Citizens of the English Language: Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Indian Subjectivity

This thesis introduces the concept of "extralingual citizenship," which I define as an expansion of translingualism to include the ethnoracial logic of the nation-state and demonstrates the entanglement of language, governance, and education in the policing of knowledge infrastructures and discursive practices. I am interested in the codification of postcolonial disparity into the teaching, social performance, and material assessment of English language users, and the infrastructural disqualification of World Englishes (and their amalgams) in favor of a standardized English. I frame extralingualism as a citizenship, shifting the focus of English pedagogy/practice from the syntactical/etymological concerns of language use to the agentive prospects of the language user.

I extend the work of translingual scholars such as Trimbur, Cannagararah, and Gilyard – the latter of whom famously pointed to translinguism’s “tendency to flatten language difference” – as well as Kachru on World Englishes, Tupas on unequal Englishes and extralinguistic value, and Rosa and Flores on raciolinguistic ideologies, to frame extralingualism as a kind of citizenship that reflexively informs societal access and individual subjectivity, particularly in postcolonial societies that remain indentured to the remnants of colonial infrastructure within their state machinery. This social value is mediated by ideologies of the nation-state, the native speaker, racial and casteist supremacy, the ethnocentric myth of the monolithic nature of English, its hegemonic status over other languages, as well as the commodification of language in contemporary markets – attitudes that were manufactured during the colonial era and remains largely undisputed in public consciousness, policy, and technology

Centered in India, the study frames English as an archive of the memory and afterlife of colonialism, exploring extralingualism through (i) Vishwanathan’s exploration of English literary study in colonial India, (ii) autobiographical fictions by Ahmed Ali, Ramabai Ranade, and Shevantibai Nikambe, (iii) a juxtaposition of formative language debates of the Constituent Assembly of India with the National Education Policy 2020, and (iv) a comparison of India’s English coaching industry with Writing Centers in India’s private liberal arts schools to speak to the English-markets reified by extralingually-differentiated World Englishes. My aim is to reframe English as a contested linguistic field where multiple Englishes become analogous to the respective forms of capitalism, sociality, and subjectivity constructed through them.

Keywords: extralingual citizenship, World Englishes, translingualism, extralinguistic value, linguistic imperialism, decolonial language pedagogy, nation-state/colonial governmentality.

Whose English Is It Anyway?

In reviewing this exchange, consider: what compels Lamar to interpret on both men’s behalf? One would assume they are speaking the same language. Yet, Lamar chooses to translate the Black man’s African American vernacular (AAVE) to a version of English that his white companion can understand. There’s a relative ease in the way he carries out this translation: this role is clearly not new to him. In fact, one could argue that his translation isn’t even linguistic: it’s sociocultural and heteroglossic, telling of the epistemic imaginations that both men inhabit. One man’s “wager” becomes another’s “dice”, meaning transferred across signs even as its extra-linguistic value (Tupas) is not, demonstrating a hybridity and internalized hierarchy within the English language and an unequal demand for translation amongst its variegated users. Ask yourself: how often are you compelled to translate your English? And, by contrast, who is?

Put simply, all Englishes are not made equal; their social implications (and applications) are marked by distinct ethnoracial histories, haunted by vestiges of colonialism, feudal stratification, and slavery, that pervade into the contemporary moment and inform a divergent constellation of subjectivities and material realities. To borrow from Derek Gregory (6-12) and Braj B. Kachru, this colonial present informs the appropriation and pluricentrification of the English language into multiple World Englishes (WE), fractured across an unequal exchange of linguistic centers and peripheries.

“Cash App: That’s Money.” Directed by Dave Free with performances by Kendrick Lamar, Ray Dalio, and Exavier TV, pgLang, 2022.

Framing ‘Extralingual Citizenship’

By virtue of its inherent social value, language and language use function as a sort of passport that reflexively inform societal access and individual subjectivity, values that I term ‘extralingual citizenship’. This social value is mediated by ideologies of the nation-state, the native speaker, racial and casteist supremacy, the ethnocentric myth of the monolithic nature of English, its hegemonic status over other languages, as well as the commodification of language in contemporary markets – attitudes that were manufactured during the colonial era and remain largely undisputed in public consciousness, policy, and technology (Tupas 6).

