Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let English bloom

State of English KANCHA ILAIAH The Times of India 21 Feb, 2007
The proposal of the Congress party to constitute the second state reorganisation commission (SRC) necessitates a larger debate. Linguistic states deserve a relook at a time when English is developing as a pan-Indian language. The rationale behind establishing a linguistic federation of Indian states is questionable. If one assumes that regional languages develop like the European languages, then the federation is likely to break, as each advanced linguistic region would like to be a nation by itself. Would India like to take the course of Europe, where many developed linguistic nations emerge and contradictions sharpen?
But Indian regional languages are not as advanced as European languages like English, French, German, Spanish and so on. In the ancient period, Sanskritic forces stilted their growth. In the late mediaeval period it was stilted by Persian. In the colonial period, English intervened. Now, there is no possibility of these languages developing to the levels of European languages. In an under-developed language system, thought processes will also remain underdeveloped. In modern knowledge societies, underdeveloped languages cannot produce advanced thought. The present Indian languages, including Hindi, were more underdeveloped than any European language of the early 18th century. The advanced linguistic nationalism of Europe sharpened contradictions, leading to nationalist wars among them, even though they all shared the same religion. The common historical roots of all the European languages, in Greek and Latin, did not prevent the emergence of such contradictions.
Once each language branches out, it develops nationalist aspirations, whipping up linguistic chauvinism. The recent chauvinist expressions that Telugu is greater than Tamil or vice versa, in order to get ancient status, is an indication of that trend. The Dravidian or Pali linguistic roots of these languages are set aside and every linguistic state wants to prove that its language is great. With English developing as a language of administration and the market in India, the country can now afford to sidestep the European model of linguistic nations.
It is important to initiate a debate on this larger question before Andhra Pradesh, the first linguistic state to be formed, is split on developmental grounds. Once this happens, the principle of underdeveloped regions within every linguistic state being divided on the same grounds as AP comes into play. Each region can put forth its own case. The only option left for us is to choose the American model of developing one national language across the federation and dividing provinces into viable administrative units. Given the historical roots of English in India over a period of a few centuries, it can become the spoken language of all Indians alongside regional languages. Linguistic history has enough evidence to show that whether one is literate or not every human being can become bilingual.
By 1510 (before the Bible was translated into English facing a great papal resistance), English was a language of the British illiterate productive masses. Within just 500 years it has become the most popular language of the world. Within 200 years of its introduction in India it has become the language of easily about 100 million people. Its expansion in future will be several fold faster than earlier. It has become a language of day-to-day use for several million upper middle classes and rich. The poor and the productive masses have a right to learn the language of administration and global communication. This ground reality forces us to accept that at least 50 per cent of the school syllabus in all govern-ment schools across the country should be taught in English. The country would then overcome the yawning gap between convent and missionary English-medium school education and regional language-centred government school education.
When educated social masses communicate in English across the country, the concept of linguistic state would become redundant. The provincial states then should be compact administrative units. This 21st century reality should compel us to have a second SRC. This should examine the very concept of continuing with language-based provincial units within integrated Indian federal system. The writer is a political scientist

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