If you’ve read my previous blog, you’ll know about how I’ve acquired 3 languages as first languages. I’ve grown up in a middle class family and was surrounded by middle class people, too. So, I was subjected to a lot of languages. I noticed, however, once I started going to college (age 16) that your difference in social status makes a difference on what language you learn as a first language; at least in India.
So, I’m a fair skinned guy in India and I’m also half foreign, which can in a way put in the elite class if you play your cards right. I never cared for status and would chat with anyone I was comfortable with. I did start to notice in college, though, the difference in language used by people from the same area but different social status.
Your first language is strongly influenced by the language(s) you grow up listening to and speaking in. It’s not just you who is influenced by what is around you but the language also depends on the environment. The region plays a massive role, of course. Villages will normally have one language, maybe two depending on your country. But, if you go to a large city you can have so many languages around you. I noticed that the “social statuses” have their own main languages. From my point of view, at least and there is no scientific evidence to back my claims, just my personal experience and observations, I feel that English, in India is the language of the “elite”, or of those who believe themselves to be similar in style and culture to the western countries (Europe and North America).
Many of these “elite” people that I met at college and other events, most of them spoke only English and only enough Hindi (or Marathi) to survive in Mumbai. But, English is there first language. Asking them the reason for this, they tell me that their parents always spoke to them in English and even their parents’ friends did the same. So, their friend’s circles’ language was primarily English. Their parents, however, are fluent in English and Hindi or Marathi or Gujarati or whichever language is their native language. English was a language that they picked up and learned, not acquired.
It’s also believed that if you speak English fluently, you can land yourself a job anywhere in India. The “cool people” or the big companies typically look for people fluent in English. It did initially surprise me, the power of English, and how people would deliberately alter the environment their children would grow up just so that they speak English and grow up to have a possible better(?) life.
I never really thought about it because I never cared less as I said before. And, if possible I would actually avoid speaking in English with my friends. This is something that is worth looking into in other multi lingual nations because you’ll quite possibly find many cases of people growing up in communities with many languages but only speak one language and can barely scrape by using the others.