Choice of language of media consumption


India is a country with diverse languages. There are 22 scheduled languages as per the Eighth Schedule of The Constitution of India (p. 330). Of these 22 languages, some correspond to geographical boundaries and enjoy distinct advantages in 'linguistic states' and are often referred to as 'regional languages' (Kothari, 2006).

A multilingual society is a society which has more than one significant language group. In essence, India is a multilingual society where a child is born with exposure to at least 2 languages.

"Given India's multilingualism, most Indians straddle at least two languages in their everyday lives. This is an informal and unstudied part of daily life in India" (Kothari, 2006: 6). Thus language shapes identity, especially in India. One of the first and perhaps the most divisive battles fought in post-independent India was over language (Memon and Banerjee, 1997:98). According to Kothari (2006), "Language became a way of providing a base, a ground for laying down roots. This by itself is not new to any culture - languages have always been strong markers of identity. What is significant, however, is the strong conflation between what may be called 'mother tongue' and identity that became evident in the wake of Indian Independence." (p. 26).

The choice of media consumption is largely dependent on the language of the offering, but language context also plays an important role in the choice of media consumption. For example, a person conversant in Marathi might still read an English newspaper for his business news because he is working in an MNC; or he might watch Hindi cinema for entertainment even though his social circle might revolve around Marathi language.

Naturally, the concept of media consumption choice among multilingual consumers entails study, more so because there is no body of research that has even tried to study this phenomenon and link it to the society. This study aims to find out the factors influencing the choice of language of media consumption among multilingual consumers.

The research though entails 'multilingual' consumers- a word which includes any person who uses or is able to speak two or more languages with some facility, the research will only focus on consumers who can speak more than two languages with some facility. Thereby, the states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal come directly under the purview of this study. Although, as per the constitution of India, there are 22 languages and each of these are important. Thus a study across all these states is necessary to understand media consumption behaviour to a full extent. Also the states that come under the Hindi speaking belt also have language that are not covered under the eighth schedule but still have a sizeable number of speakers like the Bhojpuri language which has a film industry based on it and is highly profitable. Thus a study on multi-lingual consumers should entail all these states. However, because of constraints of time and money, this research would cover only a few states with multilingual population.

The research aims to find out the impact of language preferences on media consumption across different media. The body of this work would be targeted towards individuals. The research aims to find out linkages between factors like sex, medium of education, mother tongue and media consumption habits for people belonging to different socio-economic classes. For the purpose of this study, TAM, IRS and TGI would be used to find out the above mentioned linkages.


The topic of the present study is to gauge the reasons influencing the choice of language of media consumption among multilingual consumers. Though the importance of language in daily lives of people and its importance in a country like India have been widely studied and researched, little has been done in the exact area pertaining to this topic of research. None of the research papers or books that I came across covered the role played by language in determining the media consumption.

All the studies done on Indian languages helped in understanding the vitality of language in a multilingual, multicultural society like India and the place it holds in history. According to Sharma (2006), the term language has vast connotations. Any form of expression like signals, gestures, sounds, symbols, etc all form the language. At the dawn of human civilization when language was in the process of evolution only sounds of weeping, laughter or crying represented their feelings but with the passage of time various languages evolved in different regions. It goes without saying that religion is the most powerful force to guide the humanity but sometimes language overshadows it; it excites the deepest emotions of man. Language is a wheel of expression; it is not only a means of communication but also reflects the culture and character of the people. It is an independent stream in itself, without the artificial dams of creed and religion in the way. Language is ever changing, ever growing and mirroring people who speak and write it. It has its roots in the masses; it should vary and expand with growing needs and be essentially the link between a good number of people and not a select coterie. This is all the more imperative in this age of science and technology and more to say the age of 'knowledge explosion'

Language has proved to be both a great uniting force as well as a great divisive one. When regions having people of different religions speak a common language, it acts as a great binding force, a cause that makes all of them unite. On the other hand, we have witnessed one of India's first post independence war caused by the imposition of Hindi over non-Hindi speaking states. The police atrocity on peaceful demonstrators in Chennai on 26th Jan, 1965 lead to what we now infamously call as 'Tamil Nadu on fire'. Protestors immolated themselves and there was a huge riot that broke out in different parts of Tamil Nadu to protest against Hindi imposition (Rao, 2003: 9).

The idea of common language as a unifier can be seen from the importance of English as a Translation Language in India. A common 'idea of India' can be made available to people of different regions only through translation. (Nair, 2002:7)

The English translation from Indian languages becoming a culturally desirable activity invoked the curiosity of the factors the driving the same in Kothari (2006). This lead her to examine the changing cultural universe of urban, English-speaking middle class in India. Her work is centred on the production of the body referred to as Indian Literature in English Translation. It concerns itself with this industry and what goes into feeding it.

