The three-language formula for language learning was formulated in 1968 by the Ministry of Education of the Government of India in consultation with the states. The formula as enunciated in the 1968 National Policy Resolution which provided for the study of "Hindi, English and modern Indian language (preferably one of the southern languages) in the Hindi speaking states and Hindi, English and the Regional language in the non-Hindi speaking States".
The formula was formulated in response to demands from non-Hindi speaking states of the South, such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and mainly Tamil Nadu. Currently, the three language system is not followed in Tamil Nadu due to efforts of former Chief Minister C. N. Annadurai.
The first recommendation for a three-language policy was made by the University Education Commission in 1948–49, which did not find the requirement to study three languages to be an extravagance, citing the precedents of other multilingual nations such as Belgium and Switzerland. While accepting that Modern Standard Hindi was itself a minority language, and had no superiority over others such as Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Malayalam, and Gujarati all of which had a longer history and greater body of literature, the commission still foresaw Hindi as eventually replacing English as the means by which every Indian state may participate in the Federal functions.
The Education Commission of 1964–66 recommended a modified or graduated three-language formula. Following some debate, the original three-language formula was adopted by the India Parliament in 1968. The 1986 National Policy on Education reiterated the 1968 formula.
In 1972 the government launched a committee for promotion of Urdu under the chairmanship of I. K. Gujral. The committee's 1975 report recommended safeguards for significant (i.e. greater than 10 percent) Urdu-speaking minorities which included the use of Urdu for official purposes and as a medium of instruction. Following consideration of the report by the Cabinet in 1979, and by the Taraqqui-e-Urdu Board from 1979 to 1983, modified proposals from the Gujral committee were passed on to the state governments in 1984.
A new committee of experts was launched in 1990 under the chairmanship of Ali Sardar Jafri to examine implementation of the Gujral committee recommendations. This committee recommended modifying the three-language formula to "In Hindi speaking States: (a) Hindi (with Sanskrit as part of the composite course); (b) Urdu or any other modern Indian language and (c) English or any other modern European language. In non-Hindi speaking States: (a) the regional language; (b) Hindi; (c) Urdu or any other modern Indian language excluding (a) and (b); and (d) English or any other modern European language".
C. N. Annadurai, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu during 1967–1969, opposed the requirement to learn Hindi in Tamil Nadu, "What serves to link us with the outside world is certainly capable of rendering the same service inside India as well. To plead for two link languages is like boring a smaller hole in a wall for the kitten while there is a bigger one for the cat. What suits the cat will suit the kitten as well." He was willing to adopt the formula in Tamil Nadu only on the condition that all other states of India too would adopt it.
Academics have noted the failure of the formula. Harold F. Schiffman, an expert on Dravidian culture at the University of Pennsylvania, observed that the formula "has been honored in the breach more than in reality" and that due the lack of a symbolic national language, there is a tendency "for English to take over as the instrumental language" in India. Political scientist Brian Weinstein of Howard University said that "neither Hindi nor non-Hindi speaking states followed the (1968) directive".
- "Three Language Formula". Government Of India Ministry Of Human Resource Development Department Of Education. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "Report of the University Education Commission (December 1948 – August 1949) Volume I" (PDF). Ministry of Education, Government of India. 1962. p. 280. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
Every boy and girl must obviously know the regional language, at the same time he should be acquainted with the Federal language, and should acquire the ability to read books in English.
- Weinstein, Brian (1990). Language Policy and Political Development. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 95. ISBN 0-89391-611-0. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "The Gujral Committee Report on Urdu". Language In India. 8 May 1975. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "Anna and the Dravidian Movement". South Asia Masala. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
- Ramakrishnan, T. (2019-10-04). "When Annadurai endorsed the three-language formula". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
- Schiffman, Harold. "Indian Linguistic Culture and the Genesis of Language Policy in the Subcontinent".