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Review of  The English-Vernacular Divide

Reviewer: Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful
Book Title: The English-Vernacular Divide
Book Author: Vaidehi Ramanathan
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.1700

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Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 03:07:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: Joseph Afful
Subject: The English-Vernacular Divide: Postcolonial Language
Politics and Practice

AUTHOR : Ramanathan, Vaidehi
TITLE: The English-Vernacular Divide
SUBTITLE: Postcolonial Language Politics and Practice
SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters Ltd
YEAR: 2005

Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful, Department of English Language &
Literature, National University of Singapore


Ramanathan's 143-page book investigates the use of English
language and a vernacular (Gujarati) in a major developing country
with a postcolonial tradition, paying particular attention to tertiary
education. The writer shows how power, domination, resistance, and
negotiation play out in very complex ways through this English-
vernacular divide in this socio-educational landscape of India. The text
is structured in six chapters, with each chapter introduced by an
epigraph. It also includes a table of contents, preface, afterword,
appendices, references and index.


Chapter 1: Introduction: Situating the Vernaculars in a Divisive
Postcolonial Landscape
In Chapter 1 the writer explores two crucial themes: setting and
voicing. As part of this larger purpose, the writer describes her varied
and changing roles in the research, study, and write-up of her topic of
investigation. The author then briefly describes three pertinent strands
that are to be investigated in the remaining chapters, namely, what
she calls "politics of divergent pedagogic tools", pedagogic practices,
and tracking. Ramanathan concludes this chapter by arguing the
relevance of the entire research to Applied Linguistics, in general, and
the Teaching of English as a Second Language, in particular.

Chapter 2: Divisive Postcolonial Ideologies, Language Policies and
Social Practices
The writer begins Chapter 2 at a more general level by showing how
complex and far- reaching the interaction of thought patterns,
historicity and presentness, and the overarching assumptions of the
Indian middle class are, in contributing to the widening chasm between
English language and the Vernacular in the Indian educational system.
At a specific level, the author invokes Mahatma Gandhi's views and
the Remove English Lobby to delineate the use of English and the
Vernacular in the Indian educational set-up. These two factors
influence India's language policy in education, although this rather
tends to exacerbate the chasm between English-medium and
Vernacular-medium schools, as pointed out by the author.

Chapter 3: Divisive and Divergent Pedagogical Tools for Vernacular-
and English-medium Students
In Chapter 3, the writer explores the pivotal role of textbooks in the
delivery of education and examinations in India. Employing a critical
discourse analysis approach of state-mandated sets of textbooks for
grades 5-7 in all vernacular and English-medium K-12 public schools,
the author notes key similarities and differences, with the latter
highlighting the gulf between the vernacular-medium and English-
medium students, empowering one and disempowering the other.

Chapter 4: The Divisive Politics of Divergent Pedagogical Practices
From the critical discourse analysis employed in the previous chapter,
the writer in Chapter 4 employs the ethnographic approach in
exploring the pedagogical practices, procedural display, and social
conventions of an English-medium private business college and a
vernacular-medium women's college whose students, according to the
author, are differently motivated because of their different
backgrounds. Whereas the former privileges choral response, correct
answer and evinces a clash between medium and content in the
teaching of Literature, the latter extols group work and active
participation as well as grammar in a business context. Nonetheless,
the writer reveals that both groups of students have different
concerns, with students in the women's college expressing difficulty
with their apparent insufficient knowledge of English and students in
the private school expressing unhappiness about the university
assessment procedure.

Chapter 5: The Divisive Politics of Tracking
Here, the writer examines the tracking system in a Jesuit institution.
According to the author, although the aim of the Jesuit institution is to
handle the inequality in educational system through tracking the
underprivileged into streams a and b, the literacy practices associated
with tracking provide yet another disturbing insight into the chasm
between students of English-medium institutions and vernacular-
medium institutions, as those with a head start in English obtain
relatively easy access to the privileged courses. Despite this, the writer
portrays the determination of the catholic institution in seeking ways to
empower the underprivileged in India by taking pride in the use of the

Chapter 6: Gulfs and Bridges Revisited: Hybridization, Nativization and
Other Loose Ends
In the final chapter, the writer draws all the issues raised in the
previous chapters together, noting the limiting, disempowering,
ambiguous, inconsistent, divisive, and complex nature of the Indian
socio-educational landscape with respect to language use. The author
then teases out the implications of this complex landscape for
nativization, the conflict between content and form, and the
relationship of the vernacular in relation with English language
teaching. The author ends the book with the firm belief that delineating
the English-vernacular chasm in the Indian educational system is an
important step, while conceding that there are still more issues for
students, scholars and teachers to consider.

