadened, with Chile offering concessions on some 1,798 tariff lines with a Margin of Preference (MoP) ranging between 30 percent to 100 percent and India offering concessions on 1,031 tariff lines with an MoP ranging between 10 percent and 100 percent.

India’s exports of 292 mn dollars to distant Guatemala - the Heart of the Mayan World - are more than double the exports of 121 mn to Cambodia, a close neighbour. India’s exports to Mexico ($3.78 bn) are more than the exports to neighbouring Iran and Thailand.

With these economic activities and interaction in mind, the global economy will need a workforce of over 480 million people. And among this, the Spanish language will play a definite & crucial role.

Mentionable are Spanish companies such as Navantia, Inditex, Zara, Abengoa, Agroalimen, Indolink which are setting up business branches in India. More than 150 Spanish companies have subsidiaries, joint ventures, projects or liaison offices and purchase offices in India.

The future of Indo-Spanish bilateral relations has been growing steadily with potential sectors like infrastructure, science, and technology, energy, IT, tourism, biotechnology, environment & agriculture, waiting to be untapped.

India’s need for Language Policy & Planning

It has remained a major challenge to decide the exact language for education& official use in India. According to the Ministry of External Affairs of India (Report 2018), about 30,995,729 Indian Diasporas reside in foreign countries, most of who have well settled in their fields ranging politics, economy, education and business. The new generation of the Diasporas, however, is not connected with the Indian languages and are thereby drifting away from their history, culture and economic standpoint.

Universities are realizing the importance of the Spanish language as an essential key to global exposure and access to literature, history, music, international relations and socio-cultural exchange, which unlocks ample opportunities for its proficient speaker.

Consequently, policymakers must emphasize on the multifarious utilities that India’s rich command over linguistic varieties entails. Native & foreign languages may be promoted in educational institutions, where the states may accommodate languages like Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bangla, Oriya, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam etc in the curriculum, in addition to mainstream academia.

Also, for the promotion of Indian languages abroad, a policy must be ascertained by the Government of India whereby the counterparts may build more bridges of cultural & communication transactions.

Language Corridor and Implications for Economic Leap

The interest to learn multiple languages would become a bridge for unity, integrity and social harmony among the youth and the elderly Diaspora, apart from having a positive impact on the promotion of Indian classical literature. The same would enrich primary, secondary and higher education by modifying the curriculum into introducing need-based, job-oriented, multi-dimensional research& practice.

The Economic Times notes that according to a recent report from Google and KPMG India, Indian language users have overtaken the English language on the Internet in the country. Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Bengali and Marathi speaking users have the highest adoption online services, followed by Telugu, Gujarati and Malayalam.

"If we do not allow the Internet to build local language elements, I think the story could go completely haywire. There are 400 million Internet users in India and out of those, 234 million are local language users. The number is expected to go to 536 million by 2021," said Chetan Krishnaswamy, Country Head, Public Policy, Google, on the sidelines of the Indian Mobile Congress (IMC) 2017.

Krishnaswamy notes that the industry needs to focus on this aspect and ensure that content in local languages becomes a reality, and the technology and products are optimised to ensure that the Internet becomes inclusive.

A multi-language policy planning would help in converting India into a language corridor by introducing the same at the domestic and international backdrop. The challenge of a USD 5 trillion economy for India might be great, but greater will prove to be the wealth of the country’s languages and the soft powers affiliated to it toward helping the nation achieve its goal.

It stands evident that in an isolated manner, no country has the power to become economic whirlpools. The country has to economically integrate other peers, an option being linguistic education.

Image Courtesy: Thomson HS, TITUS Didactica, Wikimedia

(DIDHITI GHOSH is an India Columnist at La Agencia Mundial de Prensa, USA, and is the Bureau Chief of Indian Observer Post based in Kolkata. E-mail:| LinkedIn:

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