vital statistics: Hindi-Gujarati etc.

Heinz Werner Wessler HWW-GR at T-ONLINE.DE
Thu Jan 6 10:06:54 EST 2000


Some remarks to some of the interesting arguments used in the "vital statistics"
debate over the last few days:

"The speech of each village differs slightly from the next, without loss of
mutual intelligibility, all the way from Assam to Afghanistan." (Masica, The
Indo-Aryan Languages, 1991, p.25. See also Shapiro/Schiffman, Language and
Society in India, 1981, p.16ff. etc. But this is only part of the truth.

The "language versus dialect" issue is always pending - the changes in
classification from one census to the other are a clear indicator of this
linguistic bias: Census 1921: 188 languages, 49 dialects (colonial India) -
1951: 845 "mother tongues" (languages and dialects) - 1961: 1652 (the highest
number) - in 1971, the languages were reduced to 105, since it includes
languages only, if the number of mother tongue speakers is higher than 10.000.

Usually, the term "Hindi" is ambiguous: It could mean a group of dialects,
somehow intelligible to each other. Accidentally, Khari Boli would be the
accepted lingua franca by its speakers (or Braj, Sadhukari etc. earlier).
"Hindi" could also mean "Modern Standard Hindi", based on Khari Boli, the
standard version of the language of some modern Indian states from Rajasthan to
Bihar.

Standardization and the spread of the standardized version of the language is an
ongoing process and based on political will, disturbed only by the growing
regionalism. Regional languages/dialects are obviously gaining ground in some
areas. Dogri is in some ways a typical example: After the Kashmir-crisis became
virulent, its development into a literary language is supported by state funds -
there is a Dogri Academy (like the Rajasthani Academy etc.), kavi--sammelans,
novel writing etc. in Dogri. I don't think, this is a challenge to /Sudh Hind-i
as prestige language no.2 in a town like Jammu. Neither is Marvari (or any other
form of Rajasthani) a challenge for Hindi in Rajasthan. Personally, I am not
convinced, whether the fascinating multilingualism in India will necessarily be
reduced in the course of development (as everywhere else). The compact
Hindi-belt could also be split up into pieces of individual linguistic zones
with an internal standardization on the long run. Different from today, romantic
ideas on languages and their relation to nation-states could at some point of
time turn against Hindi.

It is interesting that Modern Standard Hindi has won over Rajasthan in the past,
but not Gujarat. Similarly, Assami and Oriya remained independent from Bengali,
but the "Chittagong-dialect" gave up its separate identity. Could anyone on the
list comment on this?

A spontaneous observation, which could form the starting point of this
discussion: Mirabai is claimed by the Hindiwallahs as one of their own - at the
same time she is a genuine Gujarati-author in Gujarati text books (Vidyapati's
case in the east may be similar)! Her language is something like "Old Western
Rajasthani" (Tessitori).

Heinz Werner Wessler


Dr. Heinz Werner Wessler
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D-53844 Troisdorf
Fon/Fax +49-228-455125



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