How did the British colonization of India lead to English becoming a lingua franca?

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mrkirschner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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During the colonial period, India was one of the most populated countries in the world.  Couple this with the overwhelming linguistic variety on the subcontinent and you have a major bureaucratic challenge on your hands for any imperial power.  To make this task manageable, an elite class of Indians was selected by the British to be educated in England and to be taught the English language.  This class of Indians would act as a bridge between the crown and the hundreds of millions that needed to be governed.  

The Indian elite realized that they could have significant governing power over subordinate class and ethnic groups by adopting the English language.  With the nobility successfully anglicized, Indians saw that adopting English was a means for upward social mobility.  Learning English during the colonial period offered a significant opportunity for advancement in the economic, political, and social realm.

Use of the English language during colonial times offered a communication bridge between groups of people from different areas that spoke a variety of languages.  Even after British imperial ruled ended in 1946, Indians could not agree on an official language that would suit their needs. Attempts to make Hindi the official language has been met with widespread opposition by non-Hindi speaking groups. Speaking English in India today offers the same advantages that were evident during the period of British rule.

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