Representations of the Self and the Others in a Multilingual City: Hindi Speakers in Kolkata

Author: Aditi Ghosh (Department of Linguistics Calcutta University, India )
Speaker: Aditi Ghosh
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This study examines the attitudes and representations of a select group of Hindi mother tongue speakers residing in Kolkata. Hindi is one of the two official languages of India and Hindi mother tongue speakers are the numerically dominant language community in India, as per census. Further, due to historical, political and socio-cultural reasons, enormous importance is attached to the language, to the extent that there is a wide spread misrepresentation of the language as the national language of India.

In this way, speakers of Hindi by no means form a minority in Indian contexts. However, as India is an extremely multilingual and diverse country, in many areas of the country other language speakers outnumber Hindi speakers, and in different states other languages have prestige, greater functional value and locally official status as well. Kolkata is one of such places, as the capital of West Bengal, a state where Bengali is the official language, and where Bengali is the most widely spoken mother tongue. Hindi mother tongue speakers, therefore, are not the dominant majority here, however, their language still carries the symbolic load of a representative language of India. In this context, this study examines the opinions and attitudes of a section of long term residents of Kolkata whose mother tongue is Hindi.

The data used in this paper is derived from a large scale survey conducted in Kolkata which included 153 Hindi speakers. The objective of the study is to elicit, through a structured interview, their attitudes towards their own language and community, and towards the other languages and communities in Kolkata, and to examine how they represent and construct the various communities in their responses. The study adopts qualitative methods of analysis. The analysis shows that though there is largely an overt representation of harmony, there are indications of how the socio-cultural symbolic values attached to different languages are also extended to its speakers creating subtle social distances among language communities.