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Quantifying Competing Claims about Indian Language Literatures

Arnab Chakladar, Carleton College
Author Profile
This material was originally developed by the QuIRK at Carleton College
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


This assignment will require students to test claims made about the representative nature of dominant Indian language literatures, especially in English, against census data and other quantitative studies of language spread and use in India. Students will be asked to evaluate both essays by renowned Indian authors and critics, as well as representations of multilinguality in literary texts in light of this information.

Learning Goals

  1. To locate the study of literature in a larger material context.
  2. To better understand the ideological structures that account for the ratios of language use and power.
  3. To concretely situate students' appreciation of the challenges of representing multilinguality in the Indian cultural context.

Context for Use

This assignment will be implemented in an upper division English class on contemporary Indian literature, one of whose goals will be to probe the viability of the idea of a national Indian literature. It will be completed in the form of a research essay.

It is not an appropriate assignment at the freshman or introductory level. The assignment is probably transferable to equivalent linguistic/literary contexts.

Description and Teaching Materials

This assignment will come at the end of the term, after students will have read novels by Indian writers in English and in translation. For this assignment, the class will first read a famous essay by Salman Rushdie on the relationships between Indian language literatures in which he makes a claim for English language literature as the true representative, national literature of India. Students will then be assigned library research on the most recent Indian census data from 2001, as well as readings in sociological studies on language education and use in India. Students will then be required to write a critique of Rushdie's essay that draws both on the literary texts they will have read as well as the quantitative data.

    The Census of India, 2001, Data on Language. Students will be able to draw on various aspects of this report for their assignment.
  2. The Politics of Indians' English: Linguistic Colonialism and the Expanding English Empire, N. Krishnaswamy and Archana S. Burde, New Delhi: Oxford 2004
    Sociological study of language education and spread in India.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This assignment may be used in any class on Indian literature in particular, and on literatures of multilingual countries in general.

As this will be my first time using this assignment I will probably arrange for group visits with the relevant librarians to ensure that students understand how to read and contextualize the census data. Depending on the success of this assignment in its first deployment I will evaluate whether it may work better as an individual or group activity in the future.


This assignment will require students to integrate qualitative analysis with quantitative analysis. Students will be asked to uncover the implicit quantitative claims made in essays that present ideological arguments about the relative statuses of Indian language literatures, and to evaluate these against actual quantitative data.

References and Resources