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Reading in the native language

A story in The Guardian discusses both spoken and written language in India. Despite its approximately one billion people and nearly 800 spoken languages and dialects, India, like other former English colonies, is a linguistically stratified country where big business, government, education, and literature have been historically reserved for those who speak English while more common affairs take place in native languages.

A current trend, one which sees South Asian literacy levels increasing and newly empowered citizens reaching for information in Hindi, the country’s most widely spoken language, has serious repercussions, not the least of which will be felt by Indian media outlets. New data shows that 70% of Indian news broadcasts are transmitted in Hindi and that the biggest-selling newspapers are no longer written in English but in Hindi. Indian publishers are also getting into the act: Penguin India, one of the country’s largest English-language publishers, began publishing novels in Hindi this year, and has released 15 Hindi novels in the last six months.

Observers expect the advent of mainstream Hindi publishing to initiate change in the Indian canon, which is currently dominated by expats like Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth, and mostly void of writers actually living in India. Increasing Hindi literacy has meant that some Indian writers can now make a living from their writing. One such writer is Laxman Rao, who has until now helped to support his family — and his 20-year writing habit — by selling tea at a roadside stall. According to The Guardian, Rao “has [since] handed over the running of his stall to his eldest son while he cycles around Delhi’s libraries hawking his work. ‘I am the writer, the publisher, the salesman now,’ says Rao.”

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Click here for the full story from The Guardian