Saturday, June 04, 2005

English and Us

Japan. China. France. Italy. Germany. Everybody loves their own language. People there do not think it imperative to be schooled in English. Top executives in Japan talk in Japanese. Socialites in France converse in French. Most Chinese have heard that something called English exists, but have never conversed in it. So why do the people in India with money, the more successful ones, stick to schooling in English as a medium of instruction? Are our languages inferior in any way?

Mulayam Singh Yadhav feels passionately about this. (Refer to an editorial in today’s Times of India). One can catch his drift. He thinks that Indians are servile. He thinks that we want to ape the west. He feels humiliated for the same. And with his zestful oratory, he shall doubtlessly convince the masses of the same. Turbulent times are ahead for English Medium Schools in Uttar Pradesh.

If you earn well (if you’re a part of the great Indian slightly-above-the-middle economic class), then odds are your children are studying in an English medium School. You think that vernacular education in comparison is inferior. Everybody who is a considerable success in the new India, odds are, has undergone an English medium schooling. Vernacular schools are for those who want subsidized education. Subsidized education in India is of course immensely sub-standard. But that’s a wholly different story.

The language of the Indian elite is English. Socialites in parties can be heard prattling along in English. Not Hindi. Not Tamil. Not Assamese. Sachin Tendulkar who was a stranger to English before superstardom now loves Pink Floyd and Dire Straits. Indian businessmen give interviews in English. Channels such as the purely elitist English NDTV 24 x 7 make as much money as common man’s Hindi AAJ TAK (with only a fraction of the popularilty). The English newspaper business (though the circulations are relatively lesser) is as profitable as its Hindi Counterpart. Quite obviously, the English- Literate individual carries a lot more economic clout. Call him an A quality consumer or something. These advertisers have their lingo.

Let’s try to guess some answers now. Why is English so much more important to India, than say, it is to France? To Germany? To Japan? Much as Mulayam Singh would disagree, I personally feel that a servile mentality has nothing to do with it. I attribute it to the third dog gets the bone syndrome. The people in the south have their own languages. Given ample leeway, they would like to conduct education in their own language. Vernacular schools in Chennai teach in Tamil. Not Hindi.

English education was introduced by the British. It was a system which worked – worked too well, actually. South Indians started learning English long before they ever heard of Hindi. It is natural to see why English is a second language to the people in the south – the same way it is a second language to the people in the north.

It is utterly unacceptable to the people of the south to be taught Hindi by force. Hindi is a tongue more alien to them than English. Similarly, can you see Tamil make any inroads into the plains of Bihar? It just will not happen. So if there has to be a communication between different states which do not speak the same languages then, the language surely cannot be Hindi or Tamil. The third dog gets the bone. English it is, though an alien.

It also helps that all text books are in English. It avoids twenty-six translations of Feynman’s lectures! And just imagine, if all scientific literature were in a tongue unfamiliar to us? Research in our country would never be able to catch up. The Chinese are having to learn English for this! The Germans too. If the world is ever going to be global, then English is the language it shall talk in. Not French. Not Hindi. Other languages are impediments from this point of view.

1 comment:

bharath said...

Statistics says that there are about 800 registered languages in the country and close a couple of thousand dialects for all these. 26 translations of Feynmann would do no good.

It is true that english education is necessary, but we should also remember that at many families, at the cost of english, the vernacular is lost. Many parent of today want their kid to address 'mummy' or 'daddy' while the 'ma' or 'amma' doesnt even fall into the mordern mom's ears...