The Purpose of Language: Debating the Future of Intellectual Activity in India

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of the EPW. 

Language has been a point of contention in the Indian subcontinent, especially since the introduction of English education, and more so, after the reorganisation of the Indian union on linguistic lines. English is often seen to be the language of the western imperialist by nationalists who call for an alternate common language, usually Hindi, within the country. Others call for English as the common language, while maintaining their own regional linguistic identity, which is threatened by the dominance of Hindi. The questions around the use of language become more complex when the purpose of the language—conversational use versus use in the sphere of intellectual discourse—is examined.

In this feature, we map the discussion around Ramachandra Guha’s article, “The Rise and Fall of the Bilingual Intellectual,” which explores the medium of intellectual discourse by looking at what he calls “functional” and “emotional” bilingualism.

Guha argues that there is an increasing demarcation in the way English and other languages are used, along with a decline in intellectuals who effectively operate in more than one language. Sudhanva Deshpande responds to Guha’s article by expressing concerns about the limited understanding of the word bilingual by drawing attention to theatre and its multilingual nature. N Kalyan Raman raises concerns about the factual evidence provided in Guha’s argument and questions its future implications on intellectual activity in India. Himansu S Mohapatra responds to Guha’s understanding of an intellectual, which he feels is largely limited to professorship. Vinayak Lohani talks about the importance of “cross interpretational space,” and the kinds of expression that go beyond the written word. Finally, Guha addresses the scholars who have responded to his article. 

Click on the icons to read excerpts from the articles

A few other works that have broadly responded to or are related to this discussion:


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line— "Language and Intellectual Discourse Discussion."


[Curated by Shreedhar Manek ( and Anindita Kar (]

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