Here, the reader can find four materials: details of research data,
dates pertaining to educational policies on language use, some
differences in English textbooks used in English and Vernacular-
medium schools, and examples from English Literature curricula and
examination papers


On the whole, this book is a worthy contribution to the literature on
postcolonial studies, in general, and bilingualism, multilingualism and
sociolinguistics, in particular, on three counts. The first point to note is
the lucidity and clarity of the language that is used throughout the
book. This is especially evident in the explanation of the
concept "voice' and the description of the socio-educational landscape
of India, in general, and the delineation of the setting of three
educational institutions, in particular. Second, it is clear that the writer
has taken pains in organizing her material, by employing various visual
features such as headings, sub-headings, font sizes, and metatextual
elements to render the book reader-friendly. The foreword, afterword,
and especially appendices equally add to this almost perfect
organization of the text, thus facilitating understanding of the writer's
arguments. Related to the above is the use of endnotes, which makes
it easy for the reader to follow and appreciate the writer's arguments.
The final admirable feature of this text is the smooth-flowing manner in
which the writer deploys an admixture of ethnographic, sociolinguistic,
socio-historical and critical discourse analytical approaches in
developing her theme/s.

Despite these strengths, there are a number of issues worth drawing
attention to. The first concerns the use of metadiscoursal elements.
Given the painstaking manner in which the writer addresses
organizational features of the text, I find some metadiscoursal
elements disruptive and, worse still, redundant. For instance, the
reader gets the feeling that the section entitled "Chapter-wise
Breakdown of the Book", essentially metadiscoursal, is not serving a
useful purpose, given the amount of textual space allocated to the
exposition on the three strands (pp. 12-17). The second set of
concern relates to methodology. Although the writer attempts to justify
the selection of three educational institutions, the reasons do not
appear convincing. In particular, the choice of the women's college
raises a number of questions related to gender that are not
adequately addressed. In my opinion, a vernacular-medium mixed
college would have been a better choice. In the end, one is left with
the feeling that that the choice of these tertiary institutions in the study
has been motivated by convenience, to put it mildly, and by an
ideological stance, to put it crudely. Third, the writer employs critical
discourse analysis in her exploration of pedagogical tools in Chapter
3, but it is not clear whether she is drawing on an eclectic mix of
approaches or one, given the different approaches in critical discourse
analysis (McKenna, 2004), with scholars such as Fairclough (1995,
2003), van Dijk (1997), Wodak (1996), and Kress and van Leeuwen
(1996), representing some of the major emerging strands. Finally,
there are issues of editorial nature, though of less significance to the
arguments in the book, which readers with sharp eyes can easily spot.
They include the following:
a) Sections of Chapter 6 appeared in ....and is reprinted here" (p. xi)
b) "...multipronged enterprise whose general functioning include..." (p.
c) "The raw materials on which this project is based consists of..."
d) ".... indeed, all those interviewed said they had did not have much
trouble" (p. 22)
e) "Chakrabarthy (2000:247) states that there at least two kinds..." (p.
f) What are social practices and how to do they work themselves..." (p.
g) Gandhi's views regarding the value of the partially (p.
h) "...all those interviewed said they had did not have much trouble
i) "... the preface for the EM texts in Grades 5-8 insist that ...." (p.54)
j) "...students in Shri Lanka..." (p. 60)
k) "Thepremises..." (p.68)
l) Almost all instruction in the first-year...are devoted..." (p.102)
m) "...that he felt could proceed" (p. 102)
n) "... the college hosts a three day cultural festival..." (p. 107)
o) "...they attempt to breakdown alien western concepts..." (p. 117)

I also find the use of "hang out" (p.69) and "mill" (p. 69) somewhat
informal. On page 19, the writer writes "Chapter 4 will call attention
to..." instead of "Chapter 5" .There are also a few sentences where
the omission of one stop or the other tends to create problems as
in "The indigenous curriculum was considered inappropriate for
another reason as well which was that..." (p.44) and "The social
service coordinator at the WC, herself a (VM) graduate of the college
credits the organization..." (p. 83).

Overall, despite the few concerns expressed above,
Ramanathan's book is worth recommending as critical reading for
readers interested in postcolonial studies, language-in-education
policy, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, and multilingualism. It is well
researched and provides helpful bibliography which curious readers
can follow up.


Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of
language. London and New York: Longman

Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse and text: Textual analysis
for social research. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading Images: The
Grammar of Visual Design. London. London: Routledge.

McKenna, B. (2004). Critical Discourse Studies: Where to From Here?
Critical Discourse Studies, 1 (1), 9-40.

van Dijk, T. (1997). Discourse as interaction in society. In T. van Dijk
(Ed.), Discourse Studies: A multidisciplinary introduction -- Discourse
as social interaction (Vol. 2, pp. 1-37). London: Sage.

Wodak, R. (1996). Disorders of discourse. London: Longman


A research scholar at the Department of English Language and
Literature at the National University of Singapore, Joseph Benjamin
Archibald Afful is due to submit his doctoral thesis on the interface
between rhetoric and disciplinary writing at the undergraduate level
this year. His research interests include discourse/text analysis,
sociolinguistics, the teaching of English as a second language, and the
interface between linguistics and literature.

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