Language is, perhaps, most surreptitious in its regulation of social contact where the centrality of misunderstanding in language use masks the very cause of this communicational distance. Misunderstanding is the first, and most obvious, element of intercultural encounter, where the process of translation becomes the paradoxical site of both misinterpretation and language production. However, the potential for misinterpretation becomes a threat to centralized state machinery whose legitimacy depends on the logic of bordering. As a consequence, it regulates this [linguistic] churn. The radical vitality of language use is thus characterized as language misuse, as inaccuracy, discreetly converting its essence into the evidence of its guilt and validating the need for language policing and regulation. By extension, language misuse creates a language misuser, who is the primary focus of this study. Put differently, linguistic regulation dictates the language (mis)user’s ‘value’ as both subject and commodity within neoliberal society, and ultimately governs their access to education, work, and social access. This regulatory spillage is performed as an internalized linguistic caste system that seems obvious but is rarely confronted in mainstream society. An open secret, if you will. Extralingual citizenship is, thus, an umbrella term that hopes to capture and articulate the pervasiveness of these asymmetrical limitations. The prefixing of ‘extra’ here can be concurrently read as aspects of citizenship (social, racial, sexual, et. al.) supplemented by language (extralingual, as in ‘over and above’) as well as those that are deeply linguistic (extralingual, as in 'especially’). My framing of extralingual citizenship can be understood, therefore, as the unstable entanglement of both readings and their resulting asymmetricality.



A portrait of Ahmed Ali smoking a pipe, circa 1955

A portrait of Ahmed Ali smoking a pipe, circa 1955. 

These English Masks, Those Colonial Roots

English, framed by Alastair Pennycook as “the global language of miscommunication” (5), is particularly emblematic of the asymmetricalities I have outlined thus far. In Masks of Conquest, Gauri Viswanathan reveals the co-development of British political and commercial interest and the establishment of English literary study in India using the Gramscian model of hegemony. The British colonial enterprise in India, while predicated on its central mission of economic gain, masked its exploitative practices in the guise of moral intervention through English literary education (20). From the vigorous efforts of secularized institutes in imperial South Asia to the more uneasy attempts of Christian missionary schools, the propagation of English literature among the ‘natives' was ultimately carried out to ensure the authority of the British government and to create a stable state in which British mercantile and military interests could flourish. This was as much an imperial effort to police native subjects as it was its own citizens. As Ashis Nandy points out in The Intimate Enemy, the early colonizers (roughly between 1757 and 1830) were largely opportunistic mercenaries from the East India Company with little to no intention to govern and were often willing to assimilate with the natives: 

[...] while British rule had already been established, British culture in India was still not politically dominant, and race-based evolutionism was still inconspicuous in the ruling culture. Most Britons in India lived like Indians at home and in the office, wore Indian dress, and observed Indian customs and religious practices. A large number of them married Indian women, offered puja to Indian gods and goddesses, and lived in fear and awe of the magical powers of the Brahmans. (Nandy 5)

Amassing huge fortunes in India, these early colonizers became self-styled nawabs whose extravagant excesses attracted the ire of the English Parliament (5-6). One speaker in the House debate, Henry Montgomery, is said to have remarked, “If we wish to convert the natives of India, we ought to reform our own people there, who at present only give them examples of lying, swearing, drunkenness, and other vices'' (Vishwanathan 24). The institutionalization of English literary education, in this context, becomes one of a number of imperial strategies to regulate this omnidirectional cultural leakage, gaining synonymity with notions of morality, virtue, and—most prominently—truth. Between 1817 and 1835, the growing conflict between Orientalists and Anglicists on the value of native languages and literary practices “was not simply over language or literature, but the status of knowledge itself” (101, emphasis mine). Here, languages’ claims are raised from the simple interpretation of meaning into an embodiment of truth. Take, for instance, the excerpts mentioned below. First, Macaulay writing in his infamous Minute of 1835:

[...] I have never found one among them [the Orientalists] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. [...] [The English language] stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West. It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us [...]. Whoever knows that language has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth which all the wisest nations of the earth have created and hoarded in the course of ninety generations.

Writing in response to Macaulay, Orientalist John Tyler demanded that the study of indigenous language, history, and culture be promoted in tandem with European knowledge:

If we destroy it [Oriental studies] we shall degrade both ourselves and the people we undertake to improve. A history of the successive systems of Science and philosophy though it may not teach the true nature of things will yet afford much valuable information of another kind. It will teach what mankind have thought and how they have reasoned about these things and the successive steps by which they have arrived at Truth. It is in short the history of human opinions and this is at least as important as that of human actions.

