Language barriers --- financial barriers

Michael Hahn hahn.m at T-ONLINE.DE
Thu Mar 5 16:59:46 EST 2009

The recent contributions of Veeranarayana N.K. Pandurangi and Walter
Slaje to the list touch a fundamental problem that affects the work of
many scholars working in various of Indian Studies ("South Asian
Studies", to be politically correct) and which should be mentioned here,
if only brief: The factual existence of a two class system that is
caused by two barriers which are indeed hard to overcome --- the
financial barrier and the language barrier. The financial barrier is
mainly caused by the enormous cost of publishing books on all types of
"oriental" topics in the so-called developed countries. The result are
prohibitive prices that put these publications out of the reach of most
scholars. There are only a few places in the world --- in the North
America, some European countries and Japan --- where researchers enjoy
practically unimpeded access to the fruits of their colleagues' works,
also thanks to a functioning interlibrary loan system. The second
factor, the cost of an adequate technical equipment, is fortunately
becoming less decisive because of the rapidly decreasing prices for
computer hard and software and internet charges. The problem of the
high prices of books and journals is at least partially overcome by the
laudable enterprises of Indian and other Asian publishers who are on a
large scale reprinting older important works and in an increasing
number also recent publications, with the permission of the original
publishers. And the costs of exchange of texts, documents and papers
via the internet (occasionally in a legally grey or even dark zone)
have also drastically dropped

I have experienced both situations: to work in institutes with fairly
well (or even excellently) equipped libraries during two of my
assignments at German universities, as visiting scholar in the USA,
England, or Japan, and to have to work with a small library and an
entirely inadequate budget during my assignment at small university in
Germany where I felt to be not much better of than my colleagues in
India. The situation was partly made up through the exchange of
publications with and the possibility of buying privately at least some
of the books that the institute could not afford.

The second barrier is the language barrier that was alluded to or
mentioned by my colleagues Pandurangi and Slaje. I understand what Prof.
Pandurangi has written, however, I would like to add something to his
statements. It is true that indological publications are written in an
ever increasing number of languages all of which cannot be mastered by
a single individual. Scholars like the late Prof. J. W. de Jong who
read almost all the relevant languages are a rare exception. And I do
not believe that I (or even my younger colleagues) will live long
enough to see reliable translations of scholarly papers done by
computers. Nevertheless, there is an indisputable hierarchy of
languages that are essential for indological studies as they were
conceived and developed in the Western countries during the last two
centuries. Whether one likes it or not: There are three European
languages in which so many valuable and fundamental  works for various
fields of Indian studies were written (and are being written) that he
or she who wishes to participate in this kind of research cannot afford
not to acquire at least a certain reading knowledge of them: English,
German and French. I readily admit that this means an additional burden
for everyone who does not have one of these languages as his or her
mother tongue. Nevertheless until recently it was recommended to
students of indology at the University of Kyoto to acquire a basic
command of these three languages. Sometimes it might suffice to have a
colleague who can assist one in consulting a publication in one of
these languages. One has also to bear in mind that these three
languages were used by a many students from abroad who wrote their
theses in an English, French, or German speaking country. Quite often
they later kept these languages as their medium of publication. I would
like to illustrate the reason why "code switching" is not so easy a
task in many fields of humanities by the case of a Japanese student who
came to me for one year with the sole aim of discussing with me a
limited portion of his Ph. D. thesis, the edition and translation of a
rather difficult Tibetan philosophical commentary. After we had
translated a major portion of the work into German, after long
discussions about the proper German equivalents of difficult terms, he
desperately said: "I will never be able to translate this again into
Japanese [without spending too much time and energy --- this is to be
understood]." And he decided to complete his thesis in German and in

It goes without saying that for specific fields of research publications
in languages like Italian, Russian, Japanese --- more recently also
Hindi and Chinese --- can also be absolutely indispensable and that one
has to find a way how to consult them. One can certainly not assume the
attitude: "I don't read Italian/Russian/Chinese etc., therefore I don't
care whether the problem I am studying now has already been dealt with
satisfactorily by an Italian/Russian/Chinese etc. colleague."

Deplorably, sometimes it does not help much even if foreign scholars
take the trouble of writing in English, because of the financial
barrier. A great portion of Prof. von Hinueber's publications --- which
were the starting point of the whole discussion --- is already
available in English (cf., e.g., his Selected Papers, London 1994).
Nevertheless many colleagues in India don't even know his name. That is
what he himself apprehended when he once told me that it doesn't seem
to matter whether he writes in German or English because he will not
find many more readers for his English publications.

Even if it might be difficult for many colleagues in India and
elsewhere to get hold of many important books and papers, it has,
thanks to the internet, nowadays become a very easy task to inform
oneself about a particular scholar, his (or her) fields of research and
his (or her)  publications. Usually one can find these data on the
scholar's home page. And for a very rough translation of titles of
books and papers even the internet tools might prove sufficient.

I suspect the reasons outlined above might have been responsible --- at
least partly --- for the somewhat satiric tone of Prof. Slaje's
response, nothing else.

Prof. Dr. Michael Hahn
Ritterstr. 14
D-35287 Amoeneburg
Tel. +49-6422-938963
Fax: +49-6422-938967
E-mail: hahn.m at

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