Home > Europe, History, India, Indian Economy, Indian education, Media, Politics, Social Trends, USA > ‘Strong’ cultures go weak in their knees

‘Strong’ cultures go weak in their knees


Click for larger image.

Click for larger image.

Lingua Franca

Soon after the French Revolution (1789-1799), the new republic of France decided that it needed to stamp out all the local languages – and have One language – lingua franca. At the time of the French Revolution in France,

regional languages such as Provençal, Breton, and Basque were still strong competitors against standard French, the French of the Ile de France. As late as 1789, when the Revolution began, half the population of the south of France, which spoke Provençal, did not understand French. A century earlier the playwright Racine said that he had had to resort to Spanish and Italian to make himself understood in the southern French town of Uzès. After the Revolution nationhood itself became aligned with language.

Adds another writer

at the time of the French Revolution, only 10-12 % of France spoke French. Over the next 100 years, public schools and conscription armies turned “peasants into Frenchmen”. France simply did not allow diversities to flourish. Everyone came to speak French.

Look Again (While the British were busy in India, America's Founding Father's stole America from Britain - and the Native Americans.).

Look Again (While the British were busy in India, America's Founding Father's stole America from Britain - and the Native Americans.).

In the land of the Free

Americans were not allowed to learn or teach non-English languages for the best part of 200 years. All other language groups had to become American by giving up their own languages – and adopt the language of the land of the free.

By 1923, thirty-four states had laws that declared English the language of school instruction.  Since then, most states have enacted laws that require the use of English in specific situations, such as in testing for occupational licenses.

During the 1980s, resurgent xenophobia, directed this time toward Latino/a and Asian immigrants, revived interest in and support for comprehensive English language laws.  Organizations, such as U.S. English, formed to urge states and Congress to enact Official English and English-Only laws that encompass all aspects of government. (from Impact of English Language Movement on Consumer Protection Regulation By Steven W.  Bender Excerpted from Consumer Protection for Latinos: Overcoming Language Fraud and English-Only in the Marketplace, 45 American. University Law Review – 1027-348, 1047-1054 (1996).)

Various US state governments outlawed all languages – except English. It was only in 1923, was this was finally set aside after the matter reached the US Supreme Court (read Meyer vs Nebraska). The USA gathered some courage to start timidly with more than English only after seeing India’s success with 15 languages.

Why are these countries so ‘protective’ about their language? Why do they then want to ‘spread’ their language (English or French) to others?

Coming to India

In India, from a Western stand-point

Contrary to public perception (in the West), India gets along pretty well with a host of different languages. The Indian constitution officially recognizes nineteen languages, English among them.

Why is it that India preserves its unity with not just two languages to contend with, as Belgium, Canada, and Sri Lanka have, but nineteen? The answer is that India, like Switzerland, has a strong national identity.

As for India, what Vincent Smith, in the Oxford History of India, calls its “deep underlying fundamental unity” resides in institutions and beliefs such as caste, cow worship, sacred places, and much more. Consider dharma, karma, and maya, the three root convictions of Hinduism; India’s historical epics; Gandhi; ahimsa (nonviolence); vegetarianism; a distinctive cuisine and way of eating; marriage customs; a shared past; and what the Indologist Ainslie Embree calls “Brahmanical ideology.” In other words, “We are Indian; we are different.” (via Should English Be the Law? underlined text supplied for clarity).

How can we ever credit this poor, vernacular, dhoti-wearing man with such 'liberalism'? (Cartoon character - RK Laxman's Common Man).

How can we ever credit this poor, vernacular, dhoti-wearing man with such 'liberalism'? (Cartoon character - RK Laxman's Common Man).

Credit Gandhi or Nehru

Robert D.King (quoted above) after a fair amount of research makes a few missteps. He writes how in India

Hindi absolutists wanted to force Hindi on the entire country, which would have split India between north and south and opened up other fracture lines as well. For as long as possible Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister, resisted nationalist demands to redraw the capricious state boundaries of British India according to language.

How long would Nehru have lasted if really tried imposing Hindi? In this Hindi-imposition charade, some read a ruse by Nehru to actually impose English on the Indian population. His ‘tryst with destiny speech gives the game away completely – as his many other statements on English.

Similarly, Ashutosh Varshney (quoted above) makes a fine distinction between Indian‘mosaic’ and  the Western ‘melting pot’ models. He goes then and he misses the beat, completely, by crediting Gandhiji for this Indic construct!

He says, “Under Gandhi, India consciously embraced diversities” is he implying that before Gandhiji, India was a mono-bloc society. Was it under the thrall of ‘One’? Would Gandhiji have become a Mahatma in India, if tried the ‘melting pot’ strategy?

I think not!

Gandhiji would have been rejected, rubbished and trashed before he could have said M – of mosaic, melting pot or Mahatma. The only people who cannot be credited are the nearly 120 crore Indians who get by using each others languages! What role did they play in this?

Strange logic, this!

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  1. A fan of your blog
    August 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    You have brought up a great topic for discussion. However, it still does not answer why we have diversity and why it has survived so well over so many hundreds or thousands of years. You have also mentioned elsewhere that Sanskrit was an artifical language. But our conventional teaching tells us that, at one time sanskrit was the predominant language and prakrit languages followed sanskrit and were derived from sanskrit. How do we reconcile the two?

  2. millie yr4
    January 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    i like the french man joke thing.

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