The debate was conducted in terms that “transformed the choice between languages into a choice between the promotion of truth and the propagation of error.” (Vishwanathan 101, emphasis mine). Here, theories of curricular policy are raised into binary evaluations of the truth claim of knowledge, with nativity constructed akin to error, falsity, and dogma, and English – with its Biblical associations and post-Enlightenment brand of intellectuality – bearing the ultimate claim to truth. By a fairly simple leap of imagination, the logic of this binary evaluation is extended to its respective language (mis)users, mirroring the xenophobic discourse on racial purity, traces of which now inform the hierarchization of World Englishes in the continued contestation of language and ontology.


A cartoon from an Indian newspaper, circa 1990s, pointing to various pidginized Englishes that have emerged in the decades since independence

Public advertisements for English Coaching Centers in Ulhasnagar (left) and Mumbai (right), both in the state of Maharashtra in India

Authored Subjectivity: An Extralingual Reading of Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi

It was the eve of Indian independence. After fourteen years of service in varying capacities as a scholar, teacher, diplomat, and novelist, the Urdu literary icon Ahmed Ali found himself at Nanjing University in China. He had just been appointed a Visiting Professor by the ruling British government of India and would spend two years teaching English at the behest of the British Council. Ending his tenure in 1948, Ali sought to return to his native New Delhi in India. However, the India he had left behind two years ago was not the one he hoped to go home to. In the time since his departure, his country had endured an unstable mitosis, splintering the subcontinent into two conjoined twins in a violent partition of land, livelihood, and language. One colony became two free nations, and yet, Ali became a new kind of prisoner. Having never stated his preference as a government employee, the then Ambassador of India in China K.P.S. Menon refused to let him return to India, arguing that as a Muslim he would have to go to Pakistan instead—which is where he would live until the day he died, never again returning to the streets he called home.

Eight years prior, at the height of the Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM), Ali would write a prescient novel about his home. Written in 1940, Twilight in Delhi is the story of an Indian father struggling to negotiate the complex forces shaping Delhi in the wake of English colonialism, parallels that Ali would personally experience not even a decade later. Set between 1911 and 1919 in a newly-colonized New Delhi, the novel is book-ended by two revolutionary moments of change: on one end, the Coronation Darbar, which was an Indian imperial-style mass assembly that commemorated the proclamation of King George V as Emperor of India; and on the other, World War I. At the center of the novel, however, are its two protagonists, each embodying a specific sociocultural imagination: the father, Mir Nihal, and his nostalgic celebration of lost Mughal glory, and his son Asghar’s embrace of English notions of modernity in defiance of familial traditions. Albeit not stated explicitly, these two imaginaries capture a central tension within the novel, a loose binary negotiation of tradition and modernity, as understood and embodied by these two characters. I explore the negotiation of these subjective ideals through the metaphor of twilight (borrowed from the title of the novel), of a waning day slowly melting into the purple embers of a new evening, the slow middle between an end and a beginning. Reflecting on the novel, Sumatra Baral writes:

Twilight indicates in-betweenness and liminality – the position of Delhi between two languages – English and Urdu and two empires, the Mughal and the British. [……] Twilight, which usually hints at a transition between day and night, here posits itself between life and death, tradition and change, orthodoxy and progression.

This half-light semi-darkness speaks to the bilingual (if not plurilingual) colonial speakers’ experience of the in-between, of a sort of double consciousness engendered by their oscillation between linguistic traditions. To clarify, my concern here is not what Monica Schmid has described as language attrition or “the loss of, or changes to, grammatical and other features of a language as a result of declining use by speakers who have changed their linguistic environment and language habits” (11-17). Instead, I point to the psychological motivations and aftereffects informed by this linguistic dissonance, further heightened in the case of Twilight by Ali’s choice to write the novel in English, despite local criticism and constant rejection from British publishers. The novel was part of an enormous body of controversial work produced by Ali and his peers in the Progressive Writers’ Movement. These were Urdu literary dissidents, attempting to shake the foundations of religious and social orthodoxy through a radical retelling of North Indian lived experience, most notably in a collection of Urdu short stories titled Angaaray that would ultimately be banned. Yet Ahmed Ali chose to write Twilight in English. Could we read this as the author mirroring his younger protagonist’s English aspirations? Ali offers some clarification in a 1975 interview with the Journal of South Asian Linguistics:

I have been wondering why I write in English. [...] It was not because, as some people have said, that I wanted to curry favor with the British. That's nonsense. It was an escape for me from many things. I could not express myself in Urdu when I was young, so I had to express myself somehow and English was all right for them [his family] ~ it was the ruler's language, the baré sahib's [big officer’s] language, so they couldn't take objection to that in their minds. Their outlook was very orthodox, very narrow-minded. My older cousins had such an outlook, my aunt as well. [...] Urdu had been taken away from me because of the great resentment people—my uncle's family—had toward my writing in Urdu (JSAL 122-3).

His comments point to the position English held (and continues to hold) as a marker of social mobility and intellectual progress in Indian society. Could this explain the motivations behind his choice to write in the language of the colonizer? Speaking to that effect, David D. Anderson notes in his 1971 review of Twilight in Delhi:

That the novel was written in English was of significance in 1939, in those last days of the British Raj, as Ahmed Ali sought a publisher and a wider audience than the Muslim population of India could provide (81).

Ali himself lamented similarly about his novels, “If presented in Urdu, their [his characters] concerns would die down within a narrow belt rimmed by Northwest India” (xvi). However, others have argued that English offered Ali a way to avoid the reactionary violence of his fundamentalist Urdu-speaking critics, especially considering the public outcry against prior work like Angaaray and the PWM as a whole.

Within and beyond the novel, we encounter transitory subjectivities, author and character reflexively experiencing and redefining themselves within a marked discontinuity. Twilight, in this context, becomes a mode of knowledge, an in-between that resists description, a liminal (un)becoming that transgresses two imaginaries of seeming incompatibility, conjuring a discontinuum that is as generative as it is inertial. In the context of my work, twilight is a metaphor for language’s inherent in-betweenness and the centrality of miscommunication and cultural incompatibility in not only the mediation of existing subjectivities but also the creation of new ones. I locate my research within this linguistic twilight, investigating the transitory subjectivities that emerged and (d)evolved in response to English at the turn of Indian independence as well as the powers, specific sites—be it caste, class, or gender location—and motivations that informed this transfiguration. Twilight in Delhi is a powerful example of this transfiguration, of a markedly non-English family engaging, countering, and coming to terms with the subjective possibilities of a “modern” English imagination. 


A cartoon from an Indian newspaper, circa 1990s, pointing to various pidginized Englishes that have emerged in the decades since independence

A cartoon from an Indian newspaper, circa 1990s, pointing to various pidginized Englishes that have emerged in the decades since independence: the English-educated politician (top-left), the language crossing “aunties'' conversing in a mix of Punjabi and English (bottom-center), the Hindi speaker who inadvertently uses English words in daily speech (top-right), and more.

Angrezi Medium: This Language is Kampleks

Writing in Hindi Is My Ground, English Is My Sky, Chaise LaDousa describes an interview with the principal of the Saraswati School in Varanasi where he raises a question regarding the experience of a Hindi-medium student entering an English-medium environment. This prompts the mention of a feeling of inferiority on the part of the Hindi-medium student vis-a-vis English-medium students and environments” (LaDousa 37) which the interviewee frames as a ‘complex’ (kampleks). This colloquial expression captures the inability to resolve twilight-as-linguistic-discontinuum, so common in its social usage so as to highlight the ubiquity of language-informed class disparities in Indian society, as well as demonstrate the transcultural cross-pollination between languages. Here, the sign remains the same – unlike Lamar’s translation in the Introduction – but its texture changes when carried across linguistic contexts. ‘Craze’ is not the same thing as krez. A ‘complex’ is not the same thing as a kampleks. The latter speaks to the very real fear of being perceived as a language misuser, and the subsequent denial of the extralinguistic values—intelligence, class, authority—associated with it. This leads to what linguist Elaine Richardson describes as a "stereotype threat" or the tendency for people to withhold certain expressive aspects of their language from formal communication, creating the need for code-switching and translation. The experience of this kampleks is, thus, mediated by the routine encounter of raciolinguistic ideologies built into a stratified education system. A direct outcome is the articulation of multiple streams of English education in India performed within a spectrum of class identities. These are Englishes that are communicated as much as they are lived. The bourgeois inhabit an English that is analogous to hegemonic British and American varieties, at least in its class character. Within the broader linguistic field, however, most Indians populate various degrees of pidginized (and inordinately delegitimized) Englishes gathered through the medium of their schooling (or lack thereof). The interplay of these variegated subjectivities results in the production of different English-markets within the broader marketplace of languages.

In an attempt to clarify: consider the readership of an Arundhati Roy against that of a Chetan Bhagat: each comes with its own preconceived notions of intellectual rigor, accessibility, and social realism. Without being overly reductive, I use these authors as specific markers of their respective English-markets, of the clear demarcation between the “novel” and the “storybook” as distinct literary modalities, as experienced and described by their respective target audiences. Bhagat’s writing in particular, which caricatures the lived experiences of a specific transitory socially-mobile segment of society, points to what LaDousa calls “the discursive space of a new middle class” (7) made possible by the enactment of instructional mediums, school curriculums, and educational policy in an increasingly liberalized India. These English-markets can be understood as inhabiting differing positions within binary center-periphery constructions such as rural/urban, Indian/Western, and professional/creative, interchangeably mapped onto a logic of correctness and appropriateness and afforded varying degrees of agency and extralingual citizenship. Therefore, the discursive space occupied by specific configurations of the extralingual citizen extends to the creation and differentiation of markets, material opportunities, and expectations. English, in this context, is more than the language of global capitalism—it is a contested linguistic field, where different Englishes become analogous to the forms of capitalism constructed through them.

Consider the English Coaching industry in India, a reification of the demand for English proficiency in call centers, to seek higher education (through TOEFL or IELTS), apply for government jobs, or attempt the Civil Services Examination (among various other channels of social mobility). These coaching centers do not function as formal educational institutions, often set up within residential colonies in dense urban areas, but instead, occupy the same liminal space that births the experience of the kampleks. Indeed, its existence is a tangible response to the language-informed class disparities that the term encompasses. Writing in a 2021 paper on UPSC coaching centers, Chaise LaDousa provides a comprehensive illustration of the inner workings of these institutions:

One of the most successful coaching teachers I met in Delhi was named Ram. He had come to rent out a three-room flat in the heart of Mukherjee Nagar’s cluster of multi-story buildings devoted to coaching tutorials. One entered a waiting room that was adjacent to Ram’s office. To the side of the office was a narrow hallway that led to Ram’s assistant’s office and a bathroom. [..] Across the way from the waiting room was a lecture hall that accommodated approximately 40 students. The room was equipped with a chalkboard mounted above a slightly raised platform from which Ram delivered his lectures. Such was the setup of all of the coaching teachers I met who had been working for anywhere between 10 and 25 years. [...] Most of the students were from smaller metros or from small towns, and explained that the prospects for work, either at home or where they had gone to university, were particularly bad. (114)

These centers occupy an unregulated location in the informal economy of the nation that has commodified English proficiency training. These sites are not concerned with the status of knowledge as much as its material possibilities. This is evident in how these centers are marketed, correspondingly taking advantage of the public desire to overcome the experience of the kampleks.



If you’ve come this far in what was supposed to be an abbreviation of a much longer written thesis, I offer my genuine gratitude. I hope these wavering ideas sparked new questions or atleast invigorated existing ones. I leave you now with some closing points of inquiry. First, how do we ascertain a global grammar to English without becoming overly reductive? Can we accommodate the inherent fractalization of the English language—and the various linguistic and cultural traditions it has been influenced by—in its teaching and performance? Consequently, can we teach English such that it encompasses the myriad material values the language makes possible while still addressing/countering/reorganizing the moral/social/ideological logics it extends? And, ultimately, if none of this is possible, then where does this leave us, and what might still be the gift of such a line of questioning?

My immediate impulse is to attack English at its roots. Perhaps, it no longer makes sense to teach English simply as a language, given its complex—and often violent—history. After all, English is an archive of both the memory and afterlife of colonialism. It is, as I have previously expressed, a contested linguistic field, and not one simple thing, where multiple differentiated Englishes become analogous to the respective forms of sociality, subjectivity, and materiality generated through them. Its teaching must, at the very least, speak to the centrality of this complex hegemonic history. The wider arena of the extralingual field of English has the capacity to reorganize existing grammars of appropriateness and social access; to center the agency of its speakers in the production of knowledge and its emergent economies, and to even strip the language of the ontological anxiety, the internal Other-ing, the kampleks, it generates. The question now is: how can we extend this extralingual framework into the design of education curriculum and policy? Consequently, wherein the learning and developmental cycle would such an intervention be most effective? This, right here, is the work.


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