The question of the role played by language in media consumption is partly studied by Desai (2005) in a paper titled "Intra and Inter cultural diversities in the era of Globalization: Transnational Television in India". The paper reports the findings of an exploratory study of two linguistic communities from the western part of India. The communities chosen for the study were Marathi, rooted traditionally in the soils of the state of Maharashtra, and Gujarati, belonging to the neighbouring state of Gujarat, which became minority language group in Mumbai after bifurcation of Bombay State in 1961. The study examines influence of transnational television on value orientations of individualism and consumerism across these two linguistic communities. In spite of differences in material conditions of the communities, there were similarities in value orientations of individuals indicating inter-cultural similarities. The patterns of media consumption as well as transnational television viewing varied significantly mainly due to socio-economic differences. The findings did not support the premise of cultural-media imperialism in the context of India.

The social construct of multilingual consumers is different from that of monolingual consumers and hence the language of offering vastly impacts the consumers' thinking process. Noreiga & Blair (2008) consider whether the choice of language in advertising to bilingual influences the types of thoughts they have in response to an advertisement. According to them, a native language advertisement is more likely to elicit self-referent thoughts about family, friends, home or homeland, which in turn may lead to more positive attitude measures and behavioural intentions. Furthermore, these effects are moderated by the consumption context present in the advertisement.


Research Objective:

The objective of the research is to study the factors influencing the choice of language of media consumption among multilingual consumers.

Research Questions:

The following are the research questions that are likely to be answered through this study:

  1. What are the linkages between Sex, Medium of Education, Mother Tongue, Age group etc on the media consumption habits of multilingual consumers?
  2. What are the trends that emerge over a period of time?
  3. Can a concept of 'Language Distance' be established and factored in the study? Language distance essentially implies the closeness or similarity of the mother tongue with Hindi.


Research Design

  1. Audience Research - TAM, IRS and TGI data will be used to understand the media consumption pattern in different regions based on language. The prime focus of the study will be based on regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
  2. Primary Research - The primary research would be carried out to validate the findings of the different currencies of audience measurement. The following research instruments will be used in order to conduct the primary research :
    1. In-Depth Interview - In-Depth interview with 7-8 people who are representatives of each of the state mentioned above would be carried out. The purpose of these interviews is to get a clear picture of the factors that influence the choice of language of particular media consumption.
    2. Online Survey - An Online survey will be conducted in order to get relevant data. A questionnaire, for this purpose' will be developed based on the input of the In-depth interview.

Sampling Plan

  1. Sampling Unit - The sampling unit will be individuals with access to 2 or more media and conversant in more than 2 languages. An equal mix of male and female of age-groups 8-16, 17-34 and 35+ would be studied.
  2. Sampling Method - The sampling method followed will be non-probability sampling. Within non-probability sampling, a convenience sampling method will be used. The sample will be drawn from major cities of the states mentioned above.
  3. Sample Size - A sample size of 150 will be drawn from across major cities of the states mentioned above for the purpose of this survey.

Data Collection and Analysis - The data will be collected using a questionnaire. The exact variables under the study can be identified after the initial round of depth interview. Appropriate quantitative techniques relevant to the study of the identified variables will be used. The exact tools can be specified only after the identification of the variables. Statistical softwares such as SPSS will be used for the purpose of the analysis of data. The trends would be analysed with the help of audience measurement currencies like TAM, IRS and TGI from 2007 to 2009. This will help in understanding if there have been shifts or modern influences on the choice of language of media consumption.


The study is expected to provide the following concrete outputs:

  • The linkages between Sex, Medium of Education, Mother Tongue, Age group etc on the media consumption habits of multilingual consumers
  • Trends that have emerge over a period of time and shifts or modern influences that have affected language of media consumption.
  • Whether the concept of 'Language Distance' influences the language of media consumption.

Knowledge of the above aspects will be useful for the various stakeholders of the media industry in India. The existing literature on role played by language in media consumption is very limited and in the Indian context it is negligible. Most of the studies focus on language politics in India.

The body of research would serve as an indicator as to where programming investments should go. It would also help in understanding the uses and gratification construct from the language point of view. Hence, this study will be useful not only to programmers but also serve as starting point for other researchers who want to explore this field further.


  • Desai, M. K. Intra and Inter-Cultural Diversities in the Era of Globalization: Transnational Television in India. (2005). Global Media Journal. gmj/fa05/gmj-fa05-desai.htm.
  • Government of India, Ministry of law and justice. The Constitution of India. (2007).
  • Kothari, R. Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English. (2006). New Delhi: Foundation Books.
  • Nair, R. B. (ed.). Translation, Text and Theory: The Paradigm of India. (2002). New Delhi: Sage Publications and London: Thousand Oaks.
  • Noreiga, J. And Edward, B. Advertising to Bilinguals: Does the language of advertising influence the nature of thoughts? (2008). Journal of Marketing. Vol. 72: American Marketing Association.
  • Rao. B. V. R. (ed.). The Constitution and Language Politics of India. (2003). Delhi: B. R. Publishing
  • Sharma, S. K. (ed.). Language in Contemporary India. (2006). Delhi: Vista International Publishing House

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