"cash-cow" Hindi/Urdu

Frances Pritchett fp7 at columbia.edu
Tue Nov 19 19:37:40 UTC 1996

On Tue, 19 Nov 1996, Thomas de Bruijn wrote:

> One question to conclude with: who are the students that take the "cash-cow"
> classes in Hindi /Urdu, and what is their interest in this? Is it learning
> "the modern language of India" or are they extending their Indological
> curriculum? Perhaps some teachers can shed their light on this?
> Thomas de Bruijn
Both, of course.  What might be called "personal" uses (South Asian
American undergraduate students wanting to explore their roots) and career
purposes (graduate students wanting to do international development work)
converge with academic interests (indological research needs).

Hindi/Urdu programs are large today not because western scholars
sneakily or foolishly conspire to make them so, but because a number of
different publics agree, from very different perspectives, that modern
standard Hindi/Urdu is something they want to learn, for their own
purposes.  The resulting large classes provide a base of operations, make
it possible to provide opportunities for advanced study in these and
related language areas for those students (not as many as we might wish,
but by no means zero) who want it.

It is not the case that if we broke up our (relatively) big Hindi/Urdu
programs our universities would then develop equally thriving programs in
Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, medieval Braj, etc.  Most often, they would have
no programs at all, because the critical mass would not be there in terms
of sheer sustained student numbers.  Even our North American innovation of
teaching Hindi and Urdu together for two years (usually with Devanagari
script in the first year, adding Urdu script in the second) has proved to
be extremely helpful in achieving and maintaining viable class sizes.

Here at Columbia we offer (smaller) programs in Bengali and Punjabi as
well as Hindi/Urdu; we find that even students coming from Bengali and
Punjabi ethnic backgrounds often elect to study Hindi/Urdu, for pragmatic
reasons.  (At present we teach no South Indian languages, but a number of
South Indian students are enrolled in Hindi/Urdu.)  The students may be
pragmatists, but it does not follow that the they, or their teachers, are
cynical.  Many of us who teach Hindi/Urdu, teach it with personal
pleasure and scholarly commitment.  Cash cows have their uses:  some of
them come from breeds that have considerable value in their own right, and
their milk can be used to nourish a variety of calves.

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