Language in South Asia

Braj B. Kachru, Yamuna Kachru, and Shikaripur Sridhar (Eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xxiv + 608.

Reviewed by Bal K. Sharma
Tribhuvan University, Nepal

The recently published volume Language in South Asia is a welcome contribution to the field of language and linguistics as it provides an extensive treatment of languages spoken in South Asian contexts.

Braj Kachru opens this ten part, 19 chapter volume with an introduction where he introduces the general language situation in the South Asian region. Asher and Subbarao, respectively, then provide part I, Language history, families, and typology. Here they offer chapters which explore language in historical context and the typological characteristics of South Asian languages.

The chapters in part 2, Languages and their functions, explore major languages and their domains of functions. Y. Kachru, one of the editors of the volume, examines Hindi Urdu Hindustani and points out the distinction between Hindi and Urdu in terms of phonological, morphological and syntactic features. Abidi and Gargesh continue by exploring the spread of Persian in South Asia and explain the process of Indianization of Persian languages and vice versa. And then, Bhatia, outlining several major regional languages (Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, etc.) in descending order in terms of number of speakers, presents a case of Punjabi and Bengali languages. Bhatt and Manhoob follow with a discussion of minority languages status in planning and education, and Abbi closes with a chapter with a language profile of South Asian region.

Part 3, Sanskrit and traditions of language study, consisting of two chapters, covers the issues regarding the Sanskrit language. In the first Deshpande discusses the Sanskrit language from its sociolinguistic perspective, and Aklujkar, in the second, explores the language study traditions in South Asia, with a particular focus on Pānini s approach to grammar.

In part 4, Multilingualism, contact, and convergence, three authors discuss the implications of South Asia s linguistic pluralism. Annamalai treats India s multilingualism from demographic, communicative, functional, political and cultural contexts, Sridhar, another editor of the volume, explores the issues of language variation and language contact and their sociolinguistic implications, and Smith presents the case of emergence of new varieties of language like pidgin and creole due to language contacts.

The next part, Orality, literacy, and writing systems, consists of only two authors works. Agnihotri presents perspectives on orality and literacy in the South Asian multilingual context and Daniels outlines the writing systems and scripts of several languages in the region.

Parts 6 and 7 are the shortest sections of the book, each containing only one chapter. In part 6 Language conflicts, King (drawing cases from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) offers discussion on language conflicts in South Asia. This is followed by Sridhar s outlining of language modernization in Kannada in part 7 where he discusses linguistic processes, controversies, and implications for language modernization.

The following section, Language and discourse, the longest unit in the book, has five chapters. In the first Y. Kachru presents a discussion on the role language plays in social and ethnic interaction. Then Bhatia and Sharma explore how languages are represented in the legal system in the South Asian nations. Afterwards, Bhatia continues by coauthoring another chapter with Baumgardner where they present major issues of language use in media and advertising.

Dissanayake then offers the linguistic structures and features of code switching in Indian cinemas, and Pandharipande finishes the section with ideology, power hierarchy, and language choice in contemporary South Asia.

The next to last section of the book, Language and identity, begins with material by Valentine where she offers a discussion of the relationship between language and gender and explores in length the historical debate of dominance and difference in language use. Valentine s work is followed by a chapter by Zelliot who presents the case of Dalits and how their literature constructs their identity, and the section is closed by Nair s exploration of the issues of language and youth culture in South Asian contexts.

The section Languages in diaspora closes the text with chapters by Mesthrie and Sridhar. In this section, Mesthrie provides a discussion on a relocated South Asian population in South Africa, and Sridhar presents the cases of identity and assimilation of South Asians in Europe and the United States.

The book s major strength lies in its comprehensive coverage and diversity of issues and controversies related to languages and people of South Asia. The readers, however, will find that some language issues receive less or no attention (e.g. languages from Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives). Regardless, this interdisciplinary book will be equally useful for students and scholars, both novice and experienced, in areas such as, but not exclusive to, sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language planning, and South Asian Studies.