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“Vernacular” – our languages are not of slaves

In India, the English media, English writers, bloggers, PR agencies have the habit of referring to Indian languages as vernacular languages. Way back when I was a scientist at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, my colleague pointed me at the origin and etymology of the word vernacular. I was really surprised to know that. Here is the excerpt from Marriam Webster

Origin and Etymology of vernacular:  Latin vernāculus “belonging to the household, domestic, native” (from verna “slave born in the household”—of uncertain origin— + -āculus, perhaps originally diminutive suffix, though derivation is unclear).

British people were using the word while referring to African and Indian languages to imply that Africans and Indians are their slaves. Our great English media people and English writers continued that tradition. Even now those who are more English at heart than the original British people refer to Indian languages as vernacular. I just did a Google search on the phrase “Indian language vernacular” and got so many hits. Some notable links –

The definition given in Wikipedia gives another dimension to the word vernacular –

A vernacular or vernacular language is the native language or native dialect (usually colloquial or informal) of a specific population, especially as distinguished from a literary, national or standard variety of the language, or a lingua franca (vehicular language) used in the region or state inhabited by that population. Some linguists use “vernacular” and “nonstandard dialect” as synonyms.

If we go by this, referring Indian languages as vernacular implies that our languages are not well developed, non-formal, non-literary, non-standard languages. Whoops! Should we accept this stupidity? Indian languages have history of thousands of years more than that of English. Our languages are more scientific than English. Still our languages are non-standard languages?


Those who refer Indian languages as vernacular languages fall into two categories –those who don’t know the origin & etymology of the word but use it unknowingly because every other English writer is using it and those who know it but use it thinking that writing in English means superiority. I hate the latter kind. Shame on them. A request to the formal kind writers not to use the term vernacular while referring Indian languages. Why am I not requesting the latter kind? Because there is no cure for “it is my wish” kind of thinking and baldness.


3 thoughts on ““Vernacular” – our languages are not of slaves

  1. Satish Bhat says:

    Superb analysis

  2. Satish Bhat says:

    Thanks to this write, I have just shared a similar line of thought, compiled quite sometime back. I have titled it on the same lines as the title of this article, with due credits!


  3. Thanks for the etymological angle. I fall in the first category referred to, but this article has given me the right perspective. While I agree with the author that nothing can be done about the ‘meri marzi’ kinds…. hope that this article by Pavanaja helps spread the word and many will realize leading to the ‘vernacular’ death.

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