“Safe Drive, Save Life.” English as A Tool in The Promotion of Social Change in India’s Public Space.

Author: Marta Dąbrowska (Institute of English Studies, Jagiellonian University, Poland)
Speaker: Marta Dąbrowska
Topic: General Sociolinguistics
CALA 2020 General Session


The Indian street is typically marked by a multitude of languages that are visible in shop signs, institution names, announcements, billboards, etc. This naturally reflects the multilingual character of the nation. Depending on the state, the street will be marked by signs written in the local tongue, these, however, are gradually decreasing. In northern India, the languages that dominate the linguistic landscape are Hindi and its more powerful counterpart, English. This reflects the global trends which promote the use of English, much as in other countries, but also indicates that India has exerted ownership of the language over the decades of its independent existence, though depending on the area to a varying degree.

English in India evokes connotations of worldliness, education, class, and power (cf. Kothari 2011). However, many less socially fortunate groups lack in the English language competence (cf. Graddol 2010a). Nevertheless, its presence in the Indian street is dominant, and, as the study will demonstrate, not only in the the context of tourism and marketing. The analysis of the linguistic landscapes (cf. Blommaert 2013) of a number of localities in northern India, conducted in February 2019 (notably in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, Meghalaya, and Uttar Pradesh), will focus on signs written in English which convey guidelines for the creation of a healthier Indian society. These will include directives concerning street traffic, cleanliness, the use of public facilities, standards of education, moral and ethical issues, etc. Apart from the analysis of persuasive strategies and rhetorical devices used in the texts, the discussion will demonstrate that English has been creatively adapted in India to tackle local issues and to convey local values, and that its use is viewed as one connoting upward mobility, social integrity, and universal standards.

Blommaert, J. 2013. Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes. Chronicles of Complexity. Bristol/Buffalo/Toronto: Multilingual Matters
Graddol, D. 2010. English Next India. The Future of English in India. British Council.
Kothari, R. 2011. “English aajkal: Hinglish in Hindi cinema.” In R. Snell and R. Kothari (eds) Chutnefying English. New Delhi: Penguin Books, pp. 112-127.

Keywords: Indian English, linguistic landscapes, social change, rhetoric, persuasion,