i[...] c[...] (I thought it was banned?...)

zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl
Tue Nov 19 01:37:22 UTC 1996

Replies to msg 17 Nov 96: indology at liverpool.ac.uk (Lars Martin Fosse)

 lmfn> May I ask Robert Zydenbos the following question: Is there
 lmfn> any other Indic
 lmfn> language than Hindi that offers a certain amount of
 lmfn> "transnational"
 lmfn> communication (and does so better than Hindi)?

A "certain amount"? And do you mean international Indian languages?

Bengali (Bangla Desh).
Punjabi (Pakistan).
Telugu (South Africa).
Gujarati (South Africa, Tanzania; probably no longer in Uganda).
Tamil (Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa).

There may be other examples too. (I have omitted Urdu here, since some people
evidently think of it as a 'register' or 'artificially distinguished form of

I must admit, though, that I do not quite understand the relevance of the word
"transnational" in our context. I thought that Indologists study Indian
languages in order to understand more about India - whether the speakers of any
Indian language claim transnationality or not - and that the significance of a
language for Indology lies not in the number of people who happen to have
settled outside India, but in the access it gives us to Indian history and

As for "better than Hindi": already in India, Hindi is problematic, as I
mentioned earlier. A Member of the Legislative Assembly from Kerala once told
me that when missives in Hindi come to Kerala from Delhi, they are first
translated into their probably original English before they can be seriously
discussed. (I suppose some will dismiss this as again so much "hearsay" or mere
"impression". Indeed, I have not checked this.)

 lmfn> there is a great likelihood that if you
 lmfn> come to a European
 lmfn> country the language of which you do not speak, English is
 lmfn> your best bet if
 lmfn> you try to use another language. 

I once had to argue with an Italian security official in French at Rome
airport, since he understood no English, German or Dutch. (Sorry if this too is
just an "impression". I did not try Hindi. :-) ) Again, the same with Hindi: it
depends on where you are. In eastern India, Bengali is more useful; in
northwestern Tamilnadu, northern Kerala, southern Maharashtra, Kannada is more

 lmfn> It would seem to me that
 lmfn> the same thing
 lmfn> applies to Hindi, and that the study of Hindi for this
 lmfn> reason should be a
 lmfn> priority. (Unless some other Indic language is a better
 lmfn> means of
 lmfn> communication). Anybody disagree, and if, why?

See above, where I said something about Indology.

Consider: a knowledge of standard modern Kannada gives one access to all the
literature in that language since Basava (12th century). Written Tamil has
changed little since the Na_n_nuul. (N.B.: I have not yet spoken about the
older forms of these languages.) These two languages have the oldest
literatures among the living languages of the subcontinent, and their
Indological import is enormous. And I must say, with humble apologies to
Hindi-lovers, and intending no disrespect whatsoever: Hindi comes nowhere near

What I find utterly depressing in this discussion is that people are using
quantitative arguments in support of Hindi, while I seem to be the only one
(besides Kichessamy) who tries to draw attention to the _qualitative_ side of
communication. To ask an utterly crude, blunt and crucial question: yes, one
can say "caay denaa" at any Indian railway station and actually get tea. So
what? At Miraj station (N.B.: southern Maharashtra) a northerner one time did
just this at a tea stall. The attendant just stared at the man. Then I asked
for tea, in Kannada; I got my tea first, and then the northerner (oh! another
mere impression! sorry!). -- As long as there is a lot of vague,
unsubstantiated  talk about artificial distinctions and cultural spread,
without clearly and unambiguously establishing what these talkers talk about
when they say "Hindi", without qualitatively stating which levels of linguistic
competence etc. are meant and desired, then quantitative methods of research
are just not possible (because what will you be measuring?). All this
quantitative, quasi-statistical argumentation, which is intended for
maintaining / augmenting the disproportionate attention given to Hindi in
Western academia, is just quasi-scientific garbage. It may also be garbage
after the standards are stated, but then at least we can reasonably talk about
it. :-)

Best greetings to all,
Robert Zydenbos

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