Is Multilingualism a ‘new’ discovery?, Rita Kothari

India’s multi-lingualism (over a thousand recorded languages according to a recent survey) is bewilderning to any one looking at it from the outside. To most Indians, or rather South Asians in general, this phemonenon is hardly unusual to think about. It is mired in myriad forms of mundaneness. Words such as ‘bahu-bhashiyata’ or ‘multilingualism’ have a self-conscious and mannered quality to them. They are like multiculturalism, a recent  form of self-referentiality. In many policy related discussions both in India and the West, multilingualism appears both as an exotic phenomenon and developmental burden. The panacea of the problem (although seldom stated thus) of multilingualism is translation. Two overlapping strands characterise my curent work – the relation between multilingualism and translation and how that might be predicated upon a historically embedded idea of ‘linguistic difference’ and language and identity politics in India. While my examples may stem from a context I come from, the parallels across other societies are not far to seek.


Rita Kothari is the author of Translating India : The Cultural Politics of English (St.Jerome Publishing, UK) ; The Burden of Refuge : Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat (Orient Blackswan, 2007)  Memories and Movements : Borders and Communities in Banni, Kutch (Orient Blackswan, 2013)  She has numerous translations to her credit which include the Dalit novel Angaliyat : The Stepchild (Oxford University Press, 2001)  Unbordered Memories : Partition Stories from Sindh (Penguin India, 2009); Speech and Silence : Literary Journeys by Gujarati Women (Zubaan Publishing)  and Fence (Zubaan Publishing)  a novel based on religious segregation in Gujarat. She is the co-editor of Chutnefying English : The Phenomenon of HInglish (Penguin India) and Decentring Translation Studies : India and Beyond.(John Benjamin Press, Netherlands). Kothari  is a scholar of Sindh, Kutch and Gujarat; however, her approach to history and politics is through issues of language and identity. Kothari has been a Fulbright, Ford Foundation and Bellagio fellow and member of several international boards dealing with translation and multilingualism. Kothari speaks several languages and translates between Gujarati, Hindi, Sindhi and English. She is a Professor of Translation Studies at the Humanities and Social Sciences department in  Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Kothari  is currently working A Multilingual Nation : Translation in the Indian Context and translating a memoir based on inter-religious riots in Gujarat of 1969.



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