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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Teaching English the Indian way
Schoolchildren in India
Children will learn new versions of traditional nursery rhymes
By Daniel Lak in Delhi

Hundreds of thousands of students in India will soon be learning a new version of the English language, complete with changes to pronunciation and nursery rhymes.

Teachers in the western Indian state of Maharashtra have gathered in the city of Pune, to learn about the new system which emphasises Indian culture and Indian usage in the teaching of English.

Less than 2% of India's one billion people speak English - but it has become the language of big business, the courts and the elite.

Instead of "Mary had a little lamb", students in Maharashtra will be learning about "Mira", whose white cat follows her to school one day.

Old Macdonald becomes a turbaned village elder, and his farm is actually a herd of cattle owned in common.

And the children's poem "Rain, rain, go away", usually recited to lift spirits on a gloomy wet day in America or Britain, is now a poetic plea for a downpour in a country where drought is all too common.

Hot debate

Indian pronunciations of English words will also be allowed under the new curriculum in Maharashtra in what's being described as an attempt to make English into an Indian language.


Indian businesswoman at an IT exhibition
English is the language of the Indian elite
Proponents of the idea point to the United States, which has unabashedly transformed British English usage and pronunciation to suit local needs.

The status of English is a topic of perpetual debate here.

Hindi, India's most widely-spoken tongue, is almost unknown in parts of the south and is even actively opposed.

English inherited from British colonial times is still spoken in courts, parliament, boardrooms and among the urban elite.

Many here feel strongly that the continuing prominence of English perpetuates colonial stereotypes and denies rural and working class Indians a role in public life.

Maharashtra's experiment with an Indian style of English will be controversial.

But it's also an effort to get the world's business language to the masses of India.

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