English in Hindi newspapers: Market kaa effect?By Kishore Budha • Sep 25th, 2008 • Category: Special Feature
Originally published in Subaltern Media.
“i next is well worth its Re 1 price-if only to see the Hindi press has got in its heady embrace of English.” (Puri:2007)
A quick content analysis of Hindustan‘s Remix/रीमिक्स page (Delhi Edition, Sep 20 2008) reveals 7.3 percent usage of English words (see full details further into the post). But numbers do not provide an adequate or meaningful understanding of what this engagement of Hindi newspapers with English mean. Is it overenthusiastic marketing and editorial departments running amok (intellectually laziest answer)? Is it an effect of globalisation (used here as relatively free flow of ideas, services, capital), cultural imperialism (bad), or transformation/resistance through appropriation of a foreign language by local culture (progressive)? Whichever way you choose to look at it, we can safely conceptualise the newspaper’s actions as globalisation or localisation of English — one invoking notions of cultural expansion, the other invoking notions of cultural resistance. We could also put to use the useful — and much misunderstood — concept of modernity. But before plunging headlong we need to clarify what we mean by modernity and modernisation. Is modernity:
- an epoch (Indus Valley Civilisation, Renaissance, Islamic Civilisation)?
- a break from the past (the 50s shift in Indian film music from classical to a hybridism of Western classical, contemporary, and Indian folk traditions or the introduction of hip-hop and R&B beats by A.R Rehman)?
- an event in time (economic deregulation in the 90s, Industrialisation, rock and roll)?
Enough of questions, let’s do some analysis instead. Outlook, a leading Indian news magazine, featured this trend in its November 2007 issue:
As its name suggests, it is wooing aspirational readers aged 18 to 35 with an unabashedly bilingual pitch. The marketing boys have scattered a fistful of English words, in the Roman script, across its pages. Page slugs—from ‘iview’, for editorial comment, to ‘icandy’, over a new picture, every day, of a bikini-clad woman—English bylines, datelines, listings, phrases, and even headlines, especially for descriptions of modular kitchens, cutlery, electronic gadgetry, career options and college festivals. Even what looks like Hindi is quite often English. Screams the Devanagari headline of a front page lead story: “Sex, Male to Male”. (Puri:2007)
Outlook begins by describing the “scattering of a fistful of English words” as the work of the “boys” in the marketing department. When compared with the various conceptual ideas examined at the start of this post, this is an inadequate and problematic assertion. It reflects a patronising and dismissive view of the phenomenon. In a country known for its fierce linguistic nationalism, how does this fit in the Hindi public sphere fit in? Surely it deserves a better explanation. Some more evidence. Further into the report, the report introduces frames of modernity through the logic offered by Alok Sanwal from Dainik Jagaran:
Explaining why he thinks English words sometimes tell the story better, Alok Sanwal, project head for i next, says “Jeevan shaili is not the same as lifestyle, saundarya is not beauty-there is a difference of connotation; it’s classic vs contemporary. (Puri:2007)
Note the argument of “classic vs contemporary”. Here the marketing official conceptualises the reader as a private citizen negotiating the flow of goods, ideas, and services (globalisation).
