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Thursday, February 25, 2010


This appeared in the Indian currants magazine some 20 years back in my old name v.karthikeyan


It is said that Japanese Premier Tojo while replying to US Presidency Harry S Trueman’s ultimatum of July 26, 1945 said that Japan would "Mmakusatsu" which in Japanese meant that his Government would 'consider it.' But the translators quoted him in English as saying that the Japanese would 'take no notice of it'. So atom bombs destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There could be several such undocumented and unnoticed bungles in international diplomacy. There are innumerable cases of individual injustice due to multilingualism or ambiguity and misinterpretation even in the same language. For example before the Russian Revolution an Assyriologist Netomelf was exiled to Siberia for life on a charge of blasphemy because he was not given a chance to explain that his book about
Nebuchadnezzar did not mean “Ne boch and Netzar (Russian for ‘No God and No Tzar’)
Once in UN, a translator translated "Out of sight-out of mind" into an expression the Russians understood as ‘invisible insanity’. During Napolean III ‘s coup d’etat one of his officers Count de Saint-Arnaud on being informed that a mob was approaching the Imperial Guard, coughed and exclaimed with his hand across his throat “Ma sacree toux!” (my damned cough). But his lieutenant understanding him to say “Massacrez tous” (Massacre them all ) gave the order to fire , killing thousands.
Every language suffers from syntactical and phonetical ambiguities in addition to these if there are situations wherein important negotiations are required to be made wherein the negotiators may get bogged down in the quagmire of too many languages and language interpreters. They can neither concentrate on the content nor can they be utterly confident about what they have negotiated. Hence there arises a necessity to bring down further, the number of languages; and if necessary evolve a global language, and this has to emerge from among the existing languages, as we know the experiments with artificially created languages such as Esperanto, IDO et, have failed for want of literature. A global language needs a pride of ancestry, must be in popular use at present, and possess worthy credentials to survive in the future.
A language, which qualifies to become a global language, must be primarily a significant one as per the criteria mentioned earlier. But mere number of users cannot be a sufficient or justifiable parameter to classify a language as significant , because if that were the case we may have in that list such unheard of languages as Wu in China , Xhosa in South Africa , Pashto in Afghanistan , Quencha in Peru .
Amore justifiable classification would be, in addition to the number of users of a language, its geographical spread, the wide range and variegated vocabulary to communicate and express as many ideas or events as possible in as many fields of human activity , it must have the syntactic plasticity, flamboyant flexibility suited to both simple and complex modes of expression, and an enormously evolved derivational morphology.
If there is a language that fits into all these criteria adequately, that is English. It stands as the unrivalled champion as a global language. It does not mean that it is superior to all other languages or it is without any weakness. Definitely it does not sound as sweet as French. In fact it does not have a word for ‘Punya’ the exact opposite of ‘sin. It has not a single word expression to counter many  social and psychological aspects of life, which many other languages even very insignificant ones have as has been wonderfully brought out be Howard Rheingold in the book titled “They have a word for it”. Here are a few of them; Tjotjog (Japanese) – harmonious congruence in human affairs; Mokita (Kirinina-New Guinea) –Truth everybody knows but nobody speaks; Yufen (Japanese)- an awareness of the universe that triggers feelings too deep and mysterious for words; Fucha (Polish)-using company time and money and other resources for your own ends; it does not have the grammatical subtleties of such insignificant languages as Chichewa, a language spoken by the unlettered tribes of East Africa which as per the studies of Benjamin Lee Whorf, has an extraordinary perspective on time through its two past tenses, one for the real or objective past and another for the subjective or mental past. The primitive tongues of Algonquin languages have four persons in their pronouns; the metaphysically marvelous language of Hopi Indians of Arizona reflects their excellent view of creation; instead of a noun for ‘wave’ they have only the participle ‘walalata(Waving). You may wonder why this long preamble about language and canvassing for according English the status of global language while discussing about a national language for India .
We as a nation talk of global trade, global thinking, global concern etc. But when it comes to language
especially with so many different linguistic divisions we talk of the importance of a national language and still hesitate to give the due importance to a global language at least as a link language; it is because from the earliest times we suffer from certain strong inexplicable prejudices. Our emotionally charged feeling of patriotic nationalism was pursued with a religious fervor to effectively drive away the colonial bosses. Like all ferventness which turns fanatical in function and perception and blinkered in vision, our nationalism too, failed to see and acknowledge the good that our colonial bosses have done.
Gandhiji managed to communicate all over India and to the world outside through his good English.
Dr.Ambedkar drafted a wonderful Constitution with his good English. But somewhere in the process even
Gandhiji was driven by extreme emotionalistic opposition to everything that was British. As a result he caught hold of a rocket without either a safe launching pad or enough space to zoom- the rocket was Hindi-Hindustani as a national language which he pronounced for the first time in 1934 when he founded the Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad at Nagpur. In fact this word was supposed to have been used as early as 1892 by Bhoodev Mookerji.Later in 1945 at the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, scholar K.M.Munshi wanted it to be the national language of India. Why all these men, who were very well aware that at least 40 percent of the Indian peasants, labourers etc. are contented with their mother tongue and are willing to serve the nation; why these honourable leaders who owed at least a sizable part of their prominence to the English language
(which enabled them to be preferred as negotiators with the Britishers) all of sudden had a superfluous hypocritical need to promote Hindi –Hindustani as a national language of administration when English was sufficient to deal with the administration requirements, especially more so, at a time when all the administrators were only people with an Engllish education.
In fact by adopting English as our only official language (I mean as higher administrative, inter-state and state-centre link language ) we will benefit on the global level and besides we will be manifesting our superior sense of understanding because on the one hand we would be opposing the western approaches of divide and rule, axe and annex policies of trying to homogenize various political systems, proselytize other faiths, colonize countries, marginalize smaller states, Balkanize united provinces; on the other hand we would be welcoming what the Britisher has tried to harmonize and grow i.e. the English language, by absorbing, assimilating and adopting words and expressions plundered from other languages and wonderfully injecting them not only in its literary forms but also in the layman’s lexicon. In this lies the strength and secret of the growth of the English language.
It is wrong to presume that a United Nationhood can be brought about be either unity of religion or race or language. The Arab world and Latin America are classical examples were despite all those unity, there are so many nations. Let English be our lingua franca. Let the Government stop wasting enormous time and money in imposing Hindi on the whole nation. We can divert that money and time on other pressing issues. Let not the regional linguistic chauvinists retaliate by making life miserable for Hindi-speaking people by putting up all important public notices and boards only in the regional language. These acts remind us of what Pascal wrote in his Pensees; “Man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of strange disorder.”
Let us remember one thing while all of us feel the need for unity, what unity needs is feeling for all by all .Let us remember what the great seer Bahaullah has said:” If language can help create a sense of nationalism, it can equally well help create a sense of internationalism.”


subbaraman gopalakrishnan said...

`while all of us feel the need for unity, what unity needs is feeling for all by all' - Only possible in Utopia - feeling for all by all. Is it possible to bring this, at least at domestic level, then to think of at National level.

Anonymous said...

Please advise China, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea to immediately switch to the superlatively fantastic English, the global language - for the sake of their future growth as Global citizens. And Hebrew-revivalists, ridicule them with all your might.

PS: Can't publish with my Wordpress ID. Why?