With over 19500 mother tongues or dialects spoken across India, the language diversity in India is absolutely massive. There is a saying in India, ‘The language in India changes every few kilometres as does the water’.
This sums up the nature of India’s language diversity.
States in India have been organised on linguistic lines; this means their boundaries have been drawn up keeping in mind the language most commonly spoken by the population of a particular region. But, this doesn’t mean a single language is spoken across a particular State. Take for example the case of Gujarat, the major languages spoken include, standard Gujarati (the state language), dialects like Kathiyawadi (Saurashtra), Bhili (spoken largely by tribals), Sindhi, Marathi, and more.
So even if there is a State language, the way this language is spoken across the State is different. And again, considering the fact that people from different parts of India migrate to a particular State in search of jobs and better living conditions, they bring their own language with them. This language (in the case of Gujarat – Marathi, and Sindhi) gets woven into the linguistic fabric of the State.
The Politics of Language
Passion is a double-edged sword. Too much of it is a bad thing and this is what has happened to language in India. Passion for language (mother tongue or the State language) has sometimes translated into language chauvinism in India. There have been plenty of socio-political movements in India driven by the need to give importance to the language most commonly spoken across a particular State.
Language chauvinism comes out in varying degrees and forms. At the most basic level, it can take the form of a person choosing not to communicate in a language other than his mother tongue, irrespective of whether he knows a common language spoken by the person trying to communicate with him.
At the more advanced and dangerous level, it can mean getting into a physical altercation with people who do not speak your language and foisting your preference on them.
One of the reasons localising your business, its messaging, and products and services is so critical in India is that the language chauvinism is also reflected in the consumer choices people can make. If a brand is talking to them in their language, they prefer it over another brand, that isn’t.
One could also say that the political class in India has on many occasions exploited this chauvinism to their advantage. Currently, there is a huge debate happening in India around the imposition of Hindi, a case in point being Karnataka, where Kannada, a Dravidian language is spoken by the vast majority of people.
There is also a prevailing misconception that Hindi is the national language of India; actually, it isn’t and India has no national language. Hindi is the designated official language of the Government of India. This is a distinction that even businesses must understand; if you think all you need to do to localise your business for the Indian market is focus on Hindi, then you are sadly mistaken.
The Indian government is being seen by people as trying to push Hindi and there are States and people in these states resisting this move. How this will pan out in the future is anybody’s guess, but one thing is for sure – the preference of people for content in their local languages is rising (whatever the reasons), and will continue to rise, which essentially means businesses will have their work cut out for them.
The Indian Demographic Expects Businesses to Localise
India is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and accounts for 15% of global growth. If you are a business and want to make the most of the various growth opportunities in the Indian market, you must localise your business content in local Indian languages.
According to a recent KPMG and Google report, it is estimated that the Indian language internet user base in India will reach a massive figure of 536 million by 2021.
What we are essentially looking at is a massive target audience that prefers consuming content in their native language. Can your business ignore this audience? Certainly not! Yes, most Indians realise the importance of English and take pains to understand and communicate in the language (it’s a professional necessity), however, when they are searching for brands, and looking for information on products and services, they prefer to do it in their mother tongue.
Another reason why localisation in Indian languages is necessary is that the essence of messaging might be lost on the target audience.
Let’s take the example of a slogan that captures the defining personality of your brand. This slogan is in English, and it does its job beautifully in the English-speaking world. Cut to India, wherein you want to target a few specific states (considering the nature of your product), one of these being Tamil Nadu. In this particular case, it is imperative that you translate this slogan into Tamil, and it shouldn’t just be a literal translation. It needs to have a cultural and colloquial flourish, to make an impact.
A huge factor that decides business success is the trust people have in your products and services. The trust factor can be built only if your target audience understands what your business is all about, the benefits its products and services bring to the table and the core USP. This can be best be conveyed in the local language, to ensure that your audience has total clarity on the subject of your products and services and there is no confusion in their minds.
Brands are Localising for Indian Markets
So, the question is – are brands localising for regional Indian markets? The simple and emphatic answer is, yes.
Here are a few examples of brands subscribing to the power of localisation to woo consumers:
E.g. This Fortune Sunflower Oil in Tamil
Here’s its interface in Telugu:
These are just some of the examples wherein, brands are focusing on localising their messaging in regional Indian languages. As more and more brands start realising the importance of localisation, you are going to find more corporate material that will cater to local language demands.
You cannot ignore localisation in Indian languages. It’s all about exploiting an opportunity. You know the regional Indian population expects content in their language and can consume it comfortably and in a manner that makes more of an impact on their minds. So why wouldn’t you want to localise your business content?