Explaining the phenomenon, Ajay Upadhyaya, former editor of Hindustan (itals mine) says, “They are targeting a reader who, even if not at home in English, wants to get into that mode, for joining a decent educational institution, for social status, cultural transformation, for employment and business.” (Puri:2007)
The report had pointed at the the role of Times of India in pioneering the use of such language in the early 90s, the years marked by India’s accelerated engagement with the economic, social, and cultural global. Thus, clearly newspapers imagine themselves as mere channels in the unstoppable flow of globalisation. Its role is to help the citizen consumer negotiate their existence in a market. Whatever be our position, the report provides evidence of unchallenged economic and concomitant cultural expansion, thereby normalising and habilitating the latter in the public sphere. This discourse of “normality” emanates from marketing and journalism professionals alike, as demonstrated in this International Herald Tribune report:
So a language that has survived through the centuries by marrying with different dialects and masters, is bouncing back again in India – this time in a new alliance with its greatest erstwhile threat, English. And this time it is market forces, pop culture and the economics of globalization that have given Hindi a new lease on life. (Shanker:2005)
So, is this hybridity a “bottom-up” revolt or a “top-down” assimilation? What does the evidence point to? The Hindustan page examined here threw the following results: In quantitative terms, 7.6 percent of all words on the page were English words and phrases. Following is the breakdown:
Content analysis of English words in Hindi Newspaper. Publication: Hindustan. Title of page: Remix
Total word count: 2174. Total number of English Words: 160. Percentage of English Words: 7.35
Content Type: Editorial Features
Controversy mein bhi hit-flop kaa khel: Word count 37/869 > 4%
English Words: Film (2), grey shade, factor, character, release (4), publicity, flop, hit, real, poster, script, obscene, duplicate, possessive girlfriend, distribution, controversy, distribution, theatre, publicity, TV crew, scene, armed forces, scene, cut, director, business
Interview Minisha Lamba: Word count 21/227 > 9.5%
English words: Release, Publicity, Camp, Part, Relax, Filmmaking, Process, Enjoy, Charming, Brilliant, Bikini, Exposure, Body, Suit, Box Office, Business, Promo, Positive, Unit
Bolly News: Word count 23/426 > 5.4%
English words: star (5), actors, brand (6), ambassador (3), hero, heroine, corporates, deal (3), image
Content Type: Advertising Feature
Affordable fees mein quality computer shikshaa aiwam naukri ke avsar bhi (advert): Word count 27/600. > 4.5%
English words: Computer (4), airconditioned classroom, lab, Oxford software institute (2), quality, course (2), multimedia, animation, .net programming (2), hardware, networking, company
Content Type: Advertisement
Get a life. Get broadband. Word count 52/52 > 100%
Having examined the above, one cannot help but ask if 7.6% an adequate explanation? No prizes for guessing the answer. The numbers do not explain what is being communicated, who is communicating, what the communication means. To understand this, we need a qualitative view of the content on the page, which consists of:
- page title: Remixed
- one lead feature (Controversy mein hit-flop kaa khel. Translated meaning: The impact of controversies on hits and flops),
- one interview (Interview Minisha Lamba),
- one news box (Bolly News),
- one advertisement feature (Affordable fees mein quality computer siksha aiwam naukri ke avsar bhi. Translated meaning: Quality computer education and job prospects within affordable fees),
- and one advertisement in English for Airtel Broadband (Get a life. Get broadband).
That the page furthers linguistic hybridity is hardly a revelation, what with a glaring page title ‘Remixed’. But what does ‘Remixed’ do? It provides entertainment news and features. At another level, the page acts as a portal to a new world, which is marching into the hinterland. The editorial content is not a break from the past. The hegemonic spread of HIndi cinema and its attendant culture dates back to its origins. But what sets ‘Remixed’ apart is the usage of English advertisements in a Hindi newspaper or Hindi advertisements making use of English words. Thus, the normalisation of English language in the Hindi public sphere is not only a journalistic imagination, but is firmly rooted in the logic of the market.
In the editorial features the language and discourse emanate from the film industry and the journalists, both elites. The reports and interviews feature stars from the Hindi film industry and the newspaper join the film stars in furthering a certain discourse that sets limits on what can or cannot be said, for example the usage of English words and phrases. For example the feature headlined ‘Controversy mein hit-flop kaa khel’ begins thus:
Khalnayak (1993): Subhash Ghai kii yah film jab release hui thii, us samay 1993 kaa Mumbai bomb blast hua thaa. Sanjay Dutt giraftaar ho gaye thaey. Is film mein Sanjay Dutt kaa character grey shade mein thaa.
Translated: Khalnayak (1993):The 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts occurred around the time Subhash Ghai’s film was released. Sanjay Dutt was arrested. In this film the character played by Sanjay Dutt had shades of grey.
To the first question in the Interview section, Minisha Lamba responds:
…Sabse badi baat yah hai ki Yashraj camp ke log kaafi imaandaar hain. Ve aapko role ke baarey mein…
Translated: The point to be noted is that the people in the Yashraj camp are honest. They are transparent in describing the roles.
The film stars as well as the journalists introduce English words and normalise it within the landscape of not just the newspaper but also the world in which the film stars work in. It would be foolish to deny the reality of the language that the film industry engages in. It is reflective of the unique economic and sociological conditions that force English and Hindi speaking professionals to work together leading to the emergence of a unique language. Thus, when a director yells, “Cut. Kyaa fantastic shot hai (Cut, what a fantastic shot that was)”, his/her choice of words is dictated by his/her unique reality of working with both English educated as well as non-English educated professionals. The discourse on ‘Remixed’ reproduces and even actively participates in the discourse of the Mumbai film industry.
At a second level, we have to pause and ask the question: isn’t the flow of ideas and language uni-directional? Here the readers, through the spaces of entertainment and glamour, are given a window to a world the aura of Hindi is replaced by a new hybrid aura, which exudes a sense of the here, now, and happening. That is exactly what Alok Sanwal refers to when he says: “Jeevan shaili is not the same as lifestyle, saundarya is not beauty-there is a difference of connotation; it’s classic vs contemporary”. The here and now is a part of an economic process. The here and now encourages action over deliberation, consumption over reflection. And this fits the needs of the advertisers. Sample the copy of the Airtel advertisement that is on the page:
The other advert, by Oxford Institute, uses terms such as “airconditioned classrooms, quality, course, and company” (which have equivalent Hindi terms) besides English technical terms such as “.net programming, hardware, networking”. The advertisers would justify the copy by pointing at the lack of equivalent Hindi terms for programming, hardware, networking. They would argue that linguistic development is not their job. So who, if any at all, should be responsible. Even if we set aside the argument that the state should interfere in keeping language apace with changes, shouldn’t higher education agencies, writers, or journalists have reimagined these concepts in local linguistic schemas? The answer perhaps lies in the rapidity and the force of the advance of the market, which found it easier and cheaper to further an already existing set of terms rather than invest time and energy in developing a localised discourse. I know what you are thinking — what is the big deal?
What we witness here is the positioning of the citizen subject as consumer who is caught in the tussle between the (unproblematic) march of new ideas due to economic changes. In the process, the magazine collapses the complex role of language in the citizen’s life into one single dimension: that of a consumer. Intellectual supporters of such phenomenon such as Doreen Massey have articulated the possibility of a progressive, global/local sense of place (1993:233, 236). But such articulations have the unfortunate effect of turning any calls for localism to be reactionary. Loss of place by the local is hardly a new issue and one need not engage in the cult of nostalgia. But imagine English newspapers peppering their pages with Hindi phrases. Thus, the local, if it ever existed, is now a subset of the ‘global’.
Howsoever difficult it may appear, it is imperative that we make attempts at understanding these changes, even if it is speculative. We can begin with some conclusions: a) this is not an unproblematic social transformation and b) it is driven by the logic of capital — i.e., human desire to maximise capital leading to search for new markets, which in turn leads to intensified flow of goods, services, and ideas. ‘Remixed’ is only riding the logic of capital.
Kahn, Joel S. (1995) Culture, Multiculture, Postculture. London: Sage.
Massey, Doreen (1993) A global sense of place, in Ann Gray and Jim McGuigan (eds), Studying Culture: An Introductory Reader. New York: Edward Arnold, pp. 232-240.
Puri, Anjali (2007) ‘Jab They Met’ Outlook, Nov 12, [Online] here
Paz, Octavio (1985) One Earth, Four or Five Worlds: Reflections on Contemporary History, Helen R. Lane (trans.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Robertson, Roland (1990) ‘After nostalgia? Wilful nostalgia and the phases of globalization’, in Bryan S. Turner (ed.), Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity. London: Sage, pp. 45-61.
Robertson, Roland (1992a ) ‘Civilization’ and the civilizing process: Elias, globalization and the analytic synthesis’, in Mike Featherstone (ed.), Cultural Theory and Cultural Change. London: Sage, pp. 211-227.
Robertson, Roland (1992b) Globalization : Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage.
Robertson, Roland (1995) ‘Glocalization: time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity’, in Scott Lash and Roland Robertson (eds), Global Modernities. London: Sage, pp. 25-44.
Shanker, Sadhana (2005) ‘Meanwhile: A mix of Hindi, English and 350 million speakers’ International Herald Tribune, Jan 11 [Online] here
Kishore Budha is one of the co-founders of Subaltern Media and the founder-editor of the peer-reviewed Open Access journal Wide Screen. He holds a PhD in media and communications studies from the University of Leeds, UK and has professional experience in print journalism, internet news, and public relations industries. His interests include Critical Theories of Media and Communication, Semiotics, Transnational Communication, Film industry & production, Film theory, Film and history, Communications Policy, Visual Culture, Communication Technologies, Web media and